He’s not a cartoon character’, South Koreans smitten by Kim Jong-un, wife Ri Sol Ju

MMNN:28 April 2018
South Koreans on Saturday pored over every detail of a historic summit in the Demilitarized Zone, transfixed by an extraordinary charm offensive by the North’s leader Kim Jong Un. Kim’s public appearance at the summit, beamed live to millions in the south, was for many the first prolonged exposure to an authoritarian figure revered in his secretive nation but shrouded in mystery. South Koreans and the world have long viewed him with a mixture of ridicule and fear, becoming used to the sight of him presiding over missile launches and military parades, but it was a very different Kim that took to the world stage on Friday. The 30-something leader was on his best behaviour, frequently flashing a smile, making humorous remarks and patting children as tenderly as any election-seeking politician in the West. “I heard Kim Jong Un making a joke and hearing that made me realise that he is also just a human being,” Choi Hyun-ah, a 24-year-old events planner, told AFP. Kim showed a few brief moments of human fallibility, appearing slightly out of puff at times and missing the soil when trying to plant his shovel during a tree-planting ceremony. The reclusive North “deifies Kim in a strict, scripted and controlled manner”, noted the Korea Times, but “everything about him -- including his facial expressions, walk, gesture, voice, black Mao suit and signature hairstyle -- was streamed live by global media outlets”. Kim was “no longer a hermit”, the paper said in the headline of its editorial, adding he had shown himself capable of “showmanship” with his impromptu invitation to the South’s President Moon Jae-in to hop briefly over the border to the North himself. Cartoon character’ Kim rapidly got into his stride, reducing the South Korean delegation to giggles with banter about noodles from the North and seeming playful at times, deadly serious at others. For 30 minutes, the cameras were trained on Kim as he chatted with Moon over al-fresco tea in woodlands in the Demilitarized Zone that divides their two countries. Not a word could be heard -- just birdsong in the trees -- but it was compelling viewing nevertheless, Kim appearing to listen intently to his elder counterpart, nodding gently and occasionally making small gestures. The Korea Herald even examined Kim’s inscription in a guestbook to analyse his handwriting -- which like many aspects of his public persona is modelled on that of his grandfather and predecessor, the North’s founder Kim Il Sung. A graphologist pronounced he has a “feisty and self-centred personality” and was “excited and highly elated when he wrote the message. His gravelly tones -- he has often been photographed with a lit cigarette in hand -- -- were an object of fascination for many. “It was very, very weird to hear Kim Jong Un’s voice on TV,” said Kim Kyung-ah, a 32-year-old mother in Seoul. “I mean, I always knew that he existed. But today was the first time where I felt ‘Oh my God, Kim Jong Un is a real person’,” she told the Korea Herald. “Up until today, it always felt like Kim was some sort of cartoon character. It was refreshing to see him talking about normal things like cold noodles, not nuclear weapons or wars.” ‘A natural beauty’ South Koreans were also fascinated by Kim’s wife Ri Sol Ju and his powerful sister Kim Yo Jong, who spent much of the day at her brother’s side. Kim’s sister - who acted as his envoy to the South’s Winter Olympics in February - broke into a broad grin while greeting Moon, with officials later revealing she had blushed when the president said she had become a celebrity. At one point Ri was the top search topic on South Korean internet portals, with users describing her as “a natural beauty”, “humble and well-mannered” and “graceful”. But by noon on Saturday the summit had been displaced as the top item by Korean film “Delta Boys.” And others refused to be taken in by the smiles and hugs, with the North accused of a litany of state-sanctioned rights abuses. Min Joong-hong, head of one of the anti-North Korea groups protesting against Friday’s summit, told the Korea Herald that Seoul should not engage with Pyongyang, which “continues to commit crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and imprisonment.”

Next "Informal" Meet In India, PM Invites China's Xi Jinping: 10 Facts

MMNN:27 April 2018
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is on a two-day visit to China, has met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan, the capital of the Chinese province of Hubei. On the first day of his visit, PM Modi was welcomed by President Xi at the Hubei provincial museum. PM Modi has suggested that a similar informal summit be held in India next year. The engagements of PM Modi spread over 24 hours include a tour of the museum, a one-on-one informal talks with President Xi followed by delegation-level talks later today. Here are the top 10 developments Only two interpreters were present at the first informal meeting between PM Modi and President Xi who has travelled out of Beijing for an "informal summit". After a short one-on-one meeting and a tour of the museum, both leaders will move for two rounds of delegation-level talks with six representatives from each side. President Xi will host a dinner for PM Modi at the East Lake Guest House in central Wuhan, a favourite holiday destination of China's revolutionary Mao Zedong. On Saturday, both leaders are expected to spend more time together in one-on-one talks with just interpreters accompanying them. PM Modi and President Xi will walk along the banks of the East Lake and take a ride on a boat together in an effort to try and cement the strong chemistry they had developed in earlier summit meetings. There may not be any joint statement at the end of the talks and neither side wants to be bogged down by outstanding issues which remain a thorn in equations between the two nations. The visit comes months after a standoff involving Indian and Chinese forces at Doklam when the two armies stood eyeball-to-eyeball for 72 days in the high altitude area claimed by Bhutan but occupied by China. India has concerns about its sovereignty being affected by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor that passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Beijing has also blocked India's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and has avoided declaring Hafiz Saeed a globally designated terrorist. "President Xi and I will exchange views on a range of issues of bilateral and global importance," PM Modi had said before leaving for China. "We will also review the developments in the India-China relations from a strategic and long-term perspective," the PM's departure statement said.

Understanding Kim Jong Un: Inside The US Effort To Profile Secretive North Korean Leader

MMNN:26 April 2018
WASHINGTON: US intelligence experts are trying to build a profile of Kim Jong Un to give President Donald Trump a competitive edge in one of the most consequential summits since the Cold War, but they face a huge challenge - figuring out a secretive North Korean ruler few people know much about. Following a long tradition of arming US presidents with political and psychological dossiers of foreign leaders ahead of critical negotiations, government analysts are gathering every new bit of information they can glean about Kim and making adjustments to earlier assessments of what makes him tick, US officials told Reuters. They will rely in part on the impressions drawn by CIA director Mike Pompeo, who just weeks ago became the first Trump administration official to meet Kim. Pompeo, Trump's pick to become secretary of state, came back from Pyongyang privately describing the young North Korean leader as "a smart guy who's doing his homework" for the meetings, according to one U.S. official, who described Pompeo's personal view of Kim for the first time. The profile will also include intelligence gathered in past debriefings of others who have interacted with Kim, including ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman, Kim's former classmates at a Swiss boarding school and South Korean envoys, other US officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. All of this is being used to update the US government's classified file on Kim's behavior, motives, personality and leadership style to help Trump and his aides develop a strategy for dealing with Kim at the expected first-ever meeting of US and North Korean leaders. A White House official declined to confirm any specifics about the drive to better understand Kim, except to say: "There is a robust whole of government effort under way to prepare for the president's summit," which is targeted for late May or early June. Despite that, direct knowledge of Kim remains limited - a "black box," according to one US official familiar with the profiling efforts - especially given the scarcity of spies and informants on the ground and the difficulties of cyber-espionage in a country where Internet usage is minimal. When Kim first came to power, the CIA predicted that Kim's rule might be short-lived. Seven years later that prediction has been dropped and he is now seen as a shrewd and ruthless leader. More recently, many US experts were caught off-guard by how nimbly Kim shifted from his saber-rattling drive to build a nuclear missile arsenal to diplomatic outreach. RATIONAL ACTOR The emerging US consensus on Kim is similar to what many outside experts have publicly concluded. He is seen as a "rational actor," said US officials - not the "total nut job" that Trump once branded him. He craves international stature but his main aim is "regime survival" and perpetuating his family dynasty, suggesting it will be hard for him to agree to full nuclear disarmament, the officials said. He is ruthless enough to have had relatives executed but now feels secure enough in power to gamble on Trump, they said. In terms of personality, he is seen more like his charismatic grandfather, Kim Il Sung, than his more camera-shy father. His dispatch of his sister to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February and a rare appearance by his wife when South Korean envoys visited in March demonstrates an effort to humanize his leadership abroad, they added. Shielded by North Korea's extreme opaqueness, Kim has posed a special set of profiling problems for US spy agencies. US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a speech earlier this month that North Korea's leadership was "one of the hardest collection components out there" for intelligence gathering. US experts will be closely studying both Kim's words and body language at his historic summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday, officials said. US intelligence analysts have spent years examining Kim's family history, speeches, photos and video, and they are now closely analyzing images and reports of his recent high-profile meetings with South Korean and Chinese officials. US authorities have also interviewed North Korean defectors and even resorted to second-hand sources such as the memoir of a Japanese sushi chef who once worked for the Kim family, several officials and experts said. Amid the scramble to put together the Kim profile, the US officials said another challenge was determining how much information to give Trump - known to have little patience for detailed briefings or lengthy documents - and then persuading him not to act purely on gut instinct, as he often does with foreign leaders. Briefers are expected to limit their presentation to an abridged version, accompanied by photos, maps, drawings and video, the officials said. It will not be the first time intelligence officers have relied on visual aids to help get him up to speed on North Korea. Early in his administration, Trump was shown a scale model of North Korea's sprawling nuclear bomb test site with a removable mountaintop and a miniature Statue of Liberty inside so he could grasp the size of the facility, two U.S. officials said. A White House official declined comment on the episode. Trump's defenders say he is adept at absorbing facts visually. "His successful building career means he was very good at studying architectural renderings and floor plans. So he's a visual learner, and it works well for him," the White House official said. "IT'S NEVER PERFECT" For decades, U.S. administrations have ordered up profiles of foreign leaders, especially those of adversaries such as Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Fidel Castro of Cuba. Many other governments conduct similar studies. Such assessments, which originated with the U.S. government's efforts to better understand Germany's Adolf Hitler, have sometimes been deemed helpful to U.S. policymakers. Former President Jimmy Carter wrote in his memoir "Keeping Faith" that in-depth profiles of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat paid "rich dividends" in helping him reach a 1978 peace accord. But the "know thy enemy" practice has been far from fool-proof. For instance, initial bare-bones assessments of Kim put together soon after he took power in 2011 suggested he was possibly too inexperienced to survive internal struggles but that if he did he would likely be more interested in reforming North Korea's battered economy than pursuing nuclear weapons. "It's never perfect," acknowledged Jerrold Post, a psychiatrist who founded the CIA's center for the study of political personality and has profiled both Kim and his father. "But we need to do our best to understand how Kim sees the world." Post, now in private psychiatric practice in Maryland, said he was consulted recently by a Trump aide who was due to brief the president. He declined to elaborate on what advice he gave. "We all listen to the forensic psychiatrists of the intelligence community," said Wendy Sherman, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea who traveled to Pyongyang with then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000 to meet Kim's father, Kim Jong Il. 0 COMMENTSBut she suggested face-to-face contact was the best way to take the measure of a North Korean leader. "I'm sure Mike Pompeo, having gone with an intelligence team, came back with a lot of useful information," she told Reuters.

In Pakistan, Police Dig Out Italian's Remains After Reports Of Honour Killing

MMNN:25 April 2018
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN: Pakistan police Wednesday exhumed the body of an Italian national over claims she had been murdered by relatives in a so-called honour killing, in a case that has made headlines across Italy. Police in the eastern city of Gujarat launched an investigation earlier this week into the death of Sana Cheema -- of Pakistani origin and believed to have been in her mid-twenties -- after allegations she had been murdered went viral online. "After the news of her death spread on social media, police found the family and started an investigation," said police officer Waqar Gujjar. Sana Cheema's father, brother and uncle are currently being held in custody for questioning but have not been charged, added Gujarat police officer Mudassar Sajjad. "Now it depends on the postmortem report. If it determines the cause of death is due to murder, only then will police charge the suspects," said Mudassar Sajjad. According to family members, Sana Cheema died earlier this month after succumbing to an unspecified illness, said police officer Syed Mobarak. Police said Sana Cheema's father Ghulam Mustafa brought her back to Pakistan to get married. This ultimately led to a confrontation with a nearby family who spurned the offer of a match, according to the woman's family. Because of the rejection Sana Cheema refused to eat, fell ill and died, relatives told police. Reports in Italian newspapers alleged Sana Cheema was killed because she wanted to marry a man in Italy against her family's wishes. Hundreds of women in Pakistan are killed by their relatives each year after allegedly bringing shame on their families in the deeply conservative Muslim country. 0 COMMENTSUnder previous legislation the culprits -- usually men -- could escape punishment if pardoned by members of their own family. A new law removes the power to forgive culprits in such cases but critics contend some loopholes still exist.

After Saying Congress Has "Blood On Its Hands", Salman Khurshid's Defence

MMNN:24 April 2018
NEW DELHI: Congress leader and former law minister Salman Khurshid today defended his remarks that his party has "blood on its hands", saying that he made the controversial statement "as a human being". On Monday, Mr Khurshid was addressing students at the Aligarh Muslim University when he was asked about riots that had targeted minorities. Among the examples listed by a student was the killing of Muslims after the 16th century Babri Masjid was demolished by lakhs of right-wing volunteers in 1992. "It is a political question. There is blood on our hands. I am also a part of the Congress so let me say it, we have blood on our hands. Is this why you are trying to tell us that if someone attacks you, we must not come forward to protect you?" Mr Khurshid said. "I am telling you. We are ready to show the blood on our hands so that you realise that you too must not get blood on your hands. If you attack them, you are the ones who would get stains on your hands," he advised. Mr Khurshid added: "Learn something from our past. Learn from our history and don't create such situations for yourself where if you come back to Aligarh Muslim University after 10 years, you find no one like yourself putting out questions." Asked to explain the comments, Mr Khurshid today said he couldn't sit back when his party was being attacked. "I made the statement as a human being. If there is responsibility on any one of us, whether historical, political, social or philosophical, we must answer; and we continue to do this. Have you ever known me to withdraw a statement? I'd continue to say what I said," he said. 0 COMMENTSMr Khurshid last week said he was firmly against the move by a section of his party to attempt to impeach the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Mishra. Sixty-four members of parliament from a slew of opposition parties signed a request asking for the Chief Justice's impeachment, a first in Indian history. However, their petition was turned down by Venkaiah Naidu, the Vice President who also chairs the Rajya Sabha, saying the allegations against the Chief Justice are "neither tenable nor admissible."

Trump, Macron to face differences on Iran, trade, as French visit begins

MMNN:23 April 2018
U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron to the White House on Monday to kick off a three-day state visit expected to be dominated by U.S.-European differences on the Iran nuclear deal and trade. It will be Trump’s first hosting of a state visit since he took power in January 2017. The pair will get a sense of their two countries’ shared history during an evening meal on Monday night at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, the first U.S. president and Revolutionary War commander whose alliance with France was critical to victory over the British. The major work between them will be done on Tuesday during White House meetings and a joint news conference. On Wednesday, President Macron will address a Joint Session of Congress, making the anniversary of the day that French General Charles de Gaulle addressed the Joint Session of Congress, April 25, 1960. Trump and Macron began their improbable friendship a year ago in Belgium with a jaw-clenching handshake. While other European leaders have kept a certain distance from Trump, Macron has worked hard to remain close to the U.S. president and the two leaders speak frequently by phone. Macron is on something of a rescue mission for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Trump has vowed to scrap unless European allies strengthen it by mid-May. The deal reached between Iran, the United States and five other world powers put curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.Macron said on Fox News Sunday that it would be better to protect the Iran deal instead of get rid of it, saying there is no “Plan B” to take its place. “Is this agreement perfect and this JCPOA a perfect thing for our relationship with Iran? No. But for nuclear — what do you have? As a better option? I don’t see it,” he said. Macron also wants to persuade Trump to exempt European nations from steel tariffs that are part of the U.S. president’s plan to reduce chronic trade deficits with countries around the world, chiefly China. The two leaders are also expected to discuss Syria, less than two weeks after the United States, France and Britain launched airstrikes in Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens in Douma, Syria. Macron said last week that he believed he had persuaded Trump to keep U.S. troops in Syria, but Trump has been insistent on bringing them home, although he has not publicly provided a definite timetable. Whether substantive progress will be made on these and other issues was unclear. “Whether we will actually solve, or come to closure, or a full detailed agreement on some of the issues that we’ve touched on is difficult to say at this remove,” a senior administration official told reporters on Friday.

Foreign Interference Bill Has Soured Ties With China, Says Australia Prime Minister

MMNN:12 April 2018
SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull acknowledged on Thursday that legislation aimed at preventing foreign interference in politics had soured ties with China, after a report Australian ministers were being denied Chinese visas. Relations between Australia and its largest trading partner have been strained over the past year, partly over Australian concern about rising Chinese influence, which led to the introduction of legislation banning foreign political donations. The Australian Financial Review, citing unidentified sources, said this week China had denied visas to Australian government officials to attend a major annual trade show, denting close economic ties between the two countries. "There's clearly been some tension in the relationship following the introduction of our legislation about foreign interference but I'm very confident that any misunderstandings will be resolved," Turnbull told 3AW Radio in Melbourne. He declined to comment when asked about the report that Australian ministers were being denied visas. The foreign ministry did not respond to emailed requests for comment. Late last year, Turnbull referred to "disturbing reports about Chinese influence" and warned of foreign powers' "unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process". The Australian legislation, which is expected to be passed soon, also requires the registration of lobbyists working for foreign countries. China bought A$93 billion ($70 billion) worth of Australian goods and services last year, but trade ties are only one side of a delicate balancing act for Australia, whose unshakeable security relationship with the United States has limited how close it gets with China. Encouraged by the United States, Australia has sharpened its criticism of China's activities in the Pacific and the South China Sea. COMMENTSAustralia's International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells in January accused China of funding "roads to nowhere" and "useless buildings" in the Pacific, amid fears Canberra's historical dominance in the region was eroding.

No, Buzz Aldrin Didn't See A UFO On His Way To The Moon

MMNN:11 April 2018
WASHINGTON: The view from the lunar landing module on July 20, 1969, was - in mankind's best guess - the first time a living being traveled to another celestial body to observe the luminous blue planet shrouded in the seemingly infinite darkness of space. But before that moment, the crew of Apollo 11 hurtling toward the moon radioed mission command in Houston to ask about a curious object they saw on their third day in space. "Do you have any idea where the S-IVB is with respect to us?" commander Neil Armstrong asked, referring to the third stage of the Saturn V rocket that was jettisoned earlier in the flight. Mission control had an answer about three minutes later, according to a NASA radio transcript of the mission. "Apollo 11, Houston," the command replied. "The S-IVB is about 6,000 nautical miles from you now. Over." That satisfied Armstrong, who said 12 seconds later: "Okay. Thank you." The seemingly innocuous exchange has become a touchstone for UFO-sighting enthusiasts and alien truthers, and now, seemingly fake news. Buzz Aldrin, 88, the second astronaut to set foot on the moon, believed that the crew saw an extraterrestrial spacecraft at this moment, and a "lie detector" test proves it, at least according to the British tabloid the Daily Star. That's not quite right. "He has never said he saw a UFO. This story has been a fabrication for the sake of headlines and is not true as far as Buzz Aldrin is concerned," his spokeswoman, Christina Korp, told The Washington Post in a statement Tuesday. That echoes Aldrin's 2015 comment on Reddit that the object "was not an alien." The Daily Star did not return a request for comment. The truth is out there, if only the Daily Star looked closely. The tabloid's story focuses on a vocal analysis conducted by the Ohio-based Institute of BioAcoustic Biology and Sound Health, a nonprofit institution that founder Sharry Edwards has said developed a program that can evaluate how truthful or confident someone feels about a subject they are talking about. Edwards told The Post she used Aldrin's interview from the 2006 Discovery Science made for TV-documentary "Apollo 11: The Untold Story" to analyze Aldrin's remarks. "There was something out there that was close enough to be observed and what could it be?" Aldrin recounted about the incident, adding that crew member Michael Collins viewed ellipses on the L-shaped object when viewed through a telescope. "That didn't tell us very much," he said. The moment called for restraint from theorizing what the object might be during one of the most scrutinized missions in human history, Aldrin said. "Who knows what somebody would have demanded that we turn back because of aliens or whatever the reason is," he said on the program. The crew decided to move on and mention it later in mission debrief, Aldrin added. In an analysis, Edwards says Aldrin "has a firm belief in what he saw but logical awareness that he cannot explain what he saw; therefore he thinks he should be doubted." She said the conclusion was published years ago but that she does not know how it became suddenly relevant. Aldrin has already clarified his position on the incident. In a response on the NASA website after the documentary was released, Aldrin said he believed he saw one of four panels separated from the S-IVB heading on the same trajectory toward the moon but on a slightly different course. That discussion was edited out and the rest was "taken out of context," NASA said. In the 2015 Reddit thread, he said the sun must have glinted off one of the panels. The recurring UFO story is the result in part of the public distorting the scientific term UFO to mean a craft with "little green men," NASA chief historian Bill Barry told The Post. Yet the Apollo 11 mission was already a significant moment in human history without the intrigue of alien spacecraft. The median age of Americans is about 38, or 11 years younger than the mission itself. Most people alive today were not around to hear President John F. Kennedy say in 1961 that the United States would send a man to the moon and return him safely to Earth. The Soviet Union had already been the first to send a man into Earth orbit, frustrating NASA and creating a belief that the Russians might have an edge. The stakes were high. "They were basically on a war footing," he said of NASA leadership. NASA's lessons from the mission were extensive. For instance, leaders honed the organization for large scientific projects, which later helped develop the International Space Station, Barry said. And investment in science paved the way from everything from the internet to cellphones. Discoveries also offered more hints about the origin of life on Earth and the history of the universe. Evaluating the rock samples from the moon helped confirm theories that the body is the result of an object that smashed into the Earth and later coalesced to form our satellite, Barry said. That lesson amounted to a common refrain among astronauts, he added: "We left the Earth and what we discovered was ourselves." In the next five centuries, humanity will remember the 20th century for three things, Barry said - two world wars and the U.S. landing on the moon. Aldrin has been known to defend that history, now and in the past. In 2002, filmmaker Bart Sibrel confronted Aldrin, demanding that he swear on a Bible that the landing was authentic. Sibrel called him a "coward and a liar." Sibrel was adding "thief" when Aldrin struck him in the face. No charges were filed. The moment was captured on video. There were no camera tricks. The punch was real

Race For Mexico's "Cocaine Of The Sea" Pushes 2 Species Toward Extinction

MMNN:10 April 2018
SAN FELIPE: The dried fish parts don't look like much to the novice eye, but the totoaba swim bladders discreetly displayed in this shop in Guangzhou, China sell for up to $20,000. Half a world away, off the coast of Mexico, poachers battling each other for this "cocaine of the sea" are using drug cartel-like tactics to get it -- pushing two species toward extinction and leaving ordinary fishermen fighting to survive. The lucrative black market for totoaba swim bladders -- prized in Chinese traditional medicine for their purported healing and beautifying properties -- have turned the Gulf of California into a battleground, criss-crossed by armed poachers, Mexican navy vessels and environmental activists patrolling with pirate flags. The casualties of this war include not only the critically endangered totoaba, but also the world's smallest porpoise, the vaquita marina -- of which just 30 remain, according to scientists -- and local fishermen caught in the middle. Mexican authorities say the vaquita has been virtually wiped out by totoaba fishing, because it gets stuck in the same kind of net. Known as the "panda of the sea" for the distinctive black circles around its eyes, the porpoise has become a cause celebre for the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Three years ago, the Mexican government declared a ban on fishing in a 1,300-square-kilometer (500-square-mile) area off the coast of San Felipe, a fishing community that depended on the industry for 70 percent of its economy. "They want to make San Felipe a ghost town," said Omar Solis, a shrimper who bought a catamaran and is now trying to reinvent himself as a pleasure cruise operator for tourists. Solis, 42, warns other ex-fishermen will likely end up as totoaba poachers. "They're pushing us into it whether we want to or not. It means risking your life, but if you don't have any money, what else can you do?" he said. Cartel crosshairs Flying a black flag with a white skull, activists from the US environmental group Sea Shepherd patrol the waters off San Felipe night and day in a camouflaged ship, using sonar and radar to find poaching boats and their nets. It can be a dangerous hunt: poachers have been known to open fire on Sea Shepherd drones, and the authorities say they are operating increasingly like Mexico's powerful and brutal drug cartels. They go to sea armed, and there are shootouts between rival groups," a Mexican marine deployed to the zone told AFP. Since February, Sea Shepherd has carried armed soldiers and police aboard its ships, for the activists' protection. Authorities say poachers filet the totoaba at sea, stash the swim bladders in hidden compartments and toss the bodies back into the water. Then they ship their haul in small quantities -- the same strategy used by drug cartels. Mexican authorities have begun using the same tactics they use against cartels: tapping phones and following the money trail to pick apart the organization. "It's highly likely" the poachers are funded by drug cartels, said Joel Gonzalez, an official with Mexico's prosecutor for environmental crimes. It's the same mafia, the same corrupt networks and the same trafficking routes" for drugs and totoaba, said one, speaking on condition of anonymity. Silk-lined boxes In the faraway city of Guangzhou, in a shop on a busy street, a soft-spoken saleswoman shows an undercover AFP reporter her collection of dried totoaba swim bladders, fetched from a store room upstairs and carefully laid out on a wooden table. The prices range from 20,000 yuan ($3,160) to 130,000 yuan ($20,500). "We can give you a display case with a ribbon and gold silk setting," she says. Totoaba is reputed to rejuvenate the skin and heal a host of ailments, from arthritis pain to discomfort during pregnancy. But it has become so rare that most customers just display it in their homes, "because it is a prized item," the saleswoman says. In all, her collection of eight dried totoaba pieces is worth $80,000. 'We have nothing' Back in San Felipe, the leader of the local fishermen, Sunshine Rodriguez, recently went on hunger strike for 10 days to protest the government's blanket ban on fish nets -- even though only one kind of net is responsible for killing the vaquita, according to the fishermen. Manuel Galindo, an oceanographer with 37 years' experience, agrees: he says only the thick nets used to fish totoaba can kill the vaquita. The real reason the porpoise is dying out, he says, is that too many dams have been built on the Colorado River, in the United States. That has reduced the flow of water it deposits into the Gulf of California, increasing the salinity of the vaquita's waters, reducing the temperature and disrupting its food supply. The vaquita is adapted to a very specific environment, and those conditions "don't exist anymore," says Galindo, a retired professor at the Autonomous University of Baja California. San Felipe's fishermen are also struggling to survive in their new environment. About 200 of them have abandoned the town and set up an improvised camp on a remote beach with no running water or electricity -- one of the only places they are now allowed to fish. COMMENTS"We've had to flee all the way this place, where we're cold, where we have nothing," says Maria de la Paz Alcantar, 60, cooking lunch for the fishermen as two little girls play in the tangled nets on the sand.

Fire at Trump Tower leaves man dead and 6 firefighters injured

MMNN:9 April 2018
A fire has broke out at Trump Tower, leaving one man dead and six firefighters injured, the New York City Fire Department said.The fire broke out on Saturday. Police identified the man killed as Todd Brassner, 67, a resident of the building’s 50th floor. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition but later died, said spokeswoman Angelica Conroy of the Fire Department, according to the CNN News. Brassner was unconscious and unresponsive when firefighters pulled him out, the New York Police Department said. The medical examiner’s office will determine the cause of death. The fire was contained to the 50th floor of the tower, located on Fifth Avenue in New York. It was ruled under control around 9 p.m., two hours after it was originally reported, the FDNY tweeted. Six firefighters suffered injuries that are not life threatening, Conroy said.No members of the Trump family were at the tower during the fire, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. Before news of the death, President Donald Trump congratulated firefighters and tweeted that the fire was out and “very confined” in the “well built building.” The fire at Trump Tower comes three months after a minor fire broke out in a cooling tower on the roof of the building, according to CNN affiliate WCBS-TV. Two people were injured in the fire, which officials said may have been caused by electrical heaters inside the cooling tower.

South Korean Fighter Jet Crashes, Two Pilots Presumed Dead

MMNN:5 April 2018
SEOUL: A South Korean fighter jet crashed southeast of Seoul on Thursday, leaving two pilots presumed dead, the air force said. The jet was unrelated to U.S.-South Korean military drills taking place in South Korea this month. The annual joint military exercises were delayed by about a month for the Winter Olympics and to help create conditions for a resumption of talks between North and South Korea. COMMENTSThe F-15 jet was returning to base from conducting air manoeuvres when it crashed, an air force official said. He did not comment on the possible cause.

Dawood Ibrahim's Karachi Address Mentioned In New UN Terror List

MMNN:4 April 2018
The latest list of terror organisations and terrorists released by the UN Security Council lists 139 entities from Pakistan alone. These include Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed's Lashkar-e-Taiba, Osama bin Laden's heir apparent Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Dawood Ibrahim, who has been sheltered by Pakistan since the 1993 Mumbai blasts. According to the UN Security Council, Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar has held several Pakistani passports issued in Rawalpindi and Karachi. The United Nations list also reveals that he owns a palatial bungalow in the hilly area of Noorabad, Karachi. Besides the 1993 Mumbai blasts, underworld gangster Dawood Ibrahim, who has been on India's 'Most Wanted' list of terrorists for decades, is also wanted for crimes such as match-fixing and extortion. The UN Security Council points out that he accrued a vast property portfolio across the Midlands and south-east in the UK as well as India, the UAE, Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Cyprus and Australia. Pakistan's Dawn News has reported that the United Nations list of terrorists is headed by Osama bin Laden's heir apparent Ayman al-Zawahiri, and identifies all those individuals who have lived in Pakistan, operated from there or have been associated with groups that used Pakistani territory for carrying out terror operations. Lashkar-e-Taiba's Hafiz Saeed is listed as a terrorist who is also wanted by Interpol for his involvement in multiple terrorist activities. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is headed by Hafiz Saeed, is responsible for carrying out the Mumbai attack that killed 166 people, including six Americans. Haji Mohammed Yahya Mujahid, LeT's media contact, and Hafiz Saeed's deputies, Abdul Salaam and Zafar Iqbal, are also listed. Like Hafiz Saeed, they are all wanted by the Interpol. The Lashkar-e-Taiba is listed with its various aliases, such as al-Mansoorian, Paasban-i-Kashmir, Paasban-i-Ahle Hadith, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Falah-i-Insaniat. The United Nations data states that the first person on the list - Ayman al-Zawahiri - is still hiding somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. Several of his terror associates are also on the list who, the UN believes, are hiding with him. The second person on the list is another dreaded terrorist, Ramzi Mohammad bin al-Sheibah, who is identified as a Yemeni national, arrested in Karachi and handed over to the US authorities. More than a dozen suspected terrorists are listed in the same category, arrested in Pakistan and handed over to the US authorities. Many of them now hold Pakistani passports, issued by various Pakistani missions in the Middle East and renewed in Pakistan, clearly suggesting involvement by the Pakistani establishment. COMMENTSTerrorist entities based in Pakistan either work directly from there, or have links to Pakistani individuals. These include Jaish-e-Mohammed, Afghan Support Committee, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Al Akhtar Trust International, Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and Khatiba Imam Al-Bukhari.

Israel has ‘right’ to its land: Saudi Crown Prince

MMNN:3 April 2018
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has said Israel has a “right” to a homeland alongside the Palestinians. “I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation. I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land,” said the crown prince in an interview with the The Atlantic magazine. The crown prince is the first senior Saudi official to make such a statement when the magazine’s editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg asked whether he believed the Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland. Former US peace negotiator Dennis Ross has said moderate Arab leaders have spoken of the reality of Israel’s existence, but acknowledgement of any sort of “right” to Jewish ancestral land has been a red line no leader has crossed until now, according to the magazine. The crown prince also said that “there are a lot of interests” Saudi Arabia shared with Israel. “Israel is a big economy compared to their size and it’s a growing economy, and of course there are a lot of interests we share with Israel and if there is peace, there would be a lot of interest between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and countries like Egypt and Jordan.” Saudi Arabia and Israel have no formal diplomatic relationship. He said that while his country has “religious concerns” about the holy mosque in Jerusalem and the rights of Palestinians, it has no objection “against any other people”. “I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land. But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations.” The crown prince also said Saudi Arabia “does not have a problem” with anti-Semitism, saying that Prophet Muhammad “even married a Jewish woman”. Ties between the two countries of late have been warming up. In March, Saudi Arabia granted India’s national carrier a permission to use its airspace to operate a direct flight between New Delhi and Tel Aviv. The move ended a decades-long ban by Saudi Arabia on the use of its airspace for flights to Israel. Israel’s Communications Minister Ayoub Kara also invited Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, to visit Israel. Diplomatic observer say Saudi Arabia’s rivalry with Iran has also prompted Riyadh to develop closer relations with Israel.Last November, Israeli army’s chief-of-staff, Gadi Eizenkot, gave the first-ever interview to a Saudi news outlet, and said Israel is ready to share intelligence on Iran with Saudi Arabia. In the Atlantic interview, the crown prince accused Iran of being part of a “triangle of evil” with the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaida and the Islamic State. He also said Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “makes Hitler look good”. “Hitler didn’t do what the supreme leader is trying to do. Hitler tried to conquer Europe. The supreme leader is trying to conquer the world.”

Donald Trump Says Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals Deal For Young Immigrants Is Off

MMNN:2 April 2018
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said on Sunday that there will be no deal to legalize the status of young adult immigrants called Dreamers and he said the U.S.-Mexico border is becoming more dangerous. After tweeting a "Happy Easter" message on Twitter, he said: "Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws like Catch & Release. Getting more dangerous. "Caravans' coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!" he wrote, adding a threat to kill the North American Free Trade Agreement which is being renegotiated with Mexico and Canada. DACA, OR Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a program created in 2012 under Democratic former President Barack Obama that Trump sought to rescind last autumn. Designed for people brought to the United States as children by parents who were undocumented immigrants, the program shielded them from deportation and gave them work permits. Trump had said he was open to a deal with congressional Democrats who want to protect DACA in exchange for funding to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall, a campaign trail promise. He insisted during his 2016 White House run that Mexico would pay for the wall, something the Mexican government has repeatedly rejected. Mexico's presidential front-runner, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, launched his campaign close to the border on Sunday demanding respect for Mexicans and signaling he may take a harder line toward Trump if he wins the July 1 election. "Mexico and its people will not be the pinata of any foreign government," Lopez Obrador said in a speech in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, which borders El Paso, Texas. "It's not with walls or use of force that you resolve social problems." Whether Trump will stick to his guns on DACA is unclear. Trump last month threatened to veto a spending bill because it did not address the fate of Dreamers and did not fully fund his border wall but he ultimately signed the bill. In the months after Trump took office, apprehensions of illegal crossers along the U.S.- Mexico border dropped from more than 42,400 arrests in January 2017 to a low of around 15,700 in April, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Since then, the number of arrests has risen and in the first months of 2018 was above Obama administration levels. "Mexico has got to help us at the border," the president, who is spending Easter at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, told reporters on his way into an Easter church service. "A lot of people are coming in because they want to take advantage of DACA. They had a great chance. The Democrats blew it." Migrant caravan Trump's DACA tweets came after a report on the Fox New Channel's Fox & Friends program, one of his favorites, that a "caravan" of mostly Honduran migrants was crossing Mexico and headed to the United States, "either illegally or by asking for asylum." More than 1,000 would-be migrants have passed through Mexico's southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca in recent days in a so-called "refugee caravan" organized by U.S.-based immigrant advocacy group Pueblo Sin Fronteras. In the town of Ixtepec, more than 1,500 men, women and children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala waited in a sweltering warehouse on Saturday, mattresses rolled and bags packed, as local authorities and immigration officials from Mexico's federal government organized 15 buses to take them to their next stop on the long journey north. By traveling together, the immigrants hope to protect themselves from the crime and extortion that makes the route through Mexico dangerous. They say some but not all of them will seek asylum if they reach the United States. Gina Garibo, a member of Pueblo Sin Fronteras traveling with the migrants, said the group would hold a meeting to discuss Trump's statements on Sunday and stressed that the caravan's aim was to protect vulnerable people. "The main people here are fleeing criminal violence, political violence, in their country and this allows us to save lives," she said in response to Trump's comments. A guest on Sunday's Fox & Friends show, Brandon Judd, head of the National Border Patrol Council union, said illegal immigrants benefit from the "catch and release" program that Trump referenced in his tweet. Under it, they can be freed while awaiting court hearings if detained in the United States. If recent border crossers do not claim asylum, they can usually be deported quickly. But if they say they fear targeted violence or persecution in their home countries, they can begin the long process of petitioning for asylum in immigration court. Trump said on Twitter on Sunday that Mexico is doing "very little, if not NOTHING," to stop the flow of people across the southern border. "They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. NEED WALL!" Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said the United States and Mexico work together on migration every day. "An inaccurate news report should not serve to question this strong cooperation. Upholding human dignity and rights is not at odds with the rule of law. Happy Easter," he said in a tweet. COMMENTSMexico deported some 80,000 people in 2017, down from about 160,000 in 2016, official statistics show. The vast majority were from Central American nations. The drop reflects fewer Central Americans crossing the country last year.

"Canadians' Justin Trudeau Crush Is Over After India Trip: Foreign Media"

MMNN:30 March 2018
After showing a steady lead in public opinion surveys for more than two years after his surprise October 2015 election victory, Trudeau appears to be politically vulnerable. And that's despite a buoyant economy, what's seen as a steady hand in NAFTA trade talks with President Trump, and a weak political opposition. "All of a sudden, we saw this drop," said David Coletto, chief executive of Abacus Data, an Ottawa polling firm, referring to his company's latest poll, completed in early March. "It's the first time since Trudeau became prime minister that we have results showing the Conservatives slightly ahead." CBC's Poll Tracker, which aggregates and weights the results of a dozen opinion surveys, reported in late March that the opposition Conservative Party is now in the lead at 37.7 percent of voting intentions compared with Trudeau's Liberals at 33.7 percent. The left-of-center New Democratic Party was third at 18.5 percent. Some observers say it's just a question of midterm blues, with a Canadian election not scheduled until the fall of 2019. But the real culprit seems to have been Trudeau's visit to India in February. During the week-long trip, Trudeau was widely mocked for wearing traditional Indian garb as he crossed India with his wife and three children. For voters who had welcomed Trudeau's global status as a progressive political leader and proud international standard-bearer for Canada, the images of Trudeau in brash Bollywood outfits at well-known sightseeing spots were a serious comedown. "When you have foreign media like CNN and BBC making fun of our prime minister, that was jarring for some people and made people question whether he was the best person for the job," Coletto said. For critics such as columnist Andrew Coyne of the National Post who see Trudeau as charming but an intellectual lightweight, the India trip simply proved their outlook. "The little things that seemed so charming at first, all those dashing gestures and glam photo ops might well come to seem, at first frivolous, then irritating -- an impression of unseriousness compounded by a series of bungled foreign-policy excursions of which the India trip was only the last," Coyne wrote. Making things worse, Trudeau was harshly criticized for the dinner invitation made to Jaspal Atwal, a convicted Sikh Canadian terrorist from British Columbia, for an official Canadian dinner during the visit. The invitation was withdrawn after it was made public but not before inflicting significant political damage on Trudeau and his entourage. Pollster Nik Nanos says what's striking about Trudeau's dip in popularity is that it's completely "self-inflicted." Both the Conservative and New Democratic parties have new, inexperienced leaders who are making no significant impression on Canadians. In fact, Trudeau still leads by a healthy margin as the preferred choice for prime minister. Besides the disastrous India trip, Nanos said, something else is going on. There's a major gender divide when it comes to Trudeau's support, and it's only getting more pronounced. Women have always been partial to Trudeau, not just for his movie-star looks but also his progressive social policies and his self-description as a feminist. Nanos said this divide grew more sharply as he continued to push a pro-feminist agenda, with Trudeau having lost about one-third of his male support since 2015. "He's been very gender focused," Nanos said. "When you focus so much on gender, it means that other voters, i.e. men, aren't as important." Nanos believes there's still plenty of time for Trudeau and the Liberals to turn things around. "They have to return to a progressive agenda and focus on the middle class. That appeals to both men and women." 4 COMMENTSStephen Azzi, associate professor of political management at Carleton University in Ottawa, said he wouldn't put too much stock in polls 18 months ahead of an election. "Governments tend to lag in Year Two or Three of their mandate," he said. "I think they should be worried, but I don't think it's all doom and gloom."

"Venezuela fire: 68 die in Carabobo Police Station cells"

MMNN:29 March 2018
A fire at a police station in the Venezuelan city of Valencia, in Carabobo state, has left 68 people dead, government officials say, a BBC News report said. The blaze reportedly started after prisoners set fire to mattresses in an attempt to break out on Wednesday.Police used tear gas to disperse relatives who surrounded the station after news of the fire broke. Chief state prosecutor Tarek Saab said an investigation into what had happened would begin immediately.State official Jesus Santander said the situation had now been been brought under control. He said the state of Carabobo was in mourning. The circumstances surrounding the fire have not been officially confirmed. The association Una Ventana a la Libertad (A Window on Freedom), which monitors jail conditions, said its reports showed a police officer had been shot in the leg by a detainee and that shortly afterwards mattresses in cells were set ablaze and the fire quickly spread. Mr Santander did confirm one police officer had been shot.Rescuers reportedly broke through walls to try to free those trapped by the blaze.Nearly all of those who died were inmates but at least two women who were visiting at the time were also killed, Mr Saab said. Some of the victims burned to death, others died of smoke asphyxiation.Angry relatives gathered outside the detention centre and clashed with police as they sought information about loved ones. Aida Parra, who said she had last seen her son the day before, told the Associated Press news agency: “I don’t know if my son is dead or alive. They haven’t told me anything.”Dora Blanco told local media: “I am a desperate mother. My son has been here a week. They have not given any information.” The government has set up an inquiry. Carabobo state governor Rafael Lacava expressed his condolences, adding: “A serious and profound investigation has been initiated to find the causes and those responsible for these regrettable events.” Facilities are notoriously overcrowded, with violence and deadly riots common. The country has struggled to accommodate its prisoners amid an ongoing economic crisis, leading to the use of temporary facilities such as the one in Valencia. Inmates are supposed to be held for only 48 hours in police holding cells.Carlos Nieto, head of Una Ventana a la Libertad, says some police facilities are overfilled at five times their capacity. The organisation says that 65 people died last year in temporary cells due to violence, disease or malnutrition.Last month inmates at a different prison in Carabobo took a number of prisoners and guards hostage in another riot.

"Trump Says Xi Jinping Told Him Meeting With Kim Jong-Un Went "Very Well"

MMNN:28 March 2018
WASHINGTON: COMMENTSUS President Donald Trump said Wednesday said the historic meeting between the leaders of China and North Korea had gone 'very well' and that Kim Jong Un is eager to hold a summit with Trump. "Received message last night from XI JINPING of China that his meeting with KIM JONG UN went very well and that KIM looks forward to his meeting with me," Trump tweeted. In the meantime, and unfortunately, maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all cost!," he added after Kim concluded a secretive three day meeting in Beijing with President Xi Jinping.

"Japanese Foreign Minister to arrive India on a three-day visit

MMNN:27 March 2018
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono will be on a three-day visit to India from Wednesday at the invitation of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. During the visit, Ms Swaraj will co-chair the 9th India-Japan Strategic Dialogue with Foreign Minister Kono on March 29, 2018, a MEA statement said here on Tuesday. The two sides will review all aspects of bilateral relations and exchange views on regional and international issues of common interest. India and Japan concluded a Special Strategic and Global Partnership during the landmark visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Japan in 2014. “Bilateral relations have been strengthened in diverse sectors in recent years. The visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to India in September 2017 has given fresh impetus to the ties,” the MEA statement said. Japan is today one of the largest investors in India, with a growing presence in infrastructure projects, manufacturing, financial markets and capacity-building, among others, the statement added.

"Not Our Job": Pak Refuses To Give Security To Pervez Musharraf

MMNN:26 March 2018
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has rejected former dictator Pervez Musharraf's request for security on returning to the country to face a special court trying him on treason charges, according to a media report. The Ministry of Defence has conveyed to the Dubai-based former president through his counsel that providing him security is not its job, the Dawn newspaper reported. In a letter written to Musharraf's counsel Akhtar Shah, the ministry said "provision of security in the subject case does not fall under the purview of Ministry of Defence", according to the report. The 74-year-old retired Army general has been living in Dubai since last year when he was allowed to leave Pakistan on the pretext of medical treatment. He was indicted in March, 2014 on treason charges for imposing emergency in 2007 in the country which led to the confinement of a number of superior court judges in their houses and sacking of over 100 judges. He has been declared "proclaimed offender" by courts in the treason and the Benazir Bhutto assassination cases. He is the first general to face trial for treason in Pakistan's history and if convicted, he could be given life imprisonment or the death penalty. An application was moved on behalf of Musharraf on March 13 that the former president be provided security by the ministry of defence on his return to Pakistan. "His team contends that he faces serious security threats," it said. However, responding to a similar application, the Interior Ministry had earlier assured Musharraf of security and also sought his travel plan and details of stay in Pakistan. The details have not been shared with the interior ministry so far, the report said. "We are still working on the details and will make the decision public once there is something final," All Pakistan Muslim League leader Muhammad Amjad, a close aide of Musharraf, was quoted as saying by Dawn. On March 16, the special court hearing the treason case against Musharraf authorised the government to suspend his passport as well as his computerised national identity card. The court had also directed the interior ministry to approach the Interpol for the arrest of the former president. COMMENTSOn March 21, he convened a meeting of his aides in Dubai on to decide the future course of action but the meeting remained inconclusive. The Islamabad High Court had last month ordered the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to investigate Musharraf over charges of accumulating assets beyond his known means of income.

Facebook’s value plunged $58bn

MMNN:24 March 2018
Facebook ended the week $58bn lower in value after its handling of a historic data breach, a BBC News report said.Its founder Mark Zuckerberg apologised for data breaches that affected 50 million users. The apology did not stop investors from selling shares in Facebook, with many wondering just how bad the damage would be for the social network.The breach was called a “light bulb” moment for users, spawning the social media trend #deletefacebook. All the negative headlines led to some advertisers saying “enough is enough”. Shares in the social media company fell from $176.80 on Monday to around $159.30 by Friday night.Facebook’s initial public offering in 2012 priced shares at $38 each, giving the company a market valuation of close to $104bn. Following steady user growth and a dominant space in the digital advertising market ensuring revenues, Facebook’s share price climbed to $190 by February this year. Brian Wieser, senior analyst at Pivotal Research, said he had one of the most negative outlooks for Facebook’s share price on Wall Street. “I had a $152 price target on Facebook for 2018 – and that was before the events of this week”. Mr Wieser said the share price slump showed investors were wary of increased regulation and users leaving the platform “but there’s little risk of advertisers leaving Facebook. Where else would they go?” Hargreaves Lansdown senior analyst Laith Khalaf said the week had been a “damaging episode” in Facebook’s history. “One of the secrets of Facebook’s success has been that the more people who use Facebook, the more integral it becomes to its customers. Unfortunately for Facebook, the same dynamic cuts in the opposite direction if it loses a meaningful number of users as a result of this scandal. ” Advertising firm M&C Saatchi’s founding director David Kershaw said the revelations that a 2014 Facebook quiz essentially harvested data from users and their connected friends without consent have led to a backlash from advertisers. “Clients have come to the point, quite rightly, where enough is enough, ” Mr Kershaw said.Advertisers Mozilla and Commerzbank on Wednesday suspended ads on the social media platform. On Friday tech entrepreneur Elon Musk had the official Facebook pages for his companies Tesla and SpaceX deleted.”Make no mistake Facebook is an amazing medium from the advertiser’s point of view because of the accuracy of its targeting -which comes from data. But I think those large companies are very nervous to be associated with a medium where the data is being abused, particularly in a political context,” Mr Kershaw said. Mr Kershaw told the BBC any change in Facebook’s data protection policy was more likely to come from the threat of a withdrawal of “hard money from advertisers rather than consumers running hashtag [campaigns] on Twitter,” referring to the #DeleteFacebook and #BoycottFacebook hashtags that have become popular. UK advertising group ISBA met Facebook on Friday and said its “constructive and challenging” summit had convinced the group that the social media company was taking steps to “rapidly address public and advertiser concerns”, including app audits and face-to-face meetings with individual UK advertising clients. It will take some time before it becomes clear if the advertising industry’s dissatisfaction with Facebook leads to them actually pulling their money out of the social network, or whether the howls of condemnation amount to mere posturing from a group of concerned clients. The Facebook founder tried to reassure users “the most important actions to prevent this from happening again today we have already taken years ago.” However, Passion Capital tech investor Eileen Burbidge, who is also on the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group, said Facebook’s reassurance to users and clients took too long. “The fact that it took them five days to come out with a statement, which happened to be a fair, sensible and comprehensive statement, was just far too long,” Mrs Burbidge said.”I think they were just really tone deaf for too many days.” The technology venture capitalist said Facebook underestimated the consumer backlash that occurred once their data was used for political purposes. Cambridge Analytica is at the centre of a row over whether it used the personal data of millions of Facebook users to sway the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum. “Some people are using the term ‘political manipulation’. “They [Facebook] assumed they had already taken care of this… as they had already changed their terms of service, for example,” Mrs Burbidge said. In Mr Zuckerberg’s online statement he offered a timeline of how Facebook’s data permission agreements with users and other companies had changed since the 2014 personality quiz app was able to scrape data from quiz takers and their contacts without their expressed permission. Mrs Burbidge said there may need to be new regulation over political campaigning “which really hasn’t kept up with social media”.Technology writer Kate Bevan said the week’s events have woken Facebook’s users up to the fact that the platform’s games, quizzes and apps could harvest their data for more serious intents. “This week feels to me like a real light bulb moment where people are understanding that it’s not just clicking ‘like’ on Facebook, it’s giving your data away”. The sentiment was echoed by the European Union’s commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality Vera Jourova said the Cambridge Analytica allegations had been “a huge wake-up call” for Facebook users about the demand for their data.

UN ready to support Africa’s leap into history, says Guterres

MMNN:23 March 2018
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has welcomed the singing of a continental free trade agreement in Africa that has created one of the world’s largest trading blocs with over 50 countries. “I congratulate African leaders for taking the leap into history by signing the African Continental Free Trade Area,” said Mr. Guterres in a statement on Thursday. “This is an important step towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and delivering on the African agenda of peace and prosperity.” In the statement, Secretary-General Guterres also underscored that the entire UN system stands ready to support the continent as it moves towards the entry into force of the Free Trade Area in the coming months. He also applauded the leadership of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, who led the process for the agreement. According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Organisation’s development arm in the region, the agreement has the potential both to boost intra-African trade by 52.3 per cent by eliminating import duties, and to double this trade if non-tariff barriers are also reduced. It is expected that the key beneficiaries from the Free Trade Area will be Africa’s small and medium sized enterprises, which account for 80 per cent of the region’s businesses; women, who represent 70 per cent of the informal cross-border traders; and the youth, who will be able to find new employment opportunities.

Facebook Committed To Checking Interference In Indian Elections, Says Mark Zuckerberg

MMNN:22 March 2018
Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday that his company made mistakes in how it handled data belonging to 50 million of its users and promised tougher steps to restrict developers' access to such information. The world's largest social media network is facing growing government scrutiny in Europe and the United States about a whistleblower's allegations that London-based political consultancy Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed user information to build profiles on American voters which were later used to help elect U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016. Zuckerberg, in his first public comments since the scandal erupted at the weekend, said in a post on Facebook that the company "made mistakes, there's more to do, and we need to step up and do it." He did not elaborate on what the mistakes were, but he said the social network plans to conduct an investigation of apps on its platform, restrict developer access to data, and give members a tool that lets them more easily disable access to their Facebook data. His plans did not represent a big reduction of advertisers' ability to use Facebook data, which is the company's lifeblood. Zuckerberg later told CNN, "This was a major breach of trust. I'm really sorry this happened. We have a basic responsibility to protect people's data." He told CNN that Facebook was committed to stopping interference in the U.S. midterm election in November and elections in India and Brazil. Zuckerberg said he was open to additional government regulation and happy to testify before the U.S. Congress if he was the right person. "I'm not sure we shouldn't be regulated," he said. "I actually think the question is more what is the right regulation rather than yes or no, should it be regulated? ... People should know who is buying the ads that they see on Facebook." Facebook shares pared gains on Wednesday after Zuckerberg's post, closing up 0.7 percent. The company has lost more than $45 billion of its stock market value over the past three days on investor fears that any failure by big tech firms to protect personal data could deter advertisers and users and invite tougher regulation. Facebook representatives including Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman met U.S. congressional staff for nearly two hours on Wednesday and planned to continue meetings on Capitol Hill on Thursday. Facebook was unable to answer many questions, two aides who attended the briefing said. Zuckerberg told the website Recode that fixes to protect users' data would cost "many millions of dollars." The whistleblower who launched the scandal, Christopher Wylie, formerly of Cambridge Analytica, said in a tweet that he had accepted invitations to testify before U.S. and UK lawmakers.

Myanmar President Htin Kyaw, Aung San Suu Kyi's Trusted Ally, Resigns

MMNN:21 March 2018
YANGON, MYANMAR: Myanmar's President Htin Kyaw resigned suddenly on Wednesday leaving the country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi without a close confidant and political ally as she faces rising international opprobrium over the Rakhine crisis. The president is an old school friend of Suu Kyi, serving as her proxy in an office she was barred from occupying according to Myanmar's military-drafted constitution. His role was largely ceremonial given Suu Kyi had awarded herself the title State Counsellor and called the shots within her civilian administration. But he was nonetheless the country's head of state and a key domestic ally for Suu Kyi within her party. Speculation had swirled for months about the health of Htin Kyaw, 72, who had recently lost weight and has had heart problems in the past. "Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw resigned on March 21, 2018," a statement on the president's official Facebook page said. His office did not give many details for why he resigned Wednesday, only saying that "he wanted to take a rest from his current duty". It added that a new leader will be selected in "within seven working days". There were no immediate candidates put forward as long term successors, but several senior party names were floated when Suu Kyi took power. Myanmar's Vice President Myint Swe, a former general, will move into the role until a new president is in place, according to the constitution. Loyal School Friend Htin Kyaw, the country's first civilian president since 1962, was widely respected and seen as completely loyal to Suu Kyi's who said she would rule "above" him after he was elected in 2016. He has stood firmly by her side even as as her reputation lies shattered internationally for not speaking up on behalf of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim community. A violent military crackdown has forced some 700,000 Rohingya to flee over the border into squalid camps in Bangladesh, in what the UN has branded as "ethnic cleansing" with possible "hallmarks of genocide". The military justifies its campaign as a legitimate response to Rohingya militant attacks against police posts in August. The civilian government is in a transitional power-sharing arrangement with the army which still retains huge political and economic power. The army controls three key ministries - home affairs, borders and defence -- effectively giving the army a carte blanche to conduct any security operations it chooses. It also has a quarter of legislative seats reserved for officers, giving the military a de facto veto over any constitutional change. Defenders of Suu Kyi say her government's hands are tied by the military but critics maintain it could and should have done more to speak up against alleged army atrocities, particularly in Rakhine State. Htin Kyaw is the son of a revered poet and helped run Suu Kyi's charitable foundation before taking over the presidency. According to an official biography, Htin Kyaw studied at the University of London's Institute of Computer Science from 1971 to 1972. COMMENTSIn a varied career he worked as a university teacher and also held positions in the finance and national planning and foreign affairs ministries in the late 1970s and 80s before retiring from government service as the military tightened its grip.

Australia PM meets Myanmar leader Suu Kyi, to raise human rights concerns

MMNN:20 March 2018
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Canberra on Monday to be met by a military honour guard and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has said he will raise human rights issues during her visit. Suu Kyi has been in Australia since Friday, attending a special summit of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders in Sydney, where her presence drew street protests and a lawsuit accusing her of crimes against humanity. Australia’s Attorney General has said he would not allow the lawsuit, lodged by activist lawyers in Melbourne on behalf of Australia’s Rohingya community, to proceed because Suu Kyi had diplomatic immunity. Since coming to power in 2016, Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle for democracy in Myanmar, has faced growing criticism for failing to condemn or stop military attacks on her country’s minority Rohingya Muslims. U.N. officials say nearly 700,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh after militant attacks on Aug. 25 last year sparked a crackdown, led by security forces, in Rakhine state that the United Nations and United States have said constitutes ethnic cleansing. The U.N. independent investigator on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said in Geneva this month she saw growing evidence to suspect genocide had been committed. Myanmar denies the charges and has asked for “clear evidence” of abuses by security forces.Neither Suu Kyi nor Turnbull made public remarks before their meeting, but the Australian leader said on Sunday that Suu Kyi spoke “at considerable length” during the ASEAN meeting about Rakhine State, appealing to her Southeast Asian neighbours for humanitarian help.

Five Economic Challenges Facing Vladimir Putin

MMNN:19 March 2018
MOSCOW: As he prepares for his fourth term, President Vladimir Putin is expected to finally make good on his repeated pledges to revive Russia's creaking economy. While the situation has stabilised since the 2015-2016 recession, growth forecasts are capped at 1-2 percent, below targets set by the Kremlin. Here are the five main challenges: Lack of manpower Putin made several references to the crucial question of family policy during his campaign. Russia, which currently has a population of 146.9 million, has lost more than five million inhabitants since 1991, a consequence of the serious demographic crisis that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. The first generation born in the post-Soviet years, which were marked by a declining birth rate, is now entering the labour market, which is likely to see a shortage of qualified manpower and a resultant curb on economic growth. This new, smaller generation, is also reaching the age to have children, which has resulted in a further drop in mortality in 2017. "We will have fewer young people in the next 10 to 15 years, so a young specialist with new skills -- interpersonal and technical, including computer programming -- will be worth gold," former finance minister Alexei Kudrin said recently. Retirement age The retirement age in Russia -- 55 for women and 60 for men -- is among the lowest in the world. While state pensions are very low, with the demographic decline the system still represents a growing burden for the federal budget. Putin has said several times that reforms would be necessary but has so far always judged that the moment for them had not yet arrived. While liberals like Kudrin advocate a gradual increase in the retirement age to 63, tampering with this Soviet-era social benefit may prove unpopular in a country where retirees often have trouble making ends meet with their meagre pensions. In a gesture for this group who have particularly suffered from the surge in prices in recent years, the Kremlin announced Friday that it would prepare measures to allow pensions to increase faster than inflation. Attract investment Putin regularly flirts with foreign investors at economic conferences, promising to improve a business climate undermined by bureaucracy and also, according to his own findings, by sometimes unjustified lawsuits. "Russia needs to attract more foreign investment, it needs to create a favourable competitive environment (weak ruble, lower taxes for industry and investment incentives) and reduce bureaucracy," according to Chris Weafer, founder of consulting firm Macro Advisory. "The need for foreign investment is also the reason why the Kremlin has not retaliated against the recent US sanctions escalation; it does not wish to make it any more difficult for foreign investors to come to Russia." On Friday, the Kremlin said it had instructed Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina to draw up an "action plan" by July 15 to significantly increase the role of investment in an economy still dependent on hydrocarbons. While investment increased 4.4 percent in 2017, according to the statistics agency Rosstat, the growth was largely due to large one-off projects such as the bridge being constructed to connect the Crimea or the football World Cup. Diversify The economic model that saw high energy prices fuel meteoric growth during Putin's first two terms in power from 2000 to 2008 has run its course. Rich in vast reserves of hydrocarbons, Russia is at the mercy of fluctuations in their prices, as shown by the 2015-2016 crisis. The "economy remains structurally dependent on the commodities sector, which is clearly negative for the growth outlook," according to Alfa Bank. To wean itself off this dependence, Weafer suggests investing in entrepreneurs and small businesses by making "money for investment and consumption more affordable and more easily available". He also said Russia should encourage investment into "robotics, smart technologies, artificial intelligence". As an example of what can be achieved, Lev Jakobson, first vice rector at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, points to "quite impressive growth in the productivity of the agricultural sector", which has broken harvest and export records in recent years. Increase productivity "The economy is very inefficient. Partly this is the legacy of the Soviet system and partly because of the easy growth coming from the oil wealth in the years 2000-13," said Weafer. "There are plenty of inefficiencies in the system which, if fixed, could drive strong growth." Weafer cites the example of the oil sector which, while it was under Ukraine-related sanctions imposed in August 2014 and even as prices plunged, increased output by 740,000 barrels a day. "The industry was forced to become more efficient and innovative," he said. COMMENTSTo modernise large companies, the government has launched several privatisation plans, but the state's share in the economy has actually been further strengthened in recent years by a triumphant state capitalism that saw the oil company Rosneft grow significantly.

China Meddling In Our Internal Affairs: Maldives' Opposition Leader

MMNN:16 March 2018
WASHINGTON: China is meddling in the internal affairs of the Maldives and engaged in massive land grabbing, posing a major security threat to India and the entire Indian Ocean region, a former Maldivian foreign minister and Opposition leader had said. Ahmed Naseem, who is in the US to brief Trump administration officials on the political turmoil in the Maldives and China's alleged interference in the island nation, said his country is now a "full-blown dictatorship". "China likes to tell the West not to meddle in the domestic affairs of Asian countries. But in the Maldives, China is only too happy to meddle in our domestic affairs, by corrupting the ruling elite and encouraging an authoritarian president to double down on repression," Mr Naseem said addressing a gathering at top American think-tank South Asia Centre of Atlantic Council. The Maldives has been witnessing political crisis as President Abdulla Yameen declared an emergency in the island nation on February 5 after the Supreme Court ordered the release of a group of opposition leaders, who had been convicted in widely-criticised trials. The emergency was extended for another 30 days on February 20. There has been international condemnation of the Maldivian government's moves. "Almost all the democratic gains that we made in recent years have been lost since President Yameen assumed power in 2013. Every opposition leader is in jail, or exile. The military has stormed, and now occupies, the parliament," he said. Asserting that the Maldives is now a "full-blown dictatorship", Mr Naseem, who is also vice chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Maldivian Democratic Party, said, "It's difficult to believe that President Yameen would have dared to do all this defying India and the West -- without the implicit support of his new best friend in Beijing." He said that Beijing likes dictatorships because "dictators are easier to bribe, and dictatorships are easier to seduce into a Chinese debt trap." "This facilitates China's primary goal which is a land grab. More specifically, China appears to be keen on building a base in the Maldives which one day may house warships and submarines, Naseem alleged. "China's standard prescription for a land grab have been change state type to autocracy, dismantle transparency and democratic oversight, acquire infrastructure projects, very often vanity projects; roads that lead to nowhere, bridges that don't bridge. "Prices of these projects are often extremely inflated, and financed through commercial loans or supplier credit. The receiving country therefore cannot pay back the debt, and that debt is used as a disciplining regime," he alleged. Calling it a "classic case of debt trap", he said, "When countries can't pay back the debt, they ask for equity and we end up relinquishing sovereignty. Without firing a single shot, China has grabbed more land than the East India Company." Describing this as a dangerous situation, Naseem said that this affects not just the Maldives, but the security and stability of the entire Indian Ocean region. "In particular, China's actions are undermining India's security concerns. What is happening in the Maldives is not just about democracy. It's about peace, stability, and security of entire neighbourhood, he said. Mr Naseem alleged that Yameen's "criminal activities" undermine the US-led, rule-based international system. Last month, a Maldivian oil tanker was photographed by the Japanese air force engaged in suspected sanction busting activities, he said. The Maldivian government furiously denied any involvement in the incident, claiming the tanker was using a fake Maldivian flag. But since then, the tanker has been connected to the Maldives where it is registered and also to President Yameen's family, he said. "We have now learned that a member of Yameen's family used the tanker as collateral in an application for a USD 4 million mortgage at the Bank of Maldives. "The opposition believes that Yameen has a fleet of 27 oil tankers, which are being used to systematically bust UN sanctions on North Korea. This business model is nothing new for President Yameen. In the early 2000s, he was documented selling bootleg oil to the Burmese junta, in breach of then UN sanctions, Mr Naseem said. So this is the problem we face in the Maldives. China is propping up, and actively encouraging a criminal regime, which is busy dismantling the institutions of democracy to cement his rule, and busy selling off the country to Beijing," the former foreign minister said. COMMENTSNaseem warned the Washington audience that the Maldives is becoming more volatile, more lawless, and more in the grip of Islamic extremists. "I don't think things are going to end well, unless this regime can be brought to a swift end and democracy restored, he said.

Iran, Pakistan seek Chahbahar, Gwadar link

MMNN:13 March 2018
Pakistan and Iran want to “deepen” connectivity between the ports of Gawadar and Chahbahar which are being developed by China and India respectively, saying this would benefit people of the two countries. After Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif held talks with his Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Asif on Monday, the Pakistan foreign office in statement said, “The foreign ministers underlined that as two brotherly neighbouring countries Iran and Pakistan would deepen connectivity between the two sister ports of Gawadar and Chahbahar to benefit from their complementarities,” Zarif is on a three-day visit to Pakistan. He is accompanied by a large trade delegation from Iran.

50 Dead As Bangladesh Passenger Plane With 71 On Board Crash-Lands Near Nepal Airport

MMNN:12 March 2018
KATHMANDU: Fifty people are feared killed after a Bangladeshi plane with 67 passengers on board crashed near Kathmandu airport on Monday as it was coming in to land, officials said, as firefighters battled to extinguish the burning wreckage and rescue passengers. "31 died at the spot and nine died at two hospitals in Kathmandu," police spokesman Manoj Neupane told news agency AFP, adding another 23 were injured. Live footage posted on Facebook showed the towering columns of smoke rising behind the runway, where another plane stood waiting on the tarmac. Plumes of black smoke could be seen rising from the football pitch where the plane crashed, to the east of the runway at Nepal's only international airport, in the capital Kathmandu. "There were 67 passengers and 4 crew members" aboard the plane, said airport spokesman Prem Nath Thakur. "So far 20 injured have been taken to the hospital. Police and army are trying to cut apart the plane to rescue others," he added. Emergency vehicles appeared to be heading into the smoke as people watched from a distance or filmed on their mobile phones. "We are trying to bring the fire under control. Details are awaited," airport spokesman Birendra Prasad Shrestha said, adding that the airport had been shut down and all other flights diverted. "We're now concentrating on evacuating the passengers," the official added. Mountainous Nepal is notorious for air accidents. Small aircraft often run into trouble at provincial airstrips. A Thai Airways flight from Bangkok crashed while trying to land in Kathmandu in 1992 killing all on board. US-Bangla Airlines is a unit of the US-Bangla Group, a U.S. Bangladeshi joint venture company. COMMENTSThe Bangladeshi carrier launched operations in July 2014 and operates Bombardier Inc and Boeing aircraft

Gunman, 3 Hostages Found Dead After Siege At California Veterans Home

MMNN:10 March 2018
A former U.S. serviceman opened fire at a California veterans home where he had undergone treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, taking three employees hostage in an all-day standoff that ended when police found him and his female captives dead. "This is a tragic piece of news, one that we were really hoping we wouldn't have to come before the public to give," California Highway Patrol spokesman Chris Childs told reporters outside the facility in Yountville, a picturesque town located in the heart of Napa Valley's wine country about 60 miles (100 km) north of San Francisco. Despite repeated efforts by police negotiators to communicate with the suspect throughout the day, authorities said they had failed to make contact with the gunman after he exchanged gunfire with a sheriff's deputy at the outset of the confrontation. "We credit him (the deputy) with saving the lives of others in the area by eliminating the ability of the suspect to go out and find other victims," Childs said. Authorities later identified the gunman as 36-year-old Albert Wong, a former patient of Pathway Home, a program housed at the veterans complex for former service members suffering PTSD after deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The San Francisco Chronicle, citing unidentified sources, said Wong, who lived in Sacramento, had been asked to leave the program two weeks ago. The three hostages all worked for the program. They were later identified as Pathway Home Executive Director Christine Loeber, 48, the program's clinical director, therapist Jen Golick, 42, and Jennifer Gonzales, 29, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. "These brave women were accomplished professionals, dedicated to their careers of serving our nation's veterans, working closely with those of the greatest need of attention," Pathway Home said in a statement. The siege came less than a month after a former student with an assault-style rifle killed 17 people at a Florida high school. That massacre touched off a student-led drive for new restrictions on gun sales to curb mass shootings that have occurred with frightening frequency in the United States over the past few years. The Veterans Home of California, a residence for about 1,000 aging and disabled U.S. military veterans, is the largest facility of its kind in the United States. The Pathway Home is housed in a separate building on the campus. Lockdown The entire complex, its staff and residents were placed under a security lockdown during the siege, which began at about 10:30 a.m. local time (1830 GMT Friday) and ended nearly eight hours later. Childs said officers who eventually entered the room where the hostages were being held found all four bodies there. He did not elaborate on how the victims or gunman had died. The incident began when the gunman calmly walked into the Pathway Home building carrying a rifle during a going-away party for one of the employees, according to Larry Kamer, the husband of one of the program's administrators, Devereaux Smith. Kamer, who volunteers at the home and was acting as an unofficial spokesman for the facility, said his wife told him by telephone during the siege that the gunman had allowed her and three other women to leave the room where the party was taking place, while three female employees remained behind as hostages. The Napa County sheriff's deputy who confronted the gunman had arrived at the scene within four minutes of the first reports of gunfire, Sheriff John Robertson said. A resident of the home, identified as Rod Allen by the CBS television affiliate KPIX-TV, said the gunman took the hostages after allowing some people at the party to leave. He fired about 30 shots, the resident said. James Musson, a 75-year-old Army veteran and resident of the facility, told Reuters many who lived there voiced concerns about lax security, saying visitors could walk in and out without restriction and that public safety officers were not armed. COMMENTS"There might be something that might provide a greater degree of security, I don't know if this event will trigger something like that," he said.

No More Missile Wake-Up Calls For South Korea Leader Moon Jae-In, Says Kim Jong-Un

MMNN:9 March 2018
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has promised the South's President Moon Jae-in no more missile-related early morning wake-up calls, Seoul said. Last year Pyongyang carried out 20 ballistic missile tests, almost all of them in the early hours of the morning. Moon routinely summons his National Security Council immediately after such events, and the timing has ensured officials, diplomats and journalists in Seoul have regularly been jolted awake. But when he met Seoul's envoys this week a jovial Kim pledged not to disrupt Moon's slumbers any more. "I've made up my mind today and President Moon does not have to be disturbed from sleep with early morning wake-up calls," he was quoted as saying by an official of Seoul's presidential Blue House. At the four-hour meeting on Monday, Kim agreed to hold a summit with Moon in April, expressed his desire to meet US President Donald Trump at an early date, offered to to put denuclearisation on the table, and promised no more missile or nuclear tests while dialogue continued. The two Koreas also agreed to open a hotline between the leaders. "If things don't go well with officials' talks and they behave arrogantly, Mr President and I can now talk directly through the phone and sort things out easily," Kim said, to laughter from delegates on both sides. Kim, whose weight is a regular subject of comment in foreign media, was aware of how he is portrayed overseas and engaged in pleasantries bordering on self-deprecation, another Blue House official said according to reports. COMMENTSNo details were provided. But Trump once labelled him as "short and fat".

Forbes Keeps Saudis Off Billionaires List After Corruption Purge

MMNN:8 March 2018
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA: Forbes magazine said on Thursday it was excluding all Saudi Arabian tycoons from its annual list of the world's richest people after dozens of top businessmen from the oil-rich kingdom were detained in a crackdown on corruption last year. Most detainees were released after reaching settlements with the authorities, who say they arranged to seize more than $100 billion in assets through such deals. But the government has provided few details about who was netted in the sweep, what they were accused of and how much they gave up. Forbes said earlier in the week that it was "impossible to know definitively who gave how much to whom when". The magazine said it had removed the 10 Saudi billionaires who made the cut last year, including detained in the crackdown like Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, with wealth previously valued at $18.7 billion, and Mohammed al-Amoudi whose treasure stood at $8.1 billion. "With greater clarity regarding their wealth, some might eventually return to the ranking," Forbes said. The magazine's Middle East edition said in a separate statement on Thursday that the wealth of Saudi billionaires was believed to have increased from $42.1 billion last year due to the rise in oil prices and capital markets globally, but would be excluded due to the reported asset seizures. Alwaleed, who told Reuters in an interview hours before his release in January that he did not expect to give up any assets to the government, sued Forbes in 2013 alleging the magazine had undervalued his wealth. COMMENTSThe magazine listed 2,208 billionaires worldwide in 2018, up from 2,043 in 2017.

China 'Rewriting Norms, Showing Worrying Tendency', Says Top US General

MMNN:28 February 2018
WASHINGTON: China is trying to rewrite norms that it perceives do not trend in its favour and showing worrying tendency to challenge the existing rules-based order from which it has been a major beneficiary, a top US commander has said. Officials in congressional testimony had earlier asserted that there had been a reduction in cyber thefts. Commander of the US Cyber Command Admiral Michael S Rogers, in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday said, "China has shown a worrying tendency to challenge the existing rules-based order, from which it has been a major beneficiary. "It is pursuing its economic and diplomatic interests with greater assertiveness, rejecting, ignoring, or trying to rewrite norms that it perceives do not trend in its favour," he said. Rogers said that China's behaviour in cyberspace exemplifies this trend. For example, former US president Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping committed in 2015 that the two countries would not conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property for commercial gain, he said. "Subsequent evidence, however, suggests that hackers based in China sustained cyber espionage that exploited the business secrets and intellectual property of American businesses, universities, and defense industries," Rogers told the Committee. COMMENTSThe Justice Department just last fall unsealed indictments against three Chinese nationals, alleging they exfiltrated more than 400GB of data from several companies in the United States, he added. "In addition, the Chinese government could exploit the production of information and technology products to harvest corporate, government, and even personal data from foreign countries," Rogers said.

Filipina Maid's Murder Shocks Filipinas In Kuwait, But Some Vow To Stay

MMNN:27 February 2018
KUWAIT: The murder of a Filipina maid whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait has triggered outrage and prompted Manila to impose a departure ban for its citizens planning to work in the Gulf state. But the estimated 252,000 Filipinos and Filipinas already working in Kuwait must weigh their fear of sharing the fate of Joanne Demafelis against the potential loss of vital income for their families. Many have relatives back home who depend on remittances to survive, and some say they are forced to choose between their own wellbeing and that of their children. Luzviminda has worked in a hair salon in central Kuwait City since 2013 to support her five children, who live with her mother in the Philippines. Despite being rattled by news of her compatriot's murder, the 40-year-old told AFP going home was not an option. "I need the money," she said as she strolled through a park in the city. "My eldest son started university this year to study business administration. It's expensive, and there's no way I would have been able to afford it if I had stayed in my country." Demafelis' body was discovered in abandoned flat in Kuwait, bearing what officials said appeared to be signs of torture. A Lebanese-Syrian couple suspected of the young maid's murder were arrested last week in the Syrian capital Damascus, after an Interpol manhunt. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte responded to the murder by accusing Arab employers of raping and starving their Filipina workers, and announced a ban on the country's citizens heading to Kuwait for work. Duterte also launched a repatriation plan under which some 1,700 workers have already returned home, according to the Philippines government. Kuwait, whose image was dealt a serious blow, offered an amnesty to illegal workers wanting to fly back home. But Human Rights Watch has warned the new Philippine ban would likely trigger a wave of unregulated labour migration, exposing thousands to an even greater risk of abuse. I want to stay Valued for their fluency in English, over two million Philippine citizens are employed across the Gulf. While the murder rocked the Philippine community in Kuwait, many say they want to remain in the country. "I was truly afraid but actually because I want to stay here to make sure my children graduate from school," said Luzviminda, who asked that her family name be withheld. "But if the government asks me to leave, I will have no choice but to comply". Like many others, her fate and that of her children now lies in the hands of diplomats, as the crisis between the two countries deepens. Some plan to lobby the Philippines' Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to lift Duterte's ban, at least for skilled workers whose status in Kuwait is not tied to a single family under the "kafala" (sponsorship) system prevalent in the Middle East. "There are a lot of opportunities for the Filipinos" in Kuwait, said Anna Bunda, who works with a recruitment agency. "I hope that the government will hear us." Gulf countries have long drawn harsh criticism for their treatment of labourers and maids. Attorney Mohammed Al-Humaidi, director of the Kuwait Society for Human Rights, said his group regularly receives calls for help from Filipinas with abusive employers. "While we have a deal with a legal bureau which represents workers and maids in court, the unfortunate reality is that many calls for help do not even reach us," he said. The head of Kuwait's parliamentary Human Rights Committee, Adil Damkhi, says the judiciary does not discriminate when it comes to crimes in Kuwait. "There have been several horrific incidents on both sides, but crimes committed by Kuwaitis are more prominent in the media than crimes committed by the maids," Damkhi said. He called the Demafelis murder "a heinous crime". "The suspects have been arrested and will be tried, just as any Kuwaitis who attack their workers will be punished," he said. And while rights groups have criticised Gulf countries for failing to protect migrants, 56-year-old Rose, a housekeeper in Kuwait since 1997, said the benefits outweigh the risks. "I worked for five families, the last of which was an American family. They treat me well," she told AFP. COMMENTS"I cook what I want, and I exercise every morning on my own and I help my family back home to cope with the burdens of life."

4 Killed In Leicester Explosion, Cause Yet To Be Determined: British Police

MMNN:26 February 2018
LONDON: Four people were killed and four more were in hospital on Monday after an explosion and fire destroyed a three-storey building in the central English city of Leicester, police said. The cause of the blast on Sunday evening has yet to be determined but police say the incident is not being linked to terrorism. "At this stage, there are four confirmed fatalities and four people remain in hospital, one with serious injuries," Leicestershire Police said in a statement. Neighbours reported that their own homes shook with the force of the blast, which sparked a fire that engulfed the ground floor shop and two-storey flat above it. "We believe there may be people who have not yet been accounted for and rescue efforts continue in order to locate any further casualties," Superintendent Shane O'Neill said. Six fire crews are at the scene and emergency services will remain at the site throughout Monday. Major roads in the area are closed and electricity to a number of homes nearby was affected, but no properties were evacuated overnight. "Once the site is deemed to be safe a joint investigation with Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service will begin looking into the circumstances surrounding the incident, which at this stage are not being linked to terrorism," O'Neill said. Firefighters worked through the night to control the blaze, which broke out shortly after 7:00 pm (1900 GMT)on Sunday. "We've now got specialist search and rescue teams supported by search dogs on scene," Matt Cane, from Leicestershire Fire and Rescue, told AFP at the site. Pictures and videos posted on social media showed a property engulfed in flames, with rubble and debris scattered around. "It was very scary," local resident Graeme Hudson told AFP. "I live five minutes away... but my house shook. I went out and saw massive smoke and big flames." Another witness, Tahir Khan, who was driving past when it happened, said: "I looked on the road and half the building was on the road. COMMENTS "Literally the whole of the side of the building had been blown out. I couldn't believe it, it was like a Hollywood movie."

Vladimir Putin Honours Russian Military On Fatherland Defender's Day

MMNN:24 February 2018
MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin has paid tribute to the Russian military at a ceremony for presenting national awards on the occasion of the Defender of the Fatherland Day, the Kremlin has said. "We honour those for whom military service became a mission and the meaning of life - true patriots, who reliably guard the sovereignty and security of Russia, and secure the peace of our citizens," Putin said at the award ceremony held at the Kremlin Palace on Friday, Xinhua reported. The national awards were presented "to soldiers who have committed a heroic deed in the name of the Fatherland and to the best units and formations of the Army and the Navy", according to the Kremlin. Defender of the Fatherland Day is a holiday observed in Russia, Turkmenistan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. It is celebrated on February 23, except in Kazakhstan, where it is celebrated on May 7. Putin presented a Gold Star medal of the Hero of Russia to the family of Major Roman Filipov, a military pilot who died heroically fighting terrorists in Syria on February 3. He also awarded the Order of Suvorov to the Red Banner South Military District, the Order of Ushakov to the Admiral Kuznetsov heavy aircraft-carrying missile cruiser, and the Order of Nakhimov to the Guard missile cruiser Varyag, according to the Kremlin. The President thanked Russian servicemen who took part in the anti-terrorism operations in Syria, which "displayed heroism, staunchness and bravery." "Our soldiers demonstrated their readiness to solve the most complicated tasks in Syria: they act bravely, decisively and courageously. They helped the Syrian army shatter large, well-equipped terrorist groups," Putin said. COMMENTSRussia started participating in the military operation in Syria in September 2015 at the invitation of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Pak Placed On Terror Financing Watch List As China Withdraws Objection: Sources

MMNN:23 February 2018
NEW DELHI: In a huge embarrassment for Pakistan, sources say that the global money laundering watchdog FATF or the Financial Action Task Force has put Islamabad back on its terrorist financing watch list, the move that could seriously hurt Pakistan's economy. An official announcement is expected later today. The 35-member body works by consensus and even China, which was supporting its closest ally till now, withdrew its objections after intense pressure from the US and others. Earlier this week, Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif had claimed a victory, saying that there wasn't a consensus against the country. Indian officials had called the claim premature. The resolution against Pakistan was moved by the US, which wants to put pressure on Islamabad for not doing enough to comply with anti-terrorist financing and anti-money laundering regulations. The move is part of a broader US strategy to pressurise Pakistan to cut its links to terror groups in Afghanistan. The move is expected to inflict serious damage on Pakistan. Being placed on the FATF watch list brings extra scrutiny from regulators and financial institutions that will be wary of doing business with Pakistani banks. COMMENTSPakistan was on the watch list between 2012- 2015 as well but only for money laundering. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an inter-governmental body established in 1989 by the Ministers of its Member jurisdictions. The objectives of the FATF are to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terror financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.

In Mexican Cartel Country, Priests Have Uneasy Ties With Narcos

MMNN:22 February 2018
ACAPULCO, MEXICO: When 15 armed men descended on his church last year demanding a blessing, Father Jesus Mendoza asked them to leave their guns outside. "I can't bless you if you're armed," said the Catholic priest, who works in the violent southern state of Guerrero. The drug cartel enforcers agreed to put down their rifles, and Mendoza in turn agreed to pray for them. "God, please touch the hearts of those who forget that we are brothers, and cause suffering and death," he said. The story is one of many that show the uneasy relationship between priests and drug traffickers in heavily Catholic Mexico, where some Church officials say they have no choice but to engage with the powerful cartels that have de facto control over the regions where they work. The issue erupted into the headlines again this month when two priests were murdered in Guerrero in a carjacking that had the hallmarks of a drug hit. In all, 21 priests have been murdered in Mexico since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in 2012, according to Church statistics. After the latest murders, Salvador Rangel, the bishop of Chilpancingo, Guerrero was vocal in insisting that Church leaders must engage in dialogue with drug traffickers to prevent a repeat of such incidents in the state. "I'm trying to make sure there are no more murders," he said. That clashes with the stance of the Mexican government, which sent the military into the streets to fight drug cartels in 2006 and has been fighting a bloody war with them ever since. The drug war has unleashed a wave of violence on Mexico. Last year, more than 25,000 people were murdered, setting a new record. Guerrero had the most of any state: 2,318. Heavy Toll The Mexican bishops' conference has publicly backed Rangel. "The bishop is bravely doing his job, and we support him," the group's secretary, Father Alfonso Miranda, told AFP. In Guerrero, Father Mendoza has spent more than 20 years dealing with the problem on the ground. He sees Bishop Rangel's reaction as an "emergency tactic." "It's something we have to do, to reduce the level of violence in some areas," said Mendoza, 65, who served for years at a church in the violent port city of Acapulco before being transferred to a rural congregation outside the city for his own protection. In the two decades Mendoza worked in the city, he saw Acapulco go from a quiet resort town to a scene of bloody cartel turf wars with several murders a day. "I started reaching out to families whose loved ones were murdered or missing. It was something that caught us all by surprise," said the gray-haired priest, wearing a simple blue shirt that made him blend in with his congregation in the rural community where he works now, known simply as "Kilometer 30." He spent eight years working on a support program for victims and their families, and also reaching out to drug traffickers until the violence became too much for him. "For years, I was bearing the weight of all this every day. And I probably didn't take care of my own emotional health as well as I should have," he said. One day, he simply collapsed. After that, his health plunged into a downward spiral. He lost sight in one eye and had to take a five-month leave of absence. "It all starts to erode your health after a while," he said. God Brought Them To Me But despite it all, he went back to his work. Now, in Kilometer 30 a village in the middle of cartel country, where there is virtually no sign of the police, local government or any other presence of the Mexican state his door remains open to all, he said. "When I cross paths with (cartel) gunmen, I greet them. As a pastor, I try to send the message, 'I'm here for you. If you need me for anything, I'm here to serve you,'" he said. He recalled how in Acapulco, the drug cartel that controlled the area where he worked posted a "hawk," or lookout, outside his church every day for seven years. "I always made an effort to get to know these young men. There were 15 of them over the years. They would change them. Which meant that the previous one had been killed," Mendoza said. "Each time, I tried to treat them as brothers. I would tell them, 'I'm here for you if you need anything.'" He even invited some of them to join his parish. When the group of 15 armed men showed up at the church he now leads, he said, he saw it as an opportunity. "God brought them to me. They had a spiritual need, and I had to help them," he said. COMMENTS"I tried to use that opportunity to help them understand."

US Disappointed Over Extension Of Maldives Emergency

MMNN:21 February 2018
WASHINGTON: The US today expressed disappointment over the Maldivian government extending the state of emergency by another 30 days and asked President Abdulla Yameen to uphold the rule of law in the troubled Indian Ocean island nation. Yameen yesterday extended a draconian state of emergency by another month yesterday, bolstering his grip on power in the troubled Indian Ocean island nation. "The United States is disappointed by reports that Maldivian President Yameen has extended the state of emergency in that country for an additional 30 days," State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said. "The US continues to call on President Yameen to end the state of emergency, uphold the rule of law, permit the full and proper functioning of the Parliament and the judiciary, restore constitutionally guaranteed rights of the people of the Maldives, and respect the Maldives' international human rights obligations and commitments," Nauert said. Yameen earlier this month had declared a 15-day state of emergency curtailing the powers of the judiciary and the legislature after the country's Supreme Court ordered the release of a group of Opposition leaders, who had been convicted in widely criticised trials. The Maldives' Parliament yesterday extended the state of emergency by approving Yameen's recommendation. Only 38 MPs were present for the vote, which took place hours before the state of emergency was due to expire, despite 43 lawmakers being needed for the vote to take place as required by the Constitution. All 38 were from the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives. The opposition boycotted the vote. The state of emergency will now end on March 22. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal in an editorial expressed concern over China's increasing influence in Male. "Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative puts the expansion of Chinese power and influence above all else, and the Maldives is an example of the collateral damage. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called China's practices 'predatory economics', and too often that's right," the daily said. India, it said, is naturally concerned that China could use the Maldives ports to expand its military presence in the Indian Ocean. India's economic ties with the Maldives are also being eclipsed, the editorial said. "In 2012 the Yameen administration terminated a contract with an Indian company to renovate the country's airport in favour of a Chinese company. Last year, the government pushed a trade agreement with China through parliament without debate, eliminating tariffs on 95 per cent of Chinese goods over eight years," it said. COMMENTSAccording to the daily, as part of Xi's Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing granted loans and sent state-owned companies to develop the Maldives ports and other public works. A new International Monetary Fund report projects the Maldives' external debt will hit 51.2 per cent of GDP in 2021 from 34.7 per cent in 2016 as a result of the projects, it said

Oxfam Bosses To be Questioned Over Haiti Sex Scandal: Reports

MMNN:20 February 2018
LONDON: Senior Oxfam executives will appear before British parliamentarians on Tuesday amid criticism over the way the charity handled claims of sexual misconduct by its staff in Haiti. The lawmakers from the International Development Committee will question the Oxfam chief Mark Goldring and chair of trustees Caroline Thomson, about safeguarding policies, reported the BBC. Representatives from Save the Children and the Department for International Development will also be quizzed. Oxfam has apologised to Haiti and vowed to do better while handing over the internal report on allegations at a meeting with its minister of planning. Earlier this month, the Times newspaper published allegations that Oxfam aid workers in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake had been involved with prostitutes. Oxfam denied a cover-up but its handling of the scandal is being investigated by the Charity Commission, the BBC reported. COMMENTSOn Monday, Oxfam, which has almost 10,000 staff working in more than 90 countries, released a redacted version of its internal report on alleged abuse by some of its staff in Haiti, saying it wants to be "as transparent as possible" about the decisions it made. It revealed that three of the men accused of sexual misconduct in Haiti physically threatened witnesses during a 2011 investigation.

Tourists Left Dangling In Cabins For Hours After Cable Car Breaks Down

MMNN:19 February 2018
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA: Hundreds of tourists were stranded for hours after a cable car broke down on the Malaysian island of Langkawi, authorities said Monday, with some left dangling in cabins over a jungle-clad mountain as night fell. Over 1,000 tourists, including some Western and Chinese visitors, and scores of cable car workers were trapped Sunday when a faulty part caused the popular attraction to grind to a halt, officials said. Almost 90 people were travelling on the cable car which is on the island's second-highest peak and offers panoramic views over the palm-fringed tourist hotspot at the time of the accident. The majority were at the top of 700-metre (2,300-foot) Mount Machinchang, or at a station halfway down. Twitter user Pricillia posted a picture of the stationary cable car up on the hill, with the message: "Worst experience ever". Those on the attraction were left hanging precariously for three hours before rescuers brought them down at about 9:00 pm by operating the cable car manually. "People were nervous and fearful but when they saw the firefighters arriving, they clapped and began to smile," Langkawi fire and rescue chief Mohamad Hisham Ibrahim told AFP. The cable car was fixed at about 11:00 pm after a faulty bearing was replaced, allowing rescuers to bring down the remaining tourists and workers in batches, with the operation ending after midnight, Hisham told AFP. None were injured. It was reported to be the most serious accident to hit the attraction, which bills itself as the one of the world's steepest cable cars, since it started operating in 2003. The operator pledged a thorough investigation. COMMENTSLangkawi, off the west coast of northern Malaysia, attracts hordes of domestic and foreign tourists to its pristine beaches and jungle-clad valleys.

KP Sharma Oli sworn in as PM of Nepal

MMNN:16 February 2018
KP Sharma Oli on Thursday was sworn in as the 41st Prime Minister of Nepal. This is his second term in the office. The Himalayan Times reported that President Bidya Devi Bhandari administered the oath of office and secrecy to the newly-elected Prime Minister in a function organised at President’s Office, Shital Niwas, in Maharajgunj this evening. Oli was appointed to the top executive post in accordance with Article 76 (2) of the Constitution of Nepal. Oli is the 38th politician to head the government in modern Nepal. President Bhandari appointed KP Sharma Oli to the post this afternoon. CPN-UML Standing Committee, with support from the CPN Maoist Centre, had put forth his name for the top executive position of the country on Wednesday. He is CPN-UML’s fourth leader to take the high office of Prime Minister since 1995. To pave the way for Oli to lead the nation as Prime Minister, a meeting of the UML held in Singhadarbar this afternoon had unanimously appointed him as the Parliamentary Party (PP) leader. Vice President Nanda Bahadur Pun, ministers including Sher Bahadur Deuba, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhalanath Khanal, Subhash Nembang, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Onsari Gharti Magar, Kamal Thapa, ambassadors and other high level officials were present in the swearing-in ceremony. Born to Mohan Prasad Oli and Madhu Oli on February 23, 1952, in Iwa of Terhathum district, CPN-UML Chairman Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, commonly known as KP Sharma Oli, began his political career in 1966 AD. He became involved in subversive politics and got the membership of the Communist Party of Nepal in January 1970.He was elected a member of the Parliament thrice – in 1991, 1994 and 1999 – from various constituencies of Jhapa district.He was also the Minister for Home Affairs in the Cabinet led by the then UML Chairman Man Mohan Adhikari in 1994. Oli served as the nation’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs in Girija Prasad Koirala-led interim government formed immediately after the 2006 People’s Movement. The 65-year-old leader was elected Chief of the CPN-UML in July 2014, defeating Madhav Kumar Nepal in the party’s ninth general convention.In 2015, Oli became the 38th Prime Minister of the nation, defeating Nepali Congress the then President Sushil Koirala. After 287 days as top executive of the nation, he had announced resignation in Parliament after CPN Maoist Centre Chair Pusha Kamal Dahal withdrew his support to Oli and joined forces with the then main-opposition Nepali Congress. Dahal and Deuba had jointly brought in a no-confidence motion against Oli with a commitment to pull down the Oli-led government. But, to save himself from further humiliation, Oli announced resignation and paved way for Dahal to become the Prime Minister. However, before the provincial and parliamentary elections, Oli-led party formed an electoral alliance with the CPN Maoist Centre and announced merger after polls to head country towards development.The comfortable majority of the left alliance in the three-tier elections has paved way for KP Sharma Oli to become the 41st Prime Minister of Nepal.

SA’s Zuma resigns after pressure from party

MMNN:15 February 2018
South Africa’s embattled President Jacob Zuma has resigned after intense pressure from his own party, a BBC News report said on Thursday.In a televised statement he said he was quitting with immediate effect but said he disagreed with his ANC party’s decision. The ANC had told him to step down or face a vote of no confidence in parliament.The 75-year-old has been facing calls to give way to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC’s new leader. Mr Zuma, who has been in power since 2009, faces numerous allegations of corruption.Earlier on Wednesday, police swooped on the Johannesburg home of the powerful and wealthy Gupta family with whom Mr Zuma has close ties.

Giant London Glasshouse To Re-Open With World's Rarest Plants

MMNN:14 February 2018
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM: A gleaming monument to the ambition and creativity of its age, the world's largest Victorian glasshouse will once again welcome visitors to see some of the world's rarest plants following a lengthy facelift. "Temperate House" in London's Kew Gardens is large enough to house three jumbo jets, and was home to around 1,000 species of plants from around the world before it was shut in 2013 after falling into a state of disrepair. "There was rust everywhere, all the paint was falling off, and look now, it's all brand spanking new," project manager Andrew Williams told AFP, as a fleet of diggers and teams of workers put the finishing touches to the $57 million, 46 million euros renovation project. The wrought iron and glass structure was designed by esteemed Victorian architect Decimus Burton in 1860 and opened in 1863. The facelift required the removal of 69,000 individual elements to be cleaned, repaired or replaced and the restoration of 15,000 panes of glass. Enough paint to cover four football pitches was used to spruce up the huge iron columns, and Kew expects hundreds of thousands of visitors to pass through its doors annually after its May reopening. "A building like this deserves it," said Williams. "I don't think you'd build a building like this now," he added. "I had a love-hate relationship. You end up loving it at the beginning (of the project), then hating it in the middle and loving it at the end. It's hard work. "Everybody who has worked in here is really proud and now you see the plants going in, it's a fantastic space." With weeks to go before the grand reopening, horticulturalists are hard at work rehousing the plants, many of which were transferred to on-site nurseries during the renovation work. Bit Of An Ordeal "It's been a really huge operation," Temperate House supervisor Scott Taylor said. "In 2012 we started lifting and propagating plants to be moved out of the house, that took us until 2014 when the construction work began. "It's going to take us about nine months to get all the plants back in." Around 1,300 m3 of soil was brought in from off site, which will support around 1,500 species when the replant is complete. The house will be split into geographical areas, showcasing plants from Africa, the Americas, Australia, the Himalayas and Asia. "Our main drive for the reopening is rare and threatened flora," explained Taylor, shortly before heading off to plant an Australian palm. "You don't go pick them up from the shop, it's a bit of an ordeal. "We're really lucky we've got the Millenium Seed Bank 20 miles down the road. I've been on the phone to them, emailing them and getting all these plants. "We've got about 50 species that are rare and threatened," he explained, including plants that no longer occur in the natural world. One of the rarest plants on display will be the South African Encephalartos woodii, a palm-like cycad with leathery, green leaves. Only one such specimen was ever found growing in the wild, and it has long-since disappeared from the natural world. Signs will inform visitors about the threats to flora, including changing land use, invasive plants brought in from different ecosystems and deforestation. New ventilation and an upgraded heating system, largely fired by nearby bio-mass boilers, have both been installed to help the plants flourish, although some treasured specimens were unable to make the move. "We had a big Jubaea (palm) that was 160 years old," said Taylor. "We discussed for a long, long time about what we could do, but it was going to burst through the glass," he explained. "There's no way a plant that had been growing inside for 160 years would have been able to be moved outside. So sadly we lost a real big individual specimen." With a new maintenance plan in place, Kew expects to go 25 years before having to carry out any more major work. The Grade I listed structure still benefits from its robust Victorian engineering. "The key columns, the key structure is all original and we haven't had to do a lot of work to it," said Williams. COMMENTS"They'll last for another 100 years. It's a big solid building, it's not going anywhere!"

Trump's NASA Budget Focuses On Moon With An Eye Towards Mars

MMNN:13 February 2018
WASHINGTON: The 2019 budget estimate for NASA announced by the Donald Trump administration on Monday puts the agency on a path to lead the return of Americans to the Moon with a goal to send humans to Mars. Nearly half of the proposed $19.9 billion budget -- $10.5 billion -- is earmarked for "an innovative and sustainable campaign of exploration and lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilisation followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations," according to a NASA overview. "In short, we are once again on a path to return to the Moon with an eye toward Mars. NASA is called to refocus existing activities towards exploration, by redirecting funding to innovative new programmes and support for new public-private initiatives," acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement. "We are leveraging multiple partners both here at home and internationally in developing a sustainable approach where the Moon is simply one step on our truly ambitious long term journey to reach out farther into the solar system to reap the economic, societal, and expanding knowledge benefits such an endeavour will bring," Mr Lightfoot added. While NASA will move forward with plans to create a new space station around the Moon -- the Lunar Orbit Platform-Gateway - the budget confirmed earlier reports indicating plans to end funding for the International Space Station (ISS) in 2025. "This budget proposes for NASA to ramp up efforts to transition low-Earth activities to the commercial sector, and end direct federal government support of the ISS in 2025 and begin relying on commercial partners for our low-Earth orbit research and technology demonstration requirements," Mr Lightfoot said. "Further, drawing on the interests and capabilities of our industry and international partners, we'll develop progressively complex robotic missions to the surface of the Moon with scientific and exploration objectives in advance of human return there," he added. Mr Lightfoot said that the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft are critical backbone elements for moving farther into deep space. COMMENTS"Their momentum continues this year toward the first integrated launch of the system in fiscal year 2020 around the Moon and a mission with crew in 2023," Mr Lightfoot said. When that mission launches, it will be the first human mission to the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972.

Investigators Brave Snow In Hunt For Clues Over Russian Plane Crash

MMNN:12 February 2018
STEPANOVSKOYE: Investigators scoured the scene Monday after a passenger plane crashed near Moscow minutes after take-off, killing all 71 people on board, in one of Russia's worst-ever plane crashes. The site of the crash was enveloped in heavy snow that was waist-high in places, making it difficult to access, with emergency workers forced to reach the wreckage by foot and use snowmobiles. Russia's Investigative Committee said it would consider explanations for the crash including human error, technical failure and weather conditions, as the country has experienced record snowfall in recent weeks. It did not mention the possibility of terrorism. The Antonov An-148 plane went down in the Ramensky district around 70 kilometres southeast of Moscow after taking off from Domodedovo airport in the Russian capital and disappearing off the radar at 2:28 pm (1128 GMT) Sunday. "Sixty-five passengers and six crew members were on board, and all of them died," Russia's office of transport investigations said in a statement. A Swiss citizen and a citizen of Azerbaijan were among the fatalities on a list released by the emergency services ministry. Three children also died including a five-year-old girl. The flight was operated by the domestic Saratov Airlines and was headed for Orsk, a city in the Ural mountains. Around one hundred investigators and criminologists were working at the scene, the Investigative Committee, which investigates major incidents, said Monday. The emergency services ministry said at least one of the two black boxes had been found. Crash site in heavy snow With wreckage of the plane spread over more than 30 hectares around the crash site, it will take a week to inspect the whole area, the emergency services ministry said. More than 900 people using equipment including drones were involved in the search operation, which has been reclassified as looking for bodies rather than survivors, the ministry said. "We plan to carry out the main stage of the search operation in seven days because the plane debris is scattered over a very large area," emergency services minister Vladimir Puchkov said at the scene, quoted by Interfax news agency, adding that "heavy snow" hampered searchers. "We walked about 600 to 700 metres across a field, with snow in places waist-deep," said Alexei Besedin, one of the first rescuers to reach the scene, quoted by the emergency services ministry. Shock Wave "I felt a shock wave," Maria, a resident of a village near the crash site, told AFP. "The windows shook," she said The transport investigations office said the plane disappeared from radar screens several minutes after take-off. The Russian-made plane was reportedly seven years old and bought by Saratov Airlines from another Russian airline a year ago. Saratov Airlines was founded in the 1930s and flies to 35 Russian cities. Its hub is Saratov Central Airport in southern Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered "his profound condolences to those who lost their relatives in the crash," his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Putin -- who is running for re-election in a March 18 poll -- cancelled plans to travel to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to meet with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas. Instead, the meeting was to take place in Moscow. Numerous Plane Crashes The governor of the Orenburg region, where the plane was heading, told media that "more than 60 people" on board the plane were from the region. The region declared Monday a day of mourning with flags lowered and entertainment events cancelled. With a population of 237,000 people, Orsk is the second biggest city in the Orenburg region, near Russia's border with Kazakhstan. Russia has suffered numerous plane crashes, with airlines often operating ageing aircraft in dangerous flying conditions. A light aircraft crashed in November in Russia's far east, killing six people on board. In December 2016, a military plane carrying Russia's famed Red Army Choir crashed after taking off from Sochi, killing all 92 people on board. The choir had been due to give a concert to Russian troops in Syria. COMMENTSPilot error was blamed for that crash.

Olympic message of peace is universal: UN chief

MMNN:10 February 2018
As the world comes together for the Winter Olympics, which kicked off Friday in Pyeongchang, Republic of Korea, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on everyone to recognise and promote the Games’ universal message of peace and tolerance. “The Olympic spirit allows people to be together, from all over the world, to respect each other, to assert the values of tolerance, of mutual understanding that are the basic elements for peace to be possible,” Mr Guterres told journalists in Pyeongchang. Obviously, in the present context, he said, there is a lot of attention for this message of peace in relation to the Korean Peninsula, but the Olympic message of peace is not local.“It is universal. It’s for the world. It is valued in Korea as it is valued everywhere where we struggle to try to address the many complex conflicts that we are facing,” he said. The UN chief also extended his appreciation and pride to be at the Winter Olympics and highlighted the cooperation between UN and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), as well as the values for which the IOC and its sister organisation, the International Paralympic Committee, stand. The Winter Olympics opened earlier today (local time) with cultural and artistic performances as well as the customary parade of athletes, which was the delegations from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea under one flag, carried together by a sportsperson from each team. The opening ceremony on Friday also saw the conclusion of the long journey of the Olympic Torch that started in November 2017.In the last leg of its journey, the flame was carried, among others, by Miroslav Lajčák, the President of the UN General Assembly and Thomas Bach, the President of the IOC. Outlining the commonalities between sport and diplomacy – both about peace and bringing people together – Mr Lajčák highlighted that the Olympic torch is “probably the best symbol in our times in our world.”“[It] is a symbol of peace, a symbol of youth, a symbol of sport, communication, a symbol of tradition, a symbol of hope.” he said.

Australia PM Malcolm Turnbull Confronts Scandal Over Deputy's Extramarital Affair

MMNN:9 February 2018
SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Friday he opposes proposed legislation to ban relationships between lawmakers and their staff amid a scandal over his deputy's extramarital affair. Barnaby Joyce, a practising Catholic, is expecting a child with his former press secretary, his estranged wife confirmed this week. Eager to rebuild public trust, independent MP Cathy McGowan said she may introduce legislation modelled on that passed by the U.S. Congress that prohibits relationships between lawmakers and staff. "Relations between consenting adults are not something you would be justified in seeking to regulate," Turnbull told reporters in Canberra. Turnbull's centre-right government has a razor-thin one seat majority in parliament and can ill-afford to alienate its traditional conservative voters just over a year out from the next election.

Rescuers Brave Aftershocks To Pull Bodies From Tilting Taiwan Tower

MMNN:8 February 2018
Taiwanese rescuers Thursday braved aftershocks coursing through a dangerously leaning apartment block that was partially toppled by a deadly earthquake, as their search for survivors uncovered two more bodies. At least nine people were killed when a 6.4-magnitude quake struck the popular eastern tourist city of Hualien on Tuesday, according to a revised toll from the national fire agency which also slashed the number of missing from nearly 60 people to 10. The powerful tremor left a handful of buildings badly damaged -- some of them leaning at precarious angles -- as well as roads torn up and hundreds forced to shelter in local schools and a stadium. The major focus for emergency responders remained the Yun Tsui apartment block where six of the deaths occurred and the remaining 10 missing people are believed to be. The lower floors of the 12-storey tower -- which also housed a hotel -- pancaked, leaving the structure leaning at a fifty-degree angle and sparking fears of an imminent collapse. Despite those risks rescuers kept going into the building in a desperate search for survivors. But Thursday's search only recovered two bodies -- a Chinese mainland tourist and a hotel worker. Strong aftershocks continued to strike, sending the teams scurrying from the building, only for them to return a little later and resume their grim task. An emergency responder surnamed Lin said it took 14 hours to free the body of the hotel worker, who was partially trapped between the hotel's ceiling and floor. "We saw his hair and were digging for some time," he told AFP. All the while they could hear the victim's mobile phone ringing, he added. The man was later brought out in a white body bag. A Red Cross worker at the scene estimated that the building had tilted another five percent overnight, adding he had little hope of survivors being found on its lowest floors. "Floors one to three are all compressed so it's hard to tell whether there are people," he told AFP, requesting anonymity. He said that there was no risk of a gas explosion in the building but the aftershocks and further slippage remained a persistent danger. Popular tourist spot The national fire agency said three of those killed were Chinese nationals from the mainland. All were believed to be staying at the Beauty Stay Hotel, which was located on the second floor of the apartment block. Of the 10 people registered as missing, seven are believed to have been staying at the hotel, the remaining three are from residential apartments in the same building. Hualien is one of Taiwan's most popular tourist destinations as it lies on the picturesque east coast rail line and near the popular Taroko Gorge. But the mountains that rise up behind the city -- and bestow Taiwan's east coast with such majestic beauty -- are a testament to the deadly tectonic faultlines that run through the island. The government said 17 foreigners sought medical treatment for minor injuries Local broadcaster SET TV ran an interview with a man who said he was the husband of one of the mainland Chinese victims. The woman, named as 39-year-old Yu Fei, was travelling with the couple's young son on the island. The son survived the quake with light injuries. She was pulled from the wrecked building and later died in hospital. "They were travelling on their own as I was busy and couldn't accompany them," the man, who had rushed from the Chinese city of Xiamen, said. "I got in touch with my son, he cried." President Tsai Ing-wen, who on Wednesday visited survivors and the Yun Tsui apartment block, praised emergency responders. "Rescuers on the scene and hospital staffers continue to dedicate themselves fully to the rescue works," she wrote on Facebook. "Stay hopeful and never give up." The Hualien quake came exactly two years to the day after a similar sized tremor struck the western city of Tainan, killing 117 people. Most of those who perished died in a single apartment block which collapsed. Five people were later found guilty over the disaster, including the developer and two architects, for building an inadequate structure. COMMENTSThe island's worst tremor in recent decades was a 7.6-magnitude quake in September 1999 that killed around 2,400 people. That quake ushered in stricter building codes but many of Taiwan's older buildings remain perilously vulnerable to even moderate quakes

In A First, Kim Jong-Un's Sister Will Visit South Korea, Likely To Meet President Moon Jae-In

MMNN:7 February 2018
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA: The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un will visit the South this week for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, Seoul said Wednesday -- the first member of its ruling family ever to do so. Kim Yo-Jong, who is a senior member of the ruling Workers' Party, will be part of a high-level delegation due Friday and led by the North's ceremonial head of state, the unification ministry said. The two Koreas have been divided by the Demilitarized Zone since the end of the Korean War in 1953, and Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons have seen it subjected to multiple rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions. Tensions soared last year as the North carried out multiple weapons tests, including intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, and by far its most powerful nuclear test to date. But the Olympics have triggered a rapid rapprochement on the peninsula. "It is highly significant that a member of the Kim family is coming to the South for the first time in history," said professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. She was likely to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-In and give him a personal letter from her brother, expressing his hopes for a successful hosting of the Olympics and desire to improve inter-Korean ties, he added. "This will mark Kim Yo-Jong's debut on the international stage," Yang told AFP. "She is being groomed as one of the North's most powerful figures by her brother." Kim Yo-Jong, believed to be aged about 30, was promoted in October to be an alternate member of the party's powerful politburo, the decision-making body presided over by her brother. She has frequently been seen accompanying her brother on his "field guidance trips" and other events and is known to have been involved in the party's propaganda operations. The North has always kept its leadership within the family -- Kim Jong-Un is the third generation of the dynasty to lead the country, after his father Kim Jong-Il and grandfather Kim Il-Sung, the North's founder. Kim Jong-Il fathered both Kim Jong-Un and Kim Yo-Jong with his third partner, former dancer Ko Yong-Hui. But other family members have not fared so well -- Kim Jong-Un's uncle was executed for treason two years after the younger man came to power, and his half-brother was assassinated in a Malaysian airport last year. Head of state The delegation's three-day trip will be the diplomatic high point of the rapprochement between the two Koreas triggered by the Pyeongchang Olympics in the South, which have their opening ceremony on Friday -- although analysts warn that their newly warmed relations may not last long beyond the Games. For months Pyongyang ignored Seoul's entreaties to take part in a "peace Olympics", until Kim Jong-Un indicated his willingness to do so in his New Year speech. That set off a rapid series of meetings which saw the two agree to march together at the opening ceremony and form a unified women's ice hockey team, their first for 27 years. Officially the delegation will be headed by Kim Yong-Nam, who leads the presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, the North's rubber-stamp parliament. He is regarded as the ceremonial head of state, and will technically be the most senior official from the North ever to travel to the South. But he is largely considered a figurehead whose public diplomatic role leaves it unclear how much political power he really has. He previously led the North's delegations to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, but does not hold the title of national president -- and nor does Kim Jong-Un. Instead it is retained by Kim Il-Sung, who remains Eternal President of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- the country's official name -- despite dying in 1994. COMMENTSAlso in the delegation will be Ri Son-Gwon, who as head of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country is the equivalent of the South's unification minister, responsible for inter-Korean affairs.

Truck Advertisement Using Martin Luther King Jr Speech Draws Backlash

MMNN:5 February 2018
ATLANTA: A TV commercial shown during the Superbowl that used the voice of the late Martin Luther King Jr. to advertise pickup trucks has been criticized by viewers who found it insulting to the memory of the revered civil rights leader. The ad for Dodge Ram trucks, seen by millions of football fans during the game's second quarter, uses the audio of the last major speech King gave before his assassination in 1968, "The Drum Major Instinct," where he implores people to do good works in selfless service to others. King's resonant voice is heard saying: "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant," over images of firefighters, teachers and working men and woman with their trucks helping people. Reactions online were swift, even before the game ended. "I want to punch that Dodge commercial in the face," wrote one twitter user with the handle sreeker. Twitter user Lawyer Cat posted: "I'm no civil rights scholar, but I'm pretty sure MLK never had a dream to be featured in a Dodge Ram commercial." Others posted messages of support for the advertisement on Dodge Ram's Facebook page. User Justin Newman posted: "Well done, and a great commercial," to which a Ram Trucks representative replied: "Thanks, Justin Another Facebook user posted: "Lifelong RAM owner. You've made me proud." But the backlash remarks were in the majority. Lori Borgen posted on the company's Facebook page: "Martin Luther King DID NOT march in Selma so you could use his speech to sell trucks." Representatives from Dodge Ram and its parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles were not immediately available for comment. Neither were representatives of King's estate or the separate non-profit entity the King Center. The automotive company's representatives told ABC News, Forbes and other media that it had received all the necessary permissions. "Estate representatives were a very important part of the creative process," a Ram Trucks official told The use of King's speeches, images and personal papers and items including his Bible and Nobel Peace prize are closely guarded by the estate and the subject of a long-running public feud among King's surviving children. COMMENTSLast April, PepsiCo pulled a commercial featuring model Kendall Jenner using a can of the soft drink to ease tensions between protesters and riot police after the ad prompted outrage and ridicule.

90 Migrants, Mostly Pakistanis, Feared Dead In Shipwreck Off Libya: IOM

MMNN:3 February 2018
GENEVA/TRIPOLI: An estimated 90 migrants are feared to have drowned off the coast of Libya after a smuggler's boat capsized early on Friday, leaving three known survivors and 10 bodies washed up on shore, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said. Survivors told aid workers that most of the migrants on board were Pakistanis, who form a growing group heading to Italy from North Africa, IOM spokeswoman Olivia Headon, speaking from Tunis, told a Geneva news briefing. "They have given an estimate of 90 who drowned during the capsize, but we still have to verify the exact number of people who lost their lives during the tragedy," she said. Earlier security officials in the western Libyan town of Zurawa said two Libyans and one Pakistani had been rescued from the boat. It said 10 bodies had been recovered, mostly Pakistani, but gave no further information. Zurawa, located near Libya's border with Tunisia, is a favoured site for migrant boat departures . Libya is the main gateway for migrants trying to cross to Europe by sea, though numbers have dropped sharply since July as Libyan factions and authorities - under pressure from Italy and the European Union - have begun to block departures. COMMENTSMore than 600,000 people are believed to have made the journey from Libya to Italy over the past four years.

After Putin-In-Bullets, Exiled Ukrainian Artists "Coin" Donald Trump

MMNN:2 February 2018
NEW YORK: They shot to fame in 2015 with a portrait of Vladimir Putin made of bullet shells from the killing fields of eastern Ukraine. Now, the two Ukrainian artists are back with a portrait of Donald Trump made from coins and poker chips. Threats forced Daria Marchenko, 35, and Daniel Green, 34, to leave their homeland in November 2016. They now lead an itinerant life, traveling and exhibiting their work in the United States and Latin America. The Trump portrait, finished one month ago, is made of nearly 4,000 one cent and five-cent pieces. Poker chips are used for the US president's shoulders. The artists are now searching for a place for a public unveiling. As with their "Face of War" portrait of the Russian leader, the Trump version, called "Face of Money" plays in the light revealing different expressions. Marchenko's favorite? The one in which "he is very proud of himself," she tells AFP in New York. They came up with the idea of the enormous portrait -- nearly eight foot by five foot (2.4 meters by 1.7 meters) -- last summer when Putin ordered the United States to reduce its diplomatic footprint in Russia by 755 employees. Trump responded by thanking Putin, saying it would allow the United States to cut down its payroll and "save a lot of money." "I thought, 'oh my God, you are so cheap, how can you be American president'?" says Green. "At that moment, I thought coins is the best way to show his portrait." The duo deliberately chose one cent and five-cent pieces, the smallest denominations of US currency, to illustrate their point, Green explains. Coins darkened with fire are used for the pupils, eyebrows and to emphasize the chin. The poker chips are a nod to the casinos the billionaire once ran in Atlantic City, New Jersey -- but also, in Green's words, to his brand of international diplomacy. "He does international politics like he's playing. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses big," says the artist. 'Make waves' Green singles out the US president's announcement in December that he was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and preparing to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv. "When only eight countries follow you, it shows America has lost all power," he says. The artists left Ukraine following the backlash over their Putin portrait, and after a kidnap attempt against Marchenko. "We had threats by email. When you are walking on the street, somebody comes to you and tells you something," says Marchenko, her dreadlocks tucked into a beanie. "Mostly not direct threats but 'Guys, don't hurry to create... be in a hurry to leave," she carries on. "We became tired of this. Morally it was very difficult. So we left." But the Trump portrait isn't making things easier for them. They offered it for exhibition at New York's Ukrainian Art Institute of America, which is already exhibiting their work on Putin and the war in Ukraine. The institute however was reluctant "to make waves," between Kiev and Washington, Green said. The two artists now hope to show their Putin and Trump portraits together, perhaps in Las Vegas, Los Angeles or San Francisco. "They will be face-to-face, they will have a dialogue," says Marchenko dryly. She and Green, who both took part in the pro-European uprising of 2013-14, now consider themselves political refugees without a fixed home, traveling in the United States and Latin America at the invitation of benefactors. Their next project is a portrait of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, even if that could complicate their return one day to Ukraine, Marchenko says. COMMENTSFor Poroshenko's portrait the artists may use chocolate wrappers -- a reference to the chocolate company where he made his fortune

Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan questioned in Paris over rape claims

MMNN:1 February 2018
French police have questioned prominent Swiss Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan over allegations that he raped two women, who went public with their claims in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. The Oxford professor was summoned to a Paris police station and taken into custody “as part of a preliminary inquiry in Paris into rape and assault allegations”, a police source said on Wednesday. Ramadan has furiously denied the complaints made by two Muslim women who said they were emboldened to break their silence after the revelations that toppled Hollywood mogul Weinstein. The two women say they approached Ramadan, whose grandfather founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Islamist movement, separately to seek the conservative scholar’s religious advice. Henda Ayari, a feminist activist and writer who used to practise a conservative strain of Islam, says Ramadan suggested they meet in Paris in 2012 after she contacted him about her decision to stop wearing the veil She said Ramadan raped her in his hotel room, telling Le Parisien newspaper: “He choked me so hard that I thought I was going to die.” An unnamed disabled woman also accused the academic of raping her in a hotel room in the southeastern city of Lyon in 2009. In November, Oxford University announced that 55-year-old Ramadan was taking a leave of absence from his post as professor of contemporary Islamic studies “by mutual agreement”. A regular panellist on TV debates with two million Facebook followers, Ramadan has been accused by secular critics of promoting a political form of Islam. The United States barred him from the country for several years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, preventing him taking up an academic post there. Ramadan branded the decision ridiculous, stressing he had always rejected terrorism and accusing the US of trying to stifle debate. Hotel encounters Ayari, who has renounced conservative Islam to become a self-described “secular Muslim”, detailed her rape allegations in a book published last year, without naming Ramadan. But in October she named him publicly, saying she was encouraged by the thousands of women speaking out against sexual assault and harassment under the “Me Too” online campaign and its French equivalent, “Balance Ton Porc” (Squeal on your pig). She lodged a rape complaint against Ramadan on October 20. His other accuser, a convert to Islam, told Le Monde newspaper that she had corresponded with Ramadan for a year before meeting him when he was attending a conference in Lyon. “He kicked my crutches and threw himself on top of me saying, ‘You made me wait, it’s going to cost you’,” she said. Ramadan has denied the two women’s accusations, as well as further allegations in Swiss media of sexual misconduct against teenage girls in the 1980s and 1990s, as “a campaign of lies launched by my adversaries”. Lawyers for the married father-of-four have accused Ayari of slander and suggested the women colluded to try disgrace him. On Tuesday, he announced the launch in Paris of a new movement called Resistance and Alternative which he said “rejects all ideologies that subjugate and dehumanise mankind”. Ayari, meanwhile, has come under attack on social media, with some Muslims accusing her of trying to profit from anti-Muslim sentiment. French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which lost staff members in a 2015 jihadist attack, also received threats after publishing a cartoon depicting Ramadan with a huge erection, captioned: “I am the sixth pillar of Islam

Donald Trump's State Of Union Speech 'Most Tweeted Ever' With 4.5 Million Tweets

MMNN:31 January 2018
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to the Congress became the most tweeted address ever with 4.5 million tweets, Twitter has announced. Mr Trump's address on Tuesday night led to a total of 4.5 million tweets with the hashtags #SOTU and #JointSession, the social networking service said. "Join me live for the #SOTU," Mr Trump, who is very active on the social media platform, had tweeted shortly before his address. COMMENTSThe 4.5 million tweets surpass the previous record of 3 million for Mr Trump's first address to the Congress in February 2017, which wasn't technically a State of the Union address, since he had been in office for only a month. According to Twitter, the most retweeted message was a tweet with a link to watch the speech live.

Kabul Hotel Attacker Was Trained By Pakistan's ISI, Alleges Afghan Envoy

MMNN:30 January 2018
WASHINGTON: Pakistan's spy agency ISI trained a terrorist involved in the attack on Kabul's iconic Intercontinental Hotel in which over 20 people were killed, a top Afghanistan envoy has alleged. Afghanistan's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Mahmoud Saikal, made the serious allegation against the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in a tweet on Monday. "Abdul Qahar, father of one of the terrorists involved in last week attack on #Kabul Intercontinental Hotel, concedes his son was trained in Chaman of #Balochistan Province of #Pakistan by the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan. Qahar is currently in custody of Afg authorities," Saikal tweeted. On January 20, Taliban men armed with Kalashnikovs and suicide vests attacked the landmark Intercontinental Hotel and killed around 25 people, going from room to room searching for foreigners during the more than 12-hour ordeal. A mid-level diplomat at the Afghan Embassy in the US has alleged that the attack was planned by Pakistan. "A clear proof that the attack on Kabul's Inter (Con) Hotel was planned in a madrasa, on Pakistan's soil. Abdul Qahar, the father of one of the suicide attackers is an eyewitness of the story," tweeted Majeed Qarar, Cultural Attache at the Embassy of Afghanistan. "The night vision goggles found with Taliban attackers in maiwand's ANA base were military grade goggles (not sold to public) procured by Pak army from a British company & supplied 2 Lashkar-e-Tayyeba in Kashmir & Taliban in Afghanistan. Lashkar-e-Tayyeba is an int'l terrorist org," he said in another tweet. The Afghan Ambassador to the US, Hamidullah Mohib, did not respond to questions on the tweet by one of his cultural attaches. The hotel attack was followed by a Taliban-claimed ambulance bombing on January 27 in the Afghan capital that claimed over 100 lives. The continued attacks in Afghanistan by the Taliban prompted severe condemnation from the US as well as the UN Security Council, which have sought to bring to justice the perpetrators of the attack. US President Donald Trump also asked all countries to take decisive action against the Taliban and the terrorist infrastructure that supported them. "I condemn the despicable car-bomb attack in Kabul today (Jan 27) that has left scores of innocent civilians dead and hundreds injured. This murderous attack renews our resolve and that of our Afghan partners," Trump had said, ruling out having talks with the Taliban. In an op-ed, Marvin G Weinbaum, Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies at the Middle East Institute, said that the Taliban appear to have chosen "urban guerrilla warfare" to demonstrate their undiminished strength as a fighting force. COMMENTS"The Taliban is intent on undermining the public's confidence that their government and its foreign allies can offer Afghans basic security," he said.

Trump’s utterance will not deter Pak from supporting US in fight against terrorism: Abbasi

MMNN:29 January 2018
Pakistan and the United States are jointly fighting terrorism, which is their common enemy, and his nation would continue to support Washington for the same unaffected by Trump’s statement, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has said. ‘If President Donald Trump looks at Afghanistan from Pakistan’s perspective, he will understand that the reality of Islamabad is very different from the perception,’ Radio Pakistan quoted Mr Abbasi as saying in an interview published by the Washington Post. Pakistan and the United States have a very strong relationship, but in the last 15 years, it has kind of gone downhill, he said. To a question about US policy statement that Pakistan provides sanctuaries to Afghan terrorists, he said that no such sanctuaries are left in Pakistan. ‘If someone provides us with a location, we will take action against that.’ There has not been even a single instance where actual intelligence has been provided to Pakistan and it has not been acted upon, he added.‘We have assisted the US forces and will continue to assist them. There have been over 1.1 million overflights within our airspace of US aircraft going to Afghanistan. There have been millions of tons of equipment and cargo going there.’ This will continue as Pakistan believes that these measures help in the war against terror. It helps bring stability to Pakistan, so we support that effort, he said. ‘Pakistan is fighting the largest war on terror in the world. We have 200,000 troops fighting a war against terror today on the western border. We have lost 6,500 troops. We have defeated the same enemy the rest of the world failed to defeat in Afghanistan, on the same terrain, with our own resources.’ The Prime Minister said Pakistan and the United States have had a very strong relationship, but in the last 15 years, it has kind of gone downhill. Adding a whole new dimension is this tweet. He said security assistance was minimal. There were some military sales and we bought some F-16 fighters, which we did not receive. All that has done is degrade our ability to fight the terrorists. He said on the ground, the reality is that in the last year, 29 suicide bombers crossed over from Afghanistan into Pakistan and attacked our installations. ‘We are committed to fighting the war against terror. There are no two ways about it. We have assisted the U.S. forces and will continue to assist them,’ the Prime Minister said

Saudi Billionaire Prince Alwaleed Released From Detention: Family Sources

MMNN:27 January 2018
DUBAI: Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has been released from detention, family sources said on Saturday, more than two months after he was taken into custody in the kingdom's sweeping crackdown on corruption. His release came hours after he told Reuters in an exclusive interview at the opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh that he expected to be cleared of any wrongdoing and be released from custody within days. Family sources said Prince Alwaleed was released on Saturday. "He has he arrived home," one told Reuters. Saudi officials could not immediately be reached for comment and the terms of his release were not immediately clear. Prince Alwaleed had been confined at the Ritz-Carlton since early November, along with dozens of others, part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's plan to consolidate control and reform oil superpower Saudi Arabia. In his first interview since he was taken into custody in November, Prince Alwaleed told Reuters he was continuing to maintain his innocence of any corruption in talks with authorities. COMMENTSHe said he expected to keep full control of his global investment firm Kingdom Holding Co without being required to give up assets to the government.

Captive Turpin Siblings Often Marched In Circles In Their House At Night, Former Neighbor Says

MMNN:25 January 2018
The odd behavior didn't escape the neighbors, but maybe David and Louise Turpin were simply an odd couple with a big family who preferred to be private. One neighbor, Mike Clifford, didn't worry too much when he saw several children walking in circles late at night inside their Southern California home. It was strange, he told the Los Angeles Times, but maybe it was just something they did, or perhaps the children had special needs. Another neighbor, Salynn Simon, told the Times that she was surprised but not disturbed when she met one of the Turpins' sons, a man in his mid-20s who didn't look his age. "You look 15," she told the young man who only smiled and nodded. Neighbors and family members now know there's more to the Turpin family than just odd behavior and that the couple's children were malnourished. The harrowing revelations of the past few days captured headlines around the country and elsewhere. "HOUSE of HORRORS," read a headline on the cover of People Magazine. The revelations also confounded those who had interacted with the couple and left some grappling with why they weren't more concerned at the time. Authorities said the children, for reasons still unclear, were starved for years and held captive in a dirty, smelly house in Perris, Calif., not far from Los Angeles. If they misbehaved, they were tied to their beds as punishment - first with a rope and later with chains and padlocks - and were kept from using the bathroom, Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin told reporters last week. The pervasive child abuse hid in plain sight for years and was not uncovered until last week, when one of the couple's daughters slipped through a window and called 911 from a phone she found inside the house, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said. She said she was 17 years old, but she was so tiny that authorities thought she was only 10. Deputies were equally shocked to find that several of the Turpin siblings were, in fact, adults. The Turpins had 10 girls and three boys. The oldest is 29 and weighed only 82 pounds. The youngest is 2, the only one of the siblings who wasn't malnourished, officials said. The Turpins are each facing nearly 40 charges, including a dozen counts of torture and another dozen counts of false imprisonment. Riverside County Superior Court Judge Emma Smith Wednesday barred the parents from contacting their children for the next three years, including by phone or electronically. Only their lawyer can deliver messages, The Desert Sun reported. The case's national press coverage over the last week has led David Turpin's attorney to consider asking if the trial could be moved outside of Riverside County. "The frequent appearance of photographs or video imagines of the Turpins in the media may taint potential jurors, prejudice them against the Turpins and make it necessary to explore a possible motion for a change of venue," Attorney David Macher wrote in a court motion, according to The Desert Sun. People who knew members of the Turpin family are now reexamining their interactions with them. A man who said he attended elementary school in Fort Worth, Texas, with one of the Turpins' daughters remembered a frail girl who wore the same dirty purple outfit every day and tied her hair with a Hershey's bar wrapper - the girl "nobody wanted to be caught talking to." The man, Taha Muntajibuddin, now 28, said the girl moved away after third grade. Years later, he said, he found himself wondering how she was doing. He had a "rude awakening" last week after reading stories about the girl and her family, he said. "I can't help but feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. Of course, none of us are responsible for the events that ensued, but you can't help but feel rotten when the classmate your peers made fun of for 'smelling like poop' quite literally had to sit in her own waste because she was chained to her bed," Muntajibuddin wrote in a lengthy Facebook post. "It is nothing but sobering to know that the person who sat across from you at the lunch table went home to squalor and filth while you went home to a warm meal and a bedtime story." The family had also lived in Murrieta, California, where Clifford said he often spotted the children through a window on the second floor at night. They would march in circles, over and over, for long periods of time, he told the Los Angeles Times. "It was kind of strange, [but] there was never anything to say, 'Oh, my God. I should call somebody,'" said Clifford, who did not immediately return a call from The Washington Post. Other nights, he saw the siblings getting into a van with their father, he told the Times. Again, he wondered why, but didn't suspect anything horrendous. The family moved a few miles north, to Perris, in 2014. There, during a Christmas decorating contest two years ago, Louise Turpin gleefully talked about her big family and joked about how her older children always had to show their IDs during trips to Las Vegas, Simon, the other neighbor, told the Times. Turpin had always wanted a big family and gushed about "Kate Plus 8," a reality show about a mother and her sextuplets and twin daughters, Turpin's brother, Billy Lambert, told People. She was even talking about having a 14th child. If he and other family members had known something was wrong, Lambert said, they "would have stopped it ourselves." On the surface, the family seemed happy. The Turpins renewed their wedding vows at least three times since they were married 33 years ago. One was as recently as 2015, when the couple slow-danced to "Can't Help Falling in Love" sung by an Elvis impersonator. Louise Turpin wore a white, strapless wedding gown and her husband, a tuxedo. Their daughters were in matching purple plaid dresses with ribbon belts and their sons in identical black suits and red ties. Some photos online show the Turpins on family trips, always wearing identical outfits. In one picture, the siblings - all pale and skinny and wearing the same red T-shirts with different numbers printed on the front - smiled as they posed with their parents. "She would tell us the kids are doing great. She was real busy home-schooling," Lambert told People. "She told us David was making two or three hundred thousand [dollars] a year, so we thought they had this awesome life and always going on trips." Records show the Turpins were thousands of dollars in debt. They filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy at least twice - in 1992 in Fort Worth and in 2011 in Riverside, California. Court documents say David Turpin made about $140,000 as an engineer while his wife stayed at home. Records also show that the Turpins ran a school from their home. David Turpin is listed in a state Department of Education directory as the principal of Sandcastle Day School, a private K-12 school that has the same address as the couple's home. The Turpins, who are each being held on a $12 million bail, are due back in court Wednesday afternoon. Prosecutors are seeking a protective order to keep them from contacting their children, all of whom have been removed from the home. The Riverside University Health System Foundation has started an online campaign to raise money to help the siblings. "Our phones started ringing almost immediately with calls from private individuals and organizations wanting to know how they can help," Erin Phillips, the foundation's executive director, said last week. "We recognize financial gifts will not eliminate the trauma, but additional resources will be extremely important in helping these victims adjust over time."

Not Turning Back On The World: US On "America First""

MMNN:24 January 2018
DAVOS, SWITZERLAND: The United States insisted Wednesday it was not turning its back on the world as President Donald Trump prepared to sell his "America First" message to sceptical fellow leaders in Davos. European leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will take the stage at the World Economic Forum later Wednesday in advance of Mr Trump's surprise visit, to defend the liberal international order after a year-long assault by the US president. The protectionist Trump, fresh from angering China and South Korea with new tariffs on solar panels and large washing machines, will close the annual conference with a speech on Friday. Top US officials said his trip was intended to defend US interests while also promoting international partnerships. "This is about an America First agenda but America First does mean working with the rest of the world," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at the gathering of heads of government, business tycoons, campaigners and celebrities. "It just means that President Trump is looking out for American interests, no different than other leaders look out for their own," he added. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, also in Davos, staunchly defended Monday's tariffs announcement and said Washington would not flinch from reprisals against countries that flout the rules. "Trade wars are fought every single day... and unfortunately every single day there are various parties violating the rules and trying to take unfair advantage," Ross said. "Trade wars have been in place for quite a little while. The difference is the US troops are now coming to the ramparts," he added. While tariffs are anathema to the business elite in Davos, many delegates have welcomed Mr Trump's controversial tax reform which is bringing the headline rate of US corporate tax down to 21 percent, significantly undercutting many countries in Europe. New deal Mnuchin, however, said the United States was not bent on a "race to the bottom" on tax rates by luring away foreign investors unfairly. While Mr Trump intends to come to Davos as salesman-in-chief for US economic interests, Macron is equally determined to defend a global system shaped by mutually agreed rules -- and also to uphold gender equality, in contrast to the US president's controversy-laden record on women. Macron arrives in the Swiss ski resort after rallying some 140 chief executives at a meeting in the Palace of Versailles on Monday in his drive for a "renaissance" in French and world business. Many of the bosses are in Davos too. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on the other hand, needs to settle her own leadership problems before taking the fight to Mr Trump. She was late in confirming that she would attend Davos, tearing herself away from efforts to form a new government after an election setback in September. "Merkel doesn't have a government yet. Macron is the new deal," one prominent business delegate at Davos, PR company boss Richard Edelman, told AFP. For German economic daily Handelsblatt, Merkel is heading to Davos with her hands "tied". It said she will be obliged to "stay in the shadow of Macron and Trump". The Europeans will grab the spotlight at Davos after the leaders of India and Canada rallied Tuesday against Mr Trump's protectionist stance. Canadian premier Justin Trudeau celebrated the announcement of a new Asia-Pacific trade agreement among 11 countries to replace one that Mr Trump pulled out of last year. Turbulent year Several other European leaders are also speaking on Wednesday, at the start of a potentially turbulent year for the continent. Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni will give an address, less than two months ahead of general elections in his country. Greece's left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose country is looking to emerge from its international bailout programme, joins a panel discussion on "Stabilising the Mediterranean". And there will be a speech by King Felipe VI of Spain, which is grappling with a political crisis over independence demands in the Catalonia region. Delegates will have to wait until Thursday to hear from British Prime Minister Theresa May, who is struggling with questions over the future of Britain's trade relations as it prepares to leave the European Union. COMMENTSBut British International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said he was undeterred by Macron's charm offensive, and said the Davos meetings were the perfect opportunity to press London's case. "There is a strong willingness to do business with the UK, but then who doesn't want to get access to the world's fifth biggest economy?" Fox told AFP in an interview

Worse To Differentiate Between 'Good' And 'Bad' Terror, Says PM Modi: 10 Facts"

MMNN:23 January 2018
DAVOS: Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged with a namaste the loud applause as he was introduced as the keynote speaker at this year's World Economic Forum's plenary session at the Swiss mountain resort of Davos. Speaking in Hindi, PM Modi showcased ease of doing business in India to world leaders and global CEOs, also calling for countries to unite to tackle what he called the three big challenges that the world faces - "climate change, terrorism and a threat to globalisation with powers of protectionism rising."
Here is 10-point cheat sheet to Davos 2018::
1-"Come to India," PM Modi said, "If you want wellness along with wealth, wholesomeness along with health and peace with prosperity." In India, he said, "democracy, demography and dynamism" are shaping development and growth that is inclusive.
2-Investing in India, travelling to India and manufacturing in India has become much easier, the Prime Minister said, listing his government's policies for this, and he added, "We have pledged to end license raj, we are removing red tape and laying out the red carpet."
3-The Prime Minister quoted poet Rabindranath Tagore, saying he had written of "a heaven of freedom where the world is not divided by narrow walls," and called for turning that into reality, stating that "India will always be a unifying and harmonising force."
4-PM Modi said terrorism is dangerous, reiterating that "it is worse when people create an artificial difference between 'good' and 'bad' terror. It is painful to see some youngsters getting radicalised."
5-He also said "India has always believed in values of integration and unity," stating that amid fast moving economic and political changes in the world, "peace, stability and security face new and serious challenges."
6-PM Modi recalled that the last time an Indian Prime Minister attended the WEF 21 years ago, "India's GDP in 1997, when the last PM came to Davos, was a little over 400 billion dollars. It has grown six times since."
7-PM Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to give the plenary speech at the WEF and the first to attend the Davos summit in 20 years, since HD Deve Gowda's visit in 1997.
8-As PM Modi landed in Switzerland last evening for a packed 24-hour visit, the International Monetary Fund reaffirmed that India's economy is projected to grow by 7.4 per cent in the next fiscal, making it the fastest growing economy again, ahead of China.
9-At a dinner meeting last night, PM Modi talked about India's growth story and presented investment opportunities to over 40 global industry bosses from 18 countries, including Microsoft's Satya Nadella, Reliance's Mukesh Ambani, Airbus CEO Dirk Hoke.
10-The PM invited everyone to speak and sought suggestions, responded to each query, addressing each CEO personally, said those who attended. PM Modi said he was "moving from ease of doing business to ease of living", his new focus would be "less conflict with government.

Motorcycle Bomb Kills 3 In Southern Thailand Market, Army Blames Insurgents"

MMNN:22 January 2018
YALA, THAILAND: A motorcycle bomb killed three civilians and wounded two dozen others on Monday at a bustling morning market in Thailand's insurgency-hit south, the first such attack on a "soft target" in the Muslim-majority region for months. A rebellion against Thai rule in the country's culturally distinct "Deep South" bordering Malaysia has left nearly 7,000 dead, the majority civilians, since 2004. The death toll in 2017 from the insurgency was 235, the lowest in 13 years of conflict as peace talks edged forwards and the Thai junta boosted its security lockdown on the region. But Monday's bomb in Yala town at a packed market popular with Buddhists and Muslims may indicate that militants are once more aiming attacks at civilian targets. At least two bodies lay slumped over debris in the narrow alleyway, surrounded by chunks of torn corrugated roofing, destroyed motorbikes and market stalls. "The suspects parked the motorcycle in front of a stall selling pork in downtown Yala... it detonated 10 minutes later," the policeman told AFP, requesting anonymity. "Three civilians were killed. It's the first big attack in downtown Yala in two years." Two of the dead were Buddhists -- the other was Muslim -- while 24 people were wounded, according to an official at Yala hospital. It was not immediately clear if the bomb deliberately targeted the pork stall, and potentially its Buddhist customers. An army spokesman for the region confirmed the toll and blamed "insurgents", saying the motorbike laden with explosives fits their modus operandi. "The bombing shows the insurgents never stop trying to indiscriminately destroy lives and property," Pramote Prom-in said, adding the attack aimed to undermine faith in "the state security system". But later the regional army chief instead blamed "powerful local families" intent on disrupting the peace for financial gain -- without naming his chief suspects. - 'Sign of things to come?' - Thailand, which colonised the ethnically Malay south roughly a century ago, has for decades been confronted by fighters seeking more autonomy, but the conflict flared up into its bloodiest phase in 2004. Rights groups have accused both the insurgents and security forces of widespread human rights abuses, with civilians trapped between the two sides. The shadowy network of militants almost never claim attacks and rarely talk to the media. Their cells, which operate from remote communities and the forested Malaysia border zone, had in recent months stepped back from targeting civilians including teachers and other perceived collaborators with the Thai state. Talks between the Thai state and an umbrella group claiming to represent the rebels have rumbled on inconclusively for years. But the recent slackening of violence had been read as a sign of confidence building between the sides -- although the main rebel group the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) has disowned the discussions. Monday's attack could mark a dangerous new shift in tactics. "Over recent years the insurgents haven't targeted civilians outright," Don Pathan, a Thailand-based independent analyst, told AFP. "If it was the work of the insurgents, then it's a sign of things to come -- a stern message to the authorities that they will resort to hitting soft targets." Pathan speculated the market blast could also be "retaliation" for a specific incident in a conflict defined by tit-for-tat operations by insurgents and security forces. COMMENTSLast May a large car bomb struck a supermarket in neighbouring Pattani province wounding scores of people.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pregnant with first child"

MMNN:20 January 2018
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday she was pregnant with her first child, prompting an outpouring of support from women’s rights groups and labour activists as she declared “I’ll be a prime minister and a mum”. Ardern said she planned to work until the end of her pregnancy in June and then take six-weeks leave, during which time Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters would run the country. Speaking to reporters outside her Auckland home, Ardern said her partner Clarke Gayford would care for the “surprise” addition full-time and that the whole family would travel together when necessary. “I am not the first woman to work and have a baby. I know these are special circumstances but there are many women who have done it well before I have,” she said. The popular 37-year-old politician’s pregnancy is one of the very few examples of an elected leader holding office while pregnant and the first in New Zealand’s history. Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto gave birth while she was prime minister in 1990. Ardern, who came to power through a coalition deal after a closely fought election last year, has experienced a meteoric rise to power as New Zealand’s youngest prime minister in more than a century, and its third female leader. Ardern’s rise to power has generated intense interest in her personal life and drew comparisons with other youthful leaders such as France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau. SIGN OF PROGRESS IN WOMEN’S RIGHTS Ardern was quick to assure the public that she would only take six weeks off, during which time she would still be contactable, so that the country would run as usual. The short period contrasts with her party’s parental leave policies, with the Labour-led coalition expanding paid parental leave from 18 to 22 weeks in one of its first legislative changes. That is set to rise again to 26 weeks in 2020. Ardern acknowledged that she was “lucky” that her partner, a well-known television fishing show presenter, could take time off to travel with her while he cared for the baby full-time. She had no plans to stop work until June and would fly to London in April to attend a Commonwealth leader’s meeting. Advocacy groups and politicians from across the political spectrum were quick to offer support. “It’s really inspiring…having our prime minister lead by example is a great sign of how far we’ve come in women’s industrial rights in New Zealand,” said Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff in an emailed statement to Reuters. New Zealand has long held a progressive reputation, having been the first country to give women the right to vote in 1893.“It’s amazing timing…125 years later we have a prime minister who’s going to give birth in office,” said Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter. Ardern revealed on Friday that she had unexpectedly found out she was pregnant on Oct. 13, just six days before she was propelled into the country’s top job when New Zealand First Party leader Peters announced he was siding with Labour in post-election negotiations. When asked by a reporter how she had managed putting together a government while suffering from morning sickness, she replied, “it’s just what ladies do

6 Injured As Russian Teen Attacks Students With Axe, Sets School On Fire"

MMNN:19 January 2018
MOSCOW: A Russian teenager attacked a group of younger students with an axe, injuring six people, before setting his school on fire, investigators said on Friday. Russia's Investigative Committee said the attacker, a ninth-grader, attacked a group of seventh-grade students with an axe at a school just outside the Siberian city of Ulan-Ude, then set the room ablaze. Five students and one teacher were injured in the attack, the committee said. The attacker was detained and was now hospitalised after a suicide attempt, the committee said. COMMENTSEarlier this week, investigators opened a criminal case into a knife attack that injured 15 people at a school in the city of Perm. The case was initially reported as an assault by two masked men, but authorities later said it grew out of a knife fight between two students

The Fakeys': Comedians Turn Tables On Trump's 'Fake News' Awards"

MMNN:17 January 2018
LOS ANGELES: Comedian Samantha Bee is campaigning for "Shrillest Reporting," late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert put up a billboard in New York's Times Square in a bid to win votes, and rival Jimmy Kimmel calls them "The Stupid People's Choice Awards." Far from silencing these critics, U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he would hand out awards for what he calls "fake news" has fired up comics and media commentators - and has them competing for a "prize." Trump, who has frequently criticized the press, calling them "the enemy of the people," often uses the term "fake news" to cast doubt on reports critical of him or his administration, many times without presenting evidence to support his case. Trump on Jan. 2 tweeted that he planned to announce "THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR" six days later. He then postponed the event until Jan. 17, saying on Twitter, "The interest in, and importance of, these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated!" A day ahead, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, responding on Tuesday to a reporter's question at a news briefing, said on she had no details on what she called a "potential event." Late-night TV hosts, who have mocked Trump since his 2016 election win, swiftly dubbed the awards "The Fakeys" or "The Trumpies." Colbert, host of "The Late Show" on CBS, is campaigning for "Fakest Dishonesty," "Dishonestest Corruption" and "Smallest Button" among several other made-up categories. In the spirit of Hollywood's movie awards season now underway, "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central took out a spoof full-page "for your consideration" ad in the New York Times, touting the programme's qualifications. In a tongue-in-cheek war of insults, "The Daily Show" has also run videos asking whether Colbert and comic Samantha Bee of "Full Frontal" on TBS "can really be mistrusted," and proclaiming the satirical show's South African-born host, Trevor Noah, "literally un-American." Public radio's predominantly serious "On the Media" show last week ran spoof red-carpet coverage of "The Fakeys," with various newspaper and TV journalists jostling for fake-news honours. Trump's announcement followed nearly a year in which, according to a Washington Post analysis, Trump made some 2,000 false or misleading statements in his first 12 months in office. The term "fake news" was originally coined to describe false reports, often spread through social media and sometimes aimed at supporting or hurting a political figure. Facebook and Twitter have said they have found tens of thousands of posts or accounts linked to Russian-based operatives, many of them spreading misinformation in the months before and after the 2016 election.

Rohingya Deal Aims To Repatriate Refugees "Within Two Years"

MMNN:16 January 2018
YANGON, MYANMAR: Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to repatriate Rohingya displaced by an army crackdown "within two years", Dhaka said Tuesday, outlining the first clear timeline for a return of hundreds of thousands of refugees. The agreement says the process will be "completed preferably within 02 (two) years from the commencement of repatriation", according to a statement from the Bangladeshi government following talks in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw. The deal applies to Rohingya who fled Myanmar in two major outbreaks of violence since October 2016, when militants from the stateless Muslim minority first attacked border-guard posts in northern Rakhine state. It does not cover Rohingya refugees who were living in Bangladesh prior to that date who the UN estimates number at 200,000. "During this two-day meeting, we agreed on the form that refugees will have to fill to be able to come back to Myanmar," Mohammad Sufiur Rahman, Bangladesh ambassador in Myanmar told AFP. "We should be able to start the process in the coming days," he said, but added Myanmar's stated deadline of next week for starting Rohingya repatriation was "not possible". The agreement follows a pact between the countries in November paving the way for repatriations from January 23, a deadline that is likely to slip given the logistical challenges of the cross-border operation. Myanmar has faced intense diplomatic pressure to allow the safe return of Rohingya refugees driven out by its army. But many Rohingya in crowded camps in Bangladesh say they are reluctant to return to Rakhine state having fled atrocities including murder, rape and arson attacks on their homes. Despite that, Myanmar authorities have pressed ahead with the construction of a "temporary camp" in Rakhine's Maungdaw district. Eventually the site "will accommodate about 30,000 people in its 625 buildings" before they can be resettled permanently, Myanmar's state media reported this week. COMMENTSBut only a fraction of the buildings have been finished.

In New Book, Pak Taliban Claims Its Suicide Bombers Killed Benazir Bhutto

MMNN:15 January 2018
ISLAMABAD: The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP has for the first time claimed responsibility for the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in a new book written by Taliban leader Abu Mansoor Asim Mufti Noor Wali. Ms Bhutto was killed in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi shortly after she addressed an election rally on December 27, 2007 and members of the then military regime of General Pervez Musharraf had blamed the TTP for it. The outfit had so far maintained silence over the assassination. No group had claimed responsibility for Ms Bhutto's murder until the claim in "Inqilab Mehsood South Waziristan - From British Raj to American Imperialism." The book says suicide bombers Bilal, who was also known as Saeed, and Ikramullah were tasked to carry out the attack on Ms Bhutto on December 27. "Bomber Bilal first fired at Benazir Bhutto from his pistol and the bullet hit her neck. Then he detonated his explosive jacket and blew himself up among the participants of the procession," Daily Times on Monday quoted the book as saying. After Ms Bhutto's assassination, the Musharraf regime had released an audio conversation purportedly between the two Taliban men talking about Ms Bhutto's death. The book also claims that the Taliban was behind another attack on Ms Bhutto, carried out by two suicide bombers in October 2007 in Karachi, in which nearly 140 people died. "Despite attacks on Benazir Bhutto's procession in Karachi, the government had not taken appropriate security measures that made it possible for the attackers to have easy access to Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi," claims the book. The book says that Baitullah Mehsud, the then head of the TTP, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2009, had approved the attack on Ms Bhutto's procession in October 2007, when she returned to Pakistan to lead the campaign for the 2008 parliamentary elections. "The return of Benazir Bhutto was planned on the behest of the Americans as they had given her a plan against the Mujahideed-e-Islam. Baitullah had received information of the plan. So when Benazir Bhutto arrived in Karachi, two suicide bombers Mohsin Mehsood and Rehmatullah Mehsod carried out attacks on her procession at Karsaz area of Karachi," the book claims. Musharraf had been formally charged in the case by an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi in August 2017. The ATC also declared Musharraf an absconder in the case. Musharraf has denied any involvement in Ms Bhutto's assassination on a number of occasions. COMMENTSThe book also mentions that the investigating bodies had held the outfit responsible for Ms Bhutto's killing but they had denied their involvement until 27 December 2017, on her 10th death anniversary. It presents no reason why the TTP changed its stance. The book, according to Daily Times, covers the TTP's history, its attacks, military operations in the tribal regions, TTP's activities in Afghanistan, tribal system, Mehsood tribe role in the TTP, TTP operations in Karachi and its campaign against polio vaccination.

At UN, Diplomats Are Watching Candidate Nikki Haley

MMNN:13 January 2018
UNITED NATIONS, UNITED STATE: One year into the job, Nikki Haley stands out as the star of President Donald Trump's administration, and diplomats say the UN ambassador is directing some of that star power into a likely White House bid. Speculation about Haley's presidential ambitious has picked up since she defended Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, staring down friends and foes alike at the world body. The 45-year-old Republican resorted to a veto to block criticism from the UN Security Council and threatened reprisals against those who voted against Washington at the General Assembly. The clash gave UN ambassadors a reality check: Haley, they say, is a politician, not a diplomat, and at the United Nations, she is playing to a domestic audience. "She is not trying to win votes at the General Assembly. She is trying to win votes for 2020 or 2024," a council diplomat said. "She is clearly using this position to run for something, that's obvious." The former South Carolina governor arrived at the United Nations last year, promising a "new day" under Trump's America First policy and vowing to "take names" of countries that don't toe the line. Seen at the outset as a foreign policy lightweight, Haley was quickly taken seriously because of her close ties to the unpredictable Trump. Over the past year, she has pushed through three new sets of sanctions against North Korea, bringing China and Russia on side to tackle what Trump sees as his administration's number one security threat. Those sanctions won the unanimous backing of the council, where finding common ground with Haley is testing diplomatic skills. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley is hawkish on Iran, fiercely pro-Israel and a strong advocate of cost-cutting at the United Nations. Signature issues That those three signature issues play well with the US Republican voter base is not lost on most diplomats. "What matters above all are perceptions internally, in the US," said another council diplomat, who like many declined to be quoted. Haley was among the first administration officials to take a hard line on Russia, declaring that sanctions over Crimea would remain in place until Moscow gave the territory back to Ukraine. Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko, who just wrapped up a two-year stint at the Security Council, says Haley is doing an "excellent job." "She may be less diplomatic sometimes than some could expect, but this is more an asset than a shortcoming," he said. For months, Haley had been tipped as a possible replacement to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom she has upstaged with her media appearances and statements that at times appear to break new ground. In October, she put that speculation to rest, telling reporters that she wasn't interested. "I would not take it," Haley told reporters on a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. "I want to be where I'm most effective." She is seen as a possible vice president to Mike Pence, should he take over the presidency. Author Michael Wolff, whose book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" has become a national sensation, claims Haley has set her sights higher and is eyeing the presidency. According to published excerpts, Haley began positioning herself as Trump's heir after concluding in October that he was a one-term president. Wolff quoted a senior White House staffer who described her "as ambitious as Lucifer" and another who offered the view that while being groomed by Trump, "she is so much smarter than him." COMMENTSHaley has brushed aside questions about her political ambitious, saying she is focused on the job at hand as she remains firmly in the limelight as the UN's most-watched ambassador

What To Expect When PM Modi Meets Netanyahu This Weekend

MMNN:12 January 2018
Before setting off for New Delhi this weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received an unwelcome reminder of the maneuvering Indian counterpart Narendra Modi must perform as their countries deepen ties. In early January, Israel confirmed that India called off a $500 million missile deal. In December, India backed a United Nations resolution condemning President Donald Trump's new Israel-friendly policy on Jerusalem. While Israel is charging headlong into warmer ties with New Delhi, India is engaged in a balancing act, in deference to its historical support for the Palestinians and alliances with Israeli rivals, including Iran. "The maturing relationship with Israel does make strategic sense for India," said Nirupama Rao, India's former ambassador to the U.S. and China. "But India is also not bereft of the realization that it has important interests in the Gulf and West Asia to protect because these interests involve its many people who live and work in that region, as well as its energy security." Tiny Israel needs large markets for its export-driven economy. India, with its 1.3 billion people, colossal military budget and widespread poverty, has needs Israel can fill. Bilateral trade, excluding defense, grew to at least $4 billion in 2016 from just $200 million in 1992, the year the two nations established full diplomatic relations. Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. won nearly $2 billion in contracts from India last year alone. PM Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party has challenged the accepted wisdom that closer ties with Israel will alienate India's Muslim minority. During a historic first trip by an Indian prime minister to Israel last year, PM Modi didn't travel the several miles to the West Bank to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as visiting leaders usually do. A Netanyahu-Modi bromance was carefully choreographed during that visit, complete with shots of them walking barefoot together through the Mediterranean surf. "India, more than most countries, is making it clear they can engage with Israel without having to package that relationship to the Palestinian cause," said Arthur Lenk, who served as an Israeli diplomat in India in the late 1990s. "It's India saying, 'What's in it for us?'" "What's in it for us" doesn't always align with Israel's interests. New Delhi is helping Netanyahu's nemesis Iran develop its south eastern Chabahar port. It has consistently backed the Palestinian quest for statehood and, in December, was among 128 nations to denounce Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. "What we did with Jerusalem is exactly what our policy has been," said Anil Trigunayat, a retired Indian diplomat and former ambassador to Libya and Jordan. Netanyahu said the UN vote wouldn't hurt ties. "I would have preferred another vote, to be frank, but I don't think it materially changes the tremendous flowering of relations between India and Israel," he told journalists Wednesday. "I think you're going to see an expansion of economic and other ties, regardless of this or that deal," he said, commenting on the cancellation of the missile agreement with state-run Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. During the Jan. 14-19 visit, Israel and India will announce deals and joint investments in areas ranging from defense to renewable energy, Gilad Cohen, deputy director-general in charge of Asia at Israel's Foreign Ministry, said in a briefing Wednesday. COMMENTSNetanyahu will be accompanied by about 130 businesspeople from the cyber, defense, agriculture and healthcare industries. "India has become a more sophisticated market in recent years," said delegation member Benjamin Grossman, head of the Indian practice at the Amit, Pollak, Matalon & Co. law firm in Tel Aviv. "India became aware that if they want to bring technology, they had to change their mindset and reduce the red tape. It also helps that the sentiment between the governments has been really positive.

Malaysia To Pay US Firm $70 Million If MH370 Found In New Hunt

MMNN:11 January 2018
Nobody knows what causes fast radio bursts - brief, bizarre radio wave beams that emit more energy in a fraction of a millisecond than the sun does all day. But scientists just got closer than ever before to the source of one of these enigmatic signals. In research presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, an international team of astronomers traced a repeating fast radio burst to a region of star formation in a dim dwarf galaxy 3 billion light-years away. There, they said, the high energy beam is being savagely twisted by a powerful magnetic field amid a dense cloud of hot, ionized gas. The finding helps illuminate the extreme environment these radio bursts call home. But scientists are still scratching their heads over what could cause such a mighty blast. "It's a mystery," said Cornell astronomer Shami Chatterjee, one of the co-authors of a study on the findings published Wednesday in Nature. Then he laughed. "I say that as if I am disappointed, but let's be real - there is nothing like a good mystery to try to figure out. And this is such a tantalizing mystery and as time goes on we're getting more clues." Scientists have been befuddled by fast radio bursts, or FRBs, since the first one was discovered in 2007. They are far more powerful than anything in our own galaxy, and so fast and focused they seem to have shot out the barrel of some cosmic gun. They are also dispersed - high frequency wavelengths arrive earlier than lower frequency ones, indicating that the burst travel long distances across vast expanses of space to reach Earth. Research suggests that as many as 10,000 of these bursts occur every day, but so far astronomers have only spotted a few dozen. Of those, just one has gone off more than once: a signal called FRB 121102, captured in 2012 by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. In research published last January, astronomers described how they took advantage of the repeating nature of FRB 121102 to trace the burst back to its host galaxy. Many of those same astronomers have been gazing at that galaxy ever since, ready to catch FRB 121102 whenever it flares. Their patience paid off on Dec. 25, 2016. In a space of about half an hour, the telescope at Arecibo witnessed more than a dozen bursts. "We called it our Christmas present," said Jason Hessels, an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam and a co-author of the new research. Subsequent observations by fleet of powerful telescopes working in a wide range of wavelengths captured dozens more bursts (FRB 121102 has now been seen flaring more than 200 times) and revealed some surprising characteristics of this far-off flashbulb. Chief among these quirks is the dramatic twisting of the signal's polarization - the plane on which the waves oscillate. The flares from FRB 121102 are 500 times more twisted than any other burst scientists have seen, suggesting they were warped by a potent magnetic field. The only known source of such intense magnetism in our own galaxy is the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*, which sits at the Milky Way's center. "Maybe this FRB source is in a similar environment, a galactic center environment," Hessels said. An alternative explanation is that the FRB source is surrounded by a highly-magnetized cocoon of material - perhaps the fog of gas and dust from which new stars form, or the detritus created by a dying star when it explodes. It's theoretically possible that such a celestial dust devil could produce a large rotation measure - and co-author Betsey Adams of the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy pointed out that optical observations of the FRB's origin indicate it comes from a nursery for newborn stars. The higher-resolution radio observations made possible by knowing the precise location of the burst also revealed that bursts were clustered - several might happen in the space of a second - and oddly structured. A 3-D-printed image of one burst featured jagged spikes and unusual pauses in the signal, making it look like a bit like Malificent's castle in "Sleeping Beauty." Andrew Seymour, another co-author of the new report and an astronomer at the Universities Space Research Association and Arecibo Observatory, said it isn't clear whether those jagged features in the signal are produced at the source, or are instead a reflection of the extreme environment around it. Another oddity: Though FRB 121102 is "prodigiously energetic," as Chatterjee put it, it only emits radiation in the radio part of the electromagnetic spectrum. "We were looking for it in X-rays, gamma rays, and there's nothing there," Chatterjee said. Breakthrough Listen, a $100 million initiative to search for extraterrestrial intelligence, has also taken an interest in FRB 121102. In a fanciful paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters this year, a pair of Harvard theorists suggested that a solar powered alien craft could explain the bursts. Breakthrough's observations at the Green Bank Telescope revealed no extraterrestrial voyagers, but astronomers did find the same signatures of intense magnetism observed at Arecibo. And still, the astronomers have no idea what is actually producing these flares. They speculate that it may be a neutron star - the dark, dense, smoldering core that's left behind after a mid-sized star explodes and goes nova. Neutron stars are compact enough to produce the short, focused signal that characterizes an FRB, and sufficiently matter-rich to generate something so powerful. But what could possibly prompt a neutron star to burp out so much energy, over and over again? "The joke is that there are far more theories than there are observed bursts," Hessels said. Meanwhile, astronomers are eager to detect additional repeating bursts. FRB 121102 is the only one they've witnessed more than once, and they're still not certain whether that's due to a fluke of timing or something more fundamental. It's possible there are two classes of FRBs - those that repeat and those that don't. Or maybe there's something unique about FRB 121102 that makes it easier to see; Chatterjee suggested that a cloud of ionized gas around the source might act like a magnifying glass lens, focusing the signal in the direction of our telescopes. West Virginia University astrophysicist Sarah Burke-Spaloar, who has been involved in previous research on FRB 121102 but was not part of the most recent study, said this latest finding will help "steer the field." "It's one of those fields that every step of the way every new thing we learn makes the phenomenon look more complex," Burke-Spolaor said. If astronomers are able to find more repeaters and track down their sources, she continued, they will open up a rare new window on the universe - particularly the murky expanse beyond the Milky Way. As FRBs traverse the dark spaces between galaxies, they interact with the diffuse material in those regions and carry a record of that interaction down to Earth. COMMENTS"I think the bottom line of that is they basically allow us to observe the invisible universe between galaxies," Burke-Spolaor said.

Malaysia To Pay US Firm $70 Million If MH370 Found In New Hunt

MMNN:10 January 2018
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA: Malaysia signed a deal with an American firm on Wednesday to resume the search for MH370 almost four years after the plane disappeared, with the company to receive up to $70 million if successful. The new hunt, which will last 90 days, is expected to start in mid-January when a high-tech vessel leased by the seabed exploration firm, Ocean Infinity, reaches a new search zone in the southern Indian Ocean. The Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people -- mostly from China -- on board en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, triggering one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries. No sign of the plane was found in a 120,000 square kilometre (46,000 square mile) search zone selected by satellite analysis of the jet's likely trajectory. The Australian-led sea search, the largest in aviation history, was suspended in January last year. But three firms submitted bids to resume the hunt privately and after lengthy negotiations, the Malaysian government agreed to engage Ocean Infinity on a "no find, no fee" basis. "I would like to reiterate our unwavering commitment towards solving the mystery of MH370," Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said Wednesday at a signing ceremony for the deal. The new search zone is an area of approximately 25,000 square kilometres in the Indian Ocean. If the company finds the Boeing 777, the amount they are paid will depend on where it was located, said Liow. If it is found within the first 5,000 square kilometres, they will receive $20 million. The amount rises gradually to a maximum of $70 million if the jet is found outside the 25,000 square kilometre search zone. Relatives of MH370 passengers welcomed the decision. "We are grateful the Malaysian government is resuming the search for MH370," V. P. R. Nathan, whose wife Anne Daisy was on the plane, told AFP. "We do not know what happened, we need to know what happened before we can get closure." The ship that will conduct the hunt is a Norwegian research vessel named Seabed Constructor, which is carrying 65 crew members and set off from South Africa in early January for the search zone. It is carrying eight autonomous drones, equipped with sonars and cameras, that will scour the waters in the hunt for the wreckage and can operate in depths up to 6,000 metres (20,000 feet). 1 COMMENTSOnly three confirmed fragments of MH370 have been found, all of them on western Indian Ocean shores, including

Rural Women In India, Elderly In Japan Open Their Homes To Airbnb Guests

MMNN:9 January 2018
Mobile apps that help women in the Indian countryside and tiny villages in Japan to open their homes to visitors from across the world are generating incomes, revitalising remote communities and helping to curb migration to cities. A women's organisation in the Gujarat has tied up with Airbnb, the short-term home rental service, to train rural women to be hosts and list their homes on its site. A year in, the number of women earning from home sharing has doubled, according to the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA), which has about 2 million members, mostly in villages. "At first, we weren't sure how the women would fare and if people would respond to homestays in these areas," said Reema Nanavaty, a director at SEWA. "But once they began getting guests, the women invested in upgrading their homes and started using Google Translate to communicate with guests. It has become a significant source of income for them," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation Guests to the colourful homes are treated to homecooked Gujarati food, and can participate in kite flying and garba dancing with sticks in traditional costume, she said. The partnership will extend to 14 more states, aiming to boost incomes of women in rural areas and help boost tourism in otherwise neglected areas, she said. Cheap smartphones are also aiding those looking for work, with job matching sites helping even illiterate job seekers from rural Cambodia to India find employers without middlemen who may dupe them. Airbnb also has partnerships in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan for rural tourism. In Japan, the Yoshino Cedar House, a collaboration with Tokyo-based architect Go Hasegawa and the local community, came about as a response to shrinking rural populations in the rapidly ageing country. It was inspired by a host whose listing helped rejuvenate her village, said Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia. Hundreds of villages and towns "will disappear in the next decade if we do not find ways to create regenerative and adaptive systems", he said via e-mail. The Cedar House is run by a cooperative of about two dozen community members who take turns at being the host. Most of the proceeds remain in the community, with a percentage of profits reinvested in local projects, Gebbia said. "If we can get community-driven empowerment right in Japan, we can find ways of adapting this to other countries," he said. In India, the 50 rural homes listed on Airbnb are drawing guests from the United States and Europe, Nanavaty said. COMMENTS"Some of the villages were not even on Google Maps. For the women, it is a new way to make money, be independent," she said

Pakistan As A Terrorist Safe Haven No Longer Acceptable: CIA

MMNN:8 January 2018
WASHINGTON: CIA chief Mike Pompeo has said that Pakistan continues to provide safe havens to terrorists, which is not acceptable to America. US President Donald Trump has asked Pakistan to "cease" being a safe haven for terrorists that threaten the US, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director said yesterday. The US has suspended about USD 2 billion in security aid to Pakistan for failing to clamp down on the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani terror network and dismantle their safe havens. The freezing of all security assistance to Pakistan comes after President Donald Trump in a New Year's day tweet accused Islamabad of giving nothing to the US but "lies and deceit" and providing "safe haven" to terrorists in return for USD 33 billion aid over the last 15 years. "We see the Pakistanis continuing to provide safe harbour, havens inside of Pakistan for terrorists who present risks to the United States of America," Mr Pompeo was quoted as saying by the CBS news. "We are doing our best to inform the Pakistanis that this is no longer going to be acceptable. So this conditioned aid, we have given them a chance. If they fix this problem, we are happy to continue to engage with them and be their partner. But if they don't, we're going to protect America," he said. The CIA director was responding to questions on the recent decision of the Trump administration to suspend approximately USD 2 billion in security aid to Pakistan. COMMENTS"The president has made very clear that he needs Pakistan to cease being a safe haven for terrorists that threaten the United States of America, end, period, full stop," Mr Pompeo said, reflecting the stand taken by President Trump. The security assistance can be restored if Pakistan takes decisive actions against terrorists.

Iran Foreign Minister Ridicules Trump 'Blunder' At UN

MMNN:6 January 2018
TEHRAN, IRAN: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif ridiculed US President Donald Trump on Saturday over what he called the foreign policy "blunder" of trying to raise its recent protests at the UN Security Council. The Security Council "rebuffed the US' naked attempt to hijack its mandate", wrote Zarif on Twitter. "Majority emphasised the need to fully implement the JCPOA (nuclear deal) and to refrain from interfering in internal affairs of others. Another FP (foreign policy) blunder for the Trump administration." The United States had pushed for the UN meeting on Friday to discuss the five days of protests that hit Iran last week, leading to the deaths of 21 people and hundreds of arrests. US Ambassador Nikki Haley argued the unrest could escalate into full-blown conflict and drew a comparison with Syria. "The Iranian regime is now on notice: the world will be watching what you do," Haley warned. But Russia's envoy shot back that if the US view holds, the council should have also discussed the 2014 unrest in the US suburb of Ferguson, Missouri over the police shooting of a black teenager or the US crackdown on the Occupy Wall Street movement. Britain and France reiterated that Iran must respect the rights of protesters, but French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the "events of the past days do not constitute a threat to peace and international security". China also described the meeting as meddling in Iran's affairs, while Ethiopia, Kuwait and Sweden expressed reservations about the discussion. Iran's Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo slammed the meeting as a "farce" and a "waste of time" and said the council should instead focus on addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the war in Yemen. Iranian authorities have declared the unrest over, and held three days of large pro-government rallies across the country between Wednesday and Friday. Iran signed a nuclear deal with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China in 2015, easing sanctions in exchange for curbs to the country's nuclear programme. US President Donald Trump has fiercely opposed the deal, but the other signatories remain firmly behind it. Trump must decide every few months whether to continue waiving nuclear sanctions, with the next deadline due on Friday. Analysts say there is a chance he may use the latest unrest as a pretext to reimpose sanctions.

Saudi Arabia Intercepts Ballistic Missile Near Yemen Border: State Media

MMNN:5 January 2018
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Friday intercepted a ballistic missile over the kingdom's south near the border with Yemen, state media reported, hours after Yemeni rebels said they had launched an attack. The Houthi rebels, locked in a war against Yemen's Saudi-backed government, said they had fired a missile at the kingdom's southwestern province of Najran in a statement tweeted by their Al-Masirah television channel. Saudi air defences intercepted the ballistic missile over Najran, according to the kingdom's state-owned Al Ekhbariya news channel. A spokesman for the Saudi-led military alliance fighting the Houthis in Yemen did not immediately respond to a request for further details. Saudi Arabia, which has been targeted by multiple rocket attacks in recent weeks, has blamed its regional rival Iran for arming the Shiite Houthis in the Yemen war. The kingdom denounced the threat of "Iranian-manufactured ballistic weapons" after it intercepted a ballistic missile fired from Yemen over Riyadh in December. No casualties have been reported in the attacks. The Saudi-led coalition intervened in support of President Abedrabbo Mansur Hadi's government in March 2015, after the Houthis took over the capital Sanaa and much of the rest of the country. COMMENTSBut despite the coalition's superior firepower, the rebels still control the capital and much of the north. More than 8,750 people have been killed since the coalition intervened, according to the World Health Organization.

US State Department Yet To Get Its South And Central Asia Head

MMNN:4 January 2018
WASHINGTON: The position of the point person for South and Central Asia in the US State Department is lying vacant and it is likely to remain so for now as the Trump Administration, which is to complete its first year in office, is doing a major review of the bureaucratic set up. There are nine such positions in the complex bureaucratic structure of the State Department, which is similar to the Ministry of External Affairs. The absence of a full-fledged Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia is "felt now the most" at a critical juncture now when the relationship between the US and Pakistan is at a low ebb, observers feel. There is an unprecedented jump in the India-US relations and China is dangerously expanding itself in the South and Central Asia like never before, they said. Possibly for the first time in decades, that an important department like the South and Central Asia Bureau of the State Department is now being headed by a Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Alice G Wells. The bureau is responsible for countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. In fact, for the first 300 days of the administration, Wells was named as the Acting Secretary of State for South and Central Asia. However, she went back to her original position of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary along with eight other positions of acting secretaries of states to meet the existing regulations. "For vacancies that exist on Inauguration Day or soon thereafter, the Vacancies Reform Act typically limits to 300 days service as Acting in a position which requires Senate confirmation," a State Department spokesperson said. "Consistent with this requirement, in November, nine Department leaders no longer serve as Acting in Senateconfirmed positions. These individuals will continue in the leadership and management roles of their assignments of record. The Department of State is taking steps to meet all requirements to support continued operations," the spokesperson told PTI. Also, the position of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), which was a key feature of the previous Obama Administration, no longer exists in the Trump government. The position of SRAP was held by some of the high-profile diplomats like the late Richard Holbrook, and was responsible for the administration's relationship for Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was a full-fledged department in itself where once several dozen people worked. The functions and resources of the former SRAP office have been returned to the existing Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA). "The issues covered by SRAP remain a high priority of the Department, as exemplified by the level of resourcing provided to our diplomatic missions in both countries and the appointment of senior SCA bureau officers to manage our relationships with them," the spokesperson said. There was a need to wrap up SRAP as the Trump Administration believes in a holistic approach to South Asia of which Afghanistan and Pakistan is a part. "As the President's South Asia policy makes clear, the administration views the resolution of conflict in Afghanistan in the broader context of the South and Central Asian region," the spokesperson explained. "The reintegration of policymaking for Afghanistan and Pakistan within the SCA Bureau has been a long-standing objective that Congress was initially notified of in 2016. The Department of State is fully committed to dedicating the personnel and resources needed to implement the President's South Asia policy," the spokesperson said. The situation in State Department is unlikely to change for now as the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is doing a major review of its bureaucratic structure. President Donald Trump believes that the State department has headcount in excess of what it needs. In addition to Ambassador Wells, some of the other top diplomats meeting the same fate are Tina Kaidanow, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs; Francisco (Paco) Palmieri, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs; Judy Garber currently Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Environment and Science (OES); and Jennifer Zimdahl Galt; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) for Educational and Cultural Affairs

3 Women Arrested For Threatening To Bomb Pak Investigative Agency's Office

MMNN:3 January 2018
LAHORE: A woman and her two daughters have been arrested in Pakistan under terrorism and other charges for allegedly threatening to bomb the country's security and investigative agency's Lahore office. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) authorities received messages from a Facebook profile threatening to blow up its Lahore premises through bomb blast. "We arrested yesterday three women - Fidous Rehana and her two daughters Ayesha and Sundas, residents of Sotar Mandi near Lahore Cantonment - for uploading threats and objectionable material on a Facebook account against the FIA Lahore and its officers," FIA Lahore Cyber Crime Wing head Shahid Hassan told news agency PTI. The FIA officer further said the women committed the crime to implicate a man named Mian Ali by making his fake Facebook ID. "The women claimed that Mian Ali was blackmailing them therefore they had decided to get him arrested by the FIA. They also got the help of their accomplice Usman to create the fake ID and hurling serious threats to the FIA officers and bomb its (FIA) Lahore building," Mr Shahid said. The FIA building in Lahore had been bombed in 2008 in which 26 people, including officers, were killed. Banned Tahreek-iTaliban Pakistan was reported to have been involved in the blast. According to the FIR, the Facebook account in the name of Mian was created on November 18, 2017. COMMENTS"It first started harassing the FIA authorities and later threatened to blow up its building through bomb blast. The investigation team had traced the IP address used to access the said profile and found that it was used by two mobile numbers which were registered in the name of Firdous Rehana," the FIR says. The FIA official said the women were presented before the judicial magistrate who sent them to jail on judicial remand, allowing the agency to interrogate them in jail. The FIA has also taken the women's accomplice Usman into custody and got his physical remand from a judicial magistrate.

US Considering Withholding USD 255 Million Aid To Pak: Reports

MMNN:30 December 2017
NEW YORK: The Trump administration is strongly considering to withhold USD 255 million in aid to Pakistan, reflecting dissatisfaction with Islamabad's inaction against terror networks, a media report said. The Trump administration's internal debate over whether to deny Pakistan the money is a test of whether Donald Trump will deliver on his threat to punish Islamabad for failing to cooperate on counterterrorism operations, the New York Times reported. It said the relations between the US and Pakistan, long vital for both, have relaxed steadily since the president declared that Pakistan "gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror." The US, which has provided Pakistan more than USD 33 billion in aid since 2002, said in August that it was withholding the USD 255 million until Pakistan did more to crackdown on terrorist groups. "Senior administration officials met this month to decide what to do about the money, and American officials said a final decision could be made in the coming weeks," the daily said. The New York Times report comes days after US Vice President Mike Pence said in Kabul that the Trump administration has put Pakistan on notice. Pakistan, according to the daily, has refused to give the US access to one of the abductors of the Canadian-American family who were freed early this year, the latest disagreement in the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between the countries. "Now, the Trump administration is strongly considering whether to withhold USD 255 million in aid that it had delayed sending to Islamabad, according to American officials, as a show of dissatisfaction with Pakistan's broader intransigence toward confronting the terrorist networks that operate there," the New York Times report said. Pakistan's military on Thursday warned the US against the possibility of taking unilateral action against armed groups on its soil, in its strongest response yet to tensions between the two allies. Pakistan military spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor rejected the notion that Pakistan is not doing enough to fight armed groups. He said Pakistan would continue to fight armed groups in the region in Pakistan's self-interest, rather than at the behest of other countries.

India should control its border troops: Chinese military

MMNN:29 December 2017
Peeing China’s rivalry on the strength of the Indian Army on the borders. At the same time, China has advised India to exercise restraint. Referring to the deadlock in the Daulat on Thursday, the Chinese military said that India should strictly control its army. China said the agreements set out to maintain peace and stability on the border should be followed. Chinese Defense spokesman Colonel Ren Guoqiang said that this year the Chinese army easily resolved many issues, one of which was a dispute similar to Dokalm. He said that the Chinese army did very well to safeguard the interests of national security and sovereignty. In response to a question, Ren said that issues like Dolaam on the Indo-China border were properly dealt with by the Chinese army. Apart from this, the Chinese army also worked for the protection of national interest in South China Sea. One day before this, China had requested India and Pakistan to maintain peace on the border. Recently, there were heavy firing, including the killing of three Pakistani soldiers by Indian Army commanders on the Line of Control. On this, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hu Chunying said that we have seen the report in this context. As friends and friends of India and Pakistan, we hope that continuous efforts should be made to resolve issues, consultations and to remain committed to peace and stability in South Asia

Obama Beats Trump Again As Most Admired American Man In Poll

MMNN:28 December 2017
WASHINGTON: For the 10th year in a row, Americans have named former US President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as the man and woman they admire most, according to a recent Gallup poll published today. Obama edges out President Donald Trump, 17 per cent to 14 per cent, while former secretary of state Clinton moved past Michelle Obama, 9 per cent to 7 per cent and First lady Melania Trump scored one per cent, the poll said. Obama wins over Trump, who is suffering brutally low approval ratings as he is about to complete his first year in the White House. He came in second place followed by Pope Francis. Trump's approval rating sank to a new low in CNN polling in December, earning the approval of just 35 per cent of Americans less than a year into his first term. The former president has made it to the top of the list for the past 10 years, while the former presidential candidate has won 16 years in a row. Gallup said sitting presidents usually win the most admired spot, and that Obama was the first former president to top the list since second world war general and post-war president Dwight Eisenhower. "The incumbent president is the usual winner, since he is arguably the most prominent figure in the country," Gallup said in a statement. "But when the president is unpopular, other well-known and well-liked men have been able to finish first." Gallup notes that this poll has been administered 71 times since 1946 and the incumbent president has won 58 of those times and Clinton has held the title 22 times in total, more than anyone else. Results are based on telephone interviews conducted with a random sample of 1,049 adults, ages 18 and older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia

China, Pak Plan To Include Afghanistan In Corridor That Runs Through PoK

MMNN:26 December 2017
BEIJING: China and Pakistan will look at extending the $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Tuesday. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC, which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), is part of China's ambitious Belt and Road plan to link China with Asia, Europe and beyond. China tries to position itself as a 'helpful party' in talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan, both uneasy neighbours since 1947, when Pakistan was created after the division of India when it gained independence from Britain. Ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan have soured in recent years as Kabul blames Islamabad of supporting and funding Taliban terrorists, who are responsible for repeated attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan's main objective, Kabul says, is to limit the influence of India in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies this and instead, claims innocence in attacks carried out by terrorists who cross the Pak-Afghan border. Speaking after the first trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr Wang said China hoped the economic corridor could benefit the whole region and act as an impetus for development. Afghanistan has an urgent need to develop and improve people's lives and hopes it can join inter-connectivity initiatives, Mr Wang told reporters, as he announced that Pakistan and Afghanistan had agreed to mend their strained relations. "So China and Pakistan are willing to look at Afghanistan, on the basis of a win-win, mutually beneficial principles, using an appropriate means to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan," he added. How that could happen needs the three countries to reach a gradual consensus, tackling easier, smaller projects first, Mr Wang said, without giving any details. Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said his country and China were "iron brothers", but did not directly mention the prospect of Afghanistan joining the China-Pak corridor. "The successful implementation of CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) projects will serve as a model for enhancing connectivity and cooperation through similar projects with neighbouring countries, including Afghanistan, Iran and with central and west Asia," he said. India has protested the CPEC project as it runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which India maintains is part of Jammu and Kashmir, its northernmost state, and therefore Indian territory. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi however, claimed that the plan had nothing to do with territorial disputes. Pakistan's only link to China is through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It is India and Afghanistan who share a border, now cut-off by Pakistan's forceful occupation of PoK. China has sought to bring Kabul and Islamabad together partly due to Chinese fears about the spread of terrorism from Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan to the unrest-prone far western Chinese region of Xinjiang. As such, China has pushed for Pakistan and Afghanistan to improve their own ties so that they can better tackle violence and terrorism in their respective countries, and has also tried to broker peace talks with Taliban, to a limited effect. A tentative talks process collapsed in 2015. Mr Wang said China fully supported peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban and would continue to provide "necessary facilitation". China's Belt and Road infrastructure drive aims to build a modern-day "Silk Road" connecting China to economies in Southeast and Central Asia by land and the Middle East and Europe by sea.

In Pope's Christmas Greeting, A Message Seen For Donald Trump

MMNN:25 December 2017
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis used his Christmas message on Monday to call for a negotiated two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after U.S. President Donald Trump stoked regional tensions with his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Francis spoke of the Middle East conflict and other world flashpoints in his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) address, four days after more than 120 countries backed a U.N. resolution urging the United States to reverse its decision on Jerusalem. "Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders," he said, referring to the Israelis and Palestinians. "We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians," he said in his address, delivered from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to tens of thousands of people. It was the second time that the pope has spoken out publicly about Jerusalem since Trump's decision on Dec. 6. On that day, Francis called for the city's "status quo" to be respected, lest new tensions in the Middle East further inflame world conflicts. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state, whereas Israel has declared the whole city to be its "united and eternal" capital. Francis, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, urged people to see the defenceless baby Jesus in the children who suffer the most from war, migration and natural calamities caused by man today. "Today, as the winds of war are blowing in our world ... Christmas invites us to focus on the sign of the child and to recognise him in the faces of little children, especially those for whom, like Jesus, 'there is no place in the inn,'" he said. OPEN HEARTS FOR REFUGEES Francis, celebrating the fifth Christmas of his pontificate, said he had seen Jesus in the children he met during his recent trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, and he called for adequate protection of the dignity of minority groups in that region. More than 600,000 Muslim Rohingya people have fled mainly Buddhist Myanmar to Bangladesh in recent months. The pope had to tread a delicate diplomatic line during his visit, avoiding the word "Rohingya" while in Myanmar, which does not recognise them as a minority group, though he used the term when in Bangladesh. "Jesus knows well the pain of not being welcomed and how hard it is not to have a place to lay one's head. May our hearts not be closed as they were in the homes of Bethlehem," he said. He also urged the world to see Jesus in the innocent children suffering from wars in Syria and Iraq and also in Yemen, complaining that its people had been "largely forgotten, with serious humanitarian implications for its people, who suffer from hunger and the spread of diseases". He also listed conflicts affecting children in South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Ukraine and Venezuela. At his Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday, Francis strongly defended immigrants, comparing them to Mary and Joseph finding no place to stay in Bethlehem and saying faith demands that foreigners be welcomed

Afghan Refugee On 18 Attempted Murder Charges For Melbourne Car Attack

MMNN:23 December 2017
An Afghan refugee accused of ploughing his car into pedestrians in Melbourne was charged with 18 counts of attempted murder Saturday, as police vowed a boosted presence over the Christmas period. Saeed Noori, who has a history of drug abuse and mental problems, allegedly drove his car through a busy downtown intersection on Thursday, careering into tourists and shoppers. His motive is not clear, although police allege he made "utterances" to them about voices, dreams and the "poor treatment of Muslims" after his arrest. No link to any terrorist group has been found. "A 32-year-old man has been charged with 18 counts of attempted murder and one count of conduct endangering life," Victoria state police said in a statement, citing Thursday's attack. Broadcaster ABC said Noori did not apply for bail when he appeared in court on Saturday, putting his head in his hands and becoming emotional when he saw his mother weeping during the short hearing. The magistrate ordered a psychiatric assessment and he is due to appear in court again on Wednesday, the broadcaster reported. Of 19 people taken to hospital after the incident, 12 remain, with three in a critical condition. Nine foreigners were hurt, including three South Koreans, two of whom are fighting for their lives. The others were from China, Italy, India, Venezuela, Ireland, and New Zealand. With a major carols by candlelight event scheduled for Christmas Eve and the Boxing Day cricket Test between Australia and England taking place nearby, police said they will be out in force. "Police are very well placed to do everything that is necessary to keep venues like the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) safe and so many others that are going to be really busy over these coming days," Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said. Thursday's incident came after a car rammed into pedestrians in Melbourne's busiest mall in January, killing six people. The driver, whose case is still being heard, was a drug addict who had allegedly just stabbed his brother. Like other countries, Australia has been taking steps to prevent vehicle attacks in crowded public places since the Nice truck incident in southern France last year that killed 86 people. They include deterrent options like fencing and closed circuit cameras, and using delaying tactics such as trees and bollards to slow down vehicles. Melbourne has also been installing a public siren system to warn people of possible terrorist attacks or other serious threats

UK's Boris Johnson, On Moscow Visit, Tells Moscow To Stop Meddling In Europe

MMNN:22 December 2017
MOSCOW, RUSSIA: British foreign minister Boris Johnson told his Russian counterpart on Friday he wanted to talk about difficult subjects such as Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea and what he described as Russia's destabilising of the western Balkans. Johnson made the comments at the start of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during the first visit to Russia by a British foreign minister in five years. Johnson was expected to meet Kremlin critics, students and gay rights activists later on Friday. His visit comes at a time when relations between London and Moscow are strained by differences over Ukraine and Syria as well as by allegations, which Russia flatly denies, that Moscow has meddled in the politics of various European countries and backed cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns. "Our relations with Russia cannot be 'business as usual' whilst Russia continues to attempt to destabilise European states, including Ukraine," Johnson said in a statement released by his office before the talks. Lavrov told Johnson at the start of the talks that British-Russian relations were at a really low point, and "not due to our actions". "You and other Western colleagues have your views on why this situation exists and prefer to set out these reasons publicly. We wanted to discuss our mutual concerns directly," said Lavrov. Johnson told reporters before the visit that Britain disapproved of many things that Russia had done. He singled out its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and its cyber activities. As you would expect, the UK has its own (cyber) capabilities, and we are ready of course to defend our interests," he said. But Johnson also stressed his desire for London and Moscow to cooperate where they have common interests, saying it was vital for international security that the two countries talk to each other rather than risk dangerous misunderstandings. Johnson says he wants to discuss working with Moscow to preserve the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and the threat posed by North Korea, as well as security arrangements for next year's soccer World Cup, which will be held in Russia. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said before the visit that the decision to scale back British-Russian dialogue had been London's, and had been groundless and untimely. Johnson riled Russian officials before his visit by saying Moscow was "closed, nasty, militaristic and anti-democratic" in an interview with Britain's Sunday Times newspaper. Zakharova said Russian officials had not taken offence, but merely laughed because the comments had been made by Boris Johnson

Theresa May Forces Her Deputy To Resign Over Pornography Scandal

MMNN:21 December 2017
LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May forced her most senior minister, Damian Green, to resign after an internal investigation found he had made misleading comments about pornography on computers in his parliamentary office. The resignation of one of May's most trusted allies, who had helped pacify her deeply divided party, is a blow as she navigates the final year of tortuous negotiations towards Britain's exit from the European Union in March 2019. Green, who voted to stay in the EU, was appointed as first secretary of state just six months ago in a bid to shore up May's premiership following her disastrous bet on a June snap election that lost her party its majority in parliament. But Green's future was thrust into doubt when the Sunday Times newspaper reported last month that police in 2008 had found pornography on his office computers in the Houses of Parliament. In response, Green said the story was untrue. A review, requested by May and conducted by a senior government official, concluded that Green's statements which suggested he was not aware that indecent material had been found on the computers, were "inaccurate and misleading." The inquiry, a summary of which was distributed by May's Downing Street office, found he had breached rules governing the behaviour of ministers. "I regret that I've been asked to resign from the government following breaches of the Ministerial Code, for which I apologise," Green said in a letter to May, who said she had accepted his resignation with deep regret. Green, 61, said he did not download or view pornography on his parliamentary computers. He added that he should have been clearer about his statements after the story broke. He is the most senior British politician to fall since a debate about a culture of abuse by some powerful men at the heart of Westminster was triggered by the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal. May's defence minister, Michael Fallon, quit last month for unspecified conduct which he said had fallen below required standards. Her aid minister resigned a week later after holding undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials.
Conduit For Complaints During the turmoil that followed the botched election, May turned to Green - a friend and ally from their days at Oxford University - to stabilise her premiership and appease those within the Conservative Party who wanted her to quit. One of his key roles was to act as a conduit for disgruntled party members who felt they had been ignored in May's election campaign. He sought to help her to shed the image of a distant leader who only listens to those in her inner circle. "It's another blow for May but it is not deadly in any way at all," said Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King's College London. "She has lost her soulmate in cabinet but this is not the end of Prime Minister May." "May is surviving not because of Damian Green but because there are sufficient MPs in her party who don't want to have a leadership election while Brexit is going on and that fundamental calculation has not changed," he said. The internal investigation found that Green's conduct as a minister was generally "professional and proper" but found two statements he made on Nov. 4 and 11 to be inaccurate and misleading. In the statements he had suggested he was not aware that indecent material was found on parliamentary computers in his office. "These statements ... constitute breaches of the Ministerial Code. Mr Green accepts this," the report summary said.
Westminster Scandal Sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Weinstein have prompted some women and men to share stories about improper behaviour at the heart of British political power in Westminster. "Everyone who wants to play their part in our political life should feel able to do so - without fear or harassment, and knowing they can speak out if they need to," May said in her letter to Green. The internal investigation also addressed allegations, made by the daughter of a family friend, that Green had made an unwanted advance towards her during a social meeting in 2015, had suggested that this might further her career, and later had sent her an inappropriate text message. The report said it was not possible to reach a definitive conclusion on the appropriateness of Green's behaviour in that instance, though the investigation found allegations to be plausible. Green said in his resignation letter that he did not recognise the account of events, but apologised to the woman, academic and critic Kate Maltby, for making her feel uncomfortable.

Facebook Launches New Tools To Prevent Harassment

MMNN:20 December 2017
HOUSTON: Facebook has introduced new features that will prevent unwanted friend requests and messages from reaching you, a move the social media giant said will save a user, especially women, from harassment. Facebook created the new features after working with New Delhi-based non-profit organisation working for women empowerment, the Centre for Social Research and the US-based social change organisation, the National Network to End Domestic Violence. These new features will help the network identify bogus accounts quickly and block them every day. "Apart from it, the latest tool also lets a user tap on an unwanted message and ignore the conversation. The social network will automatically disable notifications about that message and move it to your filtered messages folder. From there, you can read the message without the sender knowing that you have read it," Facebook said in a statement. As of now, this new feature would only be available for a one-on-one conversation, but Facebook said that the feature would be available for group messages soon. Earlier this month, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg had written about the role power plays, her personal experiences with harassment and what companies should do. "No one should ever experience harassment, either in person or online," she wrote in a post about the new tools released yesterday. "Everyone deserves to be protected," Sandberg said, adding we will keep doing what we can to make sure people feel safe on Facebook. The social media network uses IP addresses and other signals to identify a fake account. But, it also said that unfortunately, not all fake accounts can be blocked and might not get caught using these features. Earlier, Facebook had provided tools that can help one deal with harassment and bullying, like a user can unfriend or block the person to prevent him/her from adding you as a friend, so that person cannot view the things that one shares on their Facebook timeline. "If bullying and harassment are severe, you can report the person to the social network," it said. The company also advised not to retaliate because bullies want the victim to react. "Thus, you must not give them one. It is also recommended that you reach out to someone that you trust, which may a family member or a close friend, a counsellor or a teacher. "You must reach out to someone who can help you. Then, ensure that you have documented everything and saved it. In that way, you have proof that such person is harassing or bullying you," it said.

Donald Trump Cannot Cause Collapse Of Nuclear Deal, Says Iran

MMNN:19 December 2017
ANKARA: Iran said on Tuesday U.S. President Donald Trump cannot cause its nuclear deal with six major powers to collapse. "The nuclear deal will not collapse... Those who hope that Trump will cause its collapse, are wrong," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on State TV. In October, Trump declined to certify that Iran was complying with the nuclear agreement reached among Tehran, the United States and other powers in 2015. His decision triggered a 60-day window for Congress to decide whether to bring back sanctions on Iran. Congress passed the ball back to Trump by letting the deadline on reimposing sanctions on Iran pass last week. Trump must decide in mid-January if he wants to continue to waive energy sanctions on Iran. Under the deal, nuclear-related sanctions imposed on Iran were lifted last year, in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear programme. Iran has said it will stick to the accord as long as the other signatories respect it, but will "shred" the deal if Washington pulls out

Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump Discuss North Korea In Phone Call

MMNN:15 December 2017
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES: Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump discussed the crisis over North Korea's nuclear program in a phone call Thursday, in which the US president took the unusual step of thanking his Russian counterpart for praising America's economy. The two heads of state discussed "the situation in several crisis zones, with a focus on solving the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula," the Kremlin said in a statement, without elaborating. The White House said the two "discussed working together to resolve the very dangerous situation in North Korea." But Trump's thanks to Putin took top billing in the US statement. "President Trump thanked President Putin for acknowledging America's strong economic performance in his annual press conference," it said. Earlier in the day, Putin told his press conference: "Look at how the markets are reacting, they are growing. This shows confidence in the American economy. With all due respect to (Trump's) opponents, these are objective facts." The pair have lavished praise on each other in the past, with commentators describing their cozy relationship as a "bromance." Special counsel Robert Mueller is currently investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow to tilt the White House race in his favor. Washington this week said it was ready to talk to North Korea -- which has launched several intercontinental ballistic missiles in recent months -- "without preconditions." US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that while the Trump administration was still determined to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arsenal, it was willing to "have the first meeting without preconditions." Putin, in his annual press conference with hundreds of journalists in Moscow, welcomed the United States' "awareness of reality" in the crisis. However, he called on all sides to "stop aggravating the situation" and said Moscow did not recognize North Korea's status as a nuclear power.

200,000 Poisoned Syringes Sold In China That Kill Dogs For Dinner Table: Report

MMNN:13 December 2017
SHANGHAI: Poisoned syringes that could be fired at dogs on the street to kill them instantly were sold by a gang in China, allowing pets to be snatched and sold for the dinner table, state media said. Police in the eastern province of Anhui arrested eight gang members, alleging they sold 200,000 of the syringes throughout China filled with a large dose of the muscle relaxant suxamethonium. The buyers were mainly dog vendors who collect and sell dogs to restaurants for meat, the Xinhua news agency said, citing police who warned that people who ate the meat were also in danger of being poisoned. The needles were modified by the gang with a spring and tailfin so they could be shot from a distance like a dart. After buying the needles, unscrupulous dog dealers would target pet dogs, then abduct them. Police said that the hunt was on to find more of the syringes, which contained enough suxamethonium to kill the animals immediately. When police raided the gang's lair in Enshi City, in central Hubei Province, in October, they found four kilos of chemical powder, 10,000 needles and 100,000 yuan ($15,000)

Palestinian stabs Israeli in Jerusalem

MMNN:11 December 2017
A Palestinian stabbed an Israeli security guard at Jerusalem’s main bus station on Sunday, police said, and violence flared near the U.S. Embassy in Beirut over U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Four days of street protests in the Palestinian territories over Trump’s announcement on Wednesday have largely died down, but his overturning of long-standing U.S. policy on Jerusalem — a city holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians — drew more Arab warnings of potential damage to prospects for Middle East peace. “Our hope is that everything is calming down and that we are returning to a path of normal life without riots and without violence,” Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Army Radio. But in Jerusalem, a security guard was in critical condition after a 24-year-old Palestinian man from the occupied West Bank stabbed him after approaching a metal detector at an entrance to the city’s central bus station, police said. The alleged assailant was taken into custody after a passer-by tackled him. In Beirut, meanwhile, Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water canons at protesters, some of them waving Palestinian flags, near the U.S. Embassy. Demonstrators set fires in the street, torched U.S. and Israeli flags and threw projectiles towards security forces that had barricaded the main road to the complex. In public remarks on Sunday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, a frequent critic of Israel, called it an “invader state” and a “terror state”. Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in a 1967 war, to be occupied territory and say the status of the city should be decided at future Israeli-Palestinian talks. Israel says that all of Jerusalem is its capital, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state. Arab foreign ministers who met in Cairo on Saturday urged the United States to abandon its decision on Jerusalem and said the move would spur violence throughout the region. Echoing that view, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, said the U.S. move “could throw a lifebuoy to terrorist and armed groups, which have begun to lose ground” in the Middle East.

US To Adopt Four-Level Travel Advisory System From Next Month

MMNN:9 December 2017
WASHINGTON: The US will issue travel advisories from next month to its citizens based on a four-level classification system with clearly recommended actions. The level one is to "exercise normal precautions", level two would be "exercise increased caution", level three is "reconsider travel", and level four would be "do not travel", a top American diplomat said. "We'll simplify our messages to US citizens, replacing emergency and security messages with just alerts in an easy to-understand format," Carl C Risch, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs said. A standard format would help US citizens find and use important security information more easily, he said adding that content would be optimised for mobile users and readily sharable on social media. As per the new procedures beginning in January, countries would be designated in various level from one to four depending on the threat perception. In some cases, various parts of a single country might have different levels of travel advisories, he said. Bringing in this new system is part of the effort to simplify the travel alerts. The process for this was started in the previous Obama administration. "We want them to be not confusing, and that people know how to react to the information that is being provided by the government. There is no desire to cause fear or paranoia where it's not justified for some reason," he said. "Level one is exercise normal precautions. This is the lowest level for safety and security risk. So there's some risk to any international travel, of course, but the conditions in other countries may differ from those in the United States, and may change at any time," he said. "Level two, would be be aware of heightened risks to safety and security," he said adding the state department provides additional advice for travellers in these areas. "Conditions in any country may change, again, at any time," Mr Risch said. Level three is about avoiding travel due to serious risks of safety and security. "Level four - the 'do not travel' - is the highest advisory level due to life-threatening risks," Mr Risch said adding that "during an emergency, the US government may have very limited ability to provide assistance, so leave as soon as it is safe to do so," he said

China Warns Of Imminent Attacks In Pakistan As Economic Corridor Takes Shape

MMNN:8 December 2017
BEIJING: China on Friday warned its nationals in Pakistan of plans for a series of imminent "terrorist attacks" on Chinese targets there, an unusual alert as it pours funds into infrastructure projects into a country plagued by terrorism. Thousands of Chinese workers have gone to Pakistan following Beijing's pledge to spend $57 billion there on projects in President Xi Jinping's signature "Belt and Road" development plan, which aims to link China with the Middle East and Europe. Protecting employees of Chinese companies, as well as individual entrepreneurs who have followed the investment wave along what is known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, has been a concern for Chinese officials. "It is understood that terrorists plan in the near term to launch a series of attacks against Chinese organisations and personnel in Pakistan," the Chinese embassy in Pakistan said in a statement on its website. The embassy warned all "Chinese-invested organisations and Chinese citizens to increase security awareness, strengthen internal precautions, reduce trips outside as much as possible, and avoid crowded public spaces". It also asked Chinese nationals to cooperate with Pakistan's police and the military, and to alert the embassy in the event of an emergency. It did not give any further details. Pakistan's foreign ministry could not be reached immediately for comment. China has long worried about disaffected members of its Uighur Muslim minority in its far western region of Xinjiang linking up with terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. At the same time, violence in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province has fuelled concern about security for planned transport and energy links from western China to Pakistan's deepwater port of Gwadar. The Taliban, sectarian groups linked to al Qaeda and the ISIS all operate in Baluchistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan and is at the centre of the "Belt and Road" initiative. In addition, terrorists there have long battled the government for a greater share of gas and mineral resources, and have a long record of attacking energy and other infrastructure projects. The ISIS claimed responsibility for killing two kidnapped Chinese teachers in Baluchistan in June, prompting the government in Islamabad to pledge to beef up security for Chinese nationals. It had already promised a 15,000-strong army division to safeguard projects along the economic corridor. China's security concerns abroad have grown along with its global commercial footprint. In 2016, a suspected suicide car bomber rammed the gates of the Chinese embassy in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, killing the attacker and wounding at least three people

Australia Parliament Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill

MMNN:7 December 2017
SYDNEY: Australia's parliament passed a bill legalising same-sex marriage Thursday after the nation overwhelmingly voted in favour of changing the law, ending decades of political wrangling. There were loud cheers, hugs and sustained clapping in the lower House of Representatives when all but four MPs voted in support of marriage equality, after the upper house Senate passed the bill 43-12 last week. "What a day for love, for equality, for respect! Australia has done it," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the House. The final step is for the Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, the Queen's representative in Australia, to ratify the law, which will likely take place within days.

Meet UN's 'Young Champions Of The Earth

MMNN:6 December 2017
NAIROBI, KENYA: Hailing from different countries, six youngsters - who have been acknowledged with "Young Champions of the Earth" award by the UN Environment this year - are united by a common passion to work towards sustainable living in their communities. This is the first time that the UN Environment has awarded six youngters - Omer Badokhon, Kaya Dorey, Eritai Kateibwi, Liliana Jaramillo Pazmino, Mariama Mamane, Adam Dixon - with a seed funding of USD 15,000 and mentoring sessions by key industry players to accomplish their sustainability related goals Twenty-four-year-old Badokhon is from Yemen and he believes that despite the civil war that has ravaged his country, there is hope for future. He wants to empower Yemen's farmers and find sustainable solutions to waste management, which plagues his country like others. "Producing biogas technology from waste is a new idea. It's famous in India, China and Africa. But I am developing a design to ensure optimum production of biogas. The design will enable rapid decomposition of domestic organic waste, thereby maximising the amount of biogas produce," he says. Ms Kaya from Canada is 29, and she is also trying to find better ways for waste management, but in fashion industry. She is not a fashion graduate; however, she says she has always been passionate about designing clothes and reduction of waste. The passion inspired her to start her own apparel line, with a focus on waste reduction. "My vision is to shift the focus of fashion industry towards sustainability and to make it accountable for waste. I have a closed loop line, which produces no waste. I find alternative use of the waste produced during the manufacturing process. I offer to take back the apparel from the customer when they choose to discard it," she explains. Ms Kateibwi, 28, who hails from Kiribati in Asia Pacific, is trying to ensure people in her country can grow their vegetables and fruits on their own. She says the island nation is so densely populated that there is hardly any land left, not even to grow vegetables. "It just worries me that we, as a nation, have to depend on canned food imported from other countries because the country has no land available for farming. The people in the country are also facing severe onslaught of climate change because the nation is in close proximity to the ocean. This is what has pushed me to make a design using hydroponics so that people can grow their own vegetables and fruits with just water and minerals, without any soil. With the seed funding I have been awarded, I can enable everyone in my country so that they can grow thei own fruits and vegetables, Ms Kateibwi, a diving enthusiast, says. Like Ms Kateibwi, Ms Pazmino from Ecuador, is also concerned about climate change. The 29-year-old, who is a dancing and gardening enthusiast, has been researching, identifying and cataloguing native plant species that are better adapted to urban environment and are resilient to climate change. "It's my dream that my city Quito is full of green roofs - a green infrastructure project I am working on. My idea is to link green technology with conservation and use native plants on rooftops," she says. Another awardee from Niger, Ms Mamane is using an aquatic plant, water hyacinth, to create environment-friendly fertilizers and sustainable energy. "With the seed money I have won, I aim to take my project to a higher scale by using water hyacinth that chokes waterways across the nation. The project focuses on the idea of introducing a plant-based purification mechanism to help manage fresh water and improve access to drinking water," she elaborates. "Water Hyacinth is not inherently harmful. It purifies the waterway, but it becomes a problem when it reaches maturity. My technology will also provide for organic fertilizer as a by-product." Mr Dixon, also a gardening enthusiast, is famous in his college for growing all kinds of plant, a passion he inherited from his mother. An engineer from the United Kingdom, the 25-year-old brought together his skill and passion to innovate and use the concept of phytoponics that enables food crops to grow in water, encased a recyclable polymer film. In just one year, the total worth of his firm,Phytoponics Ltd, is USD 2.6 million. "My invention is a low cost mechanism for growing fruits and vegetables that reduces the agricultural impact on land and the water of the country. It is my vision that by 2050, we will be using just a fraction of land in the country, as compared to the land we are using right now," he shares.

China Stops Funds For China-Pak Economic Corridor Over Corruption: Report

MMNN:5 December 2017
ISLAMABAD: China has decided to temporarily stop funding of at least three major road projects in Pakistan, being built as part of the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC, following reports of corruption, a decision that has left officials in Islamabad "stunned", a media report said today. The decision by the Chinese government is likely hit over Rs. 1 trillion-worth road projects of the Pakistan's National Highway Authority (NHA), and initially, may delay at least three such ventures, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported. According to a senior Pakistani government official, the funds would be released after Beijing issues 'new guidelines'. The nearly $50 billion CPEC, a flagship project of China's prestigious One Belt One Road, passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir or PoK. It links China's restive Xinjiang region with Balochistan. The road projects that are likely to be affected include 210-km-long Dera Ismail Khan-Zhob Road, being built at an estimated cost of Rs. 81 billion. Of this, Rs. 66 billion would be spent on construction of road while Rs. 15 billion on land acquisition. The other project which is going to be hit is 110-km-long Khuzdar-Basima Road in Balochistan, having an estimated cost of Rs. 19.76 billion. The third project, valued at Rs. 8.5 billion, is the 136-km of Karakarom Highway (KKH) from Raikot in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to Thakot. Originally, all the three projects were part of the Pakistan government's own development programme, but in December 2016, Pakistan's National Highway Authority spokesperson had announced that they would be included under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor umbrella so as to become eligible for concessionary finance from China. "The funds for the three road projects were approved in Pakistan's 6th Joint Cooperation Committee meeting held last year, pending necessary procedural formalities." "It was expected that the funding of the three projects would be finalised during the Joint Working Group meeting held on November 20, but Pakistan was informed in the meeting that 'new guidelines' will be issued from Beijing under which new modus operandi for release of the funds will be described," the official was quoted as saying by the newspaper. The decision of the Chinese government was conveyed to Pakistan in the Joint Working Group or JWG meeting and the existing procedure for release of funds had been abolished, he said. Under the previous procedure, the projects were to be approved by six different forums after which the funds were released, the official added. "In fact, the Chinese authorities informed us that the previous procedure of release of funds was meant for early harvest projects only and new guidelines will be issued for future projects of the CPEC," the official said. The official said the Pakistani side was left "stunned" when informed about this development, as it was the first time they were hearing it. He, however, claimed that the Chinese side was quite disturbed with media reports, published in Pakistan, about corruption in the CPEC projects and and that was the reason Beijing has temporarily halted release of funds for the corridor. CPEC was launched in 2015 when President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan and it now envisages investment of around $50 billion in different projects of development in Pakistan

Destroy Terror "Safe Havens" In Your Country Or We Will: US Tells Pakistan

MMNN:4 December 2017
WASHINGTON/ ISLAMABAD: In a stern warning to Pakistan, CIA chief Mike Pompeo has said if Islamabad does not eliminate terrorist "safe havens" in its territory, the US will do "everything" it can to destroy them. The statement by CIA Director Mike Pompeo came ahead of US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis' visit to Islamabad where he will persuade Pakistan to support the new US strategy on Afghanistan. The Trump administration is sending mixed signals to its estranged ally, Dawn reported. The CIA director sent a harsh message when asked at the Reagan National Defence Forum in Simi, California, on Saturday how would the Trump administration persuade Pakistan to adhere to its new Afghan strategy. "Secretary Mattis will make clear the president's intent. (He) will deliver the message that we would love you to do that. And that the safe haven inside of Pakistan has worked to the detriment of our capacity to do what we needed to do in Afghanistan," the Dawn quoted Mr Pompeo as saying. He explained how the Trump administration would deal with the situation if Pakistan turned down Washington's request to destroy safe havens. "In the absence of the Pakistanis achieving that, we are going to do everything we can to make sure that that safe haven no longer exists," he said. Since 2004, the CIA has conducted drone strikes in Fata and recent media reports have suggested that the US may expand those strikes to cover other areas inside Pakistan. Mr Pompeo's predecessor, Leon Panetta, also shared with the forum his experience of dealing with Pakistan as the Obama administration's CIA chief. "Pakistan has always been a problem. It has been a safe haven for terrorists who cross the border and attack in Afghanistan and go back into Pakistan," he said. "We have made every effort possible, during the time I was there, to convince Pakistan to stop it. But Pakistan, as Mike knows, has this kind of two-wedge approach to dealing with terrorism," he added. During his Pakistan visit, Mr Mattis is expected to meet Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa

Pope Francis Leads Dhaka Mass Before Rohingya Meeting

MMNN:1 December 2017
DHAKA: Pope Francis led a giant open-air mass in Dhaka on Friday ahead of finally coming face to face with Rohingya refugees whose desperate plight has dominated his landmark tour of Myanmar and Bangladesh. The meeting comes a day after Francis urged the world to take "decisive measures" to resolve the crisis that has forced more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee ethnic unrest in Myanmar for overstretched camps in Bangladesh. Amid tight security, Francis, the first pope to visit Muslim-majority Bangladesh in 31 years, arrived in a locally-made popemobile -- a pickup truck covered in glass -- at Suhrawardy Udyan park where nearly 100,000 people waited to celebrate the mass. Buses of faithful came from all over the country. Many queued for hours to get into the park guarded by thousands of security forces. Suborna Costa, 34, hoped the prayers of the 80-year-old pontiff will help end her family woes. Costa's husband is ill, her brother went missing in Turkey after he illegally tried to enter Italy and one of her sisters has been unable to speak since childhood. "For years we don't have any good news in my family. My parents have been in shock since we lost contact with our brother," she said. "I have been eagerly waiting for this day since his visit was announced several months ago. He is a saintly man and above any sin," said Costa. Holding a granddaughter, 60-year-old widow Pronita Mra stood in the queue for three hours after arriving from a remote northeastern village near the Indian border. "I feel like I am blessed to join the Pope's prayers. I'll pray for my late husband and parents so that they go to heaven. I hope the Pope will pray for peace and harmony among all communities in Bangladesh," she said. The worries of the Rohingya masses who have packed camps on the Myanmar border have dominated the papal tour however. Francis arrived in Dhaka on Thursday from Myanmar, where he walked a diplomatic tightrope, publicly avoiding allegations that the army is waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya. Help Bangladesh He has not used the word Rohingya in public, preferring to refer to them as "the refugees from Rakhine state" -- their home in Myanmar where they have been persecuted for decades and refused citizenship. Francis praised Bangladesh for giving refuge to the Rohingya who have flooded in since a military crackdown in Rakhine state in August. "This has been done at no little sacrifice. It has also been done before the eyes of the whole world," he said, calling on other countries to offer "immediate material assistance to Bangladesh in its effort to respond effectively to urgent human needs". Francis will speak with 16 Rohingya refugees, including two children, at a meeting with leaders of other faiths. Farid Uddin Masoud, a top Muslim cleric who will attend, said he hoped the pope would speak out for the Rohingya. "He is respected across the globe, not by Christians alone, for being a champion of the poor and oppressed people... So we will strongly expect him to speak for the oppressed Rohingya," he told AFP. Although the influx has slowed, hundreds of Rohingya refugees are still crossing the border into Bangladesh from Myanmar every day, according to the United Nations. Many have brought stories of horrific abuses at the hands of the Myanmar military and local Buddhist mobs, including rape, arson and murder. "When I meet him, I would like to tell him about our plight, about how Myanmar's military tortured us, killed us, raped our women, about the kind of persecution we have been facing," 35-year-old refugee Abul Fayaz told AFP in Cox's Bazar where the camps are located. "We want him to help us get Rohingya citizenship, ensure our safety, help us move freely to wherever we want... and most importantly make a way so we can say our prayers with freedom like they (Buddhists) do." Francis is spending three days in the country of 160 million, where a rise in Islamist extremism has seen Catholics attacked. Christians make up less than 0.5 percent of Bangladesh's population and community leaders say some have left as it becomes more difficult to practise faith openly. Since 2015 at least three Christians, including two converts from Islam, have been hacked to death in attacks blamed on Islamist militants

North Korea Has Shown Us Its New Missile, And It's Scarier Than We Thought

MMNN:30 November 2017
A day after its latest intercontinental ballistic missile launch, North Korea released photos of what it's calling the "Hwasong-15." And the collective response from missile experts was - not to get too technical - whoa. The missile and its launcher truck do, at first blush, appear to support North Korea's claim that this missile is much more technologically advanced than previous iterations. Although there is still much that can't be gleaned from the photos and North Korea does have an inglorious record of exaggeration, analysts generally agree that the Hwasong-15 marks a significant leap forward in North Korea's missile development. "This is a really big missile, much larger than I expected," said Scott LaFoy, an imagery analyst for the specialist website NK News. "I believe one of my professors would have referred to it as a big honking missile." Several analysts noted that the missile looked like the American Titan II, which was initially an ICBM but was then later used by the U.S. Air Force and NASA as a space launch vehicle. - The truck: The transporter erecter launcher, or TEL, has nine axles, making it one axle longer than the TEL used to launch the previous iteration of the intercontinental ballistic missile. North Korea claims to have made these trucks itself but analysts believe they are modified versions or based on the Chinese lumber truck, the WS51200. "We've seen heavy vehicle extensions before but this would this would be a very large step forward for their heavy vehicles industry," said LaFoy, estimating that the truck was about twice as long as an American school bus. "We know that this is pretty difficult. It took China a while to figure this out." - The nose cone: The nose cone of the Hwasong-15 is much blunter than of the previous iteration, the Hwasong-14. This is likely an effort to slow down the missile slightly as it screams through the atmosphere, which lowers the heat inside the missile and means that the warhead doesn't have to withstand quite as much variation in temperature during flight. This might be an effort to overcome issues with the re-entry vehicle - the part of the missile that protects the warhead during launch and brings it back into the Earth's atmosphere. This is one of the parts of the missile that North Korea has not yet proven it has mastered. The size of the nose cone and re-entry vehicle on the Hwasong-15 supports North Korea's claim that the missile can carry a "super large heavy warhead." But experts think the missile tested this week was carrying a light, mock warhead. The Hwasong-14 and 15 missiles are likely to have carried only very small payloads, which exaggerate the range that a North Korean missile can fly, said Michael Elleman, senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Basically, the heavier the warhead, the shorter the distance it can travel. If the Hwasong-15 was fitted with a half-ton payload and flown on a standard trajectory, it could probably fly about 5,300 miles, Elleman wrote for 38 North, a website devoted to North Korea, meaning that a 600 kilogram (1,320 pound) payload "barely reaches Seattle." Still, with its publication of this huge re-entry vehicle, Kim's regime is clearly signaling that this is their ultimate goal. - Engines: The first stage of the Hwasong-15 - the bottom part that propels it off the launcher, sometimes called the "booster" - has two engines. "We're trying to figure out what those may be and how powerful they are," said David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists. But the second stage looks like it can carry more than twice as much propellant as the Hwasong-14, since it is longer and has a larger diameter, Wright said. "The combination of those two things means it really is a new, more capable missile." The addition of two engines doubled the second stage thrust and allows the missile to reach a higher peak altitude, Elleman said. This missile reached a height of about 2,800 miles - or ten times as high as the International Space Station. - Steering: The Hwasong-14 had only one nozzle and it used four vernier engines to steer the missile. But the newly unveiled Hwasong-15 has two nozzles and no verniers. That suggests the missile is steered by gimbaling, a more advanced way to control the missile. "This is a sort of maneuvering which is pretty fancy. You lose the least thrust that way," said LaFoy. "We knew they'd get there eventually but we didn't think the North Koreans were there yet."

Pervez Musharraf Says He's "Biggest Supporter" Of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hafiz Saeed

MMNN:29 November 2017
KARACHI / DUBAI: Calling himself the "biggest supporter" of terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba or LeT and its founder Hafiz Saeed, Pakistan's former dictator Pervez Musharraf has said he backs the terror group's role in "suppressing" the Indian Army in Jammu and Kashmir. Pervez Musharraf, the 74-year-old retired general who is on self-exile in Dubai, said that the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed "is involved in Kashmir" and he supports their involvement. Musharraf, who recently announced a 'grand alliance' of 23 political parties, also said he is always in favour of "action" in Jammu and Kashmir and "suppressing Indian Army in Kashmir". "They (LeT) are the biggest force. India got them declared as terrorists after partnering with the US. Yes, they (LeT) are involved in Kashmir but in Kashmir it is between us and India," he told Pakistani news channel ARY. Calling himself the biggest supporter of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hafiz Saeed, Pervez Musharraf said he knows that he is also liked by the terror group and by the Jammat-ud-Dawa, the group headed by UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan. The Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned in Pakistan and the decision to ban the terror outfit in Pakistan was taken by the Musharraf government. When asked about it, Musharraf said he banned the terror group under "different circumstances" without elaborating further. Musharraf's comments came days after Hafiz Saeed walked free following Pakistan government's decision against detaining him further. He was under house arrest since January this year. India had expressed outrage over the decision of the judicial board to release Hafiz Saeed, calling it an attempt by Pakistan to mainstream proscribed terrorists and a reflection of its continuing support to non-state actors. Hafiz Saeed, who is accused of having masterminded the 2008 Mumbai terror attack that killed 166 people, was placed on the terrorism black list by the United Nations under UN Security Council Resolution 1267 in December 2008. The US too has designated him as a global terrorist and has announced a reward of $10 million for information leading to his arrest and conviction. Hafiz Saeed has now filed the petition to de-list him from the UN list of designated terrorists. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa or JuD is the front organisation for the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba which is responsible for carrying out the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. Musharraf is facing a slew of court cases after returning from five years of self-exile in Dubai to contest the general elections in 2013, which he lost. Musharraf, who came to power in a coup in Pakistan in 1999, claimed that he was ready to face all charges as the courts are not under "Nawaz Sharif's control anymore"

Flurry Of Activity Hints At North Korea Missile Test: Reports

MMNN:28 November 2017
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA: Radio signals and radar activity detected at a North Korean missile base have raised concerns the reclusive regime may be preparing a new missile test, news reports in Seoul and Tokyo said Tuesday. The North has stoked international alarm over its banned nuclear missile programme, but it has not launched a missile test since September 15, raising hopes that ramped-up sanctions are having an impact. However, the South Korean news agency Yonhap cited a government source as saying that a missile-tracing radar was switched on at an unspecified base on Monday, and there had been a flurry of telecoms traffic. "It's true that active movements have been detected at a North Korean missile base," the source reportedly said. "Signs like those spotted Monday have recently been detected frequently." "We need to watch a while longer before determining whether the North is preparing a missile launch or gearing up for (its own) winter drill that starts Friday." A South Korean defence ministry spokesman declined to comment on the report, but similar accounts from Tokyo caused a temporary slump on the stock exchange there. The Kyodo news agency quoted sources as saying the Japanese government was on alert after detecting radio signals suggesting North Korea might be preparing for a missile launch. "North Korea might launch a missile within the next few days," one of the sources was quoted as saying. However, the Japanese sources also said that as satellite images have not shown any missile or moveable launch pad, the signals might only be related to winter training for the North Korean military. North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un visited a new catfish farm northeast of Pyongyang, its state media said Tuesday, in the latest of a series of economic outings that have coincided with a lull in weapons testing. In September the North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and staged an intermediate-range missile launch over Japan. But tensions are expected to spike again as the United States and South Korea kick off a large-scale air force drill on Monday in a new show of force against the North. The five-day exercise, Vigilant Ace, involves 12,000 US personnel and an unspecified number of South Korean service members flying more than 230 aircraft including F-22 Rapter stealth fighters and other cutting-edge weapons at US and South Korean military bases. Pyongyang routinely condemns such exercises, labelling them preparation for war. The US last week unveiled fresh sanctions that target North Korean shipping, raising pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programme. Pyongyang condemned the move as a "serious provocation" on Wednesday and warned that sanctions would never succeed.

Indian Catholics Hurt At Missing Out On Pope Francis Tour

MMNN:27 November 2017
NEW DELHI: The Roman Catholic Church in India expressed disappointment at missing out on an expected visit by Pope Francis who started a rare trip to South Asia today. The 80-year-old pontiff arrived in Myanmar on a six-day trip that will also take him to Bangladesh. The church leader said a year ago that he would "almost certainly" visit India and Bangladesh in 2017 and diplomats said protracted negotiations were held on the itinerary. India was finally dropped from the schedule without any official reason given by the Vatican or the Indian government. "The Pope is coming close by and is not coming to India. As an Indian it hurts me as I am sure it hurts all Indians," Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, told news agency AFP. "The Pope would have come as a messenger of peace, bringing a sort of a balm to the people." India's Cardinal Oswald Gracias told the US National Catholic Reporter in July that finding a time that aligned with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's schedule had proven "a little bit of a difficult situation". India has an estimated 28 million Roman Catholics who had urged the government to accommodate Francis. The last papal visit to India was by Pope John Paul II in 1999. Christians -- overwhelmingly Catholic -- are the third-largest religious group in India after Hindus and Muslims. The Indian Express newspaper on Monday quoted the Archbishop of Nagpur as saying that a papal visit "would have been a great boost for the country's image in the world". "Look at the size of Bangladesh and Myanmar, compared to us," Abraham Viruthakulangara was quoted as saying.

Pakistan Orders TV Channels To Go Off Air During Crackdown On Protests By Hardliners

MMNN:25 November 2017
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities ordered private television channels to go off air on Saturday during a police and paramilitary crackdown on sit-in by religious hardliners in the capital, Islamabad. The suspension was ordered by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority for violating media regulations showing live coverage of a security operation, a statement from the regulator said. State-run Pakistan Television continued to broadcast, but aired a talk show discussing politics. Pakistani police used tear gas and water cannon and fought running battles with stone-throwing activists, as they moved to clear a protest by the religious hardliners who have blocked main routes into Islamabad for more than two weeks

Mnangagwa, The 'Crocodile,' Sworn In As Zimbabwe President

MMNN:24 November 2017
HARARE, ZIMBABWE: Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in on Friday as President of Zimbabwe in front of thousands of cheering supporters at Harare's national stadium, bringing the final curtain down on the 37-year rule of Robert Mugabe. Taking his oath of office, the 75-year-old former security chief known as 'The Crocodile' vowed to uphold the constitution of the former British colony and protect the rights of all Zimbabwe's 16 million citizens. Even though most Zimbabweans celebrated the exit of 93-year-old Mugabe, who presided over the descent into penury and despotism of one of Africa's brightest prospects, some are worried about the future under Mnangagwa. In particular, they question his role in the so-called Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland in 1983, when an estimated 20,000 people were killed in a crackdown on Mugabe opponents by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade. Mnangagwa has denied any part in the atrocities and since his return to Zimbabwe after two weeks in hiding has been preaching democracy, tolerance and respect for the rule of law. "The people have spoken. The voice of the people is the voice of God," he told thousands of supporters on Wednesday at the headquarters of his ruling ZANU-PF party. However, the army's rough treatment of Mugabe loyalists - former finance minister Ignatius Chombo was hospitalised because of beatings sustained in military custody, his lawyer said - has not allayed concerns about Mnangagwa's real views of democracy. "It was a very brutal and draconian way of dealing with opponents," Chombo's lawyer, Lovemore Madhuku, told Reuters. Mugabe, the world's oldest serving head of state, resigned on Tuesday as parliament started to impeach him, a week to the day after the army stepped in to seize power. Mnangagwa assured Mugabe he and his family would be safe in Zimbabwe when the two men spoke for the first time since Mnangagwa returned home this week, the state-owned The Herald newspaper reported on Friday.

26/11 Mastermind Hafiz Saeed To Be Freed Tomorrow in Pakistan

MMNN:22 November 2017
In a move that will further inflame tension with India, 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed is to be released from house arrest in Pakistan, a court has ruled. Saeed was put under house arrest in January after years of living freely in Pakistan, one of the huge stress points between Pakistan and India. He is to be freed tomorrow, according to news agency Reuters. Saeed heads the Jamat ud Dawa, or JuD, which poses as a charity but is a front for the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Saeed has always denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks of 2008 that left 166 people dead after landmarks in the financial capital were attacked by 10 terrorists who sailed into the city from Karachi. The court that ordered his release rejected the Pakistani government's request to extend his house arrest by three months. His current term was to expire next week. The United States has for years offered $10 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Saeed. When his detention was ordered in January, the move was seen as the result of an India-led diplomatic campaign to isolate Pakistan over its failure to act against terror groups. Saeed was put under house arrest after the Mumbai attack but was released about six months later in June 2009.

Zimbabwe's Mugabe Faces Impeachment After Military Takeover

MMNN:21 November 2017
HARARE: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe faces the start of impeachment proceedings on Tuesday that could see him ousted within the week, against the backdrop of a military takeover dubbed "Operation Restore Legacy". The ruling ZANU-PF party plans to bring the impeachment motion in parliament, after a Monday noon deadline expired for the besieged 93-year-old leader to resign and bring the curtain down on nearly four decades in power. Impeachment would be an ignominious end to the career of the "Grand Old Man" of African politics, once lauded as an anti-colonial hero and the only leader Zimbabwe has known since it gained independence from Britain in 1980. Mugabe has so far shown no signs of stepping down and has called for the weekly cabinet meeting to take place as usual on Tuesday. It would be the first time ministers sit down with him since the military took power on Wednesday. In the draft impeachment motion, ZANU-PF - which expelled Mugabe from the party on Sunday - accused him of being a "source of instability", flouting the rule of law and presiding over an "unprecedented economic tailspin" in the last 15 years. It also said he had abused his constitutional mandate to favour his unpopular wife Grace, 52, whose tilt at power triggered the backlash from the army that brought tanks onto the streets of the capital last week. The military operation was launched after Robert Mugabe sacked former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, in a move meant to boost Grace's chances of succeeding her husband. Zimbabwe's top general said on Monday talks were planned between Mugabe and Mnangagwa, who was expected back in the country soon. General Constantino Chiwenga also revealed that the army's intervention was codenamed "Operation Restore Legacy" and was progressing well.
FALL OF GRACE It has been marked by unexpected twists and turns. On Saturday, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Harare to celebrate the impending downfall of Mugabe, accused by critics of retaining power through terror and election-rigging and of running a once-vibrant economy into the ground. They expected him to resign within hours. Instead Mugabe dashed their hopes with a bizarre and rambling televised address on Sunday night in which he made no mention of his own fate. Since last week, Mugabe has been confined to his lavish "Blue Roof" residence in Harare, apart from two trips to State House to meet the generals and one to a university graduation ceremony at which he appeared to fall asleep. Grace, known as "Gucci Grace" for her alleged fondness for extravagant shopping sprees, and at least two senior members of her "G40" political faction are believed to be holed up in the same compound. Her stark reversal of fortune was underscored on Monday when the state-run Herald newspaper - which in August proclaimed her "A loving mother of the nation" - ran a piece headlined "Youth League slams 'uncultured' First Lady." "Grace Mugabe lacked grooming and true motherhood as shown by her foul language," the paper quoted the ZANU-PF's youth wing as saying.

New Zealand PM Denies Donald Trump Mistook Her For Justin Trudeau's Wife

MMNN:20 November 2017
WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern today played down suggestions US President Donald Trump confused her with Canadian leader Justin Trudeau's wife at a summit in Asia last week. Trudeau was supposedly making the introductions as Ardern attended her first major forum since taking office last month when Trump mixed-up the 37-year-old with the Canadian leader's partner Sophie. It was reportedly several minutes before he realised his mistake at the East Asia Summit in Manila. However, Ardern said details of the encounter had become muddled in the retelling and there was actually no confusion on Trump's part. She said "a third party" at the meeting of world leaders -- who she refused to name -- incorrectly thought Trump had failed to identify her and she later told the anecdote to friends back in New Zealand. A version leaked publicly that was unflattering to Trump and the rookie prime minister said she would now have to be more careful when telling tales of her encounters in the corridors of power. "It was a bit of a funny yarn, something I don't want to cause a diplomatic incident over... I think I should never have recounted the story," she told TVNZ. It comes after Ardern recalled another Trump anecdote from the Manila summit, when she was waiting to make her entrance at the event's gala dinner. "Trump in jest patted the person next to him on the shoulder, pointed at me and said, 'This lady caused a lot of upset in her country', talking about the election," she told "I said, 'Well, you know, only maybe 40 percent', then he said it again and I said, 'You know', laughing, 'no-one marched when I was elected'." Large protests followed Trump's election last year but Ardern said the American leader took her riposte in good humour. "He laughed and it was only afterwards that I reflect that it could have been taken in a very particular way -- he did not seem offended," she said

North Korean Defector's Diet And Parasites Hint At Hard Life In The Country

MMNN:17 November 2017
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA: Parasitic worms found in a North Korean soldier, critically injured during a desperate defection, highlight nutrition and hygiene problems that experts say have plagued the isolated country for decades. At a briefing on Wednesday, lead surgeon Lee Cook-jong displayed photos showing dozens of flesh-coloured parasites - including one 27 cm (10.6 in) long - removed from the wounded soldier's digestive tract during a series of surgeries to save his life. "In my over 20 year-long career as a surgeon, I have only seen something like this in a textbook," Lee said. The parasites, along with kernels of corn in his stomach, may confirm what many experts and previous defectors have described about the food and hygiene situation for many North Koreans. "Although we do not have solid figures showing health conditions of North Korea, medical experts assume that parasite infection problems and serious health issues have been prevalent in the country," said Choi Min-Ho, a professor at Seoul National University College of Medicine who specialises in parasites. The soldier's condition was "not surprising at all considering the north's hygiene and parasite problems," he said. The soldier was flown by helicopter to hospital on Monday after his dramatic escape to South Korea in a hail of bullets fired by North Korean soldiers. He is believed to be an army staff sergeant in his mid-20s who was stationed in the Joint Security Area in the United Nations truce village of Panmunjom, according to Kim Byung-kee, a lawmaker of South Korea's ruling party, briefed by the National Intelligence Service. North Korea has not commented on the defection. While the contents of the soldier's stomach don't necessarily reflect the population as a whole, his status as a soldier - with an elite assignment - would indicate he would at least be as well nourished as an average North Korean. He was shot in his buttocks, armpit, back shoulder and knee among other wounds, according to the hospital where the soldier is being treated.
'THE BEST FERTILISER' Parasitic worms were also once common in South Korea 40 to 50 years ago, Lee noted during his briefing, but have all but disappeared as economic conditions greatly improved. Other doctors have also described removing various types of worms and parasites from North Korean defectors. Their continued prevalence north of the heavily fortified border that divides the two Koreas could be in part tied to the use of human excrement, often called "night soil." "Chemical fertiliser was supplied by the state until the 1970s, but from the early 1980s, production started to decrease," said Lee Min-bok, a North Korean agriculture expert who defected to South Korea in 1995. "By the 1990s, the state could not supply it anymore, so farmers started to use a lot of night soil instead." In 2014, supreme leader Kim Jong Un personally urged farmers to use human faeces, along with animal waste and organic compost, to fertilise their fields. A lack of livestock, however, made it difficult to find animal waste, said Lee, the agriculture expert. Even harder to overcome, he said, is the view of night soil as the "best fertiliser in North Korea," despite the risk of worms and parasites. "Vegetables grown in it are considered more delicious than others," Lee said.
LIMITED DIETS The medical briefing described the wounded soldier as being 170 cm (5 feet 5 inches) and 60 kg (132 pounds) with his stomach containing corn. It's a staple grain that more North Koreans may be relying on in the wake of what the United Nations has called the worst drought since 2001. Imported corn, which is less preferred but cheaper to obtain than rice, has tended to increase in years when North Koreans are more worried about their seasonal harvests Between January and September this year, China exported nearly 49,000 tonnes of corn to North Korea, compared to only 3,125 tonnes in all of 2016, according to data released by Beijing. Despite the drought and international sanctions over Pyongyang's nuclear programme, the cost of corn and rice has remained relatively stable, according to a Reuters analysis of market data collected by the defector-run Daily NK website. Since the 1990s, when government rations failed to prevent a famine hitting the country, North Koreans have gradually turned to markets and other private means to feed themselves. The World Food Programme says a quarter of North Korean children 6-59 months old, who attend nurseries that the organisation assists, suffer from chronic malnutrition. On average North Koreans are less nourished than their southern neighbours. The WFP says around one in four children have grown less tall than their South Korean counterparts. A study from 2009 said pre-school children in the North were up to 13 cm (5 inches) shorter and up to 7 kg (15 pounds) lighter than those brought up in the South. "The main issue in DPRK is a monotonous diet - mainly rice/maize, kimchi and bean paste - lacking in essential fats and protein," the WFP told Reuters in a statement last month. (Additional reporting by Seung-woo Yeom, James Pearson, Heekyong Yang, Hyunjoo Jin, Soyoung Kim, Writing by Josh Smith, Editing by Bill Tarrant)

Smog Disrupts Over 600 Flights In Pakistan

MMNN:16 November 2017
ISLAMABAD: Smog-induced bad weather conditions have disrupted over 600 flights of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in the first two weeks of November, an airline official said. The smoggy weather conditions, which were prevailing in Punjab province were beyond the PIA's control, so they had to either delay or cancel the flights, the airline spokesperson was quoted as saying on Wednesday. The affected areas included Multan, Faisalabad, Lahore, Bahawalpur, Sialkot and Rahim Yar Khan, Xinhua news agency reported. The PIA said that 83 flights were rescheduled, 82 re-routed, 17 diverted and 159 flights were cancelled due to poor visibility. Another 200 flights were delayed to ensure the security requirements in the bad weather, it said. The PIA official said that each plane is used for multiple flight operations, so their delay due to weather conditions, also affected 63 other flights in the areas where weather was suitable for takeoff, as the plane was not available. The plains of Punjab, remained engulfed by a thick smog blanket in the first two weeks of November, but scattered rains, which started in the country on Tuesday, washed away the smog from most of the areas. Pakistani Met officials told Xinhua earlier this week that the province would get a respite from smog following the downpour, but fog will continue in the area

Power Slips From Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe As Military Steps In

MMNN:15 November 2017
HARARE: Zimbabwe's military appeared to be in control of the country Wednesday as generals denied staging a coup but used state television to vow to target "criminals" close to President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe's decades-long grip on power was dramatically weakened as military vehicles blocked roads outside the parliament in Harare and senior soldiers delivered a late-night television address to the nation. "We wish to assure the nation that his excellency the president... and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed," Major General Sibusiso Moyo said, slowly reading out a statement. "We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes... As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy." Moyo said "this is not a military takeover of government". But the generals' actions posed as a major challenge to the ageing Mugabe, 93, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980. Tensions between the veteran leader and the military, which has long helped prop up his authoritarian rule, have erupted in public in recent days. The ruling ZANU-PF party on Tuesday accused army chief General Constantino Chiwenga of "treasonable conduct" after he criticised Mugabe for sacking vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Government silence Mnangagwa's dismissal left Mugabe's wife Grace, 52, in prime position to succeed her husband as the next president -- a succession strongly opposed by senior ranks in the military. As the situation deteriorated overnight, prolonged gunfire was heard near Mugabe's private residence. The US embassy warned its citizens in the country to "shelter in place" due to "ongoing political uncertainty". Armoured vehicles in the capital alarmed residents as Chiwenga had warned of possible military intervention. The army's spokesman was not available to comment. "The government's silence on the military deployments seem to confirm that President Mugabe has lost control of the situation," Robert Besseling, of the London-based EXX Africa risk consultancy, said. "Any coup would be likely to involve the imposition of a curfew. The main indicator of a broader outbreak of violence would be the reaction of the Presidential Guard, which remains loyal to President Mugabe." Mugabe is the world's oldest head of state, but his poor health has fuelled a bitter succession battle as potential replacements jockey for position. In speeches this year, Mugabe has often slurred his words, mumbled and paused for long periods. His lengthy rule has been marked by brutal repression of dissent, mass emigration, vote-rigging and economic collapse since land reforms in 2000. The main opposition MDC party called for civilian rule to be protected. "No one wants to see a coup... If the army takes over that will be undesirable. It will bring democracy to a halt," shadow defence minister Gift Chimanikire, told AFP on Tuesday.
Grace's ambitions Speculation has been rife in Harare that Mugabe could seek to remove Chiwenga, who is seen as an ally of ousted Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa, 75, was widely viewed as Mugabe's most loyal lieutenant, having worked alongside him for decades. Earlier this year the country was gripped by a bizarre spat between Grace and Mnangagwa that included an alleged ice-cream poisoning incident that laid bare the pair's rivalry. Grace Mugabe -- 41 years younger than her husband -- has become increasingly active in public life in what many say was a process to help her eventually take the top job. She was granted diplomatic immunity in South Africa in August after she allegedly assaulted a model at an expensive Johannesburg hotel where the couple's two sons were staying. As the economy collapsed, Zimbabwe was engulfed by hyperinflation and was forced to abandon its own currency in 2009 in favour of the US dollar. The country, which has an unemployment rate of over 90 percent, is due to hold elections next year with Mugabe pledging to stand for office again

Google Doodle Celebrates 131 Years Of An Office Staple: The Hole Punch

MMNN:14 November 2017
NEW DELHI: A blue piece of blank paper comes to life and starts to dance after it suddenly has eyes, and a smile, punched in. This is how today's Google doodle celebrates the 131st anniversary of the hole punch, a staple in offices, schools and colleges. A simple solution to keeping together documents, the hole punch became a key tool for organising papers for office workers and students alike. While the origins of the hole punch is a disputed topic, Google has acknowledged the 1886 patent by German inventor Friedrich Soennecken. Friedrich Soennecken founded Soennecken, an office supplier. Along with the hole punch, the entrepreneur is also accredited with the invention of the ring binder. However, the first recorded patents for a paper hole puncher was published by an American man named Benjamin Smith in 1885. A hole punch has a long lever, which helps push a bladed cylinder through a number of sheets of paper, creating identical holes, making it easy to stack them together in a folder. Apart from helping keep otherwise loose documents together, hole punches have found another important use in punching tickets. Newer iterations of the machine are also used for more creative purposes like decorative purposes like making confetti. Even with the advent of the digital age, the hole punch still remains a household object in offices and schools. But with people shifting to computers and tablets to save and organise information, it remains to be seen for how long this old favourite will continue to stay relevant.

Newspaper Identifies 33,293 People Who Died Seeking Shelter In "Fortress Europe"

MMNN:11 November 2017
LONDON: Four-month-old Syrian baby Faris Ali froze to death in a tent in Turkey, five-year-old Afghan Sajida Ali's body washed ashore after a shipwreck, and tiny Samuel drowned with his mother as she tried to reach Spain after leaving home in Congo. The three children are among thousands of victims listed by a German newspaper in an attempt to put a human face on the tragedy that has unfolded in the Mediterranean where thousands of refugees and migrants have died en route to Europe. Der Tagesspiegel newspaper said it wanted to show the victims "as human beings, with an origin, a past, a life". Not all those listed drowned in shipwrecks. Some were thrown overboard. The document is headlined a "List of 33,293 registered asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, who died because of the restrictive policies of Fortress Europe". Hundreds of thousands fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa have tried to reach Europe in recent years. Some European countries have built fences along their borders, as others have bickered over how to handle the crisis. Compiled from media and UN sources, the list also includes many who died after reaching Europe. Last January, two Iraqi men, Hardi Ghafour, 29, and Talat Abdulhamid, 36, froze to death in Bulgaria's mountainous border with Turkey after two days walking through snow. Others have died in fires in refugee camps or been hit by lorries on motorways. The document also lists scores of suicides; some have set fire to themselves, others have hanged themselves with sheets or jumped from buildings. Several of those named died in racist attacks or other violence after thinking they had finally found safety. Somali teenager Ahmed Hassan was murdered in a racist stabbing at a school in Sweden two years ago. Many of the victims come from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and West Africa. But hundreds of those who have died at sea are simply identified as "unknown". Only the details of their deaths are given. The biggest single tragedy happened in May 2016 when 550 people drowned after two fishing boats sank off the Libyan coast. The list compiled by Turkish-born artist Banu Cennetoglu dates back to 1993, but most deaths relate to the last six years

Marine Who Urinated On Dead Taliban Has Conviction Thrown Out Due To General's Meddling

MMNN:10 November 2017
A panel of military judges has thrown out the conviction of a Marine Corps veteran who acknowledged urinating on Taliban corpses six years ago, saying it appears that the service's top general at the time meddled in his case. The Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals ruled this week the case of Staff Sgt. Joseph Chamblin must be set aside because of apparent unlawful command influence, which occurs when a senior military officer uses his or her position of authority to influence legal proceedings. The ruling cited the actions of now-retired Gen. James Amos, who was commandant of the Marine Corps from 2010 to 2014, and some of his senior staff members. Chamblin had pleaded guilty to a several charges in connection with the incident, including dereliction of duty and violating a lawful general order. As part of a pretrial agreement in 2012, he was reduced one rank to sergeant and fined $500. Navy Cmdr. Marcus Fulton, who filed the ruling on behalf of himself and two other judges, wrote that dismissing the case was a "drastic remedy" to what occurred but one that was necessary to "foster public confidence in the . . . fairness of our system of justice." Fulton added that an outside observer looking at the situation would share observations made by some Marine Corps lawyers, who reviewed the case at the time and warned that it looked as if Amos and "lawyers who reported to him 'severely and systematically interfered' with this case." Amos did not respond to a request for comment. Chamblin, who declined to comment Thursday, was in charge of a scout-sniper platoon in Afghanistan's Helmand province in July 2011 when he and other Marines killed three Taliban fighters, recovered their bodies, and then urinated on them while posing for photographs and video. The video was first posted by TMZ in January 2012, prompting an international backlash. Numerous Obama administration officials - and Amos, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - also expressed outrage. Within days, Amos appointed then-Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser to investigate the cases, giving him "sole and unfettered discretion" in how to handle the cases. Amos was required to stay away, the ruling notes. Waldhauser, now a four-star general overseeing U.S. Africa Command, later told Amos that he had decided against sending any of the Marines to a general court-martial, the military's most serious form of trial. Amos took umbrage, saying he wanted all of the Marines involved "crushed" and discharged from the service, Waldhauser acknowledged in a sworn statement. "I responded, 'No, I'm not going to do that,' stating that I did not believe any of the cases warranted General Court-Martial," Waldhauser wrote. Amos, Waldhauser's statement said, then told him he could be removed from the case. Eventually, that's what happened. In a letter to Waldhauser explaining the move, Amos wrote, "I believe some of my comments during our recent conversation could be perceived as possibly interfering with your independent and unfettered discretion to take action in those cases." Waldhauser was being removed, Amos added, "to protect the institutional integrity of the military justice process, and to avoid potential issues." But the Marine Corps failed to notify the accused Marines and their attorneys why Waldhauser was removed. The appellate judges also found that a decision by the Marine Corps' top lawyer at that time to remove another attorney on the case also constituted "some evidence" of unlawful command influence. The attorney who was removed had protested what he considered the "irregular classification of evidence." The ruling specifically blamed Amos for complicating the case. "The highest-ranking officer in the Marine Corps told the [general overseeing the case] that the appellant and his co-accuseds should be 'crushed.' This is an unusually flagrant example" of unlawful command influence, Fulton wrote, calling it "highly corrosive" to the public's trust in this legal proceeding.

With Trump In China, Taiwan Worries About Becoming A 'Bargaining Chip

MMNN:9 November 2017
TAIPEI, TAIWAN: President Donald Trump's visit to Beijing is being watched closely around the world - but few countries have more reason to scrutinize it than Taiwan. The American leader is staying in China for two nights as one part of lengthy tour of Asia. Though Taiwan was not expected be a major focus of talks with China's president, some worried that the issue may come up during discussions of North Korea's weapons program or trade. "There were rumors that when China and the U.S. talk about the North Korea issue they would use Taiwan as a bargaining chip," mainland affairs minister Katherine Chang told a visiting group of U.S. journalists on Monday, adding that the Taiwanese government was "cautiously optimistic" this would not happen. The fear is some kind of trade involving U.S. support for Taiwan and Chinese ties with North Korea could be under discussion. Trump and Xi did not mention Taiwan in their public statement after meeting on Thursday. The pair also did not take questions from reporters. When a Taiwanese reporter attempted to ask Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the issue after a press briefing, he did not respond. China's Foreign Ministry later, however, released a statement that said Xi had reiterated the importance of Taiwan to Beijing during his meeting with Trump. "The Taiwan issue is the most important and sensitive core issue in the Sino-U. S. relations and it is also the political foundation for the Sino-U.S. Relations," he said, according to the statement. Xi also asked the United States to continue to abide by the one-China policy, which rules out diplomatic recognition for Taiwan. The statement will cause concern in Taiwan, where many had hoped that the issue would not come up. "It'd be better if Taiwan was not mentioned at all," said Szu-chien Hsu, the chairman of the government-funded Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, ahead of Trump's arrival in Beijing. Taipei has long worried about Beijing raising the one-China issue during its meetings with the United States, according to Bonnie Glaser, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Under the Trump administration there were more concerns due to the "unpredictable president who in the past has said some extreme things about Taiwan," she said. Shortly after Trump's election last year, there had been hopes for stronger U.S.-Taiwan ties. On the campaign trail Trump had frequently been critical of China and a number of close advisers held sympathetic views of Taiwan's concerns. In early December, the then-president elect received an unprecedented congratulatory phone-call from Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen. The call seemed to signal a change. The United States does not diplomatically recognize Taiwan though it enjoys a strong informal relationship with the country and is bound to protect it by law. At first Trump defended his call and suggested that his administration's position on the one-China policy would depend on whether he could "make a deal" with China on trade and other issues. Later, though, the U.S. president said he would not speak to the Taiwanese president again without checking with China first. Now in Taiwan, many are worried about Trump's plans. Analysts are paying close attention to his interactions with veteran foreign policy expert Henry Kissinger, with some suggesting that Kissinger is advocating that Trump make a major agreement on U.S.-China relations with Beijing. Hsu, of the Taiwan Foundation, said that this was "just a rumor," but added that there were real concerns that what lies behind Trump's decision-making. "He is known for his transactional style of policymaking." The Trump administration has repeatedly stated that it views Chinese economic and diplomatic pressure as vital for convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. During a news conference in South Korea on Tuesday, the president had suggested that Xi had been "very helpful" on the North Korea issue and that China was "trying very hard to solve the problem." Other factors add further uncertainty to the relationship. Trump has made clear repeatedly that trade imbalances are key points of tension with foreign allies: The United States has logged an average trade deficit of $5.4 billion with Taiwan over the past five years. One way to address that would be for Taiwan to boost its defense spending, which is considered low by U.S. officials. It currently stands at around 2 percent of gross domestic product and lags far behind that of China, its primary geopolitical rival. "Taiwan must do better," Jim Moriarty, chairman of the American Institute of Taiwan, said of the country's defense spending during an event last month at Brookings. Still, longserving diplomats have stressed that any significant change in U.S. policy on Taiwan is unlikely, noting an arms sale of $1.42 billion agreed upon this summer. At the same time, Taipei is pursuing a number of policies that seem designed to curry favor with the Trump administration, including modest defense spending increases, a proposed bilateral trade agreement and a ban on all trade with North Korea. Foreign Minister David Lee told reporters this week that Taiwan had also been attempting to use its close relationship to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to influence Trump's policy. But Trump is not the only wild card. Speaking at a Foreign Ministry luncheon on Tuesday, Alexander Huang, chairman of Taiwan's Council on Strategic and Wargaming Studies, said that whether Taiwan ends up a bargaining chip will also come down to Xi, who is in a powerful position after China's recent party congress. "Many have debated here in Taiwan whether President Trump will trade Taiwan in exchange for China's position in North Korea," Huang said. "But my hunch is that even if President Trump makes such an offer, President Xi would say no: 'Taiwan is not in your hands. It's in mine.'"

US President Trump Says Saudi Purge Targets Were 'Milking' Country

MMNN:7 November 2017
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said he had "great confidence" in an anti-corruption sweep by Saudi Arabia that has seen dozens of high-profile political and business figures arrested. "I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing," Trump wrote on Twitter. "Some of those they are harshly treating have been 'milking' their country for years!" added the US president, whose marathon Asia tour moves Tuesday to South Korea. Saudi authorities have hinted they could widen the crackdown after princes, ministers as well as billionaire tycoon Al-Waleed bin Talal were swept up in a weekend purge -- hours after an anti-graft commission headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was established. The purge underscores an unprecedented restructuring of the kingdom as Prince Mohammed steps up a dramatic reform drive for a post-oil era while consolidating power before his eventual succession as king. The US and Saudi Arabia have historically enjoyed close ties, which Trump re-affirmed in May when he visited the country in his first foreign trip since taking office. Washington and Riyadh announced contracts worth more than $380 billion, including a $110 billion arms deal aimed at countering perceived threats from Iran and radical Islamists. Trump spoke with King Salman by phone on Saturday, according to a readout from his office, in which he lauded the monarch and his son's "recent public statements regarding the need to build a moderate, peaceful, and tolerant region" and urged the kingdom to choose Wall Street as a venue for the IPO of oil giant Aramco.

China's Military Ordered To Pledge Absolute Loyalty To Xi Jinping

MMNN:6 November 2017
BEIJING: China's military has been ordered to pledge absolute loyalty to President Xi Jinping while a paramilitary police force now literally sings his praises, further cementing his place as the country's most powerful leader in decades. The world's largest armed forces should be "absolutely loyal, honest and reliable to Xi", said a new guideline issued by the Central Military Commission and reported by state news agency Xinhua late Sunday. China's military personnel of around two million is technically the armed force of the ruling Communist Party rather than the state. The commission's calls for fidelity to Xi shows the extent to which he has consolidated power since having his eponymous philosophy written into the party constitution last month. Xi's political philosophy -- Xi Jinping Thought -- should also guide the strengthening of the military, Xinhua said of the new guideline. "The army should follow Xi's command, answer to his order, and never worry him," Xinhua quoted the guideline as saying For decades China has been governed in an ostensibly collective fashion by the party's elite Politburo Standing Committee. But Xi has increasingly centralised power and looks to be following in the footsteps of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. On Sunday, a song titled "Be a good soldier for Chairman Xi" was released by the People's Armed Police, a paramilitary force under the Military Commission. Nearly a half-century ago, the army sang "Be a good soldier for Chairman Mao". Xi became chairman of the military commission when he came to power in 2012 and last year acquired the new title of commander-in-chief of the joint forces battle command centre. He has also presided over a corruption crackdown that felled some of the country's highest-ranking military officers

Las Vegas Gunman, Who Killed 59, Had "Lost A Significant Amount Of Wealth": Police

MMNN:4 November 2017
LAS VEGAS: Stephen Paddock, who opened fire on an open-air concert in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017 killing 59 people, had "lost a significant amount of wealth" in the two years prior to the massacre, police said. Senior police official Joseph Lombardo on Friday described Paddock as a narcissist and "status-driven" and said his financial decline "may have a determining effect on why he decided to do what he did", reports CNN. Lombardo, however, said that he did not know whether money troubles led to the shooting. He reiterated that the motive remains elusive. "What is the reason why? We haven't gotten that answer yet. There was something that popped his trigger or caused him to go into that direction and we have yet to determine what that is... I hope we find something in the pathology of his brain that helps us understand this," Lombardo added. "Who knows what's going through his psychotic mind." The police official said Paddock still had access to more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition and "had the ability to do a lot more harm", CNN reported. The sheriff said investigators are continuing to interview Paddock's girlfriend, Marilou Danley, who has told authorities she had no inkling that the former accountant was plotting a massacre.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah's Daughter Dina Wadia's Funeral In New York On Friday

MMNN:3 November 2017
MUMBAI: The funeral of Dina Wadia, daughter and the only child of Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, shall take place in New York on Friday, official sources here said. Wadia, 98, passed away at her home in New York on Thursday, surrounded by many of her family members and relatives. They included her son and Wadia Group Chairman Nusli N. Wadia, daughter Diana N. Wadia, grandsons Ness and Jeh Wadia, Jeh's wife Celina and two great-grandchildren Jah and Ella Wadia. Quoting historian Stanley Wolpert, community website Parshi Khabar said Dina was born around the midnight of August 14-15, 1919 in a cinema theatre in London where her parents, Jinnah and Rattanbai, were watching a film. "Oddly enough, precisely 28 years to the day and hour before the birth of Jinnah's other offspring, Pakistan," Wolpert wrote in his acclaimed biography on the founder of Pakistan 'Jinnah of Pakistan' (1982). Dina was estranged from her father for many years, after she married a leading Mumbai Parsi industrialist, Neville Wadia, mostly lived in Mumbai, before moving to the US. Keeping a low profile all through, she visited Pakistan only twice in her lifetime - first on the death of her father and later in 2004, during the era of President Parvez Musharraf. "This has been very sad and wonderful for me. May his (Jinnah's) dream for Pakistan come true," said her tribute in the visitors' book at the Quaid-e-Azam Mausoleum in Karachi

US Hands Details 'Beyond Names', Demands Pak Action On 20 Terror Groups

MMNN:2 November 2017
WASHINGTON / ISLAMABAD: The US has shared with Pakistan a list with details "beyond just names" of 20 terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen that Washington believes are operating from its soil and areas under its occupation, to target India and Afghanistan, a media report said today. Top on the list is the Haqqani network which, the US says has safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in northwestern Pakistan and uses them to launch attacks into Afghanistan, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported. The list includes three types of terror groups: those who launch attacks into Afghanistan, those who attack targets inside Pakistan and those who are focused on Jammu and Kashmir, the newspaper quoted a diplomatic sources as saying. India-specific terror groups like the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are also on the list. Harkat-ul-Mujahideen is a terror group operating primarily out of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The US said that the terror outfit had links to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda as well, the report said. Jaish-e-Mohammed also targets India, primarily the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the US said. The United States identified Lashkar-e-Taiba as one of the largest and most active terrorist organisations in South Asia. Founded in 1987 by Hafiz Saeed, Abdullah Azzam and Zafar Iqbal, the group had its terror headquarters in Muridke in Pakistan's Punjab province. It too is focused on targeting India, primarily in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the report said. Lashkar-e-Taiba was involved in the 2001 Indian parliament attack and the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The US also holds this group accountable for committing hundreds of target killings and dozens of mass attacks within Pakistan. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organisation of various terror groups, was based in FATA in Pakistan, but had relocated to Afghanistan. The US says that the group wants to enforce its own interpretation of Sharia and plans to attack Nato-led forces in Afghanistan. The terror group has taken shelter in Pakistan, while launching attacks in Afghanistan. It has also conducted hundreds of terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. Other groups on the list are: Harakat-ul-Jihadi-i-Islami (HuJI), Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), al-Quran and Tariq Gidar Group, which is one of 13 TTP affiliates. The Tariq Gidar Group has been behind some of the deadliest attacks inside Pakistan, including the December 16, 2014, massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar that left 132 schoolchildren and nine staffers dead. The report in the Pakistani daily stated that sources, however, had denied that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave a list of 75 terrorists to Pakistani officials when he visited Islamabad last week. Mr Tillerson told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday that Pakistan was willing to target terrorists if provided with specific information about their whereabouts and Washington plans to give Islamabad the opportunity to do so. He said the information that the US delegation gave Pakistan went "beyond just names of individuals" and also expected "to receive information" from Pakistan that would be useful in targeting terrorists and terror outfits. Mr Tillerson said that it was in the interest of Pakistan to change its "long-standing" relationship with terrorist organisations. "The conversation with the Pakistani government is for them to recognise that they will be one of the greatest beneficiaries of a successful peace process in Afghanistan," Mr Tillerson told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing on Monday. Mr Tillerson, who also visited Afghanistan and came to India last week, responded to questions on Pakistan's co-operation in the fight against terrorism in the aftermath of US President Donald Trump's South Asia Policy. Pointing out the instability caused by Pakistani terror outfits, Mr Tillerson said: "Pakistan lives with two very unstable borders, one with Afghanistan, one with India and our message to them is -- You have to begin by creating greater stability inside your country and that means denying safe haven to any of these organisations that launch attacks from your territory."

New York Attack Suspect, 29, Reportedly Drove For Uber

MMNN:1 November 2017
The man accused of killing eight people by racing a pickup truck down a New York City bike path on Tuesday may have worked as a driver and lived in New Jersey after emigrating from Uzbekistan seven years ago, according to authorities and media reports. Few other details about the 29-year-old suspect have emerged since the Tuesday afternoon vehicle rampage in lower Manhattan, blocks from the site of the September 11, 2001, attacks that destroyed the landmark World Trade Center Twin Towers. Police have declined to identify the man but a source familiar with the investigation identified him as Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov and said he was not a US citizen. His immigration status was not immediately clear. Saipov was shot by a police officer while attempting to flee minutes after the attack and was whisked away to a local hospital, where he was recovering from an abdominal wound. With authorities saying they believe the attack was a "terrorist event," the lack of disclosure may reflect the nature of the investigation, which is still in its earliest stage. According to CNN and other media outlets, the suspect shouted "Allahu Akbar", Arabic for "God is greatest", after leaping from his truck, which had crashed into a school bus as he sped away from the carnage. He also left behind a note claiming he carried out the deadly assault in the name of the ISIS militant group, according to reports that Reuters could not immediately confirm. Federal officials had become aware of Saipov while conducting an unrelated investigation, the New York Times reported, citing three unidentified officials. The Times offered no further details about the nature of the investigation, when it was conducted, or its outcome. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declined to comment on that report when asked by reporters at a news conference. "It is too early to give you a definitive answer," he said.
"HE LIKED THE US" Saipov, born in February 1988, moved to the United States seven years ago from Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country that was once part of the Soviet Union. He appears to have lived in Ohio, Florida and New Jersey since then. An Uzbek immigrant who met Saipov in Florida several years ago told the Times that Saipov worked as a truck driver there but began driving for Uber when he moved to New Jersey. "He was a very good person when I knew him," Kobiljon Matkarov told the newspaper. "He liked the US He seemed very lucky and all the time he was happy and talking like everything is O.K. He did not seem like a terrorist, but I did not know him from the inside." The Times, citing sources, reported that Saipov had been living in Paterson, New Jersey, about 25 miles (40 km) northwest of the scene of the attack. He rented the truck used in the attack from a Home Depot in nearby Passaic, just south of Paterson, it said. Police cordoned off an area of Paterson, a one-time industrial hub known for its large immigrant population, early Wednesday morning. About 25,000 to 30,000 Muslims live in the city, giving it one of the highest concentrations of Muslim people in the New York City area. Saipov has a history of traffic violations, according to media reports and court records. In one incident, he was pulled over in central Pennsylvania for pulling a truck trailer that was longer than permitted by law and "operating unsafe equipment", as well as driving with the wrong operators license, state judicial records show. Saipov listed both Paterson and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, as his addresses. He paid his fine by mail and did not have to appear in court.

White House Chief Of Staff Calls For Special Counsel To Probe Democrats

MMNN:31 October 2017
WASHINGTON: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said on Monday a special counsel should be appointed to investigate Democrats over a uranium deal during the Obama administration and a dossier compiled on Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. "I think probably as a layman looking at this kind of thing we need to find someone who is very, very objective who can get to the bottom of these accusations," Kelly said in an interview on Fox News. A special counsel would be appointed by the Justice Department. Republicans in Congress last week launched an investigation into an Obama-era deal in which a Russian company bought a Canadian firm that owned some 20 percent of US uranium supplies. Some Republicans have said Hillary Clinton's State Department approved the deal after her husband's charitable foundation received a $145 million donation. The New York Times has reported that Clinton, a Democrat who lost to Republican Trump in the 2016 election, did not participate in the decision. Republicans have also raised questions about whether Democrats funded a dossier put together during last year's presidential campaign that detailed accusations about Trump's ties to Russia. The Washington Post reported last week that Marc Elias, a lawyer for Clinton, used campaign funds to hire Fusion GPS, the firm behind the dossier. Kelly's call for a special counsel to investigate Democrats comes as a probe by special counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians produced its first charges and a guilty plea. A grand jury impaneled by Mueller indicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and aide Rick Gates on Monday. A third former Trump adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty in early October to lying to the FBI, it was announced on Monday

Ex-Employee Sues Facebook For Depriving Workers Of Overtime

MMNN:30 October 2017
SAN FRANCISCO: A former Facebook employee is suing the social media giant for allegedly misclassifying employees to exempt them from overtime pay. According to a report in on Monday, Susie Bigger, a former client solutions manager at Facebook's office in Chicago, has alleged that she and other Facebook employees are illegally classified as managers as part of "defendant's scheme to deprive them of overtime compensation". The proposed class-action lawsuit, filed in a US court, is seeking a back pay, damages, interest and attorneys fees for an untold number of Facebook employees. "This lawsuit is without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously," Facebook told Ars Technica. The lawsuit described a "systematic, company wide wrongful classification" system for Client Solutions Managers, Customer Solutions Managers, Customer Account Managers, "or other similarly titled positions". "CSMs do not perform duties related to the management or general business operations of Facebook. Rather, CSMs' duties constitute the principal production activity of Facebook as a social media and marketing platform," the lawsuit alleged. Facebook is set to announce its third-quarter results this week

Spain Takes Control Of 'Independent' Catalonia

MMNN:28 October 2017
Spain moved Saturday to seize direct control of Catalonia, sacking its police chief a day after the Catalan regional parliament's independence declaration sent shock waves through Europe. The firing of Josep Lluis Trapero, the highest-ranking officer of the Mossos d'Esquadra regional police, follows Friday's dismissal of Catalonia's president, his deputy, all ministers, and the entire parliament. Moving to quash what he termed an "escalation of disobedience", Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called December 21 elections in the region under sweeping powers granted by the Senate in response to Catalan lawmakers voting to declare an independent republic. The dismissal of Trapero, seen as an ally of his region's separatist leaders, was announced in Saturday's official government gazette. Madrid accuses Trapero of disobeying court orders to block a banned October 1 independence referendum. Instead, the ballot was disrupted, violently in some cases, by officers from Spain's national police and Guardia Civil paramilitary forces. All eyes this weekend will be on whether Catalonia's separatist executive, led by Carles Puigdemont, will willingly step aside for caretaker envoys from Madrid. Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria is due to meet later with secretaries of state who will likely take charge of Catalonia's regional ministries.
Competing rallies Tens of thousands celebrated in Barcelona and other Catalan cities after Friday's independence declaration, which analysts say the region has no legal power to execute. But anti-secession rallies have been called for the capital, Madrid, on Saturday, and for Barcelona on Sunday. The move to quash Catalan powers under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution is likely to anger many in a region of some 7.5 million people that enjoyed considerable autonomy, with control over education, healthcare and police. It is the first time the central government has curtailed autonomy in the region since dictator Francisco Franco's repressive 1939-75 rule Independence supporters have warned they will resist the temporary measure, implemented under a constitutional article devised to rein in rebel regions. "We won't cave in to Rajoy's authoritarianism nor to 155," the far-left CUP party, an ally of Puigdemont, tweeted on Friday. A motion to declare Catalonia a "republic" was passed Friday with 70 votes out of 135 in the regional parliament, where pro-secessionists hold sway. Catalan leaders point to the "Yes" vote in the deeply-divisive October 1 referendum as a mandate for independence, even though less than half of voters took part. Echoing widely-held fears, Federico Santi, Europe analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, warned the crisis could become violent, with "more serious clashes between national police and pro-independence activists." Speaking after the parliament's proclamation, Puigdemont urged activists to "maintain the momentum" in a peaceful manner.
Unwavering support for Spain The Spanish government has received unwavering support from the United States and its allies in the European Union. The bloc is increasingly wary of nationalistic and secessionist sentiment, particularly after Britain's dramatic decision last year to leave the bloc. EU President Donald Tusk insisted Madrid "remains our only interlocutor" in Spain, but urged it to exercise restraint. "I hope the Spanish government favours force of argument, not argument of force," he tweeted.

Xi Jinping Orders China's Army To Be Combat-Ready As He Starts New Term

MMNN:27 October 2017
BEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping has begun his second five-year term ordering the country's 2.3 million-strong military, the world's largest, to be absolutely loyal to the ruling Communist Party and intensify its combat readiness by focussing on how to win wars. The once-in-a-five-year Congress of the Communist Party endorsed Mr Xi's leadership of the party, the military and the presidency this week and approved his ideology to be written into its Constitution, elevating him on par with modern China's founder Chairman Mao Zedong and his successor Deng Xiaoping. Mr Xi, 67, began his second tenure yesterday by holding a meeting of top military officials, regarded as a main source of power base. Mr Xi, who heads the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) the overall high command of Chinese military, is the only civilian leader in the body which is otherwise packed with top most officials of the armed forces. The new CMC line-up which was unveiled on Wednesday will be led by a group of seven, down from the 11 members who headed its operations before. Earlier reports said Mr Xi, who consolidated his power in the last five years with a massive anti-corruption campaign in which over a million officials were punished wanted to shrink the Standing Committee of the party to five from seven. But apparently, he did not succeed as other groups in the party headed by former leaders pressed for status quo to include their nominees in the highest-ranking body bringing it a semblance of balance in power equations. In the last night's meeting of top military officials, some high-ranking officials were conspicuously absent, Hong- Kong based South China Morning Post reported. It appeared from the state-run CCTV report that two top generals, the former chief of general staff General Fang Fenghui and director of the political work department, General Zhang Yang were absent. Both Fang and Zhang were CMC members in Mr Xi's first term, but they were left off the list of PLA delegates to this month's party Congress. Earlier the two Generals were taken away on the same day last month as part of a corruption investigation, the Post report said. Meeting top military officials, he ordered them to be absolutely loyal to the party, to focus on how to win in wars, to pioneer reforms and innovation, to scientifically manage commanding a unit, to lead troops in accordance with the strictest standards and to take the forefront in complying with laws and regulations. He also told the officers to strengthen party-building within the military and to continue to intensify combat-ready training and exercises, to keep carrying out reforms in the national defence system and the military, and to carefully consider strategic issues concerning the PLA's future development, the official media here reported. Defence ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said yesterday that Mr Xi's plan to strengthen the military would be fully implemented and his authority would be upheld. Mr Xi asked the PLA officers to learn and implement the spirit of the just-concluded 19th CPC National Congress by following the road of building a strong army with Chinese characteristics and promoting the modernisation of national defence and the army. "We should strive to fully transform the people's armed forces into a world-class military by the mid-21st century," Mr Xi said. He said that during the past five years, the CMC has endeavoured to build an army that follows the command of the CPC, capable of winning battles and has a fine style of work, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. During his previous tenure, Mr Xi carried out widespread reforms of the military including reconfiguring the command structure, slashed three lakh troops from 2.3 million military, cut the size of the army to a million and made navy more powerful to push China's influence abroad. Over 13,000 military personnel including top generals were punished in the anti-graft campaign. With over USD 141 billion-dollar annual budget, Chinese military is next only to the US in terms of defence spending. Mr Xi also said the military should obey CPC's absolute leadership over the armed forces, innovate military strategy, govern the army by law and promoting civil-military integration. Senior officers, as the backbone of the campaign to build a strong army, should be loyal and obedient to the party, be good and smart at combat and endeavour to reform, Mr Xi said. Unlike other countries, the military in China functions under the party and not under the government.

PM Narendra Modi Congratulates Xi Jinping, Hopes To Promote India-China Ties

MMNN:26 October 2017
BEIJING: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today congratulated Chinese President Xi Jinping for securing a second term as the head of the ruling Communist Party, saying he looks forward to further promote India-China ties together. "Congratulations to President Xi on getting re-elected as CPC General Secretary. Look forward to further promote India- China ties together," PM Modi said in his message on popular Chinese microblog Weibo which is akin to Twitter. PM Modi's message was posted both in English and Mandarin. Mr Xi was formally handed a second term in power and his doctrine was written into the party constitution, elevating him on par with modern China's founder Chairman Mao Zedong and his successor Deng Xiaoping. PM Modi's message comes amid diplomatic efforts by the two sides to overcome the bitterness caused by the 73-day face-off between their troops in the Doklam area of the Sikkim sector. The Chinese and the Indian troops were engaged in a standoff since June 16 after the Indian side stopped the construction of a road by the Chinese Army. Last month, PM Modi and Mr Xi met on the sidelines of the 9th BRICS Summit in Chinese port city Xiamen and held their first substantive bilateral meeting after the Doklam standoff and agreed to move forward in their ties

US Targets Myanmar Military Over Rohingya Violence

MMNN:24 October 2017
WASHINGTON: The United States announced Monday it was withdrawing military assistance from Myanmar units and officers involved in violence against Rohingya Muslims that has triggered a massive exodus. "We express our gravest concern with recent events in Rakhine state and the violent, traumatic abuses Rohingya and other communities have endured," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in announcing the punitive measures. "It is imperative that any individuals or entities responsible for atrocities, including non-state actors and vigilantes, be held accountable." Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US holds Myanmar's military leadership "accountable" for the Rohingya refugee crisis, drawing a distinction with Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government. The world won't stand and "be witness to the atrocities that have been reported," he warned, adding that the military must be disciplined and "restrained." More than 600,000 members of the minority Muslim group have fled across the border into Bangladesh in an intensifying crisis that began in late August. Militant attacks on Myanmar security forces in Rakhine sparked a major army crackdown on the community likened to ethnic cleansing by the UN. Washington already had existing restrictions on its limited engagement with Burma's armed forces, as well as a long-running embargo on all military sales, so the withdrawal of military aid served to reinforce that position. In addition, the State Department said it has halted its consideration of travel waivers for senior Myanmar military leaders, and is weighing targeted economic measures against individuals linked to the "atrocities," along with targeted sanctions. The US has also rescinded invitations to senior members of Myanmar's security forces to US-sponsored events and is pressing for "unhindered access" to the affected areas for a United Nations fact-finding mission, international organizations and the media. "The government of Burma, including its armed forces, must take immediate action to ensure peace and security; implement commitments to ensure humanitarian access to communities in desperate need; facilitate the safe and voluntary return of those who have fled or been displaced in Rakhine state; and address the root causes of systematic discrimination against the Rohingya," Nauert said. Rohingyas have been systematically deprived of basic rights over decades in majority Buddhist Myanmar. In the latest crackdown, Myanmar's security forces have fired indiscriminately on unarmed civilians, including children, and committed widespread sexual violence, according to UN investigators.

ISIS 'Executed' 116 In Syria Town Revenge Campaign: Human Rights Observer

MMNN:23 October 2017
BEIRUT, LEBANON: The ISIS group killed 116 people it suspected of collaborating with the Syrian regime in Al-Qaryatayn this month before losing the desert town to government forces, a monitor said Monday. "ISIS has over a period of 20 days executed at least 116 civilians in reprisal killings, accusing them of collaboration with regime forces," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor. Regime forces retook Al-Qaryatayn, which lies in the central Homs province, on Saturday, three weeks after the jihadists seized control of it. ISIS had first occupied the town in 2015 and lost it to a Russian-backed Syria forces last year. "After the regime retook it (on Saturday), the town's residents found the bodies on the streets. They had been shot dead or executed with knives," Abdel Rahman said. "Most of the ISIS fighters who attacked the town a month ago were sleeper cells. They are from the town, know the town's residents and who is for or against the regime," he said. The majority of those killed were executed in the last two days before ISIS lost the town again, he added

Donald Trump Celebrates Diwali, Says Value My 'Very Strong' Relationship With PM Modi

MMNN:18 October 2017
WASHINGTON: Donald Trump celebrated Diwali on Wednesday in the Oval Office of the White House along with senior Indian-American members of the administration, including Nikki Haley, Seema Verma and community leaders. While expressing his appreciation for Indians, the US President said he values his 'very strong' relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "Today, I was deeply honored to be joined by so many administration officials and leaders of the Indian-American community - to celebrate Diwali -- the Hindu Festival of Lights," Trump said. "As we do so, we especially remember the People of India, the home of the Hindu faith, who have built the world's largest democracy. I greatly value my very strong relationship with Prime Minister Modi," he added Trump also lit diyas on the occasion and hailed the Indian community's contribution in different fields. "You have made extraordinary contributions to art, science, medicine, business and education. America is especially thankful for its many Indian-American citizens who serve bravely in our armed forces and as first responders in communities throughout our great land," he said. Cabinet ranking Haley is US Ambassador to the UN and Seema Verma is administrator of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Ajit Pai, Chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission and Raj Shah his Principle Deputy Press Secretary were among those from his administration. Daughter Ivanka Trump also joined the President in celebration of Diwali celebrations. Last year Ivanka, who is now a presidential advisor, had visited Hindu temples in Virginia and Florida as part of Diwali. Trump, then as the Republican presidential nominee, had addressed the Indian-American community from a public meeting in New Jersey wherein he lit the traditional diya. The tradition of Diwali celebration was first started by former President George Bush. However, he never personally participated in the White House Diwali celebrations

Indians In London - And Outside - Fight To Save A Historic Restaurant

MMNN:17 October 2017
Plans to renovate a historic and beloved Indian restaurant in central London are causing a stir, pitting the developers against high-profile defenders, including intellectuals, Anglo-Indian businessmen and lawmakers from both countries. The India Club, a restaurant and bar on the Strand near London's West End, is trying to use its storied history to block proposals by owners Marston Properties to turn the seven-storey building into an upmarket boutique hotel. "This is a very historic place, we haven't changed anything," Yadgar Marker, the club's current director, told news agency AFP during a recent lunchtime dosa -- an Indian pancake -- and various curry dishes flew out the kitchen. "Even these tabletops are from the early '50s... It's like a museum," he said. The club was set up in its current location by Krishna Menon, India's first High Commissioner to Britain, in the early 1950s, and counted former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the country's inaugural prime minister, among its founding members, Marker said. It has served as a meeting place for writers, intellectuals and politicians, Mr Marker wrote earlier this month to Westminster Council, the local authority in charge of planning decisions. Marston Properties submitted its application on September 8 to Westminster Council to partially demolish and extend the building. It currently houses a bakery and convenience store on the ground floor and the India Club and Hotel Strand Continental on the upper levels. Mr Marker, who has run the club and hotel for the last 20 years, said he was "quite surprised" to learn of the plans in an email from the company. With their seven-year lease set to expire in 2019, he fears it will mean the end of the club. The club has applied for the building to receive protected status from Historic England, which recommends which sites of cultural value the British government should designate. A spokesman for the public body confirmed it had visited the club earlier this month, and would make a decision on whether to recommend listing it by January 19, 2018. Simon Marshall of Marston Properties told AFP it was cooperating with Historic England "to establish the true heritage links of this building." He said the company had commissioned its own independent historical research into the club. "The extent of (the) heritage links... are not in fact particularly clear," he added. Marshall stressed no final decision had been made to redevelop building. Loyal longtime customers have been voicing their support. A petition launched by the club had garnered over 14,000 signatures by Monday. "It means the world to generations of Indians," said Kalyan Thapa, a patron since the 1960s, as he ate with friends there on Monday. "You can't knock it down and erase history." High profile fans including sculptor Anish Kapoor, writer Will Self and Indian lawmaker parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor, have also leapt to its defence, writing letters of support that Marker has sent on to Westminster Council. "I think the loss of the club would constitute another step-up in the social, ethnic and cultural 'cleansing' of central London's commercial environment," Self told AFP. "Already, smaller and more diverse businesses are being lost from the West End in droves, it creates an arid, aseptic environment in which every cubic foot of space feels commoditised."

Trump Sets Conditions For US To Stay In Iran Nuclear Deal, Tossing Issue To Congress

MMNN:14 October 2017
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Friday officially disavowed the international nuclear deal with Iran, undermining but not terminating an agreement he called weak and poorly constructed. The administration asked Congress to attach new caveats that could either alter the pact or lead to its rupture. Sounding frustrated and angry, Trump also threatened to unilaterally withdraw from the seven-nation accord if his concerns are not met. "We will not continue down the path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran's nuclear breakout," Trump said in remarks delivered at the White House. His decision to withdraw presidential "certification" of the deal throws its future into doubt by tying continued U.S. participation to new requirements for Iran. But the approach also falls well short of Trump's repeated campaign vow to scrap the deal altogether, marking the latest collision between his "America first" worldview and the realities of global diplomacy and dealmaking. The move was immediately met with opposition Friday from U.S. allies that are part of the pact and with skepticism from many U.S. lawmakers, including some Republicans. Iran, meanwhile, responded with a threat of its own, vowing in a statement to walk away if Iranian "rights and interests in the deal are not respected." If the amendment is approved by Congress and Iran fails to meet the new requirements, the United States could impose new sanctions that would effectively break the deal. Or, if Congress is unwilling, Trump said he could back away on his own. "As I have said many times, the Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into," Trump said, later charging that Tehran is "not living up to the spirit of the deal." U.S. officials acknowledge that Iran is meeting its technical obligations but accuse the Islamic republic of using the deal as a shield for an expansion of "destabilizing" activities such as the funding and arming of terrorist groups. Trump said nothing in support of the agreement, which is prized by key U.S. allies and backed, with caveats, by leading members of his administration and many Republicans in Congress. The agreement - known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - limits Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions that were imposed in response to worries that Tehran was driving quickly toward a bomb. European allies lobbied Trump hard in recent weeks to not scuttle an agreement they claim has worked as intended to avert the near-term risk of an Iranian nuclear weapon. In a joint statement, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany did not hide their disappointment. "We encourage the U.S. Administration and Congress to consider the implications to the security of the U.S. and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the JCPoA, such as re-imposing sanctions on Iran lifted under the agreement," the statement said. The leaders said their countries would work with the Trump administration to address concerns over Iran's ballistic missile program and "regional activities" that threaten European security. That is a reference to alleged support for terrorism and Iran's support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who helped negotiate the agreement, called Trump's speech "inane" and suggested Trump's attitude toward the Shiite-majority nation was motivated by ties to Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the Shiite-majority but Sunni-ruled Bahrain. "Allegations, threats & profanity will never intimidate Iranians," Zarif said on Twitter. "Trump will eventually discover this, as every predecessor did." The 2015 agreement among the United States, Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China set limits on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of what had become crippling economic sanctions. The pact was a signature foreign policy goal of the Obama administration, which considered it a potential building block for a better U.S. relationship with Tehran after more than three decades of enmity. Critics of the deal say the agreement does not prevent an eventual Iranian bomb and at best merely delays that capability. The pact as negotiated is limited to Iranian nuclear activity, which the country claims has always been peaceful. Under the agreement, Iran was allowed to keep some uranium-enrichment capacity. The deal was not designed to address many other areas of international concern, including Iranian missile programs, its alleged support for terrorism and its human rights record. All of those are subject to separate international and U.S. sanctions that are unaffected by the nuclear agreement. Trump acted under a U.S. law that is separate from the deal itself and which has been a more pressing irritant to Trump than the underlying agreement. The law requires the president to endorse the deal every 90 days with a certification that Iran is meeting its obligations and that the deal remains in the U.S. national interest. Trump does not think either condition is true, and he made clear he has not changed his low opinion of the deal itself. Trump's announcement on Iran is his latest attempt to unwind international pacts entered into by President Barack Obama. Earlier this year he withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement, and he began his administration by officially killing an expansive Pacific Rim trade deal. The president has cast all of these pacts as bad deals for the United States. Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, called Trump's actions "unnecessary and arbitrary." "If you're most concerned about what will happen in 2025, there's no need to precipitate a crisis in October of 2017 around an arbitrary congressional deadline," Rhodes said. "There's plenty of time to assess how the deal is working, and make decisions around what the United States wants to do." Trump recited a 30-year litany of grievances against the Iranian regime dating back to the revolution in 1979 and the seizing of hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. He called Iran the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, a threat to Israel and a human rights violator. "Given the regime's murderous past and present, we should not take lightly its sinister vision for the future," Trump said. The Trump administration is now asking Congress to add conditions for U.S. cooperation that would address Iranian ballistic missile development as well as alleged support for terrorist or extremist groups in Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere. The president also announced new unilateral sanctions on Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps related to its alleged activities in support of terrorism. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters during a briefing ahead of the president's address that the administration also wants to address "sunset clauses" in the deal. Those provisions allow Iran to resume certain nuclear activities that raise proliferation concerns beginning 10 to 15 years after the accord took effect in January 2016. Tillerson called that a "countdown clock to when Iran can have a nuclear program again." Congress now has 60 days to consider whether to reimpose sanctions. Congress could buck the administration's request and slap the sanctions back on now, but some of the leading Iran hawks in Congress have already suggested that they are likely to be on board with the administration's approach. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward Royce, R-Calif., said earlier this week that rather than scrap the deal, he wants to "enforce the hell out of it." One of the key lawmakers who will help shape the future of the deal is Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who has been embroiled in a war of words with the president after raising concerns about Trump's stability. Corker said Friday that the United States would continue to "honor" the Iran agreement but that U.S. sanctions would automatically "snap back" into place if Iran gets within one year of being able to achieve a weapon. The Trump administration has worked with Corker and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on legislation that would set new conditions on U.S. participation in the deal. Cotton has said he will not lead a charge to reimpose sanctions, sending an important signal to other conservatives. Many Democrats expressed dismay. "The effect of what the president has done has really been to constrain our freedom of action," said Rep. Adam Schiff, Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "Steps we might have taken to constrain Iran's malevolent activity will now be viewed through the prism of the president's hostility to the nuclear deal." Tillerson acknowledged that neither amending the oversight law nor securing international buy-in to address the deal's expiration clauses would be easy to achieve. He said Trump is "not particularly optimistic" but is willing to try. "We may be unsuccessful. We may not be able to fix it. We may end up out of the deal," Tillerson said. "But I think rather than just walk, he's saying, 'I'm going to try to address some of the issues that I think are deficiencies in the agreement.

California Wildfires Kill At Least 31 As Wind Continues To Fan Flames

MMNN:13 October 2017
SANOMA: Firefighters face another round of dry, windy conditions on Friday as they battle wildfires that have killed at least 31 people in Northern California and left hundreds missing in the heart of wine country. The most lethal wildfire event in California's history has killed people while they sleep in their beds and prompted authorities to evacuate thousands of residents, warning anyone deciding to wait it out: "You are on your own." The toll from the more than 20 fires raging across eight counties could climb, with more than 400 people in Sonoma County alone still listed as missing. Winds of up to 60 mph (100 kph) and humidity of just 10 percent will create "critical fire weather conditions" and "contribute to extreme fire behavior" on Friday afternoon and into Saturday, the National Weather Service said. A force of 8,000 firefighters is working to reinforce and extend buffer lines across the region where the flames have scorched more than 190,000 acres (77,000 hectares), an area nearly the size of New York City. With 3,500 homes and businesses incinerated, the so-called North Bay fires have reduced whole neighborhoods in the city of Santa Rosa to smoldering ruins dotted with charred trees and burned-out cars. The cause of the disaster is under investigation, but officials said power lines toppled by gale-force winds on Sunday night may have sparked it. The Napa Valley town of Calistoga faces one of the biggest threats and its 5,000-plus residents were ordered from their homes as winds picked up and fire crept closer. Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said anyone refusing to heed the mandatory evacuation would be left to fend for themselves if fire approached, warning on Thursday: "You are on your own." Sonoma County accounted for 17 of the North Bay fatalities, all from the Tubbs fire, which now ranks as California's deadliest single wildfire since 2003. Some people killed were asleep when flames engulfed their homes, fire officials said. Others had only minutes to escape as winds fanned fast-moving blazes. Mark Ghilarducci, state director of emergency services, said the loss of cell towers likely contributed to difficulties in warning residents. As many as 900 missing-person reports have been filed in Sonoma County and 437 have since turned up safe. It remains unclear how many of the 463 still unaccounted for are fire victims rather than evacuees who failed to alert authorities, Ghilarducci said. The fires struck the heart of the world-renowned wine-producing region, wreaking havoc on its tourist industry and damaging or destroying at least 13 Napa Valley wineries. California's newly legalized marijuana industry also was hit hard, with at least 20 pot farms in Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa counties ravaged, said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association.

Greenpeace Activists Set Off Fireworks At French Nuclear Plant

MMNN:12 October 2017
METZ, FRANCE: Greenpeace activists set off fireworks inside a nuclear plant in eastern France early Thursday after breaking into the facility to underline its vulnerability to attack, the environmental group said. "Our activists launched a firework in the perimeter of a French nuclear plant. These installations are vulnerable," the group said on Twitter, along with a video of the stunt at the plant in Cattenom, near the border with Luxembourg. Shortly after the pre-dawn infiltration, the EDF energy company that operates the plant said the protesters were detained before they reached the nuclear zone, and that the plant's safety was not impacted. EDF tweeted: "Greenpeace activists on site. Stopped by police. No access to the nuclear area. No impact on the safety of installations." Greenpeace said the fireworks were set off at the foot of a spent fuel pool (SFP) -- where nuclear plants store highly radioactive fuel rods that are removed from reactors after their use. Roger Spautz, a Greenpeace official in Luxembourg, said that at around 5:30 am (0330 GMT), about 15 activists entered the site and crossed two security barriers to reach the building containing the SFP. Spautz told AFP the action was aimed at drawing attention to the "fragility" of SFPs "that are not protected, unlike the reactor buildings". On Tuesday, Greenpeace warned about security shortcomings at French and Belgian nuclear plants that make them vulnerable to attack, citing an expert report commissioned by the group. It stressed the "even more pronounced (dangers) in the case of spent fuel pools", which are not encased in confinement buildings like reactors, despite containing hundreds of tonnes of highly radioactive fuel. EDF immediately refuted the report, saying in a statement that its nuclear plants were "safe, properly monitored and very well protected" and that it was constantly evaluating their resistance to criminal acts or terrorism. France has a total of 63 spent fuel pools at its 58 nuclear reactors, which provide 75 percent of the country's electricity.

United States Warship Sails Near Islands Beijing Claims In South China Sea: US Officials.'

MMNN:11 October 2017
WASHINGTON: A US Navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Tuesday, three US officials told Reuters, even as President Donald Trump's administration seeks Chinese cooperation in reining in North Korea's missile and nuclear programs. The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters. But it was not as provocative as previous ones carried out since President Trump took office in January. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Chafee, a guided-missile destroyer, carried out normal maneuvering operations that challenged "excessive maritime claims" near the Paracel Islands, among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbors. Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had lodged "stern representations" with the United States, and reiterated that the Paracels were Chinese territory. "China immediately sent naval vessels and military jets to investigate and identify, as well as warn to the vessel and ask it to leave," she told a daily news briefing on Wednesday. "China will continue to take resolute measures to protect Chinese sovereign territory and maritime interests. China urges the US to conscientiously respect China's sovereign territory and security interests, conscientiously respect the efforts regional countries have made to protect peace and stability in the South China Sea, and stop these wrong actions." Next month, President Trump makes his first visit to Asia as president, including a stop in China, which he has been pressuring to do more to rein in North Korea. China is North Korea's neighbor and biggest trading partner. Unlike in August, when a US Navy destroyer came within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, officials said the destroyer on Tuesday sailed close to but not within that range of the islands. Twelve nautical miles mark internationally recognized territorial limits. Sailing within that range is meant to show the United States does not recognize territorial claims. The Pentagon did not comment directly on the operation, but said the United States carried out regular freedom-of-navigation operations and would continue to do so China's claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in shipborne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Experts and some US officials have criticized former president Barack Obama for potentially reinforcing China's claims by sticking to innocent passage, in which a warship effectively recognized a territorial sea by crossing it speedily without stopping. The US military has a long-standing position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and that they are separate from political considerations. The United States has said it would like to see more international participation in freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea.
President Trump's trip to Asia will likely be dominated by the North Korean nuclear threat. He will also visit South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. In recent weeks, North Korea has launched two missiles over Japan and conducted its sixth nuclear test, all in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and may be fast advancing toward its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland. President Trump's visit to China will reciprocate a trip to the United States made in April by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The US president's attempts to get Chinese help with North Korea have met with limited success so far, but he has gone out of his way to thank President Xi for his efforts.

Ivana Trump Says She's The 'First lady.' Melania Trump's Office Responds.'

MMNN:10 October 2017
WASHINGTON: Things are getting a little "Real Housewives" around the White House. In one of the stranger sideshows to his presidency, President Donald Trump's first and third wives, Ivana and Melania, respectively, on Monday had a very public war of words - and his second wife, Marla Maples, is getting some shade out of the spat, to boot. Here's a breakdown: To promote her new book, "Raising Trump," about parenting Trump's three eldest children, Ivana Trump gave a Monday interview to "Good Morning America" in which she made some comments sure to privately raise the hackles of the woman occupying the role of Wife of Donald. "I'm basically first Trump wife. OK?" Ivana Trump said. "I'm first lady." She offered faux sympathy for Melania Trump, saying "I think for her to be in Washington must be terrible." (She had less subtle insults for her ex's second wife, Marla Maples. "A showgirl" was her epithet of choice.) But instead of letting those slights ride, Melania Trump took a page out of her husband's playbook, the one that famously decrees he hit back harder at anyone who takes a swing. Her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, dispatched a crisp response dismissing Ivana's remarks as "attention seeking" from someone who just wants to sell books and making clear that Melania Trump does not, in fact, hate her Washington, D.C., life. "Mrs. Trump has made the White House a home for Barron and the President. She loves living in Washington, DC and is honored by her role as First Lady of the United States. She plans to use her title and role to help children, not sell books," Grisham's response said. And the coda is the real clap-back: "There is clearly no substance to this statement from an ex, this is unfortunately only attention-seeking and self-serving noise." The high-profile drama managed to get a double-take out of even those of us numbed from the daily barrage of eye-popping headlines. We might have gotten used to a pugnacious president willing to take on nasty and personal public fights with NFL players and senators alike, but it's more unusual for the first lady step into the ring. It seemed to surprise even Andy Cohen, the Bravo producer known for engineering table-overturning fights on the "Real Housewife" franchise. "This is actually happening," he tweeted. " All the wives are fighting. Even I AM SPEECHLESS" This all started innocently enough. Ivana Trump has a book to promote. Her new memoir drops in less than 24 hours, and she's doing a publicity blitz. In the midst of that storm Trump, revealed that she has a direct line to the White House and her ex-husband, but she doesn't use it lest the current Mrs. Trump get the wrong idea. "I [don't] really want to call him there, because Melania is there. And I don't want to cause any kind of jealousy or something like that, because I'm basically first Trump wife. OK? I'm first lady," she said. But she feels for Melania Trump, she really does. "I think for her to be in Washington must be terrible," said Trump of the actual first lady. "It's better her than me. I would hate Washington." Hating Washington, however, does not preclude her ability to rule it with an iron fist, if she had the inclination, the former Mrs. Trump made sure to note. "Would I straighten up the White House in 14 days? Absolutely. Can I give the speech for 45 minutes without [a] teleprompter? Absolutely. Can I read a contract? Can I negotiate? Can I entertain? Absolutely. But I would not really like to be there. I like my freedom," Ivana Trump said, in what could also be perceived as a dig against Melania Trump. If all of this feels a little bizarre. . . well, that's because it is. At the very least, it's unprecedented to have a president with a living ex willing to weigh in publicly on the first couple. Widowers with second wives have occupied the White House, but other than Trump, there's been only one divorced president: Ronald Reagan, though his first wife, the actress Jane Wyman, was famously silent on her former husband throughout his political career. Divorced in 1948, Wyman revealed in a 1968 interview her reason for keeping quiet about Reagan, who by then was remarried to future first lady Nancy Regan. It wasn't because she was bitter or disagreed with him politically, she said. "It's bad taste to talk about ex-husbands and ex-wives, that's all."

Nawaz Sharif's Daughter, Son-In-Law Get Bail In Panama Papers Case'

MMNN:9 October 2017
ISLAMABAD: The daughter and son-in-law of ousted Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have been given bail by the country's anti-graft court in the Panama Papers case as they appeared before it after returning from London. Maryam Nawaz, 43, along with her spouse, former army captain Muhammad Safdar, returned to Pakistan late last night to appear in the Accountability Court. Mr Safdar was arrested on his arrival as the court had issued an arrest warrant against him without a provision for bail. Both separately appeared in the court of Judge Muhammad Bashir in Islamabad. Nawaz Sharif and his two sons were absent during the hearing as they are in London to see his wife Kulsoom, who is battling throat cancer. The former prime minister had attended the previous two hearings, but flew to London last week to see his ailing wife, who underwent a third surgery. The court accepted the bail applications of Ms Maryam and Mr Safdar and postponed the hearing till October 13, according to court officials. Nawaz Sharif's lawyer Khawaja Harris asked the court to adjourn the hearing for 15 days, on the condition that he would also appear. The court also ordered to start the process of declaring his sons -- Husain and Hasan -- proclaimed offenders as they have not appeared in court so far. The court said it will put Mr Husain and Mr Hasan separate trials. Ms Maryam, who is being groomed as Nawaz Sharif's political successor, appeared in the court for the first time today. She was told to give a surety bond of Rs. 50,000. The National Accountability Bureau or NAB lawyers asked the court to send her husband to jail on judicial remand, but the court granted him bail and ordered him to pay Rs. 50,000 for surety bonds. The court also told him to take its permission before going abroad and rejected the NAB's request to confiscate his passport. Both Ms Maryam and Mr Safdar have been charged by the NAB in one of three corruption cases filed on September 8 against Nawaz Sharif. Ms Maryam criticised the arrest of her husband and said he was taken into custody despite the fact that he returned to face the case. "Those who want to appear by free will are arrested from airport, but we are not afraid of it," she said.

Russia Strikes Kill 120 ISIS fighters, Over 60 'Foreign Mercenaries' In Syria: Moscow'

MMNN:7 October 2017
MOSCOW, RUSSIA: Some 120 ISIS fighters and 60 foreign mercenaries were killed in a series of Russian air strikes in Syria over the past 24 hours, the defence ministry in Moscow said on Saturday. "A command post of the terrorists and up to 80 (ISIS) fighters including nine natives of the Northern Caucasus were destroyed in the area of Mayadeen," the ministry said, adding some 40 ISIS fighters were killed around the town of Albu Kamal. As a result of an air strike more than 60 foreign mercenaries from the former Soviet Union, Tunisia, and Egypt were killed south of Deir Ezzor. The ministry said the "large numbers of foreign mercenaries" were coming into the Syrian border town of Albu Kamal from Iraq. Mayadeen is one of the ISIS group's last bastions in Syria. The advances against ISIS in Deir Ezzor have cost a heavy civilian death toll from Russian and coalition air raids. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian air strikes on Thursday night killed 14 people, including three children, fleeing across the Euphrates on rafts near Mayadeen. Russia has not acknowledged any civilian deaths from its strikes since it intervened in Syria in 2015, and dismisses the Observatory's reporting as biased. Moscow has been carrying out air strikes in support of its ally Damascus targeting both ISIS in Deir Ezzor province and rival jihadists led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate in Idlib province in the northwest.

Anti-Nuclear Campaign ICAN Wins 2017 Nobel Peace Prize'

MMNN:6 October 2017
OSLO/GENEVA: The Norwegian Nobel Committee, warning of a rising risk of nuclear war, awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday to a little-known international campaign group advocating for a ban on nuclear weapons. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) describes itself as a coalition of grassroots non-government groups in more than 100 nations. It began in Australia and was officially launched in Vienna in 2007. "We live in a world where the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time," said Berit Reiss-Andersen, the leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. In July, 122 nations adopted a UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, although the agreement does not include nuclear-armed states such as the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. "This award shines a needed light on the path the ban treaty provides towards a world free of nuclear weapons. Before it is too late, we must take that path," ICAN said in a statement on its Facebook page. "This is a time of great global tension, when fiery rhetoric could all too easily lead us, inexorably, to unspeakable horror. The spectre of nuclear conflict looms large once more. If ever there were a moment for nations to declare their unequivocal opposition to nuclear weapons, that moment is now." The Nobel prize seeks to bolster the case of disarmament amid nuclear tensions between the United States and North Korea and uncertainty over the fate of a 2015 deal between Iran and major powers to limit Tehran's nuclear programme. The Iran deal is seen as under threat after US President Donald Trump called it the "worst deal ever negotiated". A senior administration official said on Thursday that Trump is expected to announce soon that he will decertify the pact, a step towards potentially unwinding it. The committee raised eyebrows with its decision to award the prize to an international campaign group with a relatively low profile, rather than giving it to the architects of the Iran deal, who had been widely seen as favourites after hammering out a complex agreement over years of high-stakes diplomacy. "Norwegian Nobel Committee has its own ways, but the nuclear agreement with Iran achieved something real and would have deserved a prize," tweeted Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister who has held top posts as an international diplomat. The leader of the Norwegian Nobel committee denied that the prize was "a kick in the leg" for Trump and said the prize was a call to states that have nuclear weapons to fulfil earlier pledges to work towards disarmament. "The message is to remind them to the commitment they have already made that they have to work for a nuclear free world," Reiss-Andersen told Reuters. The United Nations said the award would help bolster efforts to get the 55 ratifications by countries for the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to come into force. "I hope this prize will be conducive for the entry into force of this treaty," UN Chief Spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told a news briefing.

Kazuo Ishiguro Wins 2017 Nobel Prize For Literature'

MMNN:5 October 2017
STOCKHOLM: Japanese-born Kazuo Ishiguro has won the Nobel Prize for Literature for uncovering "the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world," the Swedish Academy said on Thursday on awarding the 9 million crown ($1.1 million) prize. The award marks a return to a more mainstream interpretation of literature after the 2016 prize went to American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. The prize is named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will.

Nawaz Sharif Re-Elected Head Of Ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Party'

MMNN:3 October 2017
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN: Nawaz Sharif was today re-elected as the president of Pakistan's ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party after Parliament passed a controversial bill, paving the way for the ousted prime minister's return to politics. Mr Sharif, 67, had to step down as the chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) after he was disqualified as the prime minister by the Supreme Court on July 28 in the Panama Papers scandal. Under The Representation of Peoples Act 1976, a disqualified person could not hold office of a party. However, the legal hurdle in his way to become party chief was cleared yesterday when the National Assembly passed a controversial Election Bill 2017 that allows politicians disqualified from holding public office to head a political party. President Mamnoon Hussain signed the controversial Election Act 2017 into law hours after it was bulldozed through the parliament amid pandemonium on the opposition benches. PML-N leader Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry submitted Mr Sharif's papers for party president in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) while no one other candidate from the party contested the election. Minister of State Talal Chaudhry told media that Mr Sharif will remain chief of PML-N. "He will also become Prime Minister of the country. Mr Sharif cannot be removed from politics through conspiracies," he said. The election of party president is a requirement by Election Commission of Pakistan that already last month issued notice to PML-N for failing to choose permanent successor of Sharif. Mr Sharif's election has temporarily healed the rifts within the party which appeared on the verge of defections after his ouster. But Mr Sharif's fate as party president still hangs in balance as Pakistan Awami Tehreek party has challenged the new law in the Lahore High Court, while Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and other parties have announced to challenge it in the Supreme Court. Opposition parties allege that the new law was "Sharif-specific" to allow him to return to politics. They also content that the law is against the spirit of the Constitution.

Biological Clock' Scientists Win 2017 Nobel Medicine Prize'

MMNN:2 October 2017
STOCKHOLM: U.S.-born scientists Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling our biological clocks, the award-giving body said on Monday. The mechanisms help explain issues such as why people travelling long distances over several time zones often suffer jet lag and they have wider implications for health such as increased risk for certain diseases. "(The three scientists') discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth's revolutions," the Nobel Assembly at Sweden's Karolinska Institute said in a statement. The laureates used fruit flies to isolate a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm and showed how this gene encoded a protein that accumulates in the cell during the night and degrades during the day. "The clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism," the Assembly said on awarding the prize of 9 million Swedish crowns ($1.1 million). Thomas Perlmann, secretary at the Karolinska Institute Nobel Committee, described the reaction of Rosbash when first informed of the award: "He was silent and then he said 'you are kidding me'." Medicine is the first of the Nobel Prizes awarded each year. The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were created in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel and have been awarded since 1901. Nobel medicine laureates have included scientific greats such as Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, and Karl Landsteiner, whose identification of separate blood types opened the way to carrying out safe transfusions. The prize has not been without controversy, especially with the benefit of hindsight, such as with 1948 award for the discovery of DDT, a chemical that helped battle epidemics but was later banned due to its harmful environmental impact.

From Tokyo To Delhi In 30 Minutes, SpaceX's Elon Musk Unveils Plan'

MMNN:29 September 2017
For years, Elon Musk has been focused on building a colony on Mars. It's why he founded SpaceX in 2002, and it's been the driving force behind it ever since. But during a speech in Adelaide, Australia, Friday morning, Musk said he has dramatically expanded his already-outsize ambitions. In addition to helping create a city on the Red Planet, he said the next rocket he intends to build would also be capable of helping create a base camp on the moon - and flying people across the globe. "It's 2017, we should have a lunar base by now," he said during a 40-minute speech at the International Astronautical Congress. "What the hell has been going on?" In a surprise twist, he also said the massive rocket and spaceship, which would have more pressurized passenger space than an Airbus A380 airplane, could also fly passengers anywhere on Earth in less than an hour. Traveling at a maximum speed of more than 18,000 mph, a trip from New York to Shanghai, for example, would take 39 minutes, he said. New York to London could be done in 29 minutes. "If we're building this thing to go to the moon and Mars, why not go other places as well?" he said. The speech was billed as an update to one he gave a year ago, in which he provided details for how SpaceX would make humanity a "multi-planet species." At the speech a year ago, Musk unveiled a behemoth of a rocket that was so ambitious and mind-bogglingly large that critics said it was detached from reality. Now, he and his team at SpaceX have done some editing, and Musk presented a revised plan early Friday to build a massive, but more reasonably sized, rocket that he calls the BFR, or Big [expletive] Rocket. "I think we've figured out how to pay for it, this is very important," he said. The new fully reusable system includes a booster stage and a spaceship capable of carrying 100 people or so. It would be capable of flying astronauts and cargo on an array of missions, from across the globe, to the International Space Station in low Earth orbit and to the moon and Mars in deep space. It'd also be capable of launching satellites, he said, while effectively replacing all of the rockets and spacecraft SpaceX currently uses or is developing, making them redundant. That would allow the company to put all of its resources into development of the BFR, he said. Earlier this year, Musk announced that SpaceX would fly two private citizens in a trip around the moon by late next year. And he hinted at the moon base during a conference in July "If you want to get the public really fired up, I think we've got to have a base on the moon. That'd be pretty cool. And then going beyond there and getting people to Mars," he said. "That's the continuance of the dream of Apollo that I think people are really looking for." But Friday morning he made it clear that Mars is still the ultimate goal. During his talk, a chart showed that SpaceX planned to fly two cargo missions to Mars by 2022, a very ambitious timeline. "That's not a typo," he said, but allowed: "It is aspirational." By 2024, he said the company could fly four more ships to Mars, two with human passengers and two more cargo-only ships. SpaceX has upended the space industry, and Musk, with his celebrity, bravado and business acumen, has reignited interest in space. The company, which has won more than $4 billion in contracts from NASA, was the first commercial venture to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station; previously it had only been done by governments. It currently flies cargo there, and is also under contract from NASA to fly astronauts there, which could happen as early as next year. But despite all its triumphs, the company still hasn't flown a single human to space, not even to low Earth orbit, let alone Mars, which on average is 140 million miles from Earth (though the planets come to within 35 million miles of each other every 26 months). The travel between cities on Earth would also face substantial hurdles. In addition to the technological challenges, there would have to be regulatory approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. Musk's speech comes two days after NASA announced that it had signed an agreement with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, to study exploration in the vicinity of the moon under a plan called the "Deep Space Gateway" that could, eventually, lead to a habitat near the moon. Lockheed Martin also unveiled a plan for deep space exploration Thursday, updating its "Mars Base Camp" system, a massive orbiting laboratory. Now the company says it could also build a lander capable of touching down on Mars or the moon. The company said it could launch within a decade in conjunction with NASA.

Trump adviser Jared Kushner registered to vote as a woman: Report'

MMNN:28 September 2017
Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top aide, Jared Kushner, has been registered to vote as a woman for eight years, US media reported. Voter information records held by New York show the presidential adviser — whose portfolio includes everything from seeking peace in the Middle East to reining in the opioid crisis in the United States — was registered as “female.” The screenshot, published by Wired, is not the first time the young statesman has fallen foul of bureaucracy. Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, also filled out paperwork for his White House security clearance wrongly and had to refile it repeatedly, CBS reported. Prior to 2009, Kushner’s New Jersey voter registration noted his gender as “unknown,” according to The Hill news site. Kushner, the scion of a wealthy property-owning family, is one of a number of Trump’s inner circle previously found to have been registered to vote in more than one state during last year’s election, the Washington Post has reported. Others include ex-White House press secretary Sean Spicer and ex-lead strategist Stephen Bannon. Multiple registrations were pointed to by the president as a sign of purported widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election. Trump said millions of people illegally cast votes for Hillary Clinton but has never substantiated his claim. Kushner — a person of interest in the ongoing probe into Russian interference in the US election — has also recently been accused of using private email accounts to conduct government business. Trump’s insurgent presidential campaign was galvanized by supporters’ demands that Clinton be jailed for her use of private email servers while Secretary of State.

Nepal Names 3-Year-Old As New 'Living Goddess', Ceremony Tomorrow'

MMNN:27 September 2017
KATHMANDU, NEPAL: A three-year-old girl has been named the new Kumari of Nepal's capital Kathmandu after her predecessor retired when she reached puberty, continuing an ancient tradition that sees young girls worshipped as "living goddesses". Trishna Shakya will be anointed as the new Kumari in a ceremony on Thursday, when she will be taken from her family home to live in a palace in Kathmandu's ancient Durbar Square where she will be cared for by specially appointed caretakers. She was selected from among four candidates, Uddhav Man Karmacharya, a Hindu priest who attends to the Kumari, told AFP on Tuesday. "She will take her place on the Kumari's throne after we perform prayers and tantric rituals," Karmacharya said. Once she is anointed a living goddess, Shakya -- who, like her predecessors, belongs to the Newar community indigenous to the Kathmandu valley -- will only be allowed to leave her new home 13 times a year on special feast days. She will be paraded through Kathmandu in ceremonial dress and elaborate makeup to be worshipped. When outside, the Kumari -- who is considered an embodiment of the Hindu goddess Taleju -- is carried because her feet are not allowed to touch the ground. Selection criteria for aspiring Kumaris is strict and includes a number of specific physical attributes such as an unblemished body, a chest like a lion and thighs like a deer. Even if a girl fulfils all the physical requirements, she must then prove her bravery by not crying at the sight of a sacrificed buffalo. The Newar tradition blends elements of Hinduism and Buddhism, with the most important Kumaris representing each of the three former royal kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. The practice was historically closely linked to the royal family, but has continued despite the end of Nepal's Hindu monarchy in 2008. The tradition has drawn criticism from child rights activists who say the Kumaris are denied a childhood and their isolation from society hinders their education and development. In 2008, Nepal's Supreme Court ruled the living goddesses should be educated and they are now taught inside the palace where they live and are allowed to sit their exams there. Many former Kumaris have spoken about the struggles they face reintegrating into society after they are dethroned. The outgoing Kumari, Matine Shakya, was anointed in 2008 at the age of three. But the number of girls being put forward by their families to be selected as a Kumari has dwindled in recent years.

No Indian Boots On Ground In Afghanistan,' India Tells US'

MMNN:26 September 2017
India on Tuesday ruled out deploying its troops in Afghanistan but will expand its development activities to help stabilize the war-torn country, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said during a joint press conference with visiting Pentagon chief James Mattis. "There shall not be any (Indian) boots on the ground in Afghanistan," Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters after talks with visiting US Defence Secretary Mattis in New Delhi. She said there was a growing convergence between India and the US over the issue of terrorism in the region and condemnation of those who use terror as an instrument of state policy.

Eman Ahmed, Once World's Heaviest Woman, Dies In Abu Dhabi'

MMNN:25 September 2017
World's heaviest woman Eman Ahmed, who came to India for weight-loss surgery and then flew to Abu Dhabi for further treatment amid controversy, has died at 37. Doctors said she died today of complications including heart disease and kidney dysfunction. Eman Ahmed had been in Abu Dhabi since May. Reports in the UAE media had claimed that she was seen "dancing in her bed" last month. Ms Ahmed weighed around 500 kilograms when she arrived in Mumbai in February from her hometown Alexandria in Egypt. She was treated at the city's famed Saifee hospital by a team of around 15 doctors led by renowned specialist Muffazal Lakdawala. She reportedly lost 324 kg during her weight-loss treatment at the Mumbai hospital; she was on a special liquid diet to reduce her weight enough so that doctors could perform bariatric surgery. When she left, she weighed around 176 kg. Doctors in Mumbai said she would go through physiotherapy in Abu Dhabi's VPS Burjeel. Ms Ahmed's sister had alleged that her treatment in Mumbai had been far short of satisfactory and that the family had been misled. She also claimed in a secretly filmed video that doctors at Saifee were using her sister for publicity. Doctors, however, dismissed the allegations as "complete hogwash", alleging that the woman only wanted to extend her sister's stay at the hospital. Dr Lakdawala, who supervised her treatment at the Saifee hospital, said the hospital did not charge "a single penny" from Ms Ahmed's family. "We are happy that we did bring her weight down," he had said in response to the family's charges. According to Saifee authorities, Ms Ahmed's treatment cost around Rs. 3 crore, of which around Rs. 65 lakh was donated by various people. Ms Ahmed had not stepped out of her house for more than two decades due to her weight and a stroke that left her paralysed a year ago

Trump Imposes New Sanctions On North Korea; Kim Says He Will 'Tame The Mentally Deranged US Dotard With Fire'

MMNN:22 September 2017
President Donald Trump on Thursday announced new financial sanctions targeting North Korea as his administration seeks to build international support for more aggressively confronting the rogue nation, whose escalating nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities have reached what U.S. officials consider a crisis point. The new penalties seek to leverage the dominance of the U.S. financial system by forcing nations, foreign companies and individuals to choose whether to do business with the United States or the comparatively tiny economy of North Korea. U.S. officials acknowledged that like other sanctions, these may not deter North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's drive to threaten the United States with a nuclear weapon, but is aimed at slowing him down. Kim on Thursday reacted angrily to Trump's remarks and actions this week, calling the president a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard" and Trump's earlier speech at the U.N. "unprecedented rude nonsense." Kim said that he was now thinking hard about how to respond. "I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech," Kim said in a statement released by the official Korean Central News Agency, which also published a photo of the North Korean leader sitting at his desk holding a piece of paper. "I am now thinking hard about what response he could have expected when he allowed such eccentric words to trip off his tongue. Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation," Kim said, saying that he would "tame" Trump "with fire." South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Thursday night that the North's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said in New York that his country may test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean to fulfill Kim Jong Un's vow to take the "highest-level" action against the United States. "It could be the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific," Ri said. "We have no idea about what actions could be taken as it will be ordered by leader Kim Jong Un." U.S. officials believe the North carried out its first hydrogen bomb test on Sept. 3. Trump's executive order grants the Treasury Department additional authority that Trump said would help cut off international trade and financing that Kim's dictatorship uses to support its banned weapons programs. "North Korea's nuclear program is a grave threat to peace and security in our world, and it is unacceptable that others financially support this criminal, rogue regime," Trump said in brief public remarks during a meeting with the leaders of South Korea and Japan to discuss strategy to confront Pyongyang. He added that the United States continues to seek a "complete denuclearization of North Korea." Significantly, Trump also said that Chinese President Xi Jinping had ordered Chinese banks to cease conducting business with North Korean entities. Trump praised Xi, calling the move "very bold" and "somewhat unexpected." China is North Korea's chief ally and economic lifeline. Some 90 percent of North Korean economic activity involves China, and Chinese entities are the main avenue for North Korea's very limited financial transactions in the global economy. China is also suspected of turning a blind eye to some of the smuggling and sanctions-busting operations that have allowed Pyongyang to rapidly develop sophisticated long-range missiles despite international prohibitions on parts and technology. All U.N. sanctions have to be acceptable to China, which holds veto power. China's recent willingness to punish its fellow communist state signals strong disapproval of North Korea's international provocations, but China and fellow U.N. Security Council member Russia have also opposed some of the toughest economic measures that could be applied, such as banking restrictions that would affect Chinese and other financial institutions. "We continue to call on all responsible nations to enforce and implement sanctions," Trump said. Trump's announcement came as he has sought to rally international support for confronting Pyongyang during four days of meetings here at the U.N. General Assembly. In a speech to the world body Tuesday, Trump threatened to "totally destroy" the North if necessary and referred derisively to Kim as "Rocket Man." But the president and his aides have emphasized that they are continuing to do what they can to put economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to avoid a military conflict. "We don't want war," U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told reporters. "At the same time, we're not going to run scared. If for any reason North Korea attacks the United States or our allies, we're going to respond." The new executive order signals the U.S. willingness to take a more aggressive approach to cutting off world trade with North Korea, even if other countries such as China aren't willing partners in sanctions, because it would allow the United States to economically punish businesses anywhere in the world. The executive order "opens the door for the U.S. to unilaterally enforce a trade embargo against North Korea," said Joseph DeThomas, a former State Department official who focused on North Korea and Iran and is now a professor of international affairs at Pennsylvania State University. "It gives us the power to play that game if we wish to." In the past, Chinese officials have objected to suggestions that the United States could punish foreign companies trading with North Korea, but there are signs that China and the United States are becoming more agreeable on North Korea. "The positive comments about China when [Trump] made the announcement indicates that there's some good cooperation rather than confrontation," DeThomas said. DeThomas warned, however, that even if sanctions are adopted and enforced, the way ahead will be difficult, because North Korea may feel it has little choice, given the president's bellicosity at the United Nations, but to proceed with its weapons program despite the pain of an embargo. If we stick with sanctions, it's going to be a long ugly haul with lots of humanitarian costs," DeThomas said. A White House fact sheet said that under the executive order, airplanes or ships that have visited North Korea will be banned for 180 days from visiting the United States, a move to crack down on illicit trade. "This significantly expands Treasury's authority to target those who enable this regime . . . wherever they are located," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. U.S. officials say there is still time and room for diplomacy if North Korea shows that talking could be productive. Other countries, including China and Russia, are pressing Washington to make a greater effort toward talks and an eventual bargain that could buy Kim out of his weapons without toppling his regime. The shape of a possible deal has been evident for years, but Kim has raised the stakes, and perhaps the price, with his rapid development toward the capability to launch a nuclear-equipped intercontinental ballistic missile at U.S. territory. Asked why North Korea might entertain such an international deal when Trump appears poised to undermine a similar one with Iran, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said a North Korea deal would be designed very differently. "While the threat is the same - it's nuclear weapons - the issues surrounding North Korea are very different than the issues surrounding Iran," Tillerson said Wednesday. "Iran is a large nation, 60 million people; North Korea is a smaller nation, the hermit kingdom, living in isolation. Very different set of circumstances that would be the context and also the contours of an agreement with North Korea, many aspects of which don't apply between the two." In recent weeks, the Security Council has approved two rounds of economic sanctions but also left room for further penalties. For example, the sanctions put limits on the nation's oil imports but did not impose a full embargo, as the United States has suggested it supports. The Trump administration has signaled it also wants a full ban on the practice of sending North Korean workers abroad for payments that largely go to the government in Pyongyang. "We are witnessing a very dangerous confrontation spiral," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a speech to the United Nations, filling in for President Vladimir Putin, who skipped the forum. "We resolutely condemn the nuclear missile adventures of Pyongyang in violation of Security Council resolutions. But military hysteria is not just an impasse; it's disaster . . . There is no alternative to political and diplomatic ways of settling the nuclear situation on the Korean Peninsula." Mnuchin emphasized that "this action is in no way specifically directed at China," and he said he called Chinese officials to inform them ahead of the U.S. announcement. Mnuchin also said the unilateral U.S. action is not a rejection of separate Security Council sanctions and the international diplomacy they require. Similar to unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran applied during the Obama administration, the new U.S. restrictions seek to leverage the power of the U.S. financial system. "Foreign financial institutions are now on notice that, going forward, they can choose to do business with the United States or with North Korea, but not both," Mnuchin said. Sitting down with South Korean President Moon Jae-in before the trilateral discussion with Japan, Trump said the nations are "making a lot of progress." Moon praised Trump's speech to the United Nations, saying through a translator that "North Korea has continued to make provocations and this is extremely deplorable and this has angered both me and our people, but the U.S. has responded firmly and in a very good way." The Security Council had also applied tough new export penalties in August, and Tillerson said Wednesday that there are signs those restrictions are having an economic effect. "We have some indications that there are beginning to appear evidence of fuel shortages," Tillerson said in a briefing for reporters. "And look, we knew that these sanctions were going to take some time to be felt because we knew the North Koreans . . . had basically stockpiled a lot of inventory early in the year when they saw the new administration coming in, in anticipation of things perhaps changing. So I think what we're seeing is a combined effect of these inventories are now being exhausted and the supply coming in has been reduced." There is no sign, however, that economic penalties are having any effect on the behavior of the Kim regime and its calculation that nuclear tests and other provocations will ensure its protection or raise the price of any eventual settlement with the United States and other nations. Trump said the United States had been working on the North Korea problem for 25 years, but he asserted that previous administrations had "done nothing, which is why we are in the problem we are in today."

Scrapped Malaysian Beer Festival Faced Threat From Militants, Say Police

MMNN:21 September 2017
KUALA LUMPUR: Unidentified militants planned to sabotage an annual beer festival cancelled this week by authorities in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur who cited "political sensitivities" for the move, police said today. On Monday, the authorities scrapped the two-day event, now in its sixth year, after an Islamist party objected on the grounds that it could lead to criminal acts, rape and free sex. Around 6,000 people had been expected to attend the "Better Beer Festival", showcasing craft beers from at least 11 countries, according to posts on social media site Facebook by the organisers and domestic news reports. Protests against events considered "Western" and unIslamic are common in Muslim-majority Malaysia, and are usually led by the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and conservative Islamist NGOs. "There was information that exposed plans by militants who would carry out sabotage on the festival, because it is deemed as something that goes against their struggles," said Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun. "To avoid any incident beyond our control, the police had to be proactive, by objecting to the organising of the festival," he added in a brief statement, without naming any suspected groups. Since 2013, Malaysia has detained more than 300 people with suspected links to ISIS in its crackdown on militancy. The police have arrested seven Philippine men on suspicion of involvement in the activities of the Abu Sayyaf group, which has pledged loyalty to ISIS.

Rahul attacks Modi govt on sluggish job creation, says GST implementation leaves much to be desired

MMNN:20 September 2017
Expressing concern over the sluggish job creation under the NDA government, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi today warned that the government’s refusal to acknowledge unemployment as an issue would cause the people’s anger to spill over into non-democratic and more conflictual channels of grievance redressal. Addressing students at the Woodrow Wilson School Centre for Security Studies At Princeton University, Mr Gandhi, while praising adoption of GST by the government, said its implementation left much to be desired. Addressing the students, Mr Gandhi charged BJP government with polarising society and instigating identity conflict in order to blame unemployment on minorities, tribals and socially and economically backward communities. Mr Gandhi said reversing job destruction was a key focus of the Congress Party as he saw underemployment as a force multiplier of insecurity and social evils like substance abuse. He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi ‘s New India’s economic track record was alienating 29,550 young jobseekers everyday who were unable to find their niche in the job market due to sluggish job creation. Mr Gandhi also focussed on attention to the conflicts arising from the mismatch between skills held by economic migrants and those required by the job market, which he said alienated youth relocating to urban environments from traditionally closely knit and embedded rural communities. He said that only after people have jobs, can they be conscripted into the next ground-breaking national vision. In his address to the students, Mr Gandhi drove home the importance of employment as an all-encompassing means to empower, enfranchise and involve Indians in the nation building process. While praising the Modi government’s adoption of the GST and the intention of ‘Make In India’ to capture a larger share for India in world trade, Mr Gandhi, however, said that their implementation leaves much to be desired as it does not mainstream the needs of India’s Medium and Small Enterprises, which the Congress vice president saw as the engine of employment and innovation in India. Mr Gandhi urged the government to pick up the pace on furthering gender equality and to be mindful of its big corporate-centric approach widening inequality and paralysing job creation.

No Fear Of 'International Scrutiny' Over Rohingya Crisis: Aung San Suu Kyi.

MMNN:19 September 2017
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi today reached out to the global community in a broad appeal for support over a refugee crisis the UN has decried as "ethnic cleansing", urging outsiders to help her nation unite across religious and ethnic lines and offering a pathway back to the country for some of the Rohingya Muslims forced to flee by army operations. Communal violence has torn through Rakhine state since August 25, leaving hundreds dead and driving more than 410,000 of the Rohingya minority from Myanmar into Bangladesh. Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, has been decried for failing to speak up publicly for the stateless Rohingya or urge restraint from the military. But in 30-minute televised speech Tuesday she reached out to her critics, deploying the soaring rhetoric that once made her a darling of the global rights community. "Hate and fear are the main scourges of our world," she said. We don't want Myanmar to be a nation divided by religious beliefs or ethnicity... we all have the right to our diverse identities." While expressing her sorrow for "all" groups displaced by violence, she said her country stood ready "at any time" to take back refugees subject to a "verification" process. It was not immediately clear how many of the estimated 410,000 Rohingya who have fled Myanmar would qualify to return. But the subject of their claims to live Myanmar is at the heart of a toxic debate about the Muslim group. Myanmar's army has previously it will not take back people linked with "terrorists" -- suggesting many came from the hundreds of Rohingya villages that have subsequently been burnt to the ground. Inside Myanmar, supporters say the 72-year-old lacks the power to rein in the army, with whom she is in a delicate power-sharing arrangement. The UN has accused Myanmar's army of "ethnic cleansing" over a campaign of alleged murder and arson that has left scores of Rohingya villages in ashes. The army denies that, insisting its operations are a proportional response to the late August raids by Rohingya militants, who they label "extremist Bengali terrorists Since then just under half of Rakhine's Rohingya population has poured into Bangladesh, where they now languish in one of the world's largest refugee camps. A further 30,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have also been displaced -- apparent targets of the August 25 attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militant group. Suu Kyi skipped this week's UN General Assembly in New York to manage the crisis at home and deliver her televised address -- the biggest yet of her time in office. Siege mentality Analysts say Suu Kyi must walk a treacherous line between global opinion and Islamophobic anti-Rohingya views at home, where the military has curdled hatred for the Muslim minority. While stories of weary and hungry Rohingya civilians streaming into Bangladesh have dominated global headlines, there is little sympathy for the Muslim group among Myanmar's Buddhist majority. Many reject the existence of a Rohingya ethnicity and insist they are "Bengalis" -- illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. That narrative has justified the denial of citizenship for the estimated one million Rohingya who lived in Rakhine before the recent crisis. Loathing for the Rohingya has brought the public, including prominent pro-democracy activists, into an unlikely alignment with an army that once had them under its heel. A siege mentality has emerged in Myanmar with the UN, international NGOs and foreign media the focus of ire for apparent pro-Rohingya bias. Many Facebook users changed their profile picture on Tuesday to carry a banner with a photo of 'The Lady' and saying "We stand with you Daw Aung San Suu Kyi" -- using an honorific. Tensions over the status of the Rohingya have been brewing for years in Myanmar, with bouts of anti-Muslim violence erupting around the country as Buddhist hardliners fan fears of an Islamic takeover. Although the military stepped down from outright junta rule in 2011, it kept control of security policy and key levers of government. Any overt break from the army's policy in Rakhine could enrage the generals and derail Suu Kyi's efforts to prevent a rollback on recent democratic gains. Observers say the military may be deliberately destabilising her government with one eye on 2020 elections. Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has emerged during the crisis as an unexpectedly popular figure, pitching himself as a defender Myanmar's territorial integrity and the Buddhist faith.

Pakistan Prepares Tough Diplomatic Policy For US After Donald Trump's Warning: Report.

MMNN:18 September 2017
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is ready with a tough diplomatic policy if the US imposes any sanctions on it or lowers Islamabad's major non-NATO ally status over failure to crack down on terrorists, according to a media report. Pakistan's new strategy comes after US President Donald Trump, while unveiling his new policy for South Asia and Afghanistan, criticised Pakistan for providing safe havens to terrorists. A day after Trump's announcement, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that US could downgrade Islamabad's status as a major non-NATO ally if it does not crack down on terrorists. The Express Tribune reported that the Pakistan government has prepared a three-option 'toughest diplomatic policy'. According to official sources, the policy includes gradually limiting diplomatic relations with the US, reducing mutual cooperation on terrorism-related issues and non- cooperation in US strategy for Afghanistan. "The last option may include a ban on using Pakistani land for NATO supplies to Afghanistan," according to the newspaper. However, the policy will be implemented after the approval of the National Security Committee. Meanwhile, the US and Pakistan are expected to sort out their differences during the meetings between their leaders on the sidelines of UN General Assembly session starting tomorrow. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is expected to meet US Vice President Mike Pence while the foreign ministers of the two countries are also expected to meet.

Amnesty says Myanmar military torching Rohingya villages.

MMNN:15 September 2017
Pressure on Myanmar soared as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the violence against Rohingya Muslims “unacceptable” and rights group Amnesty said on Friday it has evidence of the military’s “systematic” torching of villages. The increasingly harsh global condemnation comes as the number of Rohingya who have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state for Bangladesh to escape ethnic unrest hit 389,000, and the United Nations warned of a looming “worst case scenario” with all of the Muslim minority group trying to leave. The number of refugees was up 10,000 in just 24 hours, as the three-week old crisis deepens. “We need to support Aung San Suu Kyi and her leadership but also be very clear and unequivocal to the military power sharing in that government that this is unacceptable,” Tillerson said Thursday of Myanmar’s first civilian leader in decades. “This violence must stop. This persecution must stop. It has been characterised by many as ethnic cleansing. That must stop,” he said during a visit to London, speaking alongside British counterpart Boris Johnson. Johnson also called on Myanmar’s de facto leader to use her “moral capital” to highlight the plight of the Rohingyas. Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate and long-time human rights champion, has been condemned for a lack of moral leadership and compassion in resolving the crisis She has no control over the powerful military, which ran the country for 50 years. UN chief Antonio Guterres on Wednesday said the mass displacement of Rohingya amounted to ethnic cleansing. Amnesty International released fresh satellite images Friday of burned villages in Rakhine state, alleging Myanmar’s security forces have led “systematic” clearances of Rohingya Muslim settlements over the last three weeks. At least 26 villages had been hit by arson attacks in the Rohingya-majority region, the rights group said, with patches of grey ash picked up in photos marking the spots where homes had once stood. Backing up the pictures, Amnesty said fire sensors also deployed on satellites had detected 80 large-scale blazes across northern Rakhine state since August 25, when the army launched “clearance operations”. “Rakhine state is on fire,” said Olof Blomqvist, a researcher with Amnesty International, in a “clear campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar security forces”. The group quoted Rohingya witnesses who described security officers and vigilantes using petrol or shoulder-fired rocket launchers to set homes alight, before firing on villagers as they fled. “It’s very difficult to conclude that it is anything other than a deliberate effort by the Myanmar military to drive Rohingya out of their own country by any means necessary,” Blomqvist added.
- ‘Worst case scenario’ -
Relief workers are struggling to contain the humanitarian disaster unfolding around the Bangladesh border town of Cox’s Bazar with 10,000-20,000 people crossing over each day -- far more than the UN and other agencies had expected. “We have to estimate the worst case scenario” where all Rohingya flee Rakhine, said Mohammed Abdiker Mohamud, a director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN’s migration agency. “We cannot just put our heads in sand (and) say that everything will be OK,” he added. “Unless a political solution is found there is a possibility that the entire Rohingya community may come to Bangladesh.” There were previously an estimated 1.1 million Rohingya in Rakhine state, who have endured decades of persecution in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar. At least 300,000 had fled to Bangladesh before the latest crackdown started on August 25, following attacks by Rohingya militants on police targets. The exodus since has taken the overall figure of those who have quit Myanmar to at least 700,000. Even before arriving to safety in Bangladesh, refugees who have trekked through jungles for days to reach the border are being targeted by profiteering boat operators who have hiked prices 200 times to cross the river separating Myanmar and Bangladesh. An AFP correspondent at the Naf river said boat owners were charging refugees up to $100 for a 10-30 minute trip that would normally cost less than 50 cents. “The boatmen threatened to throw us into the sea if we refused to give them our valuables,” said Nadera Banu, 19, who got married only last year but is already a widow. “I gave up the final memento of my husband, a gold locket given on my wedding day, to escape.” Bangladeshi magistrates operating mobile courts in Cox’s Bazar and nearby districts have now started sentencing boat owners and local villagers to terms of up to six months in prison, officials said Thursday. Once in Bangladesh, refugees -- with UNICEF saying 60 percent of new arrivals are children -- are faced with desperate conditions in already overstretched camps around Cox’s Bazar. UN agencies have warned the country is struggling to cope. “There are acute shortages of everything, most critically shelter, food and clean water,” UNICEF’s representative in Bangladesh Edouard Beigbeder said in a statement. “Conditions on the ground place children at risk of high risk of water-borne disease. We have a monumental task ahead of us to protect these extremely vulnerable children.”

ISIS Is Near Defeat In Iraq. Now Comes The Hard Part.

MMNN:14 September 2017
MOSUL, REUTERS: The collapse of the Islamic State in its most important Iraqi strongholds has brought a rare moment of hope for a country mired in war for most of the past four decades. It is also a moment of peril, as Iraq emerges from the fight against the militants only to be confronted with the same problems that fueled their spectacular rise in 2014. Old disputes between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds over territory, resources and power already are resurfacing as the victors of the battles compete to control liberated areas or jostle for political advantage in the post-Islamic State landscape. These rivalries now are compounded by the mammoth task of rebuilding the towns and cities destroyed by the fighting, returning millions of displaced people to their homes and reconciling the communities that once welcomed the Islamic State's brutal rule as preferable to their own government's neglect and abuse. A failure to manage the post-conflict situation risks a repeat of the cycle of grievance and insurgency that fueled the original Iraqi insurgency in 2003, and its reincarnation in the form of the Islamic State after 2011, Iraqis and other observers say. But it is a vast and potentially insurmountable challenge, laid bare in the traumatized communities of Mosul. In the relatively unscathed eastern part of the city, life has bounced back. Traffic clogs the streets, music blares from markets and stores are piled high with consumer goods, such as cellphones, air conditioners and satellite dishes, that were banned or hard to find under Islamic State rule. In the ravaged west, which bore the brunt of the fighting, entire neighborhoods have been leveled beyond repair. In the Old City alone, 230,000 people have been left without habitation, and "they are not going home soon; the whole district has to be rebuilt," said Lise Grande, the deputy special representative of the United Nations mission in Iraq. So far, there is no sign of any reconstruction effort on the scale that will be required, said Hoshyar Zebari, a former Iraqi former foreign minister who is from Mosul and now works as an adviser with the Kurdish regional government. "All the writing is on the wall that there will be another ISIS," he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. "The scale of frustration. The lack of hope. The lack of government stepping in. What can you expect?" Meanwhile, distractions loom as Iraq's attention shifts to the long-standing political rivalries that were put on hold by the imperative of confronting the Islamic State. The Kurdish region is pressing ahead with a referendum on independence - over the strenuous objections of Iran, Turkey and the United States - that has the potential to ignite a new war before the present one is over. The vote is reopening the contentious question of where the borders of the Kurdistan region lie, and tensions are rising in areas where the Kurdish peshmerga forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias have been brought face-to-face by the war against the Islamic State. Rifts are emerging within Iraq's governing Shiite majority, which rallied behind the country's security forces and militias - known as al-Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces - for the sake of fighting ISIS. There are sharp divergences, however, over the future identity of their country, over whether it should tilt further toward Iran or maintain an alliance with the United States, and over how far to go to reconcile minority Sunnis with the Shiites. These issues are expected to come to the fore in elections due in the spring of 2018 that could become a focus for conflict as the political parties behind the powerful Iranian-backed militias that played a big role in the fighting seek to capitalize on their victories on the battlefield by winning a bigger share in parliament. The country's Sunnis are in disarray, scattered among refugee camps or returning to wrecked homes in towns and cities that have been laid waste. Some 2 million of the 5 million people displaced by the fighting over the past three years have returned home. But 3.2 million still live as refugees, mainly in dismal camps, according to the United Nations. Many have no homes to which they can return, and others fear retribution from neighbors or the security forces, Grande said. In Mosul, there is relief that the militants have gone but also trepidation about what the future holds. Multiple militias roam the streets, loyal to a variety of political masters, government ministers, tribal leaders and members of parliament. The government security forces are spread thin, and some have been withdrawn and deployed elsewhere for the other battles still to be fought before the final territorial defeat of the militants. Some of the armed men in Mosul are local Sunnis, trained as part of a U.S.-promoted initiative to include locals in the city's future security arrangements. Others are members of the Iranian-backed Shiite militias that were kept out of the battle for fear they would inflame sectarian tensions, but which have moved in to set up offices and recruit local allies. The militias are needed because there are not enough police and other security-forces personnel to keep the city safe, said Mohammed al-Sayyab, a businessman originally from the majority-Shiite city of Basra who heads a small Sunni fighting force controlled by the minister of education. "We cannot say it is 100 percent safe. It is 70 percent safe," he said. "There are still ISIS sleeper cells. We are working to clear them, but we are up against a very clever enemy." Few think the Islamic State has gone away. Everyone, it seems, has a story about someone they know who was with the Islamic State and has reappeared in their neighborhoods, sometimes after being detained and released. Corruption within the security forces and judiciary contributes to the perception that Islamic State fighters have bought their way out of prison. Omran Mohammed Bashir, 32, who runs a laundry in eastern Mosul, ticked off on his fingers the formerIslamic State members he has seen around his area and elsewhere in the city. Among them are a relative who has not been detained, even though her father reported her to the security services, and a man who commanded the fighters in Bashir's neighborhood; Bashir ran into the man while visiting a different part of Mosul. "I don't think there will be any support for another insurgency. The people of Mosul have learned a lesson," he said. "But it's unpredictable what will happen, especially if the situation continues like this, with no reconstruction and corruption inside the government." But Iraq has no budget for reconstruction, government officials say. Years of declining oil prices and the financial demands of the war against the Islamic State have left the country bankrupt, forced last year to take a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. The absence of a discernible reconstruction plan in turn fuels perceptions among Sunnis that the Shiite-led government is neglecting them, said Hassan Alaf, the deputy governor of Nineveh, the province in which Mosul lies. "It seems some of the politicians are not keen to bring life back to Mosul," he said. "We still suffer from sectarian conflict and its implications are reflected in the reconstruction." It will be left to the international community to come up with the money to repair the damage, much of it caused by the relentless airstrikes and artillery bombardments conducted under the auspices of the U.S.-led coalition formed to fight the Islamic State, according to Grande, the U.N. representative. The United Nations is planning a fundraising conference in Kuwait this month at which it will seek up to $100 billion in donations for Iraqi reconstruction. But the countries that so enthusiastically prosecuted the war are proving less willing to pay to fix the resulting damage, U.N. and aid agency officials say. The U.S. military has spent $14.3 billion on fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria over the past three years, according to Pentagon figures, but just 10 percent of that - or $1.4 billion - on repairs. The State Department has asked for $300 million to fund basic repairs such as fixing electricity and water systems in 2018, but the United States does not plan to contribute to the reconstruction effort. The military coalition led by the United States against the Islamic State "is not in the business of nation-building or reconstruction," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said earlier this year. One glimmer of hope lies in a recent rapprochement between the Iraqi government and Saudi Arabia, which have been icily estranged since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion brought a Shiite-dominated government to power in Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has visited the kingdom, and so has the Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has broken ranks with Iran's Shiite allies in Iraq to champion calls for reconciliation with Sunnis. U.S. and U.N. officials are hoping that the wealthy Arab states of the Persian Gulf will offer to provide much of the funding. But they are embroiled in their own conflicts, disputes and budget shortfalls, and may not have the will or inclination to come up with the many billions of dollars required.

North Korea Vows To Boost Weapons Programmes After Sanctions

MMNN:13 September 2017
SEOUL: North Korea vowed Wednesday to accelerate its weapons programmes in response to "evil" sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council following its latest and most powerful nuclear test. The respected 38 North website in the US raised its estimate for the yield from the explosion, which Pyongyang says was a hydrogen bomb small enough to fit onto a missile, to around 250 kilotons -- more than 16 times the size of the device that devastated Hiroshima in 1945. The detonation, Pyongyang's sixth nuclear blast, prompted global condemnation and came after it carried out two intercontinental ballistic missile launches in July that appeared to bring much of the US into range. The UN Security Council unanimously imposed an eighth set of sanctions on North Korea on Monday, banning it from trading in textiles and restricting its oil imports, which US President Donald Trump said was a prelude to stronger measures. The resolution, passed after Washington toned down its original proposals to secure backing from China and Russia, came just one month after the council banned exports of coal, lead and seafood in response to the ICBM launch. The North's foreign ministry condemned the new measures "in the strongest terms", calling them a "full-scale economic blockade" driven by the US and aimed at "suffocating" its state and people. It was "another illegal and evil 'resolution on sanctions' piloted by the US", it said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency. "The DPRK will redouble the efforts to increase its strength to safeguard the country's sovereignty and right to existence," the ministry said, using the abbreviation for the North's official name. But the South's unification ministry described the statement as "the most low-key form of response from North Korea to UN Security Council resolutions". Seoul conducted its first live-fire exercise of its new long-range Taurus missile in response to the nuclear test, its Air Force said. The German air-to-surface weapon was capable of precision strikes on key North Korean facilities even if launched from the central part of the South, it added. The US and its allies argue that tougher sanctions will pile pressure on North Korea to negotiate an end to its weapons programmes but experts are sceptical. US President Donald Trump said the latest measures were a "very small step - not a big deal" that must lead to tougher measures. "Those sanctions are nothing compared to ultimately what will happen," Trump said, but added that it was "nice to get a 15 to nothing vote".
- Radioactive gas -
The North says it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself from "hostile" US forces and analysts believe Pyongyang's weapons programme has made rapid progress under leader Kim Jong-Un, with previous sanctions having done little to deter it. Government estimates of the yield from its sixth nuclear test vary from South Korea's 50 kilotons to Japan's 160, but 38 North, which is linked to Johns Hopkins University in the US, raised its estimate to "roughly 250 kilotons", in line with upward revisions for the magnitude of the resulting tremor. South Korea's Nuclear Safety and Security Commission said Wednesday it had collected a small amount of xenon-133 -- a radioactive isotope of the inert gas that does not occur naturally -- that was "linked to the latest nuclear test". But the commission said in a statement it was "unable to confirm what type of nuclear test was conducted". Washington had initially sought a full oil embargo and a freeze on the foreign assets of leader Kim Jong-Un in response to the blast, but dropped them following strong opposition from China and Russia. The new resolution instead bans trade in textiles, cuts off natural gas shipments to North Korea, places a ceiling of 2 million barrels a year on deliveries of refined oil products and caps crude oil shipments at current levels. Retail petrol prices in the North jumped earlier this year, with some analysts suggesting the authorities were stockpiling in the expectation of a ban. According to the US mission to the United Nations, the North imports around 8.5 million barrels a year of oil and oil products, 4 million as crude and 4.5 million in refined form -- which includes substances such as petrol and diesel. It added that the North's textile exports averaged $760 million a year. The UN resolution also barred countries from issuing new authorisations to North Korean workers sent abroad. There are almost 100,000 of them, according to the US mission, earning more than $500 million a year for the regime. Under the measure, joint ventures with North Korean entities are prohibited, while governments are authorised to inspect ships suspected of carrying banned cargo from the country, but must first seek the consent of the vessels' flag state.

Chinese Banks Halt Transactions For North Koreans

MMNN:12 September 2017
BEIJING: Branches of China's biggest banks have suspended financial transactions for North Koreans, employees told AFP, suggesting that Beijing has pursued stronger measures against its nuclear-armed ally than previously thought. Staff at branches in Beijing and the border city of Yanji -- a major trade and transportation hub between the two neighbours -- said their banks have banned North Koreans from opening new accounts and some have even started to close existing ones. The restrictions were imposed well before the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved, with China's blessing, new sanctions on Pyongyang on Monday following its latest and largest nuclear test. Employees at several branches of the country's "big four" -- Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China and China Construction Bank -- confirmed the financial curbs for North Korean clients. "We have frozen their accounts, which means they cannot withdraw (money)," a staff member at a Yanji branch of China Construction Bank told AFP. "They cannot use (their accounts) in Yanji anymore, as well as our services... We have already started to inform them to cancel their account. If they can cancel, we let them cancel. If they cannot, we will not let them use it," the staffer said. An employee at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Yanji said the restrictions began last year or the previous year. "We also won't open new accounts now. We offer no service to them. Opening accounts or foreign currency operations, we don't offer such services to them," the employee said. Other local bank branches said the bans have been carried out for a while, but they did not remember exactly when. Some said they have received a written document on the ban but others said there has only been a "verbally delivered" message. A staff member at a Beijing branch of China Construction Bank said they received a notice in May, and North Koreans can no longer conduct transactions. An Agricultural Bank of China employee in Beijing said North Koreans are barred from opening new accounts but those with current accounts can carry out transactions.
Cut off nuclear funds
Zhang Liangui, a professor at the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee school, said the ban is "very normal" and in accordance with UN resolutions. "Chinese banks restricting financial flows between (China and) North Korea is actually restricting trade on the whole," Zhang said. "It mainly aims at limiting North Korea's foreign exchange revenue and cutting off the foreign exchange (supply) that it needs to develop its nuclear plans." A 2013 UN Security Council resolution stipulates that member states must curb financial services or transactions that could subsidise North Korea's nuclear programmes. China has long been accused of lax enforcement of UN sanctions on North Korea, and US President Donald Trump complained earlier this year that trade between the two countries surged in the first quarter. In June, the United States slapped sanctions on the Bank of Dandong, a Chinese bank located at the border with North Korea which it accused of "facilitating millions of dollars of transactions for companies involved in North Korea's WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and ballistic missile programs." But China has insisted that it adheres to the UN sanctions. It suspended North Korean coal imports in February and more recently banned new business ventures and stopped buying iron, seafood and lead from its neighbour. China also backed Monday's UN resolution, which bans textile exports and restricts shipments of oil products, though it did so only after Washington toned down its original proposal to secure the backing of Beijing and Moscow.

Bad News Is This Is Some Big Monster': Donald Trump On Hurricane Irma

MMNN:11 September 2017
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump called Hurricane Irma "some big monster" as it battered the Florida coast, saying he wanted to go to the state very soon and praising emergency officials for their efforts to protect people. "The bad news is that this is some big monster," Trump told reporters at the White House, saying damage from the storm would be very costly. "Right now, we are worried about lives, not cost," Trump said after returning from Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland where he monitored the storm and met with his Cabinet. The path of the storm, tracking the west coast of Florida, meant it might be less destructive than it would otherwise have been, Trump said, noting the next five or six hours would be critical. "I hope there aren't too many people in the path," he said. "You don't want to be in that path." The U.S. House of Representatives canceled votes scheduled for Monday because of the hurricane. Trump said the U.S. Coast Guard had been heroic and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was doing a good job to help coordinate the response with states. He added, however: "I think the hard part is now beginning." Trump has offered the full resources of the federal government to Florida and the affected states, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters during a visit to FEMA's Washington headquarters on Sunday. "Wherever Hurricane Irma goes, we'll be there first," Pence said. "We'll be there with resources and support, both to save lives and to help to recover and rebuild these states and these communities." On Sunday, Trump also issued a disaster declaration for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, and expanded federal funds available to the U.S. Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Irma, the White House said. Trump owns a resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where he has often traveled during his presidency, as well as three golf courses in the state. He told reporters he hoped to travel to the state soon. "We're going to Florida very soon," Trump said.

Death toll in Mexico earthquake rises to 61 as search for victims continues

MMNN:9 September 2017
The quake that hit minutes before midnight onThursday was strong enough to cause buildings to sway violently in the capital city more than 1,000 kilometers away. One of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in Mexico struck off the country’s southern coast, toppling hundreds of buildings and sending panicked people fleeing into the streets in the middle of the night. At least 61 people were reported dead. The quake that hit minutes before midnight on Thursday was strong enough to cause buildings to sway violently in the capital city more than 650 miles (1,000 kilometers) away. As beds banged against walls, people still wearing pajamas ran out of their homes and gathered in frightened groups. Rodrigo Soberanes, who lives near San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, the state nearest the epicenter, said his house “moved like chewing gum.” The furious shaking created a second national emergency for Mexican agencies already bracing for Hurricane Katia on the other side of the country. Intense rains were reported in the Gulf state of Veracruz, where the storm was expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday as a Category 2 storm that could bring life-threatening floods. President Enrique Pena Nieto said Friday evening in a televised address that 61 people were killed — 45 in Oaxaca state, 12 in Chiapas and 4 in Tabasco — and he declared three days of national mourning. The worst-hit city was Juchitan, on the narrow waist of Oaxaca known as the Isthmus, where 36 quake victims died. About half of Juchitan’s city hall collapsed in a pile of rubble and streets were littered with the debris of ruined houses. A hospital also collapsed, Pena Nieto said after touring the city and meeting with residents. The patients were relocated to other facilities. The president said authorities were working to re-establish the supply of water and food and provide medical attention to those who need it. He vowed the government would help people rebuild and called for people to come together. “The power of this earthquake was devastating, but we are certain that the power of unity, the power of solidarity and the power of shared responsibility will be greater,” Pena Nieto said. Mexico City escaped major damage, but the quake terrified sleeping residents, many of whom still remember the catastrophic 1985 earthquake that killed thousands and devastated large parts of the city. Families were jerked awake by the grating howl of the capital’s seismic alarm. Some shouted as they dashed out of rocking apartment buildings. Even the iconic Angel of Independence Monument swayed as the quake’s waves rolled through the city’s soft soil. Part of a bridge on a highway being built to the site of Mexico City’s planned new international airport collapsed due to the earthquake, local media reported. Elsewhere, the extent of destruction was still emerging. Hundreds of buildings collapsed or were damaged, power was cut at least briefly to more than 1.8 million people and authorities closed schools Friday in at least 11 states to check them for safety. The Interior Department reported that 428 homes were destroyed and 1,700 were damaged in various cities and towns in Chiapas. “Homes made of clay tiles and wood collapsed,” said Nataniel Hernandez, a human rights worker living in Tonala, Chiapas, who warned that inclement weather threatened to bring more down. “Right now it is raining very hard in Tonala, and with the rains it gets much more complicated because the homes were left very weak, with cracks,” Hernandez said by phone. The earthquake’s impact was blunted somewhat by the fact that it was centered 100 miles offshore. It hit off Chiapas’ Pacific coast, near the Guatemalan border, with a magnitude of 8.1 — equal to Mexico’s strongest quake of the past century. It was slightly stronger than the 1985 quake, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The epicenter was in a seismic hotspot in the Pacific where one tectonic plate dives under another. These subduction zones are responsible for producing some of the biggest quakes in history, including the 2011 Fukushima disaster and the 2004 Sumatra quake that spawned a deadly tsunami. The quake struck at 11:49 p.m. Thursday (12:49 a.m. EDT; 4:49 a.m. GMT Friday). Its epicenter was 102 miles (165 kilometers) west of Tapachula in Chiapas, with a depth of 43.3 miles (69.7 kilometers), the USGS said. Dozens of strong aftershocks rattled the region in the following hours. Three people were killed in San Cristobal, including two women who died when a house and a wall collapsed, Chiapas Gov. Manuel Velasco said. “There is damage to hospitals that have lost energy,” he said. “Homes, schools and hospitals have been damaged.” In Tabasco, one child died when a wall collapsed, and an infant died in a children’s hospital when the facility lost electricity, cutting off the ventilator, Gov. Arturo Nunez said. The quake triggered tsunami warnings and some tall waves, but there was no major damage from the sea. Authorities briefly evacuated a few residents of coastal Tonala and Puerto Madero because of the warning. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported waves of 3.3 feet (1 meter) above the tide level off Salina Cruz, Mexico. Smaller tsunami waves were observed on the coast or measured by ocean gauges elsewhere. In neighboring Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales appeared on national television to call for calm while emergency crews surveyed damage. Officials later said only four people had been injured and several dozen homes damaged. The quake occurred near the point of collision between three tectonic plates, the Cocos, the Caribbean and the North American. The area has seen at least six other quakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater since 1900. Three of those occurred within a nerve-wracking nine-month span in 1902-1903, according to Mexico’s National Seismological Service. Scientists were still reviewing data, but a preliminary analysis indicated the quake was triggered by the sudden breaking or bending of the Cocos plate, which dives beneath Mexico. That type of process does not happen often in subduction zones. Usually, big quakes in subduction zones occur along the boundary between the sinking slab and the overriding crust. “It’s unusual, but it’s not unheard of,” said seismologist Susan Hough of the USGS, describing how stresses on the seafloor can produce big earthquakes. The new quake matched the force of a magnitude 8.1 quake that hit the country June 3, 1932, roughly 300 miles (500 kilometers) west of Mexico City. A study by the seismological service concluded that that quake killed about 400 people and caused severe damage around the port of Manzanillo. A powerful aftershock that hit 19 days later caused a tsunami that devastated 15 miles (25 kilometers) of coastline, killing 75 people. In Veracruz, tourists abandoned coastal hotels as winds and rains picked up ahead of Hurricane Katia’s expected landfall. Workers set up emergency shelters and cleared storm drains, and forecasters warned that the storm threatened to bring torrential rainfall, high winds and a dangerous storm surge off the Gulf of Mexico. Katia had maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. “The arrival of (hashtag)Katia may be particularly dangerous for slopes affected by the earthquake. Avoid these areas,” Pena Nieto tweeted.

US Asks Pak Bank To Pay $225-Million Fine Over Money Laundering Concerns

MMNN:8 September 2017
WASHINGTON: The New York State Department of Financial Services on Thursday said Pakistan's Habib Bank had agreed to pay $225 million to settle an enforcement action brought against it for infringing laws designed to combat illicit money transfers. The DFS said in a legal filing last month it was seeking to fine the bank, Pakistan's biggest lender, up to $630 million for "grave" compliance failures over anti-money laundering and sanctions rules at its only US branch. The regulator said the bank, known as HBL, agreed to pay just over a third of that sum as part of a broader settlement in which it will shutter its New York branch, subject to conditions. These include submitting to a DFS investigation of transactions processed by the branch from October 2013 to the end of September 2014, and from April 2015 through the end of July 2017. In a statement HBL said it "remains committed to strengthening its compliance processes, operations and controls" across its 1,700 branches. Shares of HBL surged 5 percent, to 160.58 rupees per share, amid investor relief that the fine was not larger than $225 million. Thursday's announced settlement does not preclude further future enforcement action if the DFS investigation reveals further problems. The enforcement action followed a 2016 review in which the regulator said it found "weaknesses in the bank's risk management and compliance" that management had failed to tackle. The review showed HBL had failed to properly screen thousands of transactions and had processed payments for known criminals and sanctioned entities, among other failings. "The bank has repeatedly been given more than sufficient opportunity to correct its glaring deficiencies, yet it has failed to do so," Financial Services Superintendent Maria Vullo said in the statement. "DFS will not stand by and let Habib Bank sneak out of the United States without holding it accountable for putting the integrity of the financial services industry and the safety of our nation at risk." HBL disclosed it was in negotiations with the DFS last month and said the potential fine and closure of its New York branch would have no material impact on its business outside the United States. "HBL is pleased to have this matter behind it and has begun the orderly wind-down of its New York operations," Matthew Biben, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and the bank's US lawyer, said in a statement. "HBL believes that the opportunity to resolve this matter consensually at this time is in the best interests of its investors, shareholders and customers. HBL remains committed to strengthening its operations and controls." The DFS said a court hearing set for later this month had been canceled as part of the settlement. Pakistani brokerage firm Intermarket Securities said the hefty fine would hurt profits and could force HBL to issue foreign-currency subordinated debt to pay the regulator. But the sum was "manageable" and the medium-term outlook for the bank should not be affected, it said in a research note. "Under the circumstances, we believe it makes sense for the bank to take this one-off hit, rather than approaching courts which would have put the share price under a cloud for longer."

UK's Prince George's First Day At School, Pregnant Mum Kate Too Ill To Go

MMNN:7 September 2017
LONDON: Britain's Prince George, the great-grandson of Queen Elizabeth and third-in-line to the throne, started school on Thursday but without his pregnant mother Kate to support him because she is suffering from severe morning sickness. George, 4, was taken by his father, Prince William, from their Kensington Palace home to Thomas's Battersea school in southwest London, which says its most important rule is to "Be Kind" and charges almost 18,000 pounds ($23,490) per pupil per year. "We expect our pupils to make impressive progress as a result of their own hard work, the best efforts of their teachers, the judicious support of their parents and the encouragement of their peers," the school says on its website. A nervous-looking George, wearing a school uniform of dark shorts and a navy jumper with red trim, held his father's hand as the Head of Lower School, Helen Haslem, escorted the royal duo to his classroom. His mother Kate missed the occasion due to acute morning sickness and has cancelled other engagements this week after the palace announced on Monday that she was expecting her third child. Like his parents, George and his younger sister Charlotte have already appeared on the front covers of magazines around the world and this summer they travelled on official royal tours of Poland and Germany where crowds cheered them.

Trump’s ‘China First’ option in North Korea will Make China Great Again

MMNN:6 September 2017
Although a Chinese military intervention in North Korea is unlikely, it’s Beijing’s best opportunity to achieve greater strategic parity with the US in the region Most pundits agree that the least bad way to deal with North Korea’s nuclear sabre rattling is a continued combination of tight containment and aggressive diplomacy. Fewer, however, have recognised that the least bad military option — the one implied by US President Donald Trump’s insistence that China take responsibility for its dangerous neighbour — is a Chinese invasion, or regime change forced through China’s threat to launch one. This outcome, which would sharply shift East Asia’s strategic balance in China’s favour, is not as unlikely as most people think. In fact, its very plausibility is one reason why it needs to be taken seriously, including by Chinese military planners. In Trumpian terms, this is a ‘China First’ option that could help ‘Make China Great Again’. Any military intervention, Chinese or otherwise, would carry huge risks. But before dwelling on them, consider what a successful Chinese intervention would achieve. For starters, it would put North Korea right where the country’s post-Korean War history suggests it belongs: Under a Chinese nuclear umbrella, benefiting from a credible security guarantee. Mao Zedong used to say that his country and North Korea were “as close as lips and teeth” — a fitting description, given Chinese troops’ role in averting an American victory in the Korean War. But while Japan and South Korea have remained close allies of the United States during the six decades since then, hosting US bases and sheltering under US nuclear protection, China and North Korea have drifted ever further apart. As a result, China has little control over its neighbour and purported ally, and probably scant knowledge of what is going on there. It could, it is true, tighten the existing siege on North Korea by cutting trade further and blocking energy supplies. But this might achieve little beyond pushing Kim Jong-un’s cloistered regime to look for support from its other neighbour, Russia. If, as is commonly assumed, North Korea wants some sort of credible security guarantee in exchange for curtailing its nuclear programme, the only country capable of providing it is China. No American promise would remain credible beyond the term of the president who gave it, if even that long. So if China were to combine threats of invasion with a promise of security and nuclear protection, in exchange for cooperation and possible regime change, its chances of winning over large parts of the Korean People’s Army would be high. Whereas a nuclear exchange with the US would mean devastation, submission to China would promise survival, and presumably a degree of continued autonomy. For all except those closest to Kim, the choice would not be a difficult one. China’s strategic gains from a successful military intervention would include not only control of what happens on the Korean Peninsula, where it presumably would be able to establish military bases, but also regional gratitude for having prevented a catastrophic war. No other action holds as much potential to make Chinese leadership within Asia seem both credible, and desirable, especially if the alternative is a reckless, poorly planned US-led war. What China needs, above all, is legitimacy, and intervention in North Korea would provide it. Successful use of hard power would bring China, to borrow the distinction coined by Harvard’s Joseph S. Nye, huge reserves of soft power. But now to the 64 billion renminbi question: Could it work? We can’t know the answer for sure, and any military intervention carries great risks. The Chinese armed forces are now well equipped, but lack comparable battlefield experience. Their inferior opponents have leaders who might be prepared to use nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction, if they did not simply accept Chinese terms and surrender. What we can say with near certainty is that a Chinese land and sea invasion, rather than an American one, would stand a better chance of avoiding Kim’s likely response: An artillery attack on the South Korean capital, Seoul, which lies just a few dozen miles south of the demilitarised zone. Why would North Korea slaughter its southern brothers and sisters in retaliation for a Chinese invasion that came with a promise of continued security, if not autonomy? Moreover, while the Kim regime’s nuclear restraint could hardly be taken for granted, China would be a less likely target than the US for North Korean missiles. Were a Chinese military option to be contemplated seriously, some intelligence and missile-defense collaboration with the US might be worth exploring. Given the risks, it would be hard for the US to refuse. This scenario may well never happen. But it is so logical that the possibility of it should be taken seriously. It is, after all, China’s best opportunity to achieve greater strategic parity with the US in the region, while removing a source of instability that threatens them both.

Foreign Media On First Talks For PM Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping After Doklam Tension Ended

MMNN:5 September 2017
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held their first talks since defusing a border stand-off, with Xi calling for stable ties between the two Asian giants. A healthy, stable relationship is in the fundamental interest of both nations, the official Xinhua News Agency cited Xi as saying on Tuesday after the conclusion of a summit of so-called BRICS nations in China's Xiamen. He called for pushing ties forward on the "right track." PM Modi and Xi had a "forward-looking" and "constructive" meeting, India's foreign secretary S. Jaishankar said in a briefing. The countries agreed it was natural for large neighbors to have differences but that they should keep in close contact -- particularly on defense issues -- to ensure differences don't become disputes, he said. Both sides agreed to try and maintain peace in border areas, Jaishankar added. The sit-down follows the easing of an acrimonious, months-long dispute in a remote mountainous border area in the Himalayas. The day before the meeting, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa pledged to increase economic cooperation to boost global growth. The dispute on the Doklam plateau had simmered since mid-June, evoking memories of a brief border war in 1962 where China emerged the victor. The latest tensions began after a Chinese road building party moved into territory claimed by Bhutan, and Indian troops moved into Bhutan to assist its much smaller neighbor. The face-off led to a troop build up in the area, with barbs traded between Chinese state-owned media and India's media. On Aug. 28, India said both sides agreed to an "expeditious disengagement" of troops. China's foreign ministry said later that India withdrew personnel and equipment from its territory, and vowed to continue exercising "sovereign rights" in the area. The two countries contain 36 percent of the world's population and account for 18 percent of global gross domestic product.

BRICS Declaration Names Pakistan-Based Terror Groups For The First Time

MMNN:4 September 2017
India today scored a significant diplomatic win as BRICS nations at a summit in China named, for the first time, Pakistan-based groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Haqqani network in a strongly-worded declaration condemning terror. "We strongly condemn terrorist attacks resulting in death to innocent Afghan nationals. We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al Qaida and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir," said the declaration issued by BRICS countries or Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, at the summit in Xiamen. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is attending the summit and will hold talks with President Xi Jinping of China tomorrow, their first meeting after the prolonged Doklam standoff ended last month. Pakistan has not been named in the declaration adopted by BRICS. While it is a close ally of China, the statement makes a strong reference to the need for states to act against terror. "We deplore all terrorist attacks worldwide, including attacks in BRICS countries, and condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations wherever committed and by whomsoever and stress that there can be no justification whatsoever for any act of terrorism. We reaffirm that those responsible for committing, organizing, or supporting terrorist acts must be held accountable," said the statement. Getting China - in China - on board in a statement that refers to Pakistan-based terror is important since they had resisted the same at last year's summit in Goa. However, experts say this does not signal any big difference in Beijing's policy on Pakistan, one of its closest allies. While this is the first time that a BRICS declaration has named Pakistan-based terror groups, a similar declaration was made in Amritsar during the Heart of Asia conference on Afghanistan last December. There too, the Lashkar and Jaish were named and Pakistan and China, who are members, were both in the meeting. Jaish was banned way back in 2001 by the UN. China has made a distinction between the group and its chief Masood Azhar. China has repeatedly blocked efforts by India at the United Nations to designate the Masood Azhar a terrorist. The US, UK, France and other countries are backing India.

After 288 Days And 4623 Orbits Of Earth, Astronaut Peggy Whitson Returns To Earth

MMNN:2 September 2017
WASHINGTON: Record-breaking NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is set to depart the International Space Station (ISS) and return to Earth after completing a 288-day long mission, the US space agency said. Ms Whitson, along with fellow Expedition 52 Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA and Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos will undock their Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from the space station and land in Kazakhstan at 9:22 pm EDT. On Friday, Mr Yurchikhin will hand over station command to NASA's Randy Bresnik. Ms Whitson is completing a 288-day mission that began in November 2016, spanning 122.2 million miles and 4,623 orbits of Earth - her third long-duration stay on the outpost. At the time of their landing, she will have accrued a total of 665 days in space over the course of her career, more than any American astronaut, placing her eighth on the alltime space endurance list. Mr Yurchikhin and Mr Fischer, who launched in April, will complete 136 days in space. Mr Yurchikhin will return to Earth with a total of 673 days in space on his five flights, putting him in seventh place on the all-time endurance list. As a result of the impacts of Hurricane Harvey, NASA is reviewing return plans to Houston of Ms Whitson, Mr Fischer and the science samples landing in the Soyuz spacecraft. The crew will participate in standard post-flight medical evaluations. While living and working aboard the space station, the Expedition 52 crew pursued hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard humanity's only orbiting laboratory, NASA said. At the time of undocking, Expedition 53 will begin aboard the station under the command of Randy Bresnik. Along with his crewmates Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency), the threeperson crew will operate the station until the arrival of three new crew members. Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA and Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos, are scheduled to launch on September 12 from Kazakhstan.

'We Only Kill Black People', Says US Cop, Loses Job

MMNN:1 September 2017
WASHINGTON: A Georgia police lieutenant who faced being fired over racially charged comments captured on dash-cam footage has announced his retirement, according to local media. In the video Lieutenant Greg Abbott told a woman who feared moving her hands during a traffic stop not to worry because "we only kill black people." Told she could pick up her cell phone, the woman said she did not want to move her hands because she has seen "way too many videos of cops." "But you're not black," Abbott replies in the July 2016 video. "Remember? We only kill black people." Police Chief Mike Register told journalists Thursday that Abbott would be removed from the force, saying "there's really no place for these types of comments in law enforcement." "I feel that no matter what context you try to take those comments in, the statements were inexcusable and inappropriate." According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Abbott emailed the county announcing his retirement from the force, which he had served in nearly three decades. The dash-cam video was released after a local television station obtained it through an open records request. The timestamp on the footage shows it occurred amid a spate of race-tinged violence involving law enforcement, including the fatal shootings of black men Alton Sterling and Philando Castile that came just days apart. Those deaths sent shockwaves nationwide, fueling mass protests and a fierce debate over race and criminal justice

Blast hits bus in Turkey’s Izmir, seven wounded

MMNN:31 Aug 2017
Seven people were wounded when an explosion hit a shuttle bus carrying prison guards in the Turkish coastal province of Izmir on Thursday, and authorities were investigating a possible terrorist attack, the local mayor said. The bus was hit as it passed a garbage container at around 7.40 am (0440 GMT), Levent Piristina, the mayor of Izmir’s Buca district, said on Twitter. Photographs he posted on social media showed its windows blown out and its windscreen shattered. The force of the blast appeared to have blown out some of the bus’s panels, and the nearby street was littered with debris. “We are getting information from police sources and they are focusing on the possibility of a terrorist attack,” he said, adding all seven wounded were in good condition. Both state-run TRT Haber and private broadcaster Dogan news agency said the explosion was caused by a bomb placed in a garbage container that exploded when the shuttle bus passed. No one immediately claimed responsibility. Both Kurdish militants and Islamic State militants have carried out suicide and bomb attacks in major Turkish cities in recent years. Kurdish militants have previously targeted buses carrying security personnel. In December, a bomb killed at least 13 soldiers and wounded more than 50 when it ripped through a bus carrying off-duty military personnel in the central city of Kayseri, an attack the government blamed on Kurdish militants. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organisation by the US, Turkey and the European Union, has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state. The outlawed PKK wants autonomy for Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast.

Pentagon Chief Lets Transgender Troops Remain In Service

MMNN:30 Aug 2017
WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday that transgender troops would continue to serve in the military while he studies an order by President Donald Trump banning them from US forces. Trump surprised Pentagon leaders in July by announcing via Twitter the ban on transgender people serving "in any capacity", reversing a plan launched by his predecessor Barack Obama that would see the military accept openly transgender recruits. Trump said at the time that the integration of transgender troops would result in "tremendous medical costs and disruption," and issued a formal memorandum last Friday on the issue, saying the ban should be in effect from March 23, 2018. But the memorandum gave Mattis discretion on how to handle transgender people already serving in the military. The administration was facing lawsuits by transgender groups and service members, and on Monday the American Civil Liberties Union also filed a suit on behalf of several transgender troops challenging Trump's order. In a statement Tuesday Mattis appeared cautious about implementing Trump's order. He said the Department of Defense would establish a panel of experts and develop an implementation plan with a focus "on what is best for the military's combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield." In what appeared to be a barb against the slow movement in the White House to approve all the senior staff he needs, Mattis said "the soon arriving senior civilian leadership of the DOD will play an important role in this effort." In the meantime, he said, existing policy on currently serving transgender troops would not change. On Monday Pentagon officials declined to say whether there had been any studies or anecdotal reports on the impact of transgender people in the military, and they also declined to reveal any estimates of the number of transgender troops. Estimates run from the low thousands to as many as 15,000.

Israel Prime Minister: Iran Building Missile Production Sites In Syria, Lebanon

MMNN:28 Aug 2017
ERUSALEM: Iran is building sites to produce precision-guided missiles in Syria and Lebanon, with the aim of using them against Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday. At the start of a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Netanyahu accused Iran of turning Syria into a "base of military entrenchment as part of its declared goal to eradicate Israel." "It is also building sites to produce precision-guided missiles towards that end, in both Syria and in Lebanon. This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the U.N. should not accept," Netanyahu said.

Trump tells Mattis to indefinitely ban transgender recruits in US military

MMNN:26 Aug 2017
President Donald Trump on Friday directed the Pentagon to extend indefinitely a ban on transgender individuals joining the military, but he appeared to leave open the possibility of allowing some already in uniform to remain. Trump gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authority to decide the matter of openly transgender individuals already serving, and he said that until the Pentagon chief makes that decision, “no action may be taken against” them. The Obama administration in June 2016 had changed longstanding policy, declaring that troops could serve openly as transgender individuals. And it set a July 2017 deadline for determining whether transgender people could be allowed to enter the military. Mattis delayed that to Jan. 1, 2018, and Trump has now instructed Mattis to extend it indefinitely. But on the question of what will happen to those transgender individuals who already are serving openly - estimated to number in the low hundreds - Trump seemed to leave wiggle room for exceptions. A White House official who briefed reporters on the presidential order would not say whether Trump would permit any exceptions. That official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House, said Mattis has been directed to take a number of factors into consideration in determining how to deal with transgender individuals already serving. Those factors are to include broad measures such as “military effectiveness,” budgetary constraints and “unit cohesion,” as well as other factors Mattis deems “relevant.” It was not clear whether that means it is possible for Mattis to come to the conclusion that some transgender troops should be allowed to remain. Trump gave Mattis six months to come up with a policy on those currently serving, and he must implement it by March 23, 2018, the official said. In a tweet last month, Trump said the federal government “will not accept or allow” transgender individuals to serve “in any capacity” in the military. Carl Tobias, a legal expert at the University of Richmond’s School of Law, said he interprets the Trump directive as leaving open the chance for some transgender servicemembers to stay. “Trump seems to be granting Mattis discretion to decide which currently serving transgender people can continue to serve,” Tobias said via email. “It appears that Mattis has discretion substantively and procedurally. The White House official on Friday said Trump also directed Mattis to halt the use of federal funds to pay for sexual reassignment surgeries and medications, except in cases where it is deemed necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun the transition. That policy is to be written within six months and implemented by March 23. In his directive to Mattis, Trump said he found that his predecessor’s transgender policy was flawed. “In my judgment, the previous administration failed to identify a sufficient basis to conclude” that ending the longstanding ban on transgender service would not “hinder military effectiveness and lethality” and be disrupting in the ranks, he wrote. The Pentagon had little to say on the subject Friday. Dana W. White, the main spokeswoman for Mattis, issued a two-sentence statement saying Mattis had received White House guidance on transgender policy, adding, “More information will be forthcoming.” Only one year ago, in June 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that transgender individuals could serve openly for the first time. Prior to that, most transgender people in the military had been forced to keep their status secret to avoid being discharged; Trump’s order appears to have returned the military to that same situation. Since Carter’s policy change, some troops — possibly a couple hundred — have openly declared their status as transgender individuals. Carter also had given the military services until July 1 of this year to present plans for allowing transgender individuals to join the military. Shortly before that date, Mattis extended the study period to the end of this year. And shortly after that, Trump went to Twitter to announce a total ban, without having used the customary interagency policy process. At the time of Trump’s tweet, the Pentagon was not prepared to change its policy. A flurry of White House meetings ensued, with participation by representatives of the Defense Department, to translate Trump’s announcement into guidance that could be implemented and would stand up to expected legal challenges. Just last week, Mattis suggested he was open to the possibility of allowing some transgender troops to remain in uniform. “The policy is going to address whether or not transgenders can serve under what conditions, what medical support they require, how much time would they be perhaps non-deployable, leaving others to pick up their share of everything,” he said Aug. 14. Estimates of the number of transgender troops in the service vary widely. A Rand Corp. study said roughly 2,500 transgender personnel may be serving in active duty, and 1,500 in the reserves. It estimated only 30 to 130 active-duty troops out of a force of 1.3 million would seek transition-related health care each year. Costs could be $2.4 million to $8.4 million, it estimated. Among those who have cheered Trump’s tweet, Elaine Donnelly said the president is halting “a massive social experiment.” “Expensive, lifelong hormone treatments and irreversible surgeries associated with gender dysphoria would negatively affect personal deployability and mission readiness, without resolving underlying psychological problems, including high risks of suicide,” said Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., an Army combat veteran, said the Pentagon should not exclude people based on gender status. “If you are willing to risk your life for our country and you can do the job, you should be able to serve — no matter your gender identity or sexual orientation,” she said Thursday. “Anything else is not just discriminatory, it is disruptive to our military and it is counterproductive to our national security

The new Obama’: Abdul El-Sayed, the man who could be US’ first Muslim governor

MMNN:25 Aug 2017
At seven years old, Abdul El-Sayed sat in the eye of Hurricane Andrew, the most destructive hurricane in US history until Katrina. Living near Miami, El-Sayed drank juice while swaddled under mattresses between his father and stepmother, who was holding El-Sayed’s newborn baby brother just home from the hospital. The 1992 storm had taken an unexpected turn southward, and the El-Sayeds could not be evacuated. The wind made an awful rattling sound on the screens. The front door blew in. The wind and the rain whipped into the house, “as if the ocean was coming at you.” El-Sayed’s father, Muhammad, crawled on his stomach to shut the door, the rain whipping his face, the wind beating his body. The eye of the storm passed directly over them and The National Guard eventually evacuated them. At the moment, American politics feels a bit like being in the eye a hurricane. Donald Trump has stated America’s nuclear arsenal is “ locked and loaded ”, should North Korea make any false moves and neo-Nazis are openly parading in the streets bearing torches, resulting in a young woman, Heather Heyer , being murdered in Charlottesville, Virginia. No one man can stop the hurricane. But in Michigan, a grown up El-Sayed is now having a go, trying to keep the storm at bay in a state that is having some of the hardest times in the union. He’s still a year out from the primary, but in his attempt at running for governor of the state, he is trying not just to win, but to change American politics itself When driving from Detroit to Adrian, Michigan, my hometown, you pass by a mosque near Ypsilanti that was burned to the ground in an arson last March. Adrian is 45 minutes from any freeway, the county is rural, and the cornfields rolling. You pass by a number of road signs offering jobs – $28 dollars an hour for skilled work, less for driving a truck. The city itself, the largest town in the county, holds only about 20,000 people. It is the kind of place with lots and lots of American flags. It’s also Trump country, white and Christian, the county voting with the president 57% to Clinton’s 36%. El-Sayed was speaking there on a recent Sunday afternoon in a public hall. A young local transgender man introduced El-Sayed to the audience – a brave choice for a region still coming to terms with gay rights, let alone trans rights. Just a few miles away in Jackson, Michigan, the house of two organizers for the town’s first ever pride parade was burned in what investigators are calling a possible arson . El-Sayed’s stump speech revolves around fleshing out his personal story. He’s the son of an Egyptian immigrant, who remarried to a now-converted white, rural protestant mother. His uncles learned to prepare venison Halal so his entire family could share in the meals. Throw in an atheist mathematician uncle from the former Soviet Union, and Thanksgiving dinners were interesting to say the least. At this stage in his speech, El-Sayed usually pivots to speaking about the US constitution and the soaring rhetoric of hope and commonality. “As you can imagine, these people come from fundamentally different walks of life, they have known different realities. But. They see a common future. And that’s because it’s a common future they have built together,” he said. “I learned about a society that was founded on an ideal that my father invested in back in 1978 when he came here, one that told him, ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal.’” One of the first questions El-Sayed gets asked that day is about Sharia law, asking about his thoughts on the custom, by a clearly agitated man in a checked button-down shirt. The rumors surrounding El-Sayed’s faith are small but persistent, spread by a handful of far-right websites preying on the uninformed and fearful. One morning, I asked him about them over breakfast. “Are you the spear-tip of a vast Muslim conspiracy to bring Sharia law to the US?” “No,” he said. “Are you a front for the Muslim brotherhood to pervert American politics towards terrorism?” “No.” “Were you handpicked by George Soros to lead a vast liberal takeover of the government?” “No. I’ve never met George Soros.” It’s tempting to make any story about El-Sayed about his faith, and how it is central to how voters perceive him. He answers questions about his faith like all the others about more mundane matters like tax policy or infrastructure development: head on, with razor-sharp intellect and rhetoric. But to reduce him to his faith would also be a disservice. His story is one of responsibility, courage and hope. “I believe in a separation of church and state,” he started, making a note that John F Kennedy’s Catholicism was also a turning point in American politics. “I can tell you that my ability to practice my faith in person, in my own home, when I choose to, where I’m allowed to, because of freedoms in this country have everything to do with that separation of church and state,” he said. “If I am going to want to be able to put my face on the ground 34 times a day, like I do, because I’m Muslim, I want to make sure no one can take that right away from me. And I will not take that right away from anyone else.” He received an enormous round of applause after answering the question – in a nearly completely white and Christian room – and a standing ovation at the end of the event, that went over time by almost an hour. Afterward, I asked the man who asked the Sharia question if, after hearing El-Sayed speak, he thought he would bring Sharia law to the United States. “No,” the man said. “I don’t.” El-Sayed’s résumé and progressive bonafide are nearly impeccable. He is a Rhodes Scholar, a doctor, formerly a professor at an Ivy League university (where he wrote the textbook for his class) and is the former director for the health department in Detroit, the youngest in any major city. He’s only 32, and would be the youngest governor since Bill Clinton in 1978. He will also become a father for the first time in less than three months. He has pledged to take no corporate Pac money and is unabashedly disdainful of big money influencing elections, opening calling corporate campaign contributions “bribes”. He has pledged universal healthcare to all Michiganders if it fails on the federal level, says he will push to legalise marijuana, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and make Michigan a “sanctuary state”, defying federal immigration law for non-violent undocumented immigrants. And he has a real chance of winning. A year out of the Democratic primary he has raised $1m, Bernie Sanders style, through individual donations – more than $1,300 last month alone – despite little name recognition or support from the “establishment” Democratic party in the state. His campaign is lithe and muscular, knocking on tens of thousands of doors already. Maybe most importantly, El-Sayed has a rhetorical style and charisma that draws easy comparisons to a young Barack Obama, his events often inexplicably packed. At a campaign event in Ann Arbor one woman, Tamanika Terry Seward, said: “I think the last time I sat there and gave that kind of smirk is when I first heard Obama in Chicago, when he was running for senator.” Michigan is ready for change. Flint’s water was just poisoned by the state government in what is likely the largest environmental disaster of the 21st century so far. And according to a study from the Center for Michigan , public trust in state government has never been lower, with staggering numbers like 80% of people mistrusting the government in areas like education. El-Sayed’s personality, policies and campaign apparatus are clearly large enough to overcome Islamophobia in the state – a decade ago, who would have thought the president of the US would have been black and bear the middle name of Hussein, and the mayor of Detroit, the blackest city in the nation, would be white? The question becomes, can he overcome the cynicism and distain for current politics tearing the US apart? El-Sayed’s campaign staff is young, fun and smart. Political stickers slapped on laptops are ubiquitous, staffers hail from Harvard and other elite institutions, and the campaign on the whole seems incredibly diverse and well run. After chatting for a few moments with campaign interns, I ran into two of them in the bathroom. One, a Muslim, was washing his feet in the sink before praying. Another, pierced and dyed and queer, washed his hands in the sink directly next. The campaign, reflected in his staff, is a reflection of a different America to the one hailed by the alt-right – pluralistic and diverse . El-Sayed himself reflects this, bouncing between subjects in casual conversations in a campaign vehicle en route to speak to voters at polling places for a primary election in Detroit. We talk about the percentage of C-sections and Shakespeare, and he makes uproarious jokes likely never to be seen in public like faux campaign slogans (“The Egyptian Prescription”). But El-Sayed can also be deadly serious and ferociously passionate about America’s political reality, speaking with barbs in a way nearly unheard of from the mouths of politicians who hedge and weasel. “I’m trying to remind people why the system is built the way it is, and that it has been corrupted by a very small, very powerful, very rich group of people, who have fundamentally bought out our politicians,” he said. “I don’t think our forefathers were imagining huge corporate behemoths that were not aligned to anything but a quarterly bottom line of some amorphous group of stockholders, who would then be ruled as having the rights of people, and then be able to either, up front of behind closed doors, buy out our politicians to create a system of politics that was not beholden to anything but corporate bottom lines.” The turnout in Detroit’s primary election that day was just over 10%, heavily favouring the incumbent mayoral candidate awash in big money . I asked El-Sayed if he would rather win with corporate money or lose without it. He replied the latter. Many of his staffers are veterans of the Sanders campaign, and his funding structure is remarkably similar. He’s also running on his conscience, not trying to “reverse engineer” a candidate with poll testing opinions or policies. Where Sanders failed, though – he never broke from a laser focus on economics or really addressed inequalities brought by race and gender – El-Sayed embraces those challenges, represents them even. “The electorate [in Michigan] doesn’t know what it wants, but it wants something different,” his campaign manager, Max Glass, said. “I wouldn’t have taken this race if I didn’t think we could win.” The other, less comfortable, comparison is to Trump. El-Sayed is an outsider candidate who speaks his mind, with no elected political experience aside from his appointment as health director of Detroit. In many ways, he’s the other side of the same coin, a populist candidate in a populist time. A fan of hip-hop, El-Sayed played a song late one night coming home from a campaign event. In vulgar terms, the song, America by Logic , decries racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, police brutality and other modern ills, a sort of 21st century “Mississippi Goddamn”. “This is the best line in the song,” he said turning the music up ever so slightly. “Don’t run from Trump,” it went. “Run against him.” Running against Trump – a President who touted a “Muslim travel ban” as one of his policies – poses its logistical challenges. The location of the campaign office is a guarded secret and many staffers have had to speak with their families about potential danger before starting their jobs. Since April 2013, there have been 370 hate incidents directed at US mosques and Muslim community centers. In 2015 alone, there were 257 anti-Muslim hate crimes in the US, according to the FBI. And in Michigan, the village president of Kalkaska, a small town in the north, has called for the death of Muslims, “ all, every last one ”. He still sits in office. As much of El-Sayed’s public persona and story revolves around his multicultural family, I went to visit some of them including his step-grandparents, whom he lived with during college at the University of Michigan, his parents, and his wife. I asked them if they were worried about the candidate’s safety.

'As Syria war tightens, US and Russia military hotlines humming

MMNN:24 Aug 2017
Even as tensions between the United States and Russia fester, there is one surprising place where their military-to-military contacts are quietly weathering the storm: Syria. It has been four months since US President Donald Trump ordered cruise missile strikes against a Syrian airfield after an alleged chemical weapons attack. In June, the US military shot down a Syrian fighter aircraft, the first US downing of a manned jet since 1999, and also shot down two Iranian-made drones that threatened US-led coalition forces. All the while, US and Russian military officials have been regularly communicating, US officials told Reuters. Some of the contacts are helping draw a line on the map that separates US- and Russian-backed forces waging parallel campaigns on Syria’s shrinking battlefields. There is also a telephone hotline linking the former Cold War foes’ air operations centres. US officials told Reuters that there now are about 10 to 12 calls a day on the hotline, helping keep US and Russian warplanes apart as they support different fighters on the ground. That is no small task, given the complexities of Syria’s civil war. Moscow backs the Syrian government, which also is aided by Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah as it claws back territory from Syrian rebels and Islamic State fighters. The US military is backing a collection of Kurdish and Arab forces focussing their firepower against Islamic State, part of a strategy to collapse the group’s self-declared “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq. Reuters was given rare access to the US Air Force’s hotline station, inside the Qatar-based Combined Air Operations Area, last week, including meeting two Russian linguists, both native speakers, who serve as the US interface for conversations with Russian commanders. While the conversations are not easy, contacts between the two sides have remained resilient, senior US commanders said. “The reality is we’ve worked through some very hard problems and, in general, we have found a way to maintain the deconfliction line (that separates US and Russian areas of operation) and found a way to continue our mission,” Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, the top US Air Force commander in the Middle East, said in an interview. As both sides scramble to capture what is left of Islamic State’s caliphate, the risk of accidental contacts is growing. “We have to negotiate, and sometimes the phone calls are tense. Because for us, this is about protecting ourselves, our coalition partners and destroying the enemy,” Harrigian said, without commenting on the volume of calls. The risks of miscalculation came into full view in June, when the United States shot down a Syrian Su-22 jet that was preparing to fire on US-backed forces on the ground US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said those were not the only aircraft in the area. As the incident unfolded, two Russian fighter jets looked on from above and a American F-22 stealth aircraft kept watch from an even higher altitude, they told Reuters. After the incident, Moscow publicly warned it would consider any planes flying west of the Euphrates River to be targets. But the US military kept flying in the area, and kept talking with Russia. “The Russians have been nothing but professional, cordial and disciplined,” Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the Iraq-based commander of the U.S.-led coalition, told Reuters. DIVIDING LINE DOWN THE EUPHRATES In Syria, US-backed forces are now consumed with the battle to capture Islamic State’s former capital of Raqqa. More than half the city has been retaken from Islamic State. Officials said talks were underway to extend a demarcation line that has been separating US- and Russian-backed fighters on the ground as fighting pushes towards Islamic State’s last major Syrian stronghold, the Deir al-Zor region. The line runs in an irregular arc from a point southwest of Tabqa east to a point on the Euphrates River and then down along the Euphrates River in the direction of Deir al-Zor, they said. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, during a visit to Jordan this week, said the line was important as US- and Russian-backed forces come in closer proximity of each other. “We do not do that (communication) with the (Syrian) regime. It is with the Russians, is who we’re dealing with,” Mattis said. “We continue those procedures right on down the Euphrates River Valley.” Bisected by the Euphrates River, Deir al-Zor and its oil resources are critical to the Syrian state. The province is largely in the hands of Islamic State, but has become a priority for pro-Syrian forces. It also is in the crosshairs of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters last week that there would be an SDF campaign towards Deir al-Zor “in the near future,” though the SDF was still deciding whether it would be delayed until Raqqa was fully taken from Islamic State.

'Severe Typhoon Hato wreaks havoc in Hong Kong, flights cancelled, trading delayed

MMNN:23 Aug 2017
Hong Kong braced for Typhoon Hato, a maximum category 10 storm on Wednesday, with hundreds of flights cancelled, trading in financial markets suspended and schools and most businesses in the Asian financial hub closed. Streets were largely deserted as winds intensified and rain lashed down, with many skyscrapers in the heart of the financial centre in darkness as the city battened down for one of the worst storms in years. Hato churned up water in Hong Kong’s iconic Victoria Harbour and triggered large swells and massive waves on some of the city’s most popular beaches, with the weather observatory warning of serious flooding in low-lying areas. Maximum winds near Hato’s centre were recorded at a destructive 155 kmh (95 mph). Gusts in some residential areas were already causing damage, sending tarpaulins, roof screens and tree branches flying through the air. A senior scientific officer for the Hong Kong observatory said sea levels could rise up to five metres (15 feet) in some places. The weather observatory issued a signal 10 storm warning, its highest weather warning, and said Hato will be closest to the territory in the next few hours, skirting about 50 km (31 miles) to the south of Hong Kong, and warned of flash floods. Winds intensified in the morning, with the maximum sustained winds recorded at Tate’s Cairn and Waglan Island at 77 kmh (48 mph) and 72 kmh (48 mph), with maximum gusts of 103 kmh (64 mph) and 86 kmh (53 mph) respectively. Trading in Hong Kong’s financial markets was delayed on Wednesday morning, the stock exchange said. Trading will be suspended for the whole day if storm signal 8 or higher is in place at noon. The city’s flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific, said the storm would “severely” impact flight operations, with the majority of flights to and from Hong Kong between 2200 GMT Tuesday and 0900 GMT Wednesday to be cancelled. Other transport services, including ferries to the gaming hub of Macau and outlying islands in Hong Kong, were suspended. Financial markets, schools, businesses and non-essential government services close when the signal 8 or above is hoisted. Typhoon Nida in August last year was the last storm to close the stock exchange for the whole day.

'After Donald Trump's Warning, China Jumps To Defense Of Pakistan

MMNN:22 Aug 2017
NEW DELHI: China today jumped to the defence of its all-weather ally Pakistan in the wake of US President Donald Trump's stern warning to it over providing safe havens to terrorists, claiming that Islamabad is at the frontline of combating terrorism. Donald Trump, in his first prime-time televised address to announce his Afghanistan and South Asia policy, hit out at Pakistan for providing safe havens to "agents of chaos" that kill Americans in Afghanistan and warned Islamabad that it has "much to lose" by harbouring terrorists. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, while reacting to President Trump's comments on Pakistan, said, "Hope the relevant policy decision by US side will be conducive to promoting security, stability of the relevant region." "(On) President Trump's remarks on Pakistan, I should say that Pakistan is at the frontline of fighting terrorism, has made sacrifices in fighting terrorism, making an important contribution to upholding peace and stability," Ms Hua said, strongly defending Beijing's all-weather friend Pakistan. Donald Trump, in his address, said a pillar of his new strategy was a change in America's approach to Pakistan. He slammed Pakistan for its support to terror groups and warned Islamabad of consequences if it continues to do so. "We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond," President Trump said. "Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbour terrorists," he said, in a warning to Pakistan. Ms Hua, in response to Donald Trump's scathing criticism of Pakistan's support to terror groups, said, "I think the international community should truly affirm" the efforts made by Pakistan in combating terrorism. "We are pleased to see US and Pakistan to conduct cooperation in anti-terrorism efforts on the basis of mutual respect and contribute to the global peace and stability," she said. In his speech, Donald Trump slammed Islamabad for harbouring terrorists who target US service members. "But that will have to change. That will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country's harbouring of terrorists who target US service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilisation, order, and to peace," President Trump said.

'No Element Pointing To A Terrorist Attack': Marseille Prosecutor

MMNN:21 Aug 2017
NEW DELHI: One person was killed and another seriously injured in the southern French city of Marseille on Monday after a van ploughed into people at two different bus stops, police sources, adding that the suspected driver had been arrested. Marseille's prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux said that investigators had no "element pointing to a terrorist attack" and that the driver was believed to suffer from "psychiatric" problems. "He was found with a letter from a psychiatric clinic and we are leaning towards treating it as a mental health case," Tarabeux told AFP. The vehicle first drove at speed towards a bus stop in the city's northern 13th district at around 9:00 am (0700 GMT), leaving one person seriously hurt. The driver then continued onto the eastern 11th district, where he drove at another bus stop, causing one fatality. The incident comes as police across Europe search for the driver of a van that mowed down pedestrians in Barcelona last week, killing 13. Several European cities, including London, Berlin and Stockholm, have been targeted in a wave of attacks by Islamist radicals using vehicles to run down people. Terrorism experts have warned that the intense media coverage of the attacks could spur copycat attacks by people with mental health problems that include a propensity for violence. Julien Ravier, mayor of the 11th and 12th districts, told the BFMTV news channel that the victim in the Marseille incident was a woman in her 40s who was waiting alone for a bus. A police source, who asked not to be identified by name, said the driver was in his mid-30s and was not from Marseille. The local La Provence newspaper reported that he was known to police for minor offences. BFMTV reported that a bystander noted the registration number of the van, which the police used to trace the vehicle to the city's Old Port district, where the suspect was arrested. Police sealed off the port area and urged residents in a tweet to avoid the neighbourhood, which is popular with tourists. Police forensic teams also combed the area around the bus stops for evidence. The bloodiest vehicle attack in Europe took place in the French city of Nice in July 2016, when a radicalised Tunisian drove a truck through crowds celebrating France's national holiday, killing 86 people. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for several of the attacks.

Citing Trump remarks on Charlottesville, entire president’s arts council quits

MMNN:19 Aug 2017
The arts and humanities committee was established in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan and all the current members had been appointed by President Barack Obama Two Indian Americans – actor Kal Penn and author Jhumpa Lahiri – are among 16 members of the US president’s committee on arts and humanities who resigned on Friday, protesting Donald Trump’s remarks regarding the Charlottesville clashes last week. “Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions,” they wrote in a joint letter of resignation signed by all but one of the 17 committee members. “Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.” The letter cited the “false equivalence” of Trump’s comments about last weekend’s “Unite the Right” gathering in Charlottesville. Trump has blamed “many sides” for the demonstrations that left an anti-racism activist dead. Over the past few days, members of the president’s advisory councils on manufacturing and strategy and policy resigned, forcing him to shut them down. He disbanded the infrastructure council on Thursday. In a statement Friday, a White House spokesperson said Trump was going to disband the panel anyway. “While the committee has done good work in the past, in its current form it simply is not a responsible way to spend American tax dollars,” the statement read. The members of the committee on arts and humanities brought on other issues as well: “You released a budget which eliminates arts and culture agencies. You have threatened nuclear war while gutting diplomacy funding. “The administration pulled out of the Paris agreement, filed an amicus brief undermining the Civil Rights Act and attacked our brave trans service members. You have subverted equal protections, and are committed to banning Muslims and refugee women & children from our great country.” The arts and humanities committee was established in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan and all the current members were appointed by Barack Obama.

Earth-Like Planet May Exist In Nearby Star System: Indian Origin Scientists

MMNN:18 Aug 2017
WASHINGTON: An Earth-like planet may be lurking in a star system just 16 light years away, scientists including one of Indian origin have predicted. Astrophysicists at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) in the US investigated the star system Gliese 832 for additional exoplanets residing between the two currently known alien worlds in this system. Their computations revealed that an additional Earth-like planet with a dynamically stable configuration may be residing at a distance ranging from 0.25 to 2.0 astronomical unit (AU) from the star. "According to our calculations, this hypothetical alien world would probably have a mass between 1 to 15 Earth's masses," said Dr Suman Satyal, UTA physics researcher and lead author of the research published in The Astrophysical Journal. Gliese 832 is a red dwarf and has just under half the mass and radius of the Sun. The star is orbited by a giant Jupiter-like exoplanet designated Gliese 832b and by a super-Earth planet Gliese 832c. The gas giant with 0.64 Jupiter masses is orbiting the star at a distance of 3.53 AU, while the other planet is potentially a rocky world, around five times more massive than the Earth, residing very close its host star- about 0.16 AU. "This is an important breakthrough demonstrating the possible existence of a potential new planet orbiting a star close to our own," said Dr Alexander Weiss from UTA. "The fact that Dr Satyal was able to demonstrate that the planet could maintain a stable orbit in the habitable zone of a red dwarf for more than one billion years is extremely impressive," Dr Weiss said. The team analysed the simulated data with an injected Earth-mass planet on this nearby planetary system hoping to find a stable orbital configuration for the planet that may be located in a vast space between the two known planets. Gliese 832b and Gliese 832c were discovered by the radial velocity technique, which detects variations in the velocity of the central star, due to the changing direction of the gravitational pull from an unseen exoplanet as it orbits the star. By regularly looking at the spectrum of a star- and so, measuring its velocity - one can see if it moves periodically due to the influence of a companion. "We also used the integrated data from the time evolution of orbital parameters to generate the synthetic radial velocity curves of the known and the Earth-like planets in the system," said Dr Satyal. "We obtained several radial velocity curves for varying masses and distances indicating a possible new middle planet," he said.

Pakistan's Apex Anti-Corruption Group Summons Nawaz Sharif, Sons

MMNN:17 Aug 2017
LAHORE: Pakistan's ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his two sons have been summoned by the country's top anti-graft body to appear before it tomorrow for interrogation in connection with the money laundering and corruption cases. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on the directive of the Supreme Court issued summons to Mr Sharif and his sons Hussain and Hasan -- to interrogate them in its Lahore office in connection with their offshore properties revealed by the Panama Papers case. On July 28, the five-member bench of the Supreme Court had disqualified Mr Sharif for possessing a work permit in the firm of his son in the UAE. The apex court had also directed the NAB to investigate money laundering and other corruption charges against Mr Sharif and his children, son-in-law Safdar and relative federal finance minister Ishaq Dar in light of the report of the Joint Investigation Team. The NAB confirmed that Mr Sharif and his sons have been directed to appear before its Lahore office on August 18. The NAB said that it will take up the reference against Mr Sharif's close aide Ishaq Dar on August 23 and summons has been issued to him. Mr Sharif, however, has not yet decided to appear before the NAB. "Nawaz Sharif is considering boycotting the NAB proceedings because he thinks it is very much likely that like the Panama Papers case he may not get justice in its case as well," a PML-N senior leader told PTI. He said Mr Sharif has already expressed his concern over a Supreme Court judge who is supervising the NAB's investigation against him, fearing that he (judge) will ensure adverse verdict against him in the accountability court. "Sharif will discuss the NAB summons with his confidants on Thursday before making a final decision about his appearance in NAB," he added.

Clerical sex abuse scandal hits Argentine president’s school

MMNN:14 Aug 2017
The case is one of several that have shown the church has not been spared sexual scandals even in the home territory of Pope Francis. Rufino Varela was a distraught, confused 12-year-old when he went looking for help from the school chaplain to tell him he’d been sexually abused by a mason at his family’s home. Instead of aiding, Varela says, the Rev. Finnlugh Mac Conastair took off the boy’s pants, flogged him and fondled him in a room below the chapel at one of Argentina’s most prestigious schools. Then, the Irish priest known by many as “Father Alfredo,” offered him candy and told him that they should keep it as a secret with God. “I had come looking for help, but I felt that it was a punishment from God,” Varela said. “I came back to the classroom, holding back tears, went home and never spoke about it.” The secret was kept for nearly four decades. But in recent months, Varela’s decision to break his silence has led several other former students to denounce clerical abuse at a school that has educated President Mauricio Macri and many other members of Argentina’s elite. The case is one of several that have shown the church has not been spared sexual scandals even in the home territory of Pope Francis, who has pledged a zero-tolerance policy against abuses that have rocked the church around the world. While the pope had no connection with the abuse at the time — he led the Argentine branch of the Jesuit order with no relationship to the school — Varela said he received a call from the pontiff this year after revealing the abuse publicly. The Cardenal Newman school was launched in Argentina in 1948 by the Christian Brothers, a religious order founded two centuries ago to focus on educating disadvantaged youth. In recent years, it has faced abuse claims at many of the schools it has opened worldwide. At the time of Varela’s 1977 encounter with Mac Conastair, the socially conservative church school had evolved into something of a refuge for children of the rich. Varela said he decided to confront Newman authorities about the abuse after he heard that the school planned to add a crown to the lion in its coat of arms in honor of Macri, a 1976 graduate who was elected president in 2015. “Instead of a crown, it would give me more comfort to see a whip or a crown of thorns,” Varela said in a letter to the rector. “This would be in remembrance of the aberrations that many others suffered.” Varela said Newman’s rector, Alberto Olivero, then met with him, offered psychological treatment and tried to dissuade him from going public with the story. The school refused to comment and referred questioners to written statements. Frustrated at the lack of public acknowledgement, Varela said, he spoke to Argentina’s La Nacion newspaper in December 2016. He also began writing about it on Facebook. In February, his phone rang and Pope Francis was on the line. The pontiff expressed his solidarity and apologized on behalf of the church. “He told me that I needed to understand that I was a very important part of a broken link,” Varela said. The Vatican doesn’t confirm or deny such calls, saying they are part of Francis’ pastoral Varela said about 20 other former students have contacted him to describe similar abuse carried out by Mac Conastair, a Passionist, and by at least one Christian Brother priest at the school. At least four of the ex-students repeated accounts of witnessing or suffering abuse to The Associated Press, though it is not clear if the others had reported the incidents earlier. Both of the priests have died. Pedro Ellis told the AP he was about 14 years old when Mac Conastair called him into his room. With the excuse of giving him a sex talk, he asked him to get naked and lie down on his bed. “He touched my buttocks and then, he introduced one or two fingers inside my rectum,” Ellis told the Associated Press. Ellis, now 52, said that he’s considering seeking compensation for the abuse. Julio Castano said the chaplain he’d seen as “God’s representative on earth” called him into his room in 1979 and fondled the then 12-year-old. “I decided it was now time to tell it, so we can get this off our backs,” said Castano, who until then, had not told anyone else publicly or informed the school. Another former student alleged that the Brother John Derham sat him on his lap in the school library and kissed him on the mouth. A fourth ex-student, Guillermo Newbery, 68, told the AP that he witnessed Derham make students sit on his lap during his class, saying he would “caress students excessively, rubbed them and hugged them inappropriately.” Newbery said he told his parents in 1963 and they reported it to the school’s Parent Association. Derham died in 1986. After Varela spoke to the press, Olivero sent a letter addressed to the Newman community and acknowledged the abuse of at least one student 40 years ago. A copy of the letter was posted on the school gate. Without naming anyone, it said that the Christian Brothers apologized “for the abuse that all former students could have suffered as a result of the inadequate and unjustified behavior” of the chaplain. The head of the Christian Brothers for Latin America, Hugo Caceres, sent Varela a letter expressing “solidarity and Christian compassion” for all abuse victims. At the time of Varela’s abuse, the rector was John Burke, an Irishman who was in charge of Newman from 1979-1996. Burke was later named member of a Christian Brothers committee for safeguarding children in Europe. Burke confirms he learned of the abuse in 1980, but said he didn’t know the identity of the victim until Varela went public. “Towards the end of the school year of 1980, I was made aware of a complaint of inappropriate behavior by the college chaplain towards a pupil whose identity was not known or revealed to me,” Burke said in a statement to the AP. It wasn’t clear how Burke had learned of the case, though Varela said that he once told lay brother Desmond Finnegan, who counseled him to remain quiet about the incident and pray for the elderly chaplain. In an odd twist, Burke said he sought advice about the case from a lawyer who turned out to be Varela’s father, a judge in charge of child protection cases. “I can understand your shock at hearing that I had spoken with your father concerning the priest,” Burke wrote in a June 2016 letter to Varela. Varela said his father died without ever learning of the abuse of his son. Burke told Varela that, “I took immediate and what I judged to be appropriate measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all the pupils in the school and of every person who had contact with the chaplain.” The measures included “immediate removal of the chaplain by his religious superior and the Bishop of the Diocese.” Records obtained by the AP show that Mac Conastair was transferred to the San Cayetano vicary, but it’s unknown whether he had contact with other children before he died in 1997. Clerical abuse experts say Burke’s action was significant because in the 1970’s there were no church rules for reporting such crimes. “It sounds like at least John Burke took some action and the bishop forced the priest out of the school,” said Maeve Lewis, executive director of victims group One in Four. “That happened here (in Ireland) all the time and no one brought it to the attention of their bishop.” But Varela remained frustrated at the failure of Burke, the school and the Brothers to acknowledge the “abhorrent sexual and psychological abuses” in public. “I am not the only victim of Newman School. We both know it,” Varela wrote in a letter to Burke in October 2016. He also criticized for former rector for failing to mention the abuse when he spoke at an annual alumni dinner attended by Macri that month. A video published online by Newman’s alumni association five years ago, shows Burke referring to Derham as his novice master and praising him as “the most extraordinary person.”

Islamic State ‘outsources’ terror attacks to Pakistan based outfits: UN

MMNN:12 Aug 2017
The Islamic State terror group “outsources” terror attacks to Pakistan-based outfits like the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, according to a UN report. The Islamic State terror group enlists “partners of convenience” in Afghanistan and “outsources” terror attacks to Pakistan-based outfits like the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, according to a UN report. The 20th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team was submitted to the UN Security Council Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee here. It said that in South Asia, the al-Qaeda’s core continues to compete with the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), for dominance over terrorist groups in the region. The report said the current leader of al-Qaeda Aiman al- Zawahiri “is still assumed” to be in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. “ISIL in Afghanistan tends to enlist partners of convenience and ‘outsources’ terrorist attacks to other groups such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan splinter group,” the report said. It said that the al-Qaeda core and its regional affiliates continue to actively cooperate with the Afghan Taliban in return for sanctuary and operating space. “By embedding itself within the Taliban movement, the Al-Qaeda core also aims to maintain local bases of influence as a part of the wider Afghan insurgency and receives operational support from the Taliban for its regional affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS),” the report said. It cited a UN Member state, which informed the committee that AQIS comprises around 200 fighters, who operate as advisers and trainers of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Individuals associated with the Al-Qaeda core are active in Paktika, Paktiya, Khost, Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan, the report said. It said that the ISIS core continues to fund the group in Afghanistan, noting that while sometimes the financial flows are robust, other times they run dry. “In the assessment of one Member State, ISIL in Afghanistan would not exist without support from the ISIL core. However, the ISIL core has instructed its affiliate in Afghanistan to begin to develop its own internal funding sources,” the report said. Further, the Taliban, through the al-Qaeda core, continues to wield substantial influence over regional Al- Qaeda affiliates. “Many Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters from the Afghanistan- Pakistan border area have integrated into the Taliban, leading to a marked increase in the military capabilities of the movement,” the report said, adding that currently more than 7,000 foreign terrorist fighters are fighting in Afghanistan for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda affiliates. However, the report notes that under the order of the al- Qaeda core, several of the group’s second-tier leaders had left South Asia for Syria “in line with the continued ambition of the Al-Qaeda core to play a more direct role in that ongoing conflict and use it to further its agenda”. The report noted that in a video released in April this year, Al-Zawahiri tried to inject Al-Qaeda ideology into the ongoing fight, with the aim of expanding its support base and rebuilding its regional network in the aftermath of a potential collapse of ISIL in Iraq and Syria. In the video, he directly addressed fighters in Syria, painting the Syrian conflict as part of the global fight against the “crusader enemy” and urging them to reject nationalist sentiment and wage a protracted guerrilla war against the Syrian government. PTI YAS ASK ASK

Muslim man sues Virgin Atlantic, taken off the flight as crew felt threatened for saying 9/11

MMNN:11 Aug 2017
Mohammad Khan has alleged that Virgin Atlantic staff “racially and religiously profiled” him over a “harmless” conversation with a flight stewardess and another passenger A London-based Muslim man has sued the Virgin Atlantic airlines following his being ordered off a flight by police after “innocently” mentioning the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the media reported. Mohammad Khan has alleged that Virgin Atlantic staff “racially and religiously profiled” him over a “harmless” conversation with a flight stewardess and another passenger, the Independent daily reported on Friday. The 26-year-old said he was escorted off his flight from London to Atlanta, Georgia, following a “massive overreaction” by the cabin crew. The Middlesex University graduate was travelling to the US for an interview for a business internship in Medellin, Colombia. He said another passenger had complained about the length of airport security queues as the plane taxied on the runway. “I totally innocently said ‘there’s been more security since 9/11’, then asked the stewardess ‘I bet your job has changed since 9/11’, but she looked stunned,” Khan said on Thursday. The plane was then turned around and taxied back to the terminal where he was led off by police officers. “I was racially and religiously profiled. It was a complete overreaction to completely innocent and harmless comments. I know this would not have happened if I was a white man in his 60s who had done the same thing. “It totally ruined my trip and I felt humiliated. I was made to feel like a criminal,” the Independent quoted Khan as saying. He was denied a refund on his 560 pounds ($720) ticket and was forced to spend 817 pounds ($1,060) on flights with another airline.

Escalation of tension between India and China will be disruptive, says UAE

MMNN:10 Aug 2017
UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said his country has been keeping an eye on the India-China Doklam issue and hoped that both the great powers will find a way to resolve it. Any escalation of tension between India and China on the Dokalam standoff will be potentially “very disruptive” for the countries of the region and both sides should try to resolve the issue amicably, the United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday. UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said his country has been keeping an eye on the issue and hoped that both the great powers will find a way to resolve it. Gargash on Wednesday held talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj covering all major bilateral and regional issues. The face-off between the armies of India and China in Dokalam is understood have figured at the meeting. “Any escalation between two great powers -- India and China -- is potentially very disruptive for all of us. More we have a way in adressing the the issue between these two great nations, I think we will feel more stable,” he told reporters. Gargash said he conveyed to Indian leaders that the dispute a number of Arab countries including the UAE are having with Qatar will not impact the Indian community as well as Indian interests in the region. At the same time, he accused Qatar of attempting to destabilise the Gulf region by openly supporting extremism, terrorism and jihadist elements and said that country must abandon such destructive policy. Asked about terror attacks on India from Pakistani soil, he said the UAE has been very vocal against such attacks and asserted that terrorism in the name of pushing political agenda cannot be tolerated at all. He said terrorism must be dealt with firmly and all countries must come together to combat the menace, cautioning against politicisation of religion. Gargash said ties between India and the UAE have intensified to a great extent over the last few years, adding the focus of the cooperation is now on strategic and political sphere. Asked about investment in India from the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds, the minister said a framework has to be put in place for investments. He said both sides are working together to ensure that investments in India from Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds are on a solid institutional ground. “I think we are working on this together. It will be a collective effort in order to make sure that our investments in India are on solid institutional ground,” he said. Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, has a sovereign wealth fund of USD 800 billion. India has been eyeing the fund, parked with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, for its infrastructure sector. “We have huge appetite for India. We need a legal framework (for investment). There is a huge potential,” he said. The minister indicated that the investments from the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds will come to India through its National Infrastructure and Investment Fund (NIIF). India is the UAE’s number one trading partner and the annual trade currently stands at nearly USD 60 billion. The UAE, a major player in the Gulf region, is a strategically important country for India.

North Korea warns of a strike on Guam after Trump says threats to be met with fire, fury

MMNN:9 Aug 2017
The official North Korean news agency said Pyongyang is examining operational plan for making an enveloping fire around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-1 ust hours after President Donald Trump said the US will respond to further North Korean threats with “fire and fury”, Pyongyang shot back saying it was examining plans for a missile strike on US territory in the Pacific Guam. “The KPA (Korean People’s Army) Strategic Force is now carefully examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 in order to contain the US major military bases on Guam including the Anderson Air Force Base,” a spokesman for the North Korean army said in a statement carried by the country’s state news agency. The spokesman added the plan will be put into effect when the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un decided. There was no mention in the statement to President Trump’s threat earlier in the day, which some critics said was too sharp and that he had gone too far too soon. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United states,” Trump said in remarks at his golf resort in New Jersey. “They will be met with the fire and the fury like the world has never seen.” He was responding to questions on the North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. “He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said they will be met with the fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” he added presumably referring to Kim Jong-Un, the North Korean leader, who oversaw a series of missile tests since Trump took office The president’s remarks raised concerns at home if he was indeed ready to carry out his threat and punish Pyongyang if pushed. Republican senator John McCain, who heads the senate armed services committee, told a TV station he takes exception to Trump’s comments “because you got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do”. Senior Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said the situation on the Korean peninsula was already volatile and Trump was not helping with “his bombastic comments”. Shortly after the president’s remark, US military announced two B-1 bombers flew from Guam over the Korean Peninsula as a part of “continuous bomber presence”, a US official said, in a sign of the strategic importance of Guam. Trump’s remarks followed news reports North Korea may have developed miniaturised nuclear warhead that could be carried inside missiles, and Pyongyang’s threats to teach the US “a severe lesson with its strategic nuclear force”. And that was in response, in a back-and-forth on for weeks now, to the UN security council slapping new sanctions on North Korea based on a US-led resolution — after two ICBM tests carried out by Pyongyang in one month. North Korean said it was ready to use nuclear weapon against the US if it was attacked. “Should the US pounce upon the DPRK with military force at last, the DPRK is ready to teach the US a severe lesson with its strategic nuclear force,” it said in a statement on Monday.

Iran’s Rouhani presents new male-only cabinet

MMNN:8 Aug 2017
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani put forward a new cabinet line-up on Tuesday that again included no women, despite criticism of their absence from his reformist allies. There were no major changes to Rouhani’s government, which is expected to continue his push for greater foreign investment and a technocratic approach to reviving the country’s stagnant economy. He did replace the defence minister, Major General Hossein Dehghan, with his deputy, General Amir Hatami -- the first time in more than two decades that the post has been filled by someone from the regular army rather than the elite Revolutionary Guards. The deputy economy minister, Masoud Karbasian, also replaced his boss, Ali Tayebnia. Key names in Iran’s efforts to rebuild ties with the West -- Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh -- retained their positions. All 18 cabinet members must be approved by parliament over the coming week. Rouhani’s reformist allies have already criticised the president after news leaked that he would again fail to appoint any women to the cabinet -- seen as a capitulation to religious leaders. “The lack of women ministers shows we are treading water,” Shahindokht Mowlaverdi, Rouhani’s outgoing vice president for women’s affairs, told the reformist Etemad daily on Monday. During his first term, she was one of three women among his large cohort of vice presidents, who do not require parliamentary approval. The 68-year-old president is a moderate cleric, who won a sizeable election victory over hardliner Ebrahim Raisi in May, thanks largely to the support of reformists, who have felt ignored in the selection process for the new government. Ironically, the sole female minister since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution came under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani’s hardline predecessor, whose health minister Marzieh Dastjerdi served between 2009 and 2013. With no official parties in parliament, Rouhani must coordinate among a shifting pattern of political factions, none of which holds a definitive majority of the 290 seats. He is known to have coordinated closely on his appointments with other power-brokers, including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guards and the judiciary.

Trump’s global warning: US launches process to exit Paris climate agreement

MMNN:5 Aug 2017
US officially informs UN it will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, pressing ahead with President Donald Trump’s announcement in June. The United States on Friday formally communicated to the UN its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate “as soon as it is eligible to do so” but left the door open for re-joining if and when terms were “more favorable to it”. President Donald Trump announced in June he was pulling the US out of the accord alleging it unfairly favoured countries such as India and China at the expense of America, but had said he was open to re-negotiating the deal. His offer was was rejected by most signatories, who vowed to press ahead with the Paris deal that aims to prevent the Earth from heating up by 2 degrees Celsius since the start of the industrial age. A state department statement, however, said the US will continue to participate in international climate change negotiations and meetings, including the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP-23) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The US will be sending delegations to COP-23 in Bonn, Germany in November and such other conferences and meetings, according to a state department official who spoke on the background. “As the President indicated in his June 1 announcement and subsequently, he is open to re-engaging in the Paris Agreement if the United States can identify terms that are more favourable to it, its businesses, its workers, its people, and its taxpayers,” the statement said. The president had then insisted that leaving the accord would not diminish America’s commitment to protecting the environment but the series of measures ordered by him rolling back some of President Barack Obama’s green regulations — such as those pertaining to mining of coal, for instance — would have severely limited the ability of the US to fulfill its commitments. Underlining Trump’s position, the statement said the US supports a balanced approach to climate policy that lowers emissions while promoting economic growth and ensuring energy security. The US is on a very short list of countries with Syria and Nicaragua that are not a part of the global pact signed by 195 countries in 2015 and that came into effect last November, the month Trump was elected president running on the promise of ending America’s association with it. The impact of the US exit on global warming will be severe. Climate Interactive, which tracks global emissions and pledges, estimates that if the US doesn’t reach its Paris Agreement goal an additional 0.3 degrees Celsius will be added to global warming by the end of the century. Climate Action Tracker, another outfit, expects lesser impact — additional 0.1 to 0.2 degrees Celsius by 2100. Associateed Press said the earliest the US can be out of the climate agreement is November 4, 2020 -- the day after the next presidential election. “The state department is telling the UN what the president already told the world on June 1 and it has no legal effect,” said Nigel Purvis, who directed US climate diplomacy during the Bill Clinton and George W Bush administrations. Purvis said countries can’t withdraw from new international agreements, including the Paris climate one, until three years after they go into effect. Then the process takes a year. The state department cited the same timeline, saying it can officially start withdrawing as soon as November, 2019. Under Obama, the US agreed to reduce polluting emissions more than a quarter from 2005 levels by the year 2025. There is no climate court. All that’s required in the agreement is a plan and reporting on progress toward reaching self-set goals.

Here’s how the Obamas responded to a woman’s wedding invitation

MMNN:4 Aug 2017
Liz Whitlow, from Texas, invited the Obamas to her daughter Brooke Allen’s wedding in March and received a congratulatory card signed by both of them A woman recently sent a wedding invitation to the former US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, and she received a congratulatory card signed by both of them. Liz Whitlow, from Texas, invited the Obamas to her daughter Brooke Allen’s wedding in March and received the response on July 31. “Congratulations on your wedding. We hope that your marriage is blessed with love, laughter, and happiness and that your bond grows stronger with each passing year. This occasion marks the beginning of a lifelong partnership, and as you embark on this journey, know you have our very best for the many joys and adventures that lie ahead,” their letter read. When Allen found out about Obamas’ message, she took to Twitter to share her excitement. “MY MOM DEADASS SENT THE OBAMAS A WEDDING INVITATION BACK IN MARCH AND JUST RECEIVED THIS IN THE MAIL. IM HOLLERING,” she wrote. Her tweet immediately caught the attention of the fans of the former first couple and received more than 45,000 retweets and 200,000 likes within a few days. Allen even shared a screenshot of her conversation with her mother where she says she didn’t invite the current President Donald Trump. Many came forward to share the letters they received from the Obamas. During Obama’s tenure, the White House received around 20,000 messages addressed to him each day, according to the BBC. Although he is no longer in service, it seems the Obamas continue to stay in touch with their fans with their sweet gestures.

NASA seeks ‘planetary protection officer’ to defend Earth from aliens

MMNN:3 Aug 2017
The person will draw a six figure salary and will have security clearance listed as “secret.” NASA is hiring a “planetary protection officer” who would be tasked to protect the Earth from potential alien contamination. The US government’s official employment site advertised the job which is open to US citizens and nationals for applications until August 14, Newsweek reported on Wednesday. “Planetary protection is concerned with the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration,” the advertisement said. The person who lands the job will draw a six figure salary — $124,406 to $187,000 per year — and security clearance is listed as “secret.” “NASA maintains policies for planetary protection applicable to all space flight missions that may intentionally or unintentionally carry Earth organisms and organic constituents to the planets or other solar system bodies, and any mission employing spacecraft, which are intended to return to Earth and its biosphere with samples from extraterrestrial targets of exploration” the job advert said. “This policy is based on federal requirements and international treaties and agreements,” it added. Candidates must have “broad engineering expertise,” and should be an expert in planetary protection. “This includes demonstrated technical expertise to independently form technically sound judgments and evaluations in considerably complex situations,” according to the advert.

Doklam standoff: China cites 2006 document to accuse Indian troops of trespassing

MMNN:2 Aug 2017
The stand-off on a plateau next to the Indian state of Sikkim, which borders China, has ratcheted up tensions between the neighbours China on Wednesday cited a 2006 diplomatic document from talks between the Special Representatives on the border issue to back up its claim that Indian troops had trespassed into Chinese territory, triggering the standoff at Donglang in June. Beijing contended the document – a “non-paper” provided by the Indian side during the meeting of the Special Representatives on the boundary issue on May 10, 2006 – indicated the two sides had agreed to the boundary alignment in the Sikkim sector under an 1890 treaty signed by Great Britain and China. “Both sides agree on the boundary alignment in the Sikkim Sector,” the Chinese foreign ministry quoted the non-paper as saying. In a first, China also floated the idea that New Delhi and Beijing should sign a new boundary convention to replace the 1890 “Convention between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet” that is said to have demarcated the Sikkim boundary. A non-paper is an informal document, usually without explicit attribution, used in diplomatic negotiations. It is rare for the contents of such a document to be officially made public by either parties involved in negotiations. The 15-page Chinese statement made no mention of the India foreign ministry’s assertion in a statement issued on June 30 that the two sides had reached an agreement in 2012 that the “tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries”. India had also said that any attempt to “unilaterally determine tri-junction points” would violate this understanding. The face-off began on June 16, when Indian troops opposed the building of a road by Chinese forces at Donglang or Doklam, which is under China’s control but claimed by Bhutan. China insists that the Indian troops had trespassed into its territory. India has said the road construction alters the status quo and has “serious security implications”. The Chinese statement said the boundary in the Sikkim sector “has long been delimited by the 1890 convention” between China and Great Britain and even the signing of a new boundary convention would “in no way” alter the nature of the boundary in the sector. “The Chinese and Indian sides have been in discussion on making the boundary in the Sikkim Sector an ‘early harvest’ in the settlement of the entire boundary question during the meetings between the Special Representatives on the China-India Boundary Question,” it added. The more than 2,500-word statement was the latest in the series of steps by the Chinese side blaming India for the impasse. Beijing wants India to withdraw its troops from Donglang before the two sides can open talks Referring to the standoff, the statement said: “On 16 June 2017, the Chinese side was building a road in the Dong Lang area. On 18 June, over 270 Indian border troops, carrying weapons and driving two bulldozers, crossed the boundary in the Sikkim Sector at the Duo Ka La (Doka La) pass and advanced more than 100 meters into the Chinese territory to obstruct the road building of the Chinese side, causing tension in the area. “In addition to the two bulldozers, the trespassing Indian border troops, reaching as many as over 400 people at one point, have put up three tents and advanced over 180 meters into the Chinese territory. As of the end of July, there were still over 40 Indian border troops and one bulldozer illegally staying in the Chinese territory,” it added. The statement argued it was India that was changing the “status quo” by fortifying its positions. It contended that Indian troops had built a “large number of infrastructure facilities”, including roads at Duo Ka pass and nearby areas on the Indian side, and “fortifications and other military installations”. China, the statement said, has very little infrastructure on its side. “The fact of the matter is it is India that has attempted time and again to change the status quo of the China-India boundary in the Sikkim Sector, which poses a grave security threat to China,” it said. The statement reiterated China’s contention that it would take steps to safeguard its “legitimate and lawful rights and interests”. It added, “India should immediately and unconditionally withdraw its trespassing border troops back to the Indian side of the boundary. This is a prerequisite and basis for resolving the incident

US ‘done talking about North Korea’, agrees with Japan on need for action

MMNN:31 July 2017
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke with US President Donald Trump on Monday and agreed on the need for further action on North Korea just hours after the US Ambassador to the United Nations said the United States is “done talking about North Korea”. Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement that China must decide if it is willing to back imposing stronger UN sanctions on North Korea over Friday night’s long-range missile test, the second this month. Any new UN Security Council resolution “that does not significantly increase the international pressure on North Korea is of no value,” Haley said, adding that Japan and South Korea also needed to do more. Abe told reporters following his conversation with Trump that repeated efforts by the international community to find a peaceful solution to the North Korean issue had yet to bear fruit in the face of Pyongyang’s unilateral “escalation” of the situation. “International society, including Russia and China, need to take this seriously and increase pressure,” Abe said, adding that the two nations would take steps towards concrete action but did not give details. Abe and Trump did not discuss military action against North Korea, nor what would constitute the crossing of a “red line” by Pyongyang, Deputy Chief Cabinet spokesman Koichi Hagiuda told reporters. North Korea said on Saturday it had conducted another successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that proved its ability to strike the US mainland, drawing a sharp warning from Trump and a rebuke from China. Trump later wrote on Twitter that he was “very disappointed” in China and that Beijing had done “nothing” for the United States in regards to North Korea, something he would not allow to continue China has yet to officially respond to Trump’s tweet, but State-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said in a Monday editorial that Trump’s “wrong tweet” was of no help to resolving the situation, and that he did not understand the issues. “Pyongyang is determined to develop its nuclear and missile programme and does not care about military threats from the US and South Korea. How could Chinese sanctions change the situation?” the paper, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, added. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is on vacation, planned to have a phone call with Trump soon, a senior official at the Presidential Blue House said. “If the two heads of state talk, they will likely discuss their respective stances on North Korea, the U.S.-(South Korea’s) alliance’s standpoint on North Korea and other things including how to impose heavy sanctions.” The United States flew two supersonic B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula in a show of force on Sunday in response to the missile test and the July 3 launch of the “Hwasong-14” rocket, the Pentagon said. The bombers took off from a US air base in Guam, and were joined by Japanese and South Korean fighter jets during the exercise. “North Korea remains the most urgent threat to regional stability,” Pacific Air Forces commander General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy said in a statement. “If called upon, we are ready to respond with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing.”

Pakistan: PML-N to choose Nawaz Sharif’s successor today

MMNN:29 July 2017
The ruling PML-N will decide on Nawaz Sharif’s successor at a meeting in Islamabad following his ouster as prime minister by the Supreme Court Pakistan’s ruling PML-N party will decide on Saturday whether Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif will take on the mantle of prime minister following Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification or some other party leader will hold the post till elections due next year. Hours after he was ousted by the Supreme Court on Friday for dishonesty in declaring his assets, Pakistani media reported that Sharif had told a meeting of top PML-N leaders he wanted Shehbaz to succeed him. However, Shehbaz is a member of the provincial assembly of Punjab and will have to be elected to Parliament in order to become premier. Reports suggested the PML-N could nominate another MP to serve as interim prime minister for the 45-day period during which the ruling party can prove its two-thirds majority in Parliament and elect a new leader of the House. However, there were also reports that the PML-N was mulling the option of nominating an MP who would serve as premier for the remaining tenure of the government. Elections are expected to be held by May 2018. A final decision will be made at a PML-N meeting in Islamabad on Saturday. The meeting will also choose members of the new premier’s cabinet. If the party decides to choose an interim prime minister, the names being floated are of federal ministers Khaqan Abbasi, Khwaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal and Khurram Dastagir Khan and National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq. Some circles have also named Sharif’s wife Kulsoom Nawaz as a possible candidate. Sharif has moved out of the sprawling Prime Minister House’s in the heart of Islamabad and into the nearby Punjab House. All members of his cabinet have been denotified and all protocol has been removed. At many public places such as airports and train stations, Sharif’s picture has been removed. There were no reports of major disturbances in any city following the Supreme Court’s verdict except for some minor skirmishes between workers of different parties in Islamabad. The top court also directed the National Accountability Bureau, the main anti-corruption watchdog, to file a case against Sharif, his children Maryam, Hussain and Hassan and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar for owning offshore assets. It also ordered a criminal investigation against finance minister Ishaq Dar, who is related to Sharif.

Uzbekistan jails ex-president’s daughter Gulnara Karimova for fraud, money laundering

MMNN:28 July 2017
Uzbekistan said Friday that it has jailed the eldest daughter of late president Islam Karimov, Gulnara Karimova — once a prominent socialite, fashion designer and singer — after charging her with massive fraud and money laundering. In a statement the Uzbekistan Prosecutor-General’s Office said that “Gulnara Karimova has been charged” with crimes including fraud, money laundering and concealing foreign currency “and she has been held behind bars”. Karimova, 45, is the eldest daughter of the late authoritarian president of the secretive ex-Soviet Central Asian state, who died following a reported stroke in September last year. She was once tipped to succeed her father and was a high-profile figure, serving in diplomatic posts including as ambassador to Spain and Uzbekistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva. She also organised a fashion week, had her own jewellery line and released pop singles under the name Googoosha as well as running entertainment television channels. In a statement, the organised crime unit of the Prosecutor-General’s Office said she was a member of an organised criminal group that controlled assets worth more than $1.3 billion in 12 countries. It said these included London properties worth £22.9 million ($29.95 million) and hotels in Dubai worth $67.4 million. Among the long list of allegations against Karimova are that she fraudulently acquired assets worth $595 million and received $869.3 million in kickbacks that were paid into offshore accounts. She has been reportedly under house arrest in the country since 2014 after publicly feuding with her mother and her younger sister Lola on Twitter. She did not attend her father’s funeral. The statement by the Prosecutor-General’s office says that she was handed a five-year non-custodial sentence, that did not see her jailed, in 2015. In an interview with the BBC in December, her London-based son Islam Karimov Jr., 23, called on authorities in Uzbekistan to prove that his mother was alive and well. Karimova is also the subject of a multi-year corruption probe targeting Western telecoms firms that US and European investigators say paid her billions of dollars to secure access to the national market. Swiss prosecutors reportedly questioned her in Tashkent in December, quashing rumours of her possible death

In India-Israel Defense Ties, A Rope-Maker Makes Big Gains

MMNN:27 July 2017
Garware-Wall Ropes Ltd. aims to win defense contracts by forging partnerships and developing new products to complement its traditional offerings of industrial ropes, textiles and nets used in fishing and sports Amid the scores of companies looking to cash in on India's plans to boost defense spending and open up contracts to the local private sector, one unlikely hopeful stands out: a ropemaker. Garware-Wall Ropes Ltd. aims to win defense contracts by forging partnerships and developing new products to complement its traditional offerings of industrial ropes, textiles and nets used in fishing and sports. The company plans to begin making fabric covers that protect radar equipment from weather conditions, and earlier this month it signed a pact with Israel's Aero-T to manufacture surveillance balloons called aerostats. "We will work out the details on the venture such as revenue-sharing and investments soon, and Garware aims to have a significant stake in it," Shujaul Rehman, chief executive officer of the Pune-based company, said in a phone interview on Tuesday. India plans to spend $250 billion by 2025 to modernize its armed forces and in May approved a policy that allows companies to partner with foreign firms and to boost local manufacturing. The plans have helped inflate shares of companies that are queuing up to bid for supply contracts ranging from explosives and surveillance equipment to combat planes and submarines. Garware-Wall's stock has nearly doubled in the past 12 months compared with a 32 percent gain in the S&P BSE Small Cap Index. While the ropemaker has yet to officially factor in any boost from defense orders, the CEO envisions a total revenue contribution of about 1 billion rupees over 2020-22. "Demand from all the businesses that it supplies to is expected to improve the top-line, and we see the defense sector adding to the stream in the next couple of years," Hyderabad-based Anil Kumar, an equity analyst at Firstcall India Equity Advisors Pvt., said by phone. Kumar, who has an overweight rating on the stock, expects Garware-Wall Rope's operating profit and net income to rise at least 22 percent annually and sees its partnership with Aero-T as "another step for future growth." Widening margins have helped the ropemaker's profits rise at a faster pace than revenue. Net income increased at an average 47 percent annually for the past three financial years versus around 8 percent sales growth. The company cites lower costs and sales of more-profitable products as the main reason for the margin improvement. Garware-Wall aims to maintain its recent growth and profitability levels. "We sell a considerable percentage of high-margin products and aim to improve it to as much as 70 percent of total sales from the current contribution of around 50 percent," Rehman said.

Trump blames Obama for Russia and Iran’s control over Syria

MMNN:26 July 2017
President Donald Trump said he will not let Bashar al-Assad get away with using chemical weapons on his people in Syria, as he slammed his predecessor Barack Obama for not taking enough action on “horrible acts against humanity” in the war-ravaged country. Had President Obama gone across that line and done what he should have done, I don’t believe you’d have Russia and I don’t believe you’d have Iran to anywhere near the extent, and maybe not at all, in Syria today,” Trump told reporters at a joint news conference with visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday. “I am not a fan of Assad. I certainly think that what he’s done to that country (Syria) and to humanity is horrible. I have been saying that for a long time. I am not somebody that will stand by and let him get away with what he tried to do,” he said. In the “red line” warning of 2013, Obama responded to reports that Assad had used chemical weapons by saying he would meet further chemical weapons use with force. Later, Assad again used chemical weapons, and Obama opted to have Russia step in to remove them. “He (Assad) did it a number of times when President Obama drew the red line in the sand, and then he should have crossed that red line, because some horrible acts against humanity took place, including gas and the killing through gases. That was a bad day for this country,” Trump said. He said the US is having extraordinary success against the ISIS One of the things that we have made tremendous strides at is getting rid of ISIS. We have generals that don’t like to talk, they like to do,” he said. Trump said the US has made “tremendous strides” against the Islamic State terror group in Syria, Iraq and other locations. “Our military is an incredible fighting force. And as you know, I let the commanders on the ground do what they had to do,” he said. The US president added that before he took charge, “The commanders had to call the White House and speak to people that didn’t know what was happening, where they were, what locations, practically, probably never heard of the countries they were talking about or the towns.” Responding to another question, Trump said he would be making his position clear on the Hezbollah clear in the next 24 hours. “I’ll be making my position very clear over the next 24 hours. We’re going to see what is exactly taking place. I have meetings with some of my very expert military representatives and others. So I’ll be making that decision very shortly,” he said.

US Envoy Holds Russia Responsible For 'Hot War' In Ukraine

MMNN:24 July 2017
Kurt Volker, who was appointed this month as the State Department's special representative for negotiations to end more than three years of fighting, was visiting Kiev on the eve of telephone talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France on how to stem a conflict that has claimed 10,000 lives. KIEV: The new US special envoy on Ukraine said Sunday that Russia is responsible for the "hot war" in the country's east, after fresh clashes between government forces and Russian-backed rebels. Kurt Volker, who was appointed this month as the State Department's special representative for negotiations to end more than three years of fighting, was visiting on the eve of telephone talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France on how to stem a conflict that has claimed 10,000 lives. "This is not a frozen conflict, this is a hot war and it is an immediate crisis that we all need to address as quickly as possible," Volker said while visiting the government-controlled city of Kramatorsk in the war-torn Donetsk region. "I wanted to come here... and to see firsthand the situation along the line of conflict," Volker, wearing a bulletproof vest, told journalists. "It is truly a high degree of suffering, there was a high human cost to this conflict and that is another reason why it is so urgent that we address it." His visit follows a fresh flare up in fighting in eastern Ukraine which has claimed the lives of 11 Ukrainian troops over the past few days, the most serious surge in bloodshed in recent months. Ukraine and the West say Moscow has funnelled troops and arms across the border to fan the flames of the war in Europe's backyard. Moscow has denied the allegations, despite overwhelming evidence that it has been involved in the fighting and its explicit political support for the rebels. Volker agreed when asked whether he considered the conflict to be the result of Russian aggression rather than a Ukrainian civil war. "We understand the way this conflict has begun, we understand the way it is being managed today and that is why it is important the US become more engaged," the former US ambassador to NATO said. On Monday, Volker will have talks with Ukrainian authorities in Kiev and next week will visit France, Belgium, Austria and Britain before going back to Washington to make "some recommendations about exactly how the US can engage better". The US and EU have imposed sanctions on Russia, but efforts to secure a peace Ukraine deal have ground to a halt as the fighting has dragged on. The conflict, along with Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, has pushed ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

Nawaz Sharif’s brother to replace him in case of conviction: Report

MMNN:22 July 2017
Defence minister Khawaja Asif will most likely become the interim prime minister for 45 days till Punjab province chief minister Shehbaz Sharif is elected in bypolls, Geo News reported, Beleaguered Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother and Punjab province chief minister Shehbaz Sharif is expected to replace him if he is disqualified by the Supreme Court for alleged corruption and money laundering in the sensitive Panama Papers case, according to a media report. Since Shehbaz is not a member of the National Assembly — the lower house of the Parliament — he cannot succeed immediately and would have to contest elections. Therefore, defence minister Khawaja Asif will most likely become the interim prime minister for 45 days till Shehbaz is elected in bypolls, Geo News reported, citing sources, that it was decided in a high-level huddle of ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) on Friday. It was also decided during the meeting that the party will utilise all legal and constitutional options available if the verdict goes against the premier. The meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Sharif, was also attended by Shehbaz along with federal ministers, advisers and the legal team representing the Sharif family in the Panama Papers case. The meeting reviewed the situation following developments in the Supreme Court. According to sources, the legal team briefed the prime minister on the Panama Papers case. Speaking in a talk show, Asif rebuffed the media reports. “The entire party is behind the leadership of Nawaz Sharif. There is no any prime ministerial candidate. There has been no discussion in the meeting on this issue”. The Supreme Court concluded hearing the sensitive Panama Papers case against Sharif, 67, and his family on Friday for alleged corruption and money laundering, but reserved its verdict that could jeopardise his political future. The judgement was reserved after counsels of both sides concluded their arguments before a three-judge bench of the apex court headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan. The bench did not immediately give any date to give its judgement. A six-member JIT was set up in May by the Supreme Court with the mandate to probe the Sharif family for allegedly failing to provide the trail of money used to buy properties in London in 1990s. The JIT has recommended that the report’s Volume-X should be treated as confidential as it contains the details of correspondence with other countries. So far Sharif has refused to quit, calling the investigators’ report a compilation of “allegations and assumptions”. His decision to stay in power was endorsed by the federal Cabinet last week.

Two killed, over 100 injured as 6.7-magnitude earthquake hits Greek, Turkey tourist resorts

MMNN:21 July 2017
Two people, likely foreign tourists, were killed and more than 100 people injured on the Greek island of Kos when an earthquake shook popular Greek and Turkish holiday destinations in the Aegean Sea. The epicentre of the shallow 6.7 magnitude quake was some 10.3 kilometres (6.4 miles) south of the major Turkish resort of Bodrum, a magnet for holidaymakers in the summer, and 16.2 kilometres east of the island of Kos in Greece, the US Geological Survey said. “We have two dead and people injured,” a hospital official on Kos told AFP, adding that the victims were killed when the ceiling of a building collapsed. Kos mayor Georges Kyritsis told Skai radio the two victims were foreigners. A local journalist, interviewed by the same station, said the victims were found in a bustling part of the town. The Greek secretary of state for the merchant navy Nektarios Santorinios, said the injury toll had risen to 120. Reports said the state hospital in Bodrum was evacuated after cracks appeared, with new patients being examined in a garden outside. The governor of the southern Mugla province -- where Bodrum is located -- said some people had been slightly injured after falling out of windows in panic. Television footage showed throngs of worried residents and holidaymakers in Bodrum’s streets. “The biggest problem at the moment are electricity cuts in certain areas (of the city),” Bodrum mayor Mehmet Kocadon told NTV television. “There is light damage and no reports that anyone has been killed” in the area, he added. The quake struck Friday at 0131 local time (2231 GMT Thursday). ‘I screamed’ The Adliye mosque in central Bodrum suffered some damage, with police cordoning it off to prevent people being wounded by fallen debris, the state-run Anadolu news agency said. The quake was also felt on the Datca peninsula -- also a major resort area -- as well as Turkey’s third city of Izmir on the Aegean to the north. Turkish television said the earthquake triggered high waves off Gumbet near Bodrum which flooded a road and left parked cars stranded. There were no reports of casualties. An AFP correspondent holidaying in Bodrum said the quake was followed by aftershocks. “The bed shook a lot. Some bottles fell and broke in the kitchen and the patio,” said Turkish pensioner Dilber Arikan, who has a summer house in the area. “I screamed I was very scared because I was alone.” Erdinc Kalece, 47, and his son Baris, 23, were seeing out the night in the open air in a makeshift bed outside their house in the Turgutreis district outside Bodrum. “My father and mother were sleeping, I was driving. It was very bad. The road was trembling... I slowed down, waited. I was not scared but anxious,” said Baris. Erdinc added: “Now we’re waiting for the aftershock quakes to end.” The quake was also felt on the Greek island of Rhodes. “We were very surprised. We were scared and we immediately went outside,” Teddy Dijoux, who was holidaying with his family at a Rhodes resort, told AFP. “That lasted a long time. I quickly gathered up my children to leave the hotel,” said holidaymaker Sylvie Jannot. Turkey and Greece sit on significant fault lines and have regularly been hit by earthquakes in recent years. This year alone, Turkey’s western Aegean coast was hit by several significant earthquakes, which brought back memories of past deadly earthquakes. In June, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake gutted a village on the Greek island of Lesbos, killing a woman and leaving more than 15 injured. The quake also caused panic on Turkey’s Aegean coast. On August 17, 1999, a huge earthquake measuring more than 7.0 magnitude near the city of Izmit devastated vast areas in the country’s densely populated northwestern zone, notably around Istanbul, killing over 17,000 people.

Flower seller receiving help from strangers will make you believe that goodness still exists

MMNN:20 July 2017
In times when our newspapers are flooded with stories of hatred and negativity, this story of an old man from Karachi, Pakistan is heartening. A Facebook page ‘As If I Have Eaten’ shared the story of Baba Hameed who was selling jasmine garlands in pouring rain at 2am. A passerby, Muhammad Usman, couldn’t stop wondering why was such an old man was trying to sell flowers so late in the night on the deserted road. He stopped to ask if he had eaten anything and if he would like to have dinner with him. Hameed was pleasantly surprised by the offer. They both headed to a nearby Subway and that’s when the two got chatting. Usman discovered that Hameed was trying to arrange money for his only daughter’s wedding, planned at the end of the month. “I earn a daily wage of 200 to 300 PKR (120-180 INR). How can I go home until I do not earn my targeted amount?” According to the FB post, Hameed was running short of 50,000 PKR (around 30,000 INR). The dinner was finished and both parted ways, but it didn’t end there. Usman along with his friend Usama Bin Ahmed run the Facebook page ‘As If I Have Eaten’ aimed to support the cause to feed poor children. They posted about Usman’s chance encounter on the page requesting people to contribute and help Hameed in whatever way they could. In two days, the required amount to help Hameed was collected. The post has over 31k reactions and over 8300 shares in less than a week.

We oppose militarisation of South China Sea: Australia’s foreign minister

MMNN:19 July 2017
India has commercial interests in the South China Sea and has been pressing for resolving the dispute as per the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop on Tuesday said her country opposes Beijing’s construction of artificial reefs and their militarisation in the disputed South China Sea, holding that freedom of navigation must be ensured. The minister, who was delivering a lecture in New Delhi, said at the same time that there was a need to engage with Beijing as it would be in no one’s interest to see the Chinese economy falter. “Rising nationalism is leading to a narrow definition of national interest and a more transactional approach in negotiations. These factors reduce the prospects of multilateral cooperation in collective interest,” said Bishop, who is on a two-day visit to New Delhi. China has constructed artificial reefs in the resource- rich South China and has been ramping up military infrastructure there despite stiff opposition from countries including Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines, which are involved in the territorial dispute. “We continue to oppose the construction of artificial reefs and militarisation of those structures in the South China Sea,” the visiting minister said. India has commercial interests in the South China Sea and has been pressing for resolving the dispute as per the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, besides advocating freedom of navigation in the resource-rich area. Bishop said the right to freedom of navigation must be ensured as it its crucial for trade. “It is important that all states respect international laws including the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) using it as a guide to resolve disputes,” she said while delivering the Second Indo-Pacific Oration, organised by think-tank ORF and the Australian high commission. “Our objective must be to encourage China to exercise its economic and strategic weight in a way that respects the sovereign equality of states that upholds and strengthen the rules-based order and benefits all nations,” she said. The Australian foreign minister also “applauded” India for successfully and peacefully resolving a long-running maritime dispute with Bangladesh in 2014 under the provisions of the UNCLOS. Bishop emphasised on the need to “close the gaps” for an early conclusion of the negotiations for a free trade agreement between India and Australia. She said that in years to come, the greatest hope of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region lies in all nations “respecting and contributing to international law to protect national sovereignty” of other nations and strengthen the norms that guide relations between countries. “In the Indian Ocean, we need a collective leadership of Australia, India, Indonesia and other partners to ensure a strong rule-based culture is respected,” she said. Bishop also pitched for strengthening the Indian Ocean Rim Association forum. She also said Australia has always supported India’s bid for a seat in the United Nations Security Council “to better reflect contemporary realities”. Bishop welcomed the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax and said this will increase India’s competitiveness, enable it to open up its market and benefit from trade opportunities. She also called for a quadrilateral maritime exercise involving India, Australia and other Indo-Pacific countries. As India looks to increase its energy supply security through a combination of traditional, nuclear and renewable resources to support its growth, Australia is more poised as reliable supplier of resources and technology, she said. India and Australia have signed a nuclear cooperation agreement under which it latter can supply uranium.

Pakistan: Bomb attacks in Peshawar and Chaman kill 3 troops

MMNN:17 July 2017
A Two bomb attacks in Peshawar and Chaman, targeting the security forces, killed three troops and wounded eight more. Separate bombings targeted members of Pakistan’s paramilitary border force on Monday, killing at least three troops and wounding eight, officials said. In the first attack, a Taliban suicide bomber on a motorcycle hit a Frontier Corps vehicle in Peshawar, near the Afghan border, killing two troops and wounding seven. A few hours later, a second bomb struck at Chaman in southwestern Balochistan province, also on the border with Afghanistan, killing a soldier and wounding another.

Christian man in Pakistan arrested for blasphemous remark against Prophet

MMNN:15 July 2017
A Christian man has been arrested on charges of blasphemy in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Soon after arresting the suspect, police shifted him to an undisclosed location over fears that people led by religious groups might attack the police station. The incident took place at Kharian Gujrat, some 200 km from Lahore, the capital of Punjab. Nadeem Ahmed, owner of an electric shop in Dinga town, filed a police complaint that a friend informed him on Thursday that a Christian sweeper allegedly uttered remarks against the Prophet, according to superintendent of police Maaz Zafar. The sweeper worked at a private hospital, and a case has been registered against him. Zafar said police raided the whereabouts of the sweeper and arrested him. He said the situation in the area was under control and police are patrolling the town. Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan and those accused of it have become an easy target for extremists.

Russia scandal: Democrats call for removal of Jared Kushner’s security clearance

MMNN:14 Jul 2017
Donald Trump’s eldest son Don Jr may be in the media spotlight over his notorious Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. But the latest revelation in the burgeoning scandal has added to the pressure on another family member who was at the meeting and is already in the crosshairs of investigators - Jared Kushner, the president’s influential son-in-law. Democrats are up in arms, demanding that the 36-year-old Kushner - a senior adviser to the president with an office in the White House - be stripped of his security clearance. “There doesn’t seem to be any ethical standard in the White House,” Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Thursday. “Jared Kushner’s security clearance must be immediately revoked.” Even some from Trump’s Republican Party are not so sure that Kushner - who is married to the president’s eldest daughter Ivanka - should remain in the West Wing. “I’m going out on a limb here - but I would say I think it would be in the president’s best interest if he removed all of his children from the White House,” Texas representative Bill Flores said on Thursday. “Not only Donald Trump (Jr.), but Ivanka and Jared Kushner.” Omissions on security clearance forms While Donald Jr has no role in his father’s administration - he is helping run his corporate empire - Kushner is one of Trump’s closest advisors. The Harvard graduate is also the progeny of a powerful New York real estate family, and has long been in Trump’s inner circle. It was actually an omission on a government security clearance application filed by Kushner that led to the revelation of the meeting between himself, Donald Jr, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and the Russian lawyer. It also led Donald Jr to release an email chain about the planning of that meeting - which is now being cited as the most serious evidence yet of alleged collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. In the June 2016 emails, Donald Jr eagerly agrees to a meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer who is said to possess incriminating information about Clinton and invites Kushner and Manafort to come along. Kushner, filing a security clearance document known as an SF-86, initially neglected to mention that he attended the meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya - as well as contacts he had with several other Russians, including Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. The meeting with Veselnitskaya came to light only after Kushner filed an amended SF-86 form. Veselnitskaya confirmed to CNN and MSNBC that Kushner attended the meeting but said he was there for only “seven to 10 minutes” and she had never intended to hand over damaging information about Clinton anyway. Russia ties under microscope But even before revelations of the Veselnitskaya meeting came to light, Kushner’s other dealings with Russian officials have been facing scrutiny. According to The Washington Post, Kushner - at a December 2016 meeting with Kislyak - raised the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications link between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin. That same month, Kushner also met with Sergey Gorkov, chief of Vnesheconombank and a former member of Russian intelligence. The bank, a key arm of the Russian government, is under tough US sanctions. The Post reported last month that Kushner’s finances and business dealings were being examined as part of the probe led by special counsel and former FBI director Robert Mueller into whether the Trump campaign teamed with Russia to help tilt the presidential race in favor of the billionaire tycoon. And this week, the McClatchy newspaper group reported that congressional and Justice Department investigators were looking into whether the Trump campaign helped Russian cyber operatives bombard key voting districts with “fake news” about Clinton. Kushner was in charge of the Trump campaign’s digital operations. He now plays a major role in shaping foreign policy. ‘Witch hunt’? US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a massive effort to swing the election to Trump, including hacking and leaking embarrassing emails from Democrats. Trump has vehemently denied any collusion between his campaign and Russia and repeatedly claimed to be the victim of a “witch hunt” by the media and sore loser Democrats. Kushner is expected to discuss his Russian contacts at some point with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is leading one of the several probes into Russian election interference. But ahead of that testimony -- and with unanswered questions mounting around him -- opposition Democrats are demanding action now. “It is unclear why Mr Kushner continues to have access to classified information while these allegations are being investigated,” said a letter from nearly 20 members of the House Oversight Committee sent to the White House last month.

Former Brazil president Lula da Silva gets nearly 10 years in jail for graft

MMNN:13 Jul 2017
Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison for graft in a stark fall from grace for the iconic leftist leader. Lula, who ruled Brazil from 2003-2010, was convicted and handed a 9.5-year prison term on Wednesday for accepting a luxury seaside apartment and $1.1 million, the latest twist in a giant corruption probe engulfing Latin America’s largest economy. But anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro said the 71-year-old Lula would remain free pending an appeal -- something his lawyers immediately said they would lodge. “We are appealing and will prove his innocence,” the lawyers said in a statement sent to AFP. The conviction nevertheless landed a heavy blow on the prospect of Lula making a political comeback in presidential elections due in October next year. The verdict also sent a dramatic message to much of Brazil’s political class that they, too, risked falling afoul of the anti-graft drive. Even the current president, Michel Temer, has been charged with taking bribes and several of his ministers have resigned after corruption claims were made. The sea change has come about because of Operation “Car Wash,” a sweeping probe looking into a giant embezzlement and kickbacks scheme involving state-owned oil group Petrobras, construction firms and several political parties -- Lula’s Workers’ Party chief among them. Lula denies charges But while many Brazilians welcome the long-overdue clean-up, the uncertainty is hobbling their country’s struggle to exit from a historic recession. The verdict against Lula “all but rules him out of the running for next year’s presidential election,” said Capital Economics, an economic analysis firm. It said the court’s decision was “likely to give a near-term boost to Brazilian markets” as the likelihood waned of Lula, a former union leader, returning to power and quashing needed economic reforms championed by Temer. Lula has repeatedly denied taking any bribes during or after his presidency. He has described the investigation against him as a campaign to prevent his return to power. The Workers’ Party called Lula’s conviction and sentence “an attack on democracy” and Brazil’s constitution, accusing the judge of bias. Lula was “serene” upon receiving the news, though he felt “a natural indignation, like anyone convicted without proof,” said one of his lawyers, Cristiano Zanin Martins. Another lawyer, Valeska Zanin Martins, added: “They want to leave Lula out of the presidential race, and Lula leads the polls.” The conviction focused on allegations that Lula received the triplex apartment and cash as bribes from one of Brazil’s biggest construction companies, OAS. The judge ordered that the apartment be confiscated. “Between the crimes of corruption and money laundering, there are sufficient grounds for sentences totaling nine years and six months of incarceration,” Moro said in his verdict. Political fallout The sentence by Moro -- whose wide popularity in Brazil for his anti-corruption work has prompted some to see him as a possible presidential candidate -- fed into broader political ructions in Brazil. Lula’s chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and booted from office last year, with Temer, her vice president, taking over. Two weeks ago, Moro sentenced an influential minister in the Lula and Rousseff governments, Antonio Palocci, to 12 years in prison for corruption. Palocci played a central role in the “Car Wash” scheme, most of which unfolded when Lula’s Workers’ Party was in power from 2003 to 2016. Prosecutors said Palocci was a pointman in the flow of “bribes between the Odebrecht construction group and intermediaries of the Workers’ Party,” laundering more than $10 million used for party campaign finances. Odebrecht, an industrial conglomerate with projects around the world, named Palocci “the Italian” in its list of code names for politicians regularly taking bribes in exchange for lucrative contracts with Petrobras and other favors. The apartment bribe is one of five corruption cases stacked against Lula. Others include allegations that Odebrecht gave $3.7 million to Lula so he could buy land to build the Lula Institution highlighting his political legacy, and that he received a kickback in Brazil’s purchase of Swedish warplanes.

Lack of ‘Calibri’: How a humble font has put Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif in the crosshairs

MMNN:12 Jul 2017
The joint investigation team (JIT) probing Sharif’s alleged involvment in Panama Papers graft case has accused Maryam Sharif of providing ‘fake/falsified documents’. An inadvertent use of a type font has landed Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a soup. The joint investigation team (JIT), probing Sharif’s alleged involvement in the Panama Papers graft case, has accused his daughter Maryam Sharif of providing “fake/falsified documents”. The JIT said Maryam, her brothers Hussain and Hassan, and husband Mohammad Safdar signed falsified documents to mislead the country’s apex court. The forensic laboratory inferred that the font used in the property deed, which dates back to 2006, was Microsoft’s ‘Calibri’, after examining the ‘original documents’ submitted by Maryam. However, there’s a catch. Sharif claimed the deed was signed in 2006 but Calibri was not even “commercially available” before 2007. His alleged goof-up has become the butt of jokes and memes on social media with many terming it as an embarrassment for the sitting prime minister. Some even called it #FontGate The Panama Papers case is about alleged money laundering by Sharif in the 1990s, when he twice served as Pakistan’s Prime Minister to purchase assets in London. The Joint Investigation Team was formed by the Supreme Court to probe the money trail

Donald Trump’s son admits he wanted information on Clinton from Russian lawyer

MMNN:11 Jul 2017
A meeting between US President Donald Trump’s eldest son and a Russian lawyer during the presidential campaign occurred at the behest of a Moscow-based singer with family ties to Trump’s businesses, according to a participant in the talks. Donald Trump Jr acknowledged on Monday that he made time for the meeting hoping to get information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. The circumstances surrounding the meeting, and a report by The New York Times late on Monday that Trump Jr was told ahead of time that the source of the information was the Russian government, fueled new questions about the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Moscow, which are being scrutinised by federal and congressional investigators. The Times reported that Trump Jr, who was a key campaign adviser to his father, was told the Russian government was behind the information on Clinton in an email from music publicist Rob Goldstone. The Times cited three unnamed people with knowledge of the email. The report is the first public word that Trump Jr accepted the meeting with the understanding that he would be presented with damaging information about his father’s political opponent and that the material could have emanated from the Kremlin. Goldstone spoke to The Associated Press earlier Monday to confirm he had set up the meeting on behalf of his client, Emin Agalarov, but he did not disclose the contents of the email described by The Times. Goldstone did not immediately respond to attempts to contact him Monday night. In a statement, Trump Jr’s New York-based attorney Alan Futerfas called the Times report “much ado about nothing,” though he acknowledged his client had received an email from Goldstone to set up a meeting with the purpose of passing along damaging information on Clinton. His statement did not dispute the Times report on the email. Futerfas said Trump Jr. was not told the specifics of the information and nothing came of the meeting. “The bottom line is that Don, Jr. did nothing wrong,” Futerfas said in the statement, noting that the younger Trump hasn’t been contacted by any congressional panel or special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. The White House referred questions to the president’s son. Mark Corallo, a spokesman for President Donald Trump’s outside legal team, would not comment on the Times story, reiterating only that Trump “was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.” Earlier Monday, Trump Jr. tried to brush off the significance of the meeting, tweeting sarcastically, “Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent ... went nowhere but had to listen.” Trump Jr also said on Twitter he was willing to work with the Senate intelligence committee, one of the panels probing possible campaign collusion, “to pass on what I know.” Lawmakers on the committee from both parties said they indeed wanted to talk with the president’s son. Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the panel “needs to interview him and others who attended the meeting.” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., agreed, saying, “Based on his own admissions, this is an attempt at collusion.” The sequence of events that led to the June 2016 meeting highlighted the tangled web of relationships that investigators now are sorting through. The president’s son said the meeting was arranged by an acquaintance he knew through the 2013 Miss Universe pageant Trump held in Moscow. Trump Jr. initially didn’t name the acquaintance, but in an interview with the AP, Goldstone confirmed he set up the meeting on behalf of Agalarov. Goldstone said the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, stated that she had information about purported illegal campaign contributions to the Democratic National Committee that she thought Trump Jr. might find helpful. Goldstone said Trump Jr agreed to squeeze the meeting into a tight schedule. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Monday the Kremlin doesn’t know Veselnitskaya and “cannot keep track” of every Russian lawyer who holds meetings in Russia or abroad. Although she has not been publicly linked with the Russian government itself, Veselnitskaya represented the son of a vice president of state-owned Russian Railways in a New York money-laundering case settled in May before a trial. A staff member at Veselnitskaya’s firm told the AP on Monday that she was unavailable for comment. During his visit to Moscow, Trump spent time with Agalarov, appearing in a music video with him and several contestants in the pageant, which Trump owned at the time. Agalarov’s father, Aras, is a Russian developer who sought to partner with Trump on a hotel project in Moscow and tried to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin during the Miss Universe contest. According to The Washington Post and several other media accounts, the elder Agalarov paid Trump $14 million to $20 million to stage the pageant in Moscow. But Aras Agalarov was unable to persuade Putin to meet with Trump. Putin canceled the session, sending a Trump a friendly letter and a lacquered box in appreciation, the Post has reported. On Monday, Goldstone said the Trumps and the Agalarovs stayed in contact after the pageant, and Emin Agalarov asked him to reach out to the Trumps to broker the June meeting with Veselnitskaya. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and now White House senior adviser, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort attended the meeting. Goldstone said he and a translator also participated. During the meeting, Goldstone said, Veselnitskaya made comments about campaign funding “that were not specific,” and then turned the subject to a discontinued Russian adoption program and the Magnitsky Act , a bill passed in 2012 that allows the US to impose sanctions on Russians for human rights violations. Goldstone said that at one point during the meeting, Trump Jr or Kushner said, “Can we get to the point?” And later, after Veselnitskaya had finished her presentation, Trump Jr said, “Is that it?” “The whole thing was really vague,” Goldstone said. He said he and Trump Jr were the last to leave the room, and “I turned to him and said: ‘I’m really embarrassed. I don’t know what that was.” Unlike Kushner, Trump Jr does not serve in the administration and is not required to disclose his foreign contacts. Over the weekend, Trump Jr initially omitted any mention of Clinton from his account of the meeting, describing it as a “short introductory meeting” focused on the disbanded program that had allowed American adoptions of Russian children. Moscow ended the adoptions in response to the Magnitsky Act sanctions. A day later, Trump Jr acknowledged he was told beforehand that Veselnitskaya might have information “helpful” to the Trump campaign, and was told by her during the meeting that she had something about Clinton. “No details or supporting information was provided or even offered,” he said. “It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.” He said there was no follow-up after the meeting and his father was unaware it happened. Foreign nationals are prohibited from providing “anything of value” to campaigns, and that same law also bars solicitation of such assistance. The law typically applies to monetary campaign contributions, but courts might consider information such as opposition research to be something of value. Bradley A. Smith, a former Bill Clinton-appointed Republican Federal Election Commission member, said that based on what’s known about the meeting, Trump Jr’s actions are unlikely to be considered illegal solicitation. “It’s not illegal to meet with someone to find out what they have to offer,” Smith said. But Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, said the situation “raises all sorts of red flags.” “You do not want your campaign to be involved with foreign nationals, period,” said Noble, now senior director at the Campaign Legal Center. The New York Times first reported the lawyer’s meeting with Trump Jr and the meeting’s prospect of negative information about Clinton. Trump Jr’s acknowledgment that he hoped to get information from her on Clinton only came in response to questions from the Times

Panama Papers probe panel submits final report to Pakistan Supreme Court

MMNN:10 Jul 2017
A three-judge implementation bench of the top court headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan will now examine findings of the six-member Joint Investigation Team which it had appointed to probe the allegations brought to light by the Panama Papers leak. A panel probing the alleged offshore assets of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family submitted its final report to the Supreme Court on Monday though there was no official word on its findings. A three-judge implementation bench of the top court headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan will now examine findings of the six-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) which it had appointed to probe the allegations brought to light by the Panama Papers leak. Members of the ruling PML-N have gone into a huddle over the plan of action following the submission of the report. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's daughter Maryam Nawaz, who was named in the Panamagate reports, has called the JIT a "conspiracy against democracy." Media reports suggested that the panel had not given a clean chit to Sharif’s sons while clearing him. However, there was no official reaction to these reports. The JIT was set up in line with the Supreme Court's April 20 verdict in the Panamagate case where it was alleged that the Sharif family owned millions worth of unaccounted assets abroad. The five-judge bench was split 3-2 while announcing the April 20 verdict, with the head judge and one more ruling against the premier in their dissenting notes. Ads by ZINC Through its final decision, the top court formed a JIT and ordered it to investigate in depth the money trail for the ruling family’s London flats. A three-judge bench of the apex court was formed to oversee the implementation of the April 20 verdict. The six-member JIT, headed by Federal Investigation Agency additional director general Wajid Zia, was given two months to find out answers to some 13 questions – mainly related to the money trail for the Sharifs’ London properties – and a deadline of July 10 was set by the court. Apart from Prime Minister Sharif, the JIT interrogated seven members of his family over the last two months. His elder son Hussain appeared before the panel six times. His younger son appeared thrice. Other Sharif family members who testified before the JIT included Punjab chief minister and younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, premier’s daughter Maryam Nawaz and her husband Capt (retd) Safdar, as well as finance minister Ishaq Dar who is related to the Sharif family through the marraige of his son. The Sharif family’s prime defence in the case – Qatari Prince Hamad Bin Jassim bin Jaber al Thani who supported the Sharifs’ money trail through two separate letters – did not appear before the probe team.

Fresh G20 clashes in Hamburg, police cars torched

MMNN:7 Jul 2017
Protesters clashed with police, torched patrol cars and blocked roads in the German city of Hamburg on Friday in fresh violence just before the start of the G20 summit, police said. “An operation is under way against violent individuals” who threw petrol bombs and set fire to patrol cars near a police station in the city’s Altona district, federal police said on Twitter. In the west of the city, a “plume of black smoke” was rising, and cars in some areas had been set alight, the local Hamburg police said separately. Police said demonstrators had blocked several intersections and so-called transfer corridors -- roads designated to help delegations move between meetings. On Thursday, a planned peaceful march by around 12,000 people protesting against globalisation turned violent. At least 76 police officers were injured, a Hamburg police spokesman told AFP. Friday’s clashes occurred as leaders from the world’s 20 biggest developed and emerging economies were to begin a two-day meeting focussing on trade, terrorism, climate change and other key global issues. Hamburg, a vibrant port city, is a citadel of leftwing radicals and authorities have long been bracing for possible violence on the sidelines of the summit. The German police officers’ union GdP on Friday hit out at anarchist groups called the Black Blocks, accusing them of “hijacking peaceful demonstrations by tens of thousands of people to deliberately attack” police.

Qatar’s Gulf neighbours vow to press blockade after their deadline passes

MMNN:6 Jul 2017
A deadline passed and nobody blinked, so now a high-stakes geopolitical feud in the Middle East looks set to stretch further into the summer. The confrontation between Qatar and its neighbours worsened on Wednesday as four Arab nations vowed to press ahead with the punishing air, sea and diplomatic blockade they imposed one month ago after they accused Qatar of financing terrorism and working too closely with Iran. Qatar rejected an ultimatum that expired on Tuesday to meet a long list of demands. Meeting in Cairo, foreign ministers from the four blockading countries — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — said they were “disappointed” by the response to their demands, and stepped up their criticism of Qatar, which they say is meddling in the affairs of their countries. “Qatar’s role as a saboteur can no longer be forgiven,” said Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry. The four countries have issued 13 demands, including the closing of Al-Jazeera, Qatar’s influential television channel, and, more broadly, the abandonment of Qatar’s foreign policy, which includes support for a wide variety of Islamist factions. In London, Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, accused his country’s foes of “clear aggression” and said Qatar was ready for a lengthy standoff, having developed new supply routes for imports. He singled out Saudi Arabia and the Emirates as the main foes of Qatar, accusing them of seeking to make it surrender its sovereignty. That, he said, “Qatar will never do.” The confrontation could have grown even more serious. But defying expectations, the ministers gathered in Cairo avoided imposing new sanctions on Qatar. The blockading countries said they would meet in Bahrain soon to consider their next steps. “Such significant decisions cannot be taken swiftly,” said the foreign minister of Bahrain, Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa. “The decision will be taken at the right time.”

Stellar sprinters: Milky Way’s fastest stars are ‘runaways’ from another galaxy

MMNN:5 Jul 2017
The fastest-moving stars in our galaxy - which are travelling so swiftly that they can escape the Milky Way - are in fact ‘runaways’ from a much smaller galaxy orbiting around our own, scientists say. The researchers, from the University of Cambridge in the UK, showed that these stellar sprinters originated in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a dwarf galaxy orbiting around the Milky Way. These fast-moving stars, known as hypervelocity stars, were able to escape their original home when the explosion of one star in a binary system caused the other to fly off with such speed that it was able to escape the gravity of the LMC and get absorbed into the Milky Way. Astronomers first thought that the hypervelocity stars, which are large blue stars, may have been expelled from the centre of the Milky Way by a supermassive black hole. To date, roughly 20 hypervelocity stars have been observed, mostly in the northern hemisphere. “The hypervelocity stars are mostly found in the Leo and Sextans constellations - we wondered why that is the case,” said Douglas Boubert, a PhD student at Cambridge. An alternative explanation to the origin of hypervelocity stars is that they are runaways from a binary system. In binary star systems, the closer the two stars are, the faster they orbit one another. If one star explodes as a supernova, it can break up the binary and the remaining star flies off at the speed it was orbiting. The escaping star is known as a runaway. Runaway stars originating in the Milky Way are not fast enough to be hypervelocity because blue stars cannot orbit close enough without the two stars merging. However, a fast-moving galaxy could give rise to these speedy stars. The LMC is the largest and fastest of the dozens of dwarf galaxies in orbit around the Milky Way. It only has 10 per cent of the mass of the Milky Way, and so the fastest runaways born in this dwarf galaxy can easily escape its gravity. The LMC flies around the Milky Way at 400 kilometres per second and the speed of these runaway stars is the velocity they were ejected at plus the velocity of the LMC. This is fast enough for them to be the hypervelocity stars. “This also explains their position in the sky, because the fastest runaways are ejected along the orbit of the LMC towards the constellations of Leo and Sextans,” said Rob Izzard, a Rutherford fellow at the Institute of Astronomy. The researchers used a combination of data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and computer simulations to model how hypervelocity stars might escape the LMC and end up in the Milky Way. They simulated the birth and death of stars in the LMC over the past two billion years and noted every runaway star. The orbit of the runaway stars after they were kicked out of the LMC was then followed in a second simulation that included the gravity of the LMC and the Milky Way. These simulations allow the researchers to predict where on the sky we would expect to find runaway stars from the LMC. “We are the first to simulate the ejection of runaway stars from the LMC - we predict that there are 10,000 runaways spread across the sky,” said Boubert.

Pak media on Modi’s Israel visit: ‘Need to checkmate India’s aggressive diplomatic moves’

MMNN:4 Jul 2017
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s groundbreaking visit to Israel is being viewed with suspicion by the Pakistani media, with some commentators saying it is aimed at countering Pakistan’s military strength. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel is being viewed with suspicion by the Pakistani media, with some commentators saying the exercise is aimed at countering Pakistan’s military strength. Though several TV news channels have focussed on the visit, most English and Urdu newspapers reported on it only briefly in their Tuesday editions. Pakistan does not recognise the state of Israel. The influential Dawn newspaper used a wire copy for its report headlined “Modi set to become first Indian PM to visit Israel”, while The Express Tribune headlined its report “Modi visit holds special meaning for Indian Jews in Israel”. Khawar Ghumman, a commentator on Channel 42, referred to what he described as the “nexus” between New Delhi and Tel Aviv and contended the two countries were working against Islamabad. “This is an old nexus and we know that in the past, Israel has actively worked with India to counter Pakistan,” Ghumman said. Security analyst Brig Ghazanfar Ali said there were “similarities between Hindu nationalism and Jewish nationalism”. The meeting of national interests between India and Israel means Pakistan should pay greater attention to the security cooperation between the two countries as this will directly affect Islamabad’s security interests. At the same time, Ali said Pakistan has to also look at its own national interests and act accordingly. “At a time when Saudi Arabia is thinking of establishing relations with Israel, Pakistan has to see what is good for its interests in the region,” he said. “We need to check mate India’s aggressive diplomatic moves.” While the sentiments expressed by Ali are not common, there is a growing debate in Pakistan on how it needs to change its foreign policy parameters to cope with changes in the region, including the Saudi Arabia-Qatar row. Most Urdu newspapers, which have a larger readership, used wire copies to inform their readers of Modi’s visit, the first by an Indian prime minister to Israel after the two countries established diplomatic relations 25 years ago. However, there was little commentary on the visit in the newspapers, which also did not carry any editorials on the issue. Under former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan had established contacts with Israel in 2005 after it withdrew from the Gaza Strip. Pakistan’s then foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri held talks with his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom in the Turkish city of Istanbul. Shalom had then described the talks as a “historic meeting” but the two sides were unable to make any headway and the contacts stopped soon after.

For Iranian-Americans, Trump travel ban keeps families apart

MMNN:1 Jul 2017
The scaled-back version of President Donald Trump’s policy that took effect this week places new limits on visa policies for citizens of six Muslim-majority countries, including Iran. Weddings have been moved and family visits delayed. The Trump administrations travel ban, while a shadow of its original self, has dealt a harsh blow to the Iranian-American community, where family ties run strong and friends and loved ones regularly shuttle between Los Angeles and Tehran. But it isnt the only immigration hurdle facing the community. Iranians allowed to seek visas to visit family in the United States may still have a hard time getting them with a screening process that can take months or longer, immigration lawyers said. In the meantime, families are being kept apart. Iranian-American homemaker Mina Thrani, 38, had hoped to invite her aunt to visit her in Irvine over the Christmas holiday but can’t because of the ban. Xena Amirani, an 18-year-old college student from Los Angeles, said her family has been grieving since her grandmother died after being struck by a car while crossing the street. They traveled to Iran to bury her. Now, her uncle and his wife want to travel together to visit the family in California to help console them, but the travel ban is in the way. It is pointless, Amirani said.

Japan reveals plans to put a man on moon by 2030

MMNN:30 Jun 2017
This is the first time the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has said it aims to send an astronaut beyond the International Space Station Japan has revealed ambitious plans to put an astronaut on the Moon around 2030 in new proposals from the country’s space agency. This is the first time the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has said it aims to send an astronaut beyond the International Space Station, an agency spokeswoman told AFP on Friday. The idea is to first join a NASA-led mission in 2025 to build a space station in the moon’s orbit, as part of a longer-term effort by NASA to reach Mars. Tokyo hopes that contributing to the multinational mission and sharing Japanese technology will land it a coveted spot at the station, from which it could eventually send an astronaut to the Moon, the spokeswoman said. The plan was presented at an education ministry panel this week, with a more formal blueprint expected next year, according to public broadcaster NHK. The announcement comes as China and India develop their space programmes. In November, China’s Shenzhou-11 spacecraft returned to Earth, bringing home two astronauts from the rising power’s longest-ever orbital mission. Beijing has also unveiled illustrations of a Mars probe and rover it aims to send to the Red Planet at the end of the decade. NASA and other global space agencies are working hard on sending astronauts to Mars by the 2030s. In March, the US Congress passed a bill -- signed by President Donald Trump -- directing NASA to send a manned mission to Mars in 2033.

Documentary on Canada’s Little India to premiere on country’s 150th anniversary

MMNN:29 Jun 2017
Over four decades after Canada’s most iconic desi enclave came into existence in Toronto, that commercial district will get a tribute in the form of a documentary that will screen and stream nationally on July 1, the 150th anniversary of the country’s confederation. Little India: Village of Dreams, which celebrates the Gerrard India Bazaar, will premiere on the public broadcaster TVO on Saturday. Fittingly enough, it was directed by a Mumbai-born director Nina Beveridge, who herself had lived in this Toronto neighbourhood for nearly 20 years. The enclave came into being after Gian Chand Naz decided to set up a cinema to screen Bollywood movies in 1972. He had a dream of “building an Indian community” and “felt a movie theatre would be a magnet, so he set about to finance and get the theatre going,” said Beveridge in an interview. Naz’s vision translated into reality as the area along Toronto’s Gerrard Street gradually turned into Little India, even as it also proved an attraction for other communities from the subcontinent. The nearly hour-long documentary looks at what Little India is today, even as smaller stores shutter due to gentrification and the desi community is now largely concentrated in the city’s suburbs. Those without marketing sophistication may be evicted from Little India, but others like Chandan Singh of Chandan Fashion are ‘very hopeful” of survival, as they take their business forward, while retaining traditions. Beveridge’s documentary, in fact, is a narrative seen from the perspective of four different families who have stores in the area – a tale of entrepreneurship, focusing on the children who were born in Canada and are now involved in running the family business. Besides Chandan Singh, who has taken to displaying the fashion line on the ramp; the film chronicles the Khans of Forever Young Beauty Salon and Spa; the Khoranas of Kala Kendar and the Alibhai-Sayanis of Lahore Tikka House. Beveridge, who also returned in her teens to India to attend school in Mussoorie and college in Baroda, already has a strong film-based link to India. Her father, James Beveridge, was among the pioneers of the documentary section of India’s Films Division, and also played a significant role in establishing the Media Resource Centre at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi and that is also named after him. Her film gently looks at handwritten signs advertising Onions from India or a Mumbai Paan store to an art gallery, pizzeria and a café that point to how this is a place “going through a lot of transition”, as she put it. Beveridge starting filming during the signature Festival of South Asia at the bazaar last July, and completed it on Diwali last year, and now will see her project going public on another day of celebration. It makes for a suitable marker for an area that occupies a unique place in the community’s heritage in Canada.

Day after Modi-Trump meet, China speaks up for ally Pakistan

MMNN:28 Jun 2017
A day after India and the US asked Pakistan to stop cross-border terror, China on Wednesday put up a strong defence of its ‘all-weather’ ally, saying Islamabad was at the frontlines of the fight against terrorism. “China thinks that the international cooperation against terrorism should be enhanced and stepped up. The international community should give full recognition and affirmation to Pakistan’s efforts in this regard,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters. His remarks came in response to the India-US joint statement issued after the talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump in Washington. “We have to say Pakistan stands at the frontlines of the international counter terrorism fight and has been making efforts in this regard,” Lu said in response to the statement in which India and the US had asked Islamabad to ensure that its soil is not used for cross-border terror. The joint statement issued on Tuesday after the Modi-Trump meeting had also called on Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai, Pathankot, and other cross-border terrorist attacks. Modi and Trump also vowed to strengthen efforts to fight terrorism and eliminate safe havens for terrorists. Ahead of the Modi-Trump meeting, the US State Department had set the tone for the summit by declaring Syed Salahuddin, chief of Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, as a ‘global terrorist’. The State Department’s action had sent out a strong message against the terrorism emanating from the country which is hurting India. During their meeting, Modi and Trump had had also “committed to strengthen cooperation against terrorist threats from groups including al-Qaeda, ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), D-Company (led by underworld don and terror mastermind Dawood Ibrahim), and their affiliates.”

France’s newly-elected lawmakers open first parliament session

MMNN:27 Jun 2017
France’s newly-elected lawmakers, most of them from President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party, are attending their first parliament session. Macron’s 14-month-old Republic on the Move! party won 308 of the 577 seats in legislative elections earlier this month. His allies in Modem took 42 seats, giving the government a wide majority. After Macron vigorously campaigned on a promise to renew France’s political landscape, other parties also made efforts to promote new faces. Three-quarters of the lawmakers are starting their first term at the National Assembly and 38% are women — the highest proportion in France’s modern history. They expect to get to work quickly tackling the government’s proposed law on expanding police powers and a labor reform making it easier to hire and fire.

Landslide in China swallows 40 homes, over 140 feared buried

MMNN:24 Jun 2017
The landslide took place in Xinmo village of Mao county in Sichuan province. Chinese rescuers scoured through rocks on Saturday in a frantic search for more than 140 people feared buried after a landslide smashed through a mountain village in southwest Sichuan province. A couple and a baby were rescued and taken to hospital after more than 40 homes in the village of Xinmo were swallowed by huge boulders when the side of a mountain collapsed, according to the Maoxian county government. At least 141 people and 46 homes were buried, the People’s Daily said, citing a Maoxian county government spokesman. The landslide blocked a two kilometre (one mile) stretch of river and 1.6 kilometre of road. Rescuers used ropes to move a massive rock while dozens of others searched the rubble for survivors, according to videos posted by the Maoxian government on its Weibo social media account. Bulldozers and heavy diggers were also deployed to remove boulders, the images showed. Medics were seen treating a woman on a road. Wang Yongbo, one of the local officials in charge of rescue efforts, said the vital signs of one of the survivors “are weak”. “It’s the biggest landslide in this area since the Wenchuan earthquake,” he said, referring to the disaster that killed 87,000 people in 2008 in a town in Sichuan. Local police captain Chen Tiebo said the heavy rains that hit the region in recent days had triggered the landslide. “There are several tonnes of rock,” he told the state broadcaster CCTV. “It’s a seismic area here. There’s not a lot of vegetation,” Chen said. Trees can help absorb excess rain and prevent landslides. Some 500 people were taking part in rescue efforts, according to CCTV. An emergency response “to the first class catastrophic geological disaster” is under way, the local government’s statement said, adding that the full extent of the landslide was at yet unclear. A report from the state news agency Xinhua said that the landslide came from a high part of a mountain in the Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Aba had collapsed. The landslide struck the village at around 6am local time (2200 GMT). President Xi Jinping called for rescuers to “spare no effort” in their search for survivors, according to CCTV. China’s national weather observatory said more heavy rain was expected in parts of Sichuan and other southwestern provinces. Landslides are a frequent danger in rural and mountainous parts of China, particularly at times of heavy rains. At least 12 people were killed in January when a landslide crushed a hotel in central Hubei province. In October landslides battered eastern China in the wake of torrential rains brought by Typhoon Megi, causing widespread damage and killing at least eight. More than 70 were killed by a landslide in the southern commercial hub of Shenzhen in December 2015, caused by the improper storage of waste. One of the deadliest landslides took place in 1991, when 216 were killed in southwestern Yunnan province.

Close to 100% certain IS chief Baghdadi is dead, says Russian MP

MMNN:23 Jun 2017
The head of a Russian parliamentary committee has said the the likelihood that Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in an air strike is close to 100% The likelihood that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed is close to 100%, Interfax news agency quoted the head of the defence committee in Russia’s upper parliamentary house as saying on Friday. Russia’s defence ministry said a week ago it believed it may have killed Baghdadi when one of its air strikes hit a gathering of senior Islamic State commanders on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa. But armed groups fighting in the region and US officials say they have no evidence that Baghdadi was killed, and many regional officials have said they are sceptical about the information from Moscow. Committee head Viktor Ozerov was quoted as saying the defence ministry would not have released information about Baghdadi’s death if it believed it could be later proved incorrect. “I think this information is close to 100%,” Interfax quoted Ozerov as saying. “The fact that Islamic State has still not shown him anywhere also adds to our confidence that al-Baghdadi has been killed.” Baghdadi has frequently been reported killed or wounded since he declared a caliphate from a mosque in Mosul in 2014, after leading his fighters on a sweep through northern Iraq. His death would be one of the biggest blows yet to the jihadist group, which is trying to defend its shrinking territory in Syria and Iraq against forces backed by regional and global powers.

Australia to resume air strikes in Syria after Russia threat

MMNN:22 Jun 2017
A decision was made to resume the air strikes in Syria after an assessment of the Russian statement, although it did not say when they would begin again. Australia said on Thursday it would resume air strikes into Syria, ending a two-day suspension implemented after the downing of a Syrian military aircraft triggered a Russian threat against Washington-led coalition planes. Russia said on Monday it would treat US-led coalition aircraft flying west of the River Euphrates in Syria as potential targets and track them with missile systems and military aircraft, but stopped short of saying it would shoot them down. As a result of the threat, Australia said on Tuesday it would suspend its military campaign. On Thursday, a decision was made to resume the air strikes in Syria after an assessment of the Russian statement, although it did not say when they would begin again.

US, China officials meet to seek tougher lines on North Korea nuclear ambitions

MMNN:21 Jun 2017
US officials said the first and main item on the agenda would be persuading China to lean on Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea regime, in order to halt its provocative missile and nuclear plans. Senior US officials will meet their Chinese counterparts Wednesday to seek a tougher line on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions -- despite President Donald Trump implying this is already a lost cause. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are to meet top Beijing diplomat State Councilor Yang Jiechi and General Fang Fenghui, chief of Chinese army staff, at the State Department. US officials said the first and main item on the agenda would be persuading China to lean on Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea regime, in order to halt its provocative missile and nuclear plans. But, just hours before the talks began, Trump sent a tweet implying that China’s President Xi Jinping had already tried and failed to rein in Pyongyang. “While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!” Trump tweeted. Trump did not elaborate on what might happen next, and US diplomats insisted the talks would go ahead as planned, and with the same agenda. In April, Trump hosted Xi at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, glossing over his harsh campaign comments against Beijing and -- after apparently successful talks -- hailing the dawn of “a very, very great relationship.” Last month Beijing and Washington signed a limited deal to open new markets for each other’s exports, and a long-standing friend of the Chinese leadership, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, was confirmed as ambassador. But tensions remain -- particularly over China’s building of artificial islands in disputed South China Sea waters, and Washington’s strong desire to get Beijing to rein in Kim Jong-Un’s isolated North Korean regime. Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said that the first meeting of the new “US-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue” on Wednesday would focus on North Korea. “We continue to urge China to exert its unique leverage as North Korea’s largest trading partner, including by fully implementing all UN Security Council sanctions,” she said. Despite international condemnation and sanctions, North Korea has a small nuclear arsenal and is developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that threaten Japan and South Korea -- and one-day could even hit some US cities. Washington has some 28,000 troops deployed in South Korea and a naval armada in the region.
Prisoner in a coma Last week, the release of a detained US tourist in what initially seemed a gesture of goodwill by Pyongyang turned sour when it was revealed that 22-year-old Otto Warmbier had been in a coma for some time. Warmbier died on Monday after returning to his hometown in Ohio, triggering outrage in the United States.

Paris attacker had gun licence despite being on terror watchlist since 2015

MMNN:20 Jun 2017
Adam Djaziri, a 31-year-old who had been on a watchlist for radical Islamists, had at least nine weapons, including two pistols and a Kalashnikov-type assault rifle, the source said Questions arose Tuesday over how a known radical Islamist who rammed a car into a police van on Paris’s Champs-Elysees was able to hold a gun licence. Adam Djaziri, a 31-year-old who had been on a watchlist for radical Islamists since 2015, was killed on Monday as his car loaded with a gas canister smashed into the van on the French capital’s most famous avenue. Two handguns and a Kalashnikov-style assault rifle were found in the car, while a weapons stash was found at the home of the assailant, who died in the incident. Djaziri’s father, who has since been detained, told AFP that his son was a licensed gun-owner, and a source close to the probe said he owned nine weapons including pistols and an assault rifle. The attempted attack comes with France still under a state of emergency after a wave of jihadist assaults that have left more than 230 people dead since 2015. As the one-month-old government of President Emmanuel Macron prepares to unveil a tougher new anti-terrorism law, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe expressed dismay that Djaziri was able to have a gun permit despite being on a jihadist watchlist. “What I know at this stage is that the first weapons permit was given before this individual was flagged up,” he said in an interview with BFM television and RMC radio, but he added that “no one can be satisfied -- and certainly not me” that Djaziri had evidently still been able to possess dangerous weapons. Djaziri’s ex-wife, brother and sister-in-law were detained late on Monday after police questioned them at the family home in Plessis-Pate outside Paris. Djaziri’s father was also taken into custody, a judicial source said. Burn marks were found on Djaziri’s body but it was not yet clear how he died, according to a source close to the investigation. There were no other casualties from the attempted attack, and no group claimed responsibility. Since the November 2015 Paris attacks that saw 130 people slaughtered, and last year’s Nice truck assault that claimed 86 lives, the country has seen a string of smaller attacks targeting security forces. Djaziri died just a short distance on the Champs-Elysees from the spot where a jihadist shot dead a police officer two months ago. Earlier this month an Algerian man attacked a policeman with a hammer outside Notre Dame cathedral, another key tourist draw, while troops shot dead a man at the capital’s Orly airport in March after he attacked a soldier on patrol. Few details have emerged of the new anti-terrorism law due to be unveiled Wednesday, but a draft leaked to the daily Le Monde has sparked concern among civil liberties campaigners who worry the emergency measures could become permanent. The measures allow security forces to monitor suspects and carry out searches without warrants, place suspects under house arrest and ban public gatherings. The current state of emergency is due to expire on July 15 but the government is seeking to extend it until November 1 -- presumably after the new anti-terrorism law takes effect. Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said Monday that the Champs-Elysees incident “shows once again that the threat level remains extremely high in France”.

US shot down Syrian plane that bombed American-backed forces fighting the IS

MMNN:19 Jun 2017
The incident came as a monitoring group reported the first ground fighting between Syrian regime troops and the US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters. A US fighter jet shot down a Syrian regime plane on Sunday after it dropped bombs on American-backed forces fighting the Islamic State group in northern Syria, the US-led coalition said. The incident came as a monitoring group reported the first ground fighting between Syrian regime troops and the US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters. “At 6:43 pm (1743 GMT), a Syrian regime SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) fighters south of Tabqah and, in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of Coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a US F/A-18E Super Hornet,” the Combined Joint Task Force said in a statement. It said that two hours earlier, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad attacked SDF fighters in the town of Ja’Din south of Tabqah, “wounding a number of SDF fighters and driving the SDF from the town.” Coalition aircraft then stopped the pro-regime forces’ initial advance with a “show of force,” the coalition added. The Combined Joint Task Force stressed that the coalition’s mission is to defeat IS. “The Coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend Coalition or partner forces from any threat,” it said. “The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward Coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-ISIS operations will not be tolerated.” Following the downing of the Syrian plane, clashes between regime troops and coalition-backed fighters broke out in two villages some 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of the city of Raqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Donald Trump govt cancels Obama-era policy for illegal immigrant families

MMNN:16 Jun 2017
The 2014 policy, known as DAPA, aimed to help the families of so-called “dreamer” children stay together free from the threat of deportation The Donald Trump administration in US on Thursday announced that it is cancelling an Obama-era policy to allow millions of illegal-immigrant parents of children born in the United States to stay in the country. The 2014 policy, known as DAPA, for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, aimed to help the families of so-called “dreamer” children stay together free from the threat of deportation. It was never implemented after 26 states successfully sued in a Texas federal district court to block it. The US Supreme Court let the lower court ruling stand last year after a four-four tie vote.

Somalia restaurant attack: 17 killed, hostages still inside

MMNN:15 Jun 2017
Two of the gunmen were shot dead and 10 hostages were rescued but five other attackers were thought to remain inside Gunmen posing as military forces were holding an unknown number of hostages inside a popular restaurant in Somalia’s capital in an attack that began when a car bomb exploded at the gate, police and a witness said, while the extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility. At least 17 people, including foreigners, were dead, police and an ambulance driver said. Two of the gunmen were shot dead and 10 hostages were rescued but five other attackers were thought to remain inside, cutting off electricity to complicate security forces’ efforts to end the siege, Capt Mohamed Hussein said. He said heavy gunfire was heard. An ambulance driver with the Amin Ambulance service, Khalif Dahir, said early Thursday they had carried 17 bodies and 26 wounded people. Police said the dead included a Syrian man. Most of the victims were young men who had been entering the Pizza House when the vehicle exploded, Hussein said.

London fire: Action group, residents raised safety concerns but warnings were ignored

MMNN:14 Jun 2017
London mayor Sadiq Khan says questions will need to be answered over the safety of Grenfell Tower blocks. A survivor of the massive high-rise apartment fire in London said he was lucky to be alive and that tenants had been complaining for years about issues at the building. Edward Daffarn said he was on the 16th floor and heard a neighbour’s smoke alarm go off and another neighbour called and told him to get out. He said there was heavy smoke in the hallway and he could not find the stairs.
A massive fire ripped through a 27-storey apartment
block in west London in the early hours of Wednesday, killing several and injuring 50 people. The fire brigade said 40 fire engines and 200 firefighters had been called to the blaze in Grenfell Tower, which has 120 flats. The Grenfell Action Group, a community organisation formed to oppose a nearby redevelopment project, had been warning about the risk of fire there since 2013.

UK explorer’s 118-year-old painting found in Antarctica

MMNN:13 Jun 2017
The painting labelled 1899 Tree Creeper has the initial T on it and is believed to be by Edward Wilson, who died on the ill-fated Scott expedition to the South Pole in 1912. A 118-year-old watercolour painting of a dead bird by a celebrated British explorer has been discovered inside a hut in Antarctica, researchers said Tuesday. The painting labelled 1899 Tree Creeper has the initial T on it and is believed to be by Edward Wilson, who died on the ill-fated Scott expedition to the South Pole in 1912. The Scott Expedition, officially the British Antarctic Expedition, which took place between 1910 and 1913, was led by Robert Falcon Scott of the UK. The painting was found in a pile of papers covered in mould and penguin excrement in a hut built by Norwegian explorers, ‘BBC News’ reported. “There was this gorgeous painting, I got such a fright that I jumped and shut the portfolio again,” said Josefin Bergmark-Jimenez, paper conservator at the Antarctic Heritage Trust in the UK. “I then took the painting out and could not stop looking at it - the colours, the vibrancy, it is such a beautiful piece of work,” said Bergmark-Jimenez. The discovery was made last year but had been kept as a secret so that conservators could restore some 1,500 other artifacts from two huts built by Norwegian explorers in Cape Adare in 1899. Although buried under paper covered in mould and penguin excrement the darkness worked in favour of the watercolours, preserving the painting perfectly. “Water colour paintings are particularly susceptible to light so the fact this work has spent more than 100 years tightly packed between other sheets of paper in completely dark and cold conditions is actually an ideal way to store it,” said Bergmark-Jimenez. Wilson was born in 1872 in Cheltenham, England, where an art gallery and museum are named after him and display permanent collections of his work.

Bikini killer’ Charles Sobhraj has successful heart surgery

MMNN:12 Jun 2017
“Yes! He has a heart and I just fixed valves inside. Recovering normally,” said doctor Ramesh Koirala, who carried out the operation. Serial killer Charles Sobhraj underwent a successful open heart surgery at a Kathmandu hospital on Monday and is recovering, his doctor said. “Yes! He has a heart and I just fixed valves inside. Recovering normally,” said doctor Ramesh Koirala who carried out the operation. Koirala also shared a photo of himself with Sobhraj, minutes before the 73-year-old was taken to the operation theatre at Shahid Ganga Lal Heart Hospital in Kathmandu. Sobhraj, who is serving time in Nepal’s central jail in Kathmandu for the past 12 years, was diagnosed with leakage in a valve. The French national had recently fainted in the central jail and was rushed to hospital where he was diagnosed with a mitral valve leakage. The mitral valve is a dual-flap that controls the flow of blood in the left section of the heart. If it fails to function adequately, patients exhibit symptoms including palpitation, exertion and shortness of breath. The man known as ‘bikini killer’ was ill for some time. He has been in prison after the Supreme Court sentenced him to life for murdering an American tourist, Connie Joe Bronzich, in 1975 in Nepal. He had been linked to multiple killings of backpackers. Sobhraj had earlier spent 21 years in prison in India and escaped from Tihar jail in 1986 after drugging the security guards, serving them sweets in the name of his own birthday. According to a biography, he is believed to have killed 20 people up to the late 1970s, including in Nepal and India.

Trump scolds Qatar for sponsoring terror as Tillerson seeks to ease crisis

MMNN:10 Jun 2017
President Donald Trump is accusing Qatar of funding terrorism at a “very high level” and says it must stop now. US President Donald Trump on Friday accused Qatar of being a “high level” sponsor of terrorism, potentially hindering the US Department of State’s efforts to ease heightening tensions and a blockade of the Gulf nation by Arab states and others. “The nation of Qatar unfortunately has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “So we had a decision to make, do we take the easy road or do we finally take a hard but necessary action. We have to stop the funding of terrorism. I decided ... the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding,” Trump said, adding that he helped plan the Qatar action with Arab leaders after a recent summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. A senior administration official told Reuters earlier this week that the United States had no indication from the Saudis or Emiratis in Riyadh during Trump’s visit last month that they would sever ties with Qatar. The crisis is a major diplomatic test for the United States, which is a close ally of countries on both sides. Trump has called key players in the region since they severed ties with Qatar on Monday. The Trump administration has given mixed signals on whether to isolate Qatar or bring it into talks with other Gulf nations. The confrontation in the region intensified on Friday as Arab states tightened their squeeze on Qatar by putting dozens of figures with links to the country on terrorism blacklists, while Qatar’s ally Turkey rushed to its side with plans to send troops. The Pentagon said the blockade was hindering US ability to plan for long-term operations in the region. Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar is home to more than 11,000 US and coalition forces and an important base for the fight against Islamic State. It is the US Air Force’s largest base in the region. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he expected all parties to find a resolution. “We call on the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar,” he said in Washington. Tillerson told reporters at the State Department that the crisis, which has cut transportation links and trade, had begun hurting ordinary people in Qatar, and that it was impairing business dealings and harming the US battle against the Islamic State militant group. A picture on Facebook showed a supermarket displaying food from Turkey including milk, eggs and chicken. Tillerson demanded that Qatar, as well as the other countries, take steps to curtail support for terrorism. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have accused Doha of supporting extremist groups, but Tillerson suggested that all sides needed to do more. “The emir of Qatar has made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorist elements from his country, but he must do more and he must do it more quickly,” Tillerson said. “Others must also continue to eliminate factions of support for violent organizations within their own borders.” On Trump’s Air Force One flight to New Jersey, a senior White House official told reporters that Trump and Tillerson were on the “same page” on Qatar. “The United States wants a resolution to the situation but it wants a resolution on terms consistent with the principles the president laid out in Riyadh,” the official said, adding that Trump was concerned about the humanitarian impact of the crisis but also Qatar’s support of “terrorist finance.” Riyadh, Cairo and their allies have accused Qatar, the world’s richest country per capita, of supporting militant Islamist movements across the region. They have imposed what Qatar said was a blockade of shipping and air traffic and closed Qatar’s only land border, causing panic buying at supermarkets and provoking confusion and anxiety across the population. Qatar, which has developed an assertive foreign policy over the past decade, denied that it supports militants and said it was helping to reduce the threat of terrorism by backing groups that fight poverty and seek political reform. Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani called the moves by Arab neighbours and others “clear violations of international law and international humanitarian law. “They will not have a positive impact on the region but a negative one,” the minister said during a visit to Germany. The United Arab Emirates said on Friday that Qatar must acknowledge concerns about its “troubling support for extremism” and “re-examine its regional policies.” “This will provide the necessary basis for any discussions,” UAE ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba said in a statement on Friday. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called for diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. “Along with our American colleagues but above all our colleagues in the region, we must try to find solutions, especially lifting the sea and air blockades,” Gabriel told reporters.
The hour of diplomacy
Qatar has vowed to ride out the isolation imposed on it by fellow Arab states and said it would not compromise its sovereignty over foreign policy to resolve the region’s biggest diplomatic crisis in years. One U.S. official said that while Qatar needs to do more to combat terrorist financing, it was inaccurate to single out that Gulf nation. “The (counter terrorist-financing) challenges they face aren’t unique to them,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There are other countries in the region that grapple with the same issues.” Qatar is home to 2.7 million people but only about 300,000 citizens. Most of its population is comprised of foreign workers who helped build the tiny finger off the Arabian Peninsula into a natural gas exporting powerhouse, crowned with skyscrapers. Projects include soccer stadiums for the 2022 World Cup. Armed Qatari gunboats patrolled the corniche of the capital Doha on Friday. Tiny Qatar has played an outsized role as a sponsor of factions in wars and revolutions across the Middle East under its 37-year-old ruler, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and his father Hamad who stepped down in 2013 after 18 years in power. With supply chains disrupted and concern mounting about economic turbulence, banks and firms in Gulf Arab states were trying to keep business links to Qatar open and avoid a costly firesale of assets. The riyal currency has tumbled and the cost of insuring Qatari debt against default has risen.
Clashing over brotherhood
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain added 59 people to terrorist blacklists, among them 18 Qataris, including Abdullah bin Khalid Al Thani, a former interior minister and member of Qatar’s royal family. The Qatari government said the move “reinforces baseless allegations that hold no foundation in fact”. “Our position on countering terrorism is stronger than many of the signatories of the joint statement - a fact that has been conveniently ignored by the authors,” it said in a statement. Those on the list, including the former interior minister, could not be reached for comment. Many of the others added to the list are figures associated with the Muslim Brotherhood who have made Qatar a base, including Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousef al-Qaradawi. Some are prominent jihadists who have fought in Libya and Syria. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, whose AK Party has its roots in Islamist politics and who has voiced support for the Brotherhood, signalled his firm backing for Qatar by swiftly signing a law to send troops to a Turkish base there. Turkey will send warplanes and warships to Qatar after an initial deployment of troops, the mass-circulation Hurriyet newspaper said on its website. Turkish officials were not immediately available to comment on the report, but Hurriyet said there were plans to send some 200 to 250 soldiers within two months.

Japan clears way for first emperor abdication in over 200 years

MMNN:9 Jun 2017
The unexpected move presented a challenge since there was no law to deal with an emperor retiring from what is usually a job for life. Japan’s parliament passed a law Friday that clears the way for its ageing Emperor Akihito to step down, in what would be the first imperial abdication in more than two centuries. The popular 83-year-old monarch shocked the country last summer when he signalled his desire to take a back seat after nearly three decades on the Chrysanthemum Throne, citing his age and health problems. The unexpected move presented a challenge since there was no law to deal with an emperor retiring from what is usually a job for life. The one-off rule was passed in the last-stage upper house on Friday in a unanimous decision after the lower chamber gave its stamp of approval last week. The abdication must take place within three years of the new law taking effect or it expires -- and it only applies to Akihito. Japanese media have said the government is eyeing the end of 2018 as a likely timeline for his retirement. The status of the emperor is sensitive in Japan given its 20th century history of war waged in the name of Akihito’s father Hirohito, who died in 1989. Some scholars and politicians worried that changing the law to allow any emperor to abdicate could put Japan’s future monarchs at risk of being subject to political manipulation. Akihito, who has been treated for prostate cancer and had heart surgery, is expected to step aside in favour of his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito. There have been abdications in Japan’s long imperial history, but the last one was more than 200 years ago, so politicians had to craft new legislation to make it possible. “The one-off law is a result of political compromises, but it will become a precedent for future abdications,” said Setsu Kobayashi, a constitutional expert and professor emeritus at Japan’s Keio University. ‘Casual image’ Akihito was born in 1933 just as Japan was embarking on its militaristic sweep across Asia, and was 11 when the war ended in defeat. His father was allowed to remain on the throne after Japan’s defeat, but his status was downgraded from semi-devine sovereign to a figurehead with no political power. Akihito embraced the role and tried to use it to help heal the scars of the war while remoulding one of the world’s oldest monarchies for a democratic age. “The emperor prefers the more casual image of himself as a ‘symbol’ of the Japanese people,” Kobayashi said. Even before he assumed the throne, Akihito broke with tradition when he married the daughter of a wealthy flour magnate in 1959, becoming the first imperial heir to wed a commoner. The emperor and his wife Empress Michiko are seen as being the more accessible face of a monarchy that largely remains in the shadows, unlike the British royals. The couple have frequently attended public events and console victims of natural disasters, including Japan’s 2011 quake-tsunami disaster. Akihito is officially barred from commenting on politics, but he has over the years hinted at his own anti-nationalist views. Speaking at a memorial marking the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender, Akihito expressed “deep remorse” for the country’s actions in World War II. Some saw this as a rebuke to nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has pushed to change Japan’s pacifist constitution and prevent Japanese from having to apologise again for the nation’s warring past. Akihito’s pending abdication had reignited concerns about a potential succession crisis. There are no more eligible male heirs after the 10-year-old son of Crown Prince Naruhito’s younger brother Akishino. Japan’s centuries-old succession would be broken if that son, Hisahito, does not have a male child. In response, Japan’s parliament has called for a debate on giving women a bigger role in the male-dominated monarchy. The idea -- including the possibility of letting women ascend the throne -- is popular among ordinary Japanese, but it is vehemently opposed by traditionalists including the current prime minister and likeminded conservatives. Female imperial family members lose their royal status upon marriage to a commoner, a point highlighted by recent news that one of Akihito’s granddaughters, Princess Mako, plans to marry her college sweetheart.

UK poll today: In shadow of terror, election seems to be tighter than expected

MMNN:8 Jun 2017
Most people expect a Conservative victory, but predictions of the margin vary. One forecast even predicted Prime Minister May could lose her majority in the House of Commons.
Britons go to the polls on Thursday in the shadow of terrorism, in an election Prime Minister Theresa May once expected to win easily but has proved increasingly hard to predict. When May called the snap vote in April, presenting herself as the strong leader to take Britain into Brexit talks, opinion poll ratings for the premier and her centre-right Conservative party were sky high. But Islamist attacks in London and Manchester have put her under pressure over her six years as interior minister, while campaign missteps have dented her reputation as a safe pair of hands. Meanwhile opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, an anti-war campaigner deemed unelectable by a majority of his own lawmakers, has run an energetic campaign promising change and an end to austerity. While May has been touring target seats around the country, delivering slogan-heavy speeches to small groups of hand-picked activists, Corbyn has drawn large crowds to open-air rallies. Polling experts -- many of whom failed to predict the referendum vote to leave the European Union last year -- are now wary of calling the outcome. While most still expect a Conservative victory, predictions of the margin vary widely, and one shock forecast model even predicted May could lose her majority of 17 in the 650-seat House of Commons. “I’d still put my money on a comfortable Tory win -- but who knows?” said Tim Bale, politics professor at Queen Mary University of London.

Kabul truck-bomb death toll rises to more than 150: Afghan president

MMNN:6 Jun 2017
The blast occurred when a sewage truck packed with what Ghani called “military-grade” explosives detonated at the entrance to a fortified area of that city that includes foreign embassies and government buildings.
The death toll from a truck-bomb explosion in Kabul last week has reached more than 150 people, President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday, making it the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001. The blast occurred when a sewage truck packed with what Ghani called “military-grade” explosives detonated at the entrance to a fortified area of that city that includes foreign embassies and government buildings. “We were not the only targets, the entire diplomatic community was the target of this attack,” Ghani told foreign diplomats gathered for a conference in Kabul.

Woman held hostage in Melbourne, police shoot dead man to rescue her

MMNN:5 Jun 2017
Police shot dead a man to rescue a woman he held hostage in a south eastern suburb in Melbourne on Monday. A major rescue operation was launched at the Bay Street apartment in Brighton following reports of an explosion. The woman was held hostage in an apartment leading to emergency services, including SES crews, being called to the scene where they also located the body of a man who appeared to have been shot in the foyer of the building. “Police are attempting to negotiate with a man in one of the apartments,” the spokeswoman said during the operation. “It’s believed he has a woman inside with him who he won’t allow to leave.” Victoria Police, which kept posting updates on its Twitter profile, confirmed that the situation was resolved.

Leo Varadkar: Born to an Indian father, a historic gay PM for Ireland

MMNN:3 Jun 2017
As a gay man born to an Indian father, Leo Varadkar would probably never have become Ireland’s prime minister a generation ago, but a transformation of Irish society has propelled him to success. At 38, Varadkar will also be Ireland’s youngest prime minister when parliament is set to confirm his nomination this month, after a meteoric rise to the head of the governing centre-right Fine Gael party. He went public about his sexuality a few months before a landmark referendum in 2015 in which Ireland became the first country in the world to vote in favour of same-sex marriage in a referendum. “I am a gay man. It’s not a secret, but not something that everyone would necessarily know,” he said in an interview with national broadcaster RTE. “It’s not something that defines me: I’m not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician or a gay politician for that matter,” he said, adding that he just wanted to be “honest with people”. “It’s just part of who I am. It doesn’t define me -- it is part of my character I suppose,” he said. The influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the traditionally conservative country has waned in the wake of a series of child abuse scandals in Ireland, which decriminalised homosexuality only in 1993. But there are limits to the country’s newfound tolerance, and early in his campaign for the party leadership Varadkar said he hoped his sexuality would not be an issue. He also said that if elected he would not expect his partner Matt Barrett, also a doctor, to accompany him on official business. ‘X Factor Leo’ Varadkar was born on January 18, 1979, the son of a doctor from Mumbai who married an Irish nurse he had met in Britain. He and his two older sisters were raised in Dublin and went on to attend Trinity College in Dublin, where he studied medicine. Although a qualified doctor, he became a councillor in his early twenties and has been a full-time politician since he was first elected to parliament in 2007. Currently the minister for social protection, Varadkar has held various cabinet posts and garnered a reputation as a rightwing straight-talker. But while attracting supporters he has also attracted more than his fair share of controversy, and is regarded as sharply intelligent but socially awkward. In 2008, when unemployment was running high after a catastrophic economic crash, he was widely accused of racism for advocating payments to unemployed immigrants who agreed to return to their countries of origin. More recently, after championing a campaign against “welfare cheats”, he said he wanted to lead a party for “people who get up in the morning”, prompting accusations that he was pushing the country’s centrist consensus sharply to the right. But he is popular with supporters who have dubbed him “X Factor Leo” for his telegenic image. Opinion polls suggest that he will boost Fine Gael’s ratings, and while he has ruled out an early general election, speculation is growing that the man who shoots from the hip might not be able to resist.

Iraq forces announce gains in west Mosul against Islamic State

MMNN:2 Jun 2017
Iraqi forces have recaptured one neighbourhood in west Mosul and nearly half of another that are targets of a broad offensive against jihadists launched last week, officers said on Friday. Iraqi security forces are more than seven months into a massive operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, which overran the city and swathes of other territory nearly three years ago. Now, IS’s grip on Mosul has been reduced to the Old City and several nearby areas, but the jihadists are still putting up significant resistance and up to 200,000 civilians may be caught in the fighting. Forces from Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) recaptured Al-Saha al-Oula neighbourhood, Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir Yarallah, who heads the military command coordinating the Mosul operation, said in a statement. Earlier today, Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat, the commander of the federal police, said in a statement that his forces “continue to advance cautiously, and have imposed their control over 40 percent of Al-Zinjili neighbourhood”. Those are two of the three neighbourhoods that are the target of the current assault by Iraqi forces, with the third being the nearby Al-Shifaa area. All three are located north of the Old City, a warren of narrow streets and closely spaced buildings that has posed a major challenge for security forces. The United Nations said earlier this week that up to 200,000 civilians were estimated to still be trapped in IS- held areas, most of them in the Old City. “Because of the tightness of the area and the presence of a number of residents and fear of injuries and damage... to civilians and buildings, we have avoided entering at the present time,” Staff Brigadier General Haidar al-Obeidi, a commander in the CTS, said of the Old City. Instead, security forces have blocked it off from three sides while the Tigris River does the same on the fourth -- keeping IS bottled up inside but also exposing civilians to shortages of food, water and medicine.

India, Pak to become full SCO members at Astana summit: China

MMNN:1 Jun 2017
BEIJING: India and Pakistan's admission to the Beijing-backed Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will be formalised at the grouping's summit in Kazakhstan next week, China said on Thursday. "The members states of the SCO are accelerating the MoU procedures with the two countries and everything is going very well," foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said. "We hope India and Pakistan as the full members at the Astana summit (on June 8-9). We also expect the Astana summit will complete the admission procedures for the two countries," Hua told reporters. The political and security grouping - headquartered in Beijing - was founded in 2001 and comprises Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, besides China as full members. It is mainly aimed at military cooperation between the members and involves intelligence- sharing, counter-terrorism operations in Central Asia. Afghanistan, Belarus, India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan have observer status.

Indian American envoy defends Kushner, says he will continue to do 'his work'

MMNN:31 May 2017
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump's top adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, on the firing line for his reported attempt to set up a "back-channel" with Russia, has received support from US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. "If you know Jared, he's a very calm, stable voice," Haley told MSNBC. The Indian-American envoy's defence of Kushner, 36, came after the American media reported last week that he discussed to open a secret "back-channel" between Russia and Trump's presidential transition team in a meeting with the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, last December. "There is not a lot that rattles him. So I suspect that he'll continue doing his work like he always has. He's said that he will totally comply with the investigation and give every ounce of information that they need. And I think we can expect that," Haley said in response to a question. She said she did talk to Kushner often, but has not since the news came out last week that he wanted to open a secret line of communication with Russia bypassing formal channels. "Well, I haven't talked to him since all of this came out," Haley said.

At least 18 killed as suicide car bomber targets convoy in eastern Afghanistan

MMNN:27 May 2017
Najib Danish, the ministry’s deputy spokesperson, says the target was a group of guards providing security for US forces in Khost province .
An interior ministry official says at least 18 people were killed when a suicide car bomber targeted a convoy of provincial security forces in eastern Afghanistan. Najib Danish, the ministry’s deputy spokesperson, says the target was a group of guards providing security for US forces in Khost province but most of the victims in Saturday’s attack were civilians. No group immediately claimed responsibility. The convoy of Khost provincial forces was targeted near the province’s main bus station, said Danish. The attack comes on the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.

Canada’s Trudeau seeks reset as agenda lags, rivals regroup

MMNN:27 May 2017
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks set to shuffle his cabinet and trigger a new session of Parliament to help refocus a flagging agenda in the run-up to an election in late 2019, say political insiders. Trudeau’s Liberals took power in November 2015 with ambitious plans but have abandoned some high-profile electoral commitments and are struggling to push others through Parliament. “Things are dragging. We need a reboot,” said one well-placed Liberal. One option is prorogation – ending the Parliamentary session and starting a new one, which allows Trudeau to formally unveil a new agenda and inject a sense of purpose in the run-up to the election. “Prorogation is most likely going to happen. The only question is whether it’s in the next few months or early 2018,” said another veteran Liberal. Trudeau’s challenges started in January amid questions about a New Year’s vacation he took at a private island. He now faces an ethics probe. In February, he had to scrap plans to overhaul the electoral system. He has also abandoned a vow to run small budget deficits, citing the need to stimulate the economy, and critics say Ottawa botched the creation of a national infrastructure bank, another major electoral promise. Officials fret that time is running out to meet priorities such as drafting legislation to legalize marijuana and creating a new system to assess major natural resource projects. Signs of urgency are visible. Unusually, the government is extending the sitting hours of Parliament to midnight until the legislature rises for the summer in late June.

UK police stop sharing info with US agencies after Manchester probe leaks

MMNN:25 May 2017
British police have stooped sharing information with US security agencies after leaks on the Manchester terror attack by American officials sparked fears that the investigation may have been undermined.
The Greater Manchester Police have stopped sharing information with US security agencies after leaks on the Manchester terror attack to the media by American officials raised hackles in London, amid fears that they may have undermined investigations. Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to raise the issue with US President Donald Trump when the two meet in Brussels for a NATO summit later on Thursday. The leaks, published in The New York Times and other American media outlets, were widely reproduced in the British news media. Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said he had complained to the acting American ambassador and had been assured that leaks out of the US would stop. The “special relationship” between the US and UK is reflected in intelligence and information sharing. Home secretary Amber Rudd had earlier expressed her irritation over the name of the suspected suicide bomber being released in the US hours before Greater Manchester Police had wanted to make it public. Rudd had warned Washington that "it should not happen again" but more details were leaked. The New York Times published online several photos and details from the ongoing investigation on Wednesday, including bits of shrapnel and remains of the clothing worn by suspect Salman Abedi. They were soon reproduced online and in print in Britain. A Whitehall source described the second US leak as being "on another level", and told the BBC it had caused "disbelief and astonishment" across the British government. A spokesperson for national counter-terrorism policing said: “We greatly value the important relationships we have with our trusted intelligence, law enforcement and security partners around the world. These relationships enable us to collaborate and share privileged and sensitive information that allows us to defeat terrorism and protect the public at home and abroad. “When that trust is breached it undermines these relationships, and undermines our investigations and the confidence of victims, witnesses and their families. This damage is even greater when it involves unauthorised disclosure of potential evidence in the middle of a major counter terrorism investigation.” A senior Whitehall source told The Guardian: “These images from inside the American system are clearly distressing to victims, their families and other members of the public. Protests have been lodged at every relevant level between the British authorities and our US counterparts. They are in no doubt about our huge strength of feeling on this issue. It is unacceptable.”

London on alert as military personnel guard key locations after Manchester attack

MMNN:24 May 2017
British military personnel were guarding key locations in London a day after the Manchester terror attack as the government raised the threat level from “severe” to “critical”
There was no sign of campaigning for the June 8 election as military personnel took up positions at key locations such as Buckingham Palace, Downing Street and Westminster to free armed police for counter-terrorism operations after Monday’s Manchester terror attack. Everyday life in Manchester, London and elsewhere was marked by sullenness and some uneasiness on Wednesday as Prime Minister Theresa May and security officials raised the threat level of international terrorism from “severe” to “critical”, anticipating an “imminent” attack. Scotland Yard said on Wednesday it had increased police numbers and operations across London with immediate effect. It said the public would see more armed officers, and the locations of their deployment, types of tactics and numbers would continually change to be most effective and avoid predictability. Military personnel in the stepped-up security plans number 3,800 but their involvement is intended to be a temporary measure, home secretary Amber Rudd said. The police’s Project Servator is in place, under which teams of specialist officers are trained to spot telltale signs that a person may be carrying out hostile reconnaissance or committing other crimes.

Gunmen kidnap two Chinese nationals in Balochistan

MMNN:24 May 2017
A large number of Chinese nationals, most of them associated with projects that are part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, are based in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan.
Two Chinese nationals were kidnapped from Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, on Wednesday, according to a media report. Unidentified abductors forced the two Chinese nationals, a man and a woman, into a vehicle at gunpoint and drove them away from Jinnah Town area of Quetta, police were quoted as saying by Dawn News channel. Another Chinese national, a woman, reportedly escaped from the abductors. A passerby was injured after one of the abductors opened fire, the report said. Police and Frontier Corps personnel reached the scene of the abduction and launched an investigation. Jinnah Town is one of the affluent residential areas of Quetta. A large number of Chinese nationals, most of them associated with projects that are part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, are based in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan, including Gwadar port. In November last year, two Chinese engineers were killed by unidentified assailants in Pasni district of Balochistan. Two more Chinese engineers were killed in a roadside blast in Hub district last September. Pakistan has set up a special force – the Special Security Division – comprising 9,000 soldiers and 6,000 paramilitary personnel to protect the projects that are part of the $46-billion CPEC and Chinese nationals working on them.

Trump calls North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un ‘madman with nuclear weapons’

MMNN:22 May 2017
During a telephone call, Donald Trump asked Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte about whether he believed North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was “stable or not stable.”
President Donald Trump called North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un a “madman with nuclear weapons” during a telephone call with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, according to a transcript of the conversation released by US media Tuesday. A White House readout of the April 29 call characterized it as a “very friendly conversation.” Days after the conversation, Trump said publicly that he would be “honored” to meet with Kim. But in the call, Trump hinted at a possible dramatic escalation on the Korean Peninsula. “We can’t let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that. We have a lot of firepower, more than he has, times 20 -- but we don’t want to use it,” the US leader said, citing “two nuclear submarines” the Pentagon sent to the area last month. Transcribed by the Philippine government, the conversation was released by The Washington Post and The Intercept. Trump also queried Duterte about whether he believed Kim was “stable or not stable.” The Philippine leader responded that their North Korean counterpart’s “mind is not working and he might just go crazy one moment.” Kim has a “dangerous toy in his hands that could create so much agony and suffering for all mankind,” he added. But Trump appeared reassured that North Korea’s recent missile tests had failed, saying that “all his rockets are crashing. That’s the good news.” Turning to China and its ability to counter the nuclear threat, Trump pressed Duterte to call Chinese President Xi Jinping to exert pressure. “I hope China solves the problem. They really have the means because a great degree of their stuff come through China,” Trump said, adding: “But if China doesn’t do it, we will do it.” Duterte agreed, saying “at the end of the day, the last card, the ace, has to be with China.” However, he also cautioned, starkly, that “the other option is a nuclear blast, which is not good for everybody.” Trump closed the call by inviting Duterte to visit the White House “anytime you want to come,” and called him a “good man.” “Seriously, if you want to come over, just let us know. Just take care of yourself, and we will take care of North Korea,” he added. At the start of the call, Trump congratulated Duterte on doing a “great job” in his controversial drug war that has killed thousands of people.

N Korea says missile tests warhead guidance, ready for deployment

MMNN:22 May 2017
The North Korean state media conducted a ballistic missile test a week ago, while Pyongyang claimed that another projectile was fired on Sunday.
North Korea said on Monday it had successfully tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile to confirm the reliability of the late-stage guidance of the warhead, indicating further advances in the ability to hit US targets.
The North’s KCNA news agency said leader Kim Jong Un supervised the test which also verified the functioning of the solid-fuel engine for the Pukguksong-2 missile and ordered it for deployment in field action.
North Korea has defied all calls to rein in its nuclear and missile programmes, even from China, its lone major ally, saying the weapons are needed for legitimate self-defence. The North last conducted a ballistic missile test a week ago.
“Saying with pride that the missile’s rate of hits is very accurate and Pukguksong-2 is a successful strategic weapon, he approved the deployment of this weapon system for action,” KCNA said, quoting leader Kim Jong Un.
The launch verified the reliability and accuracy of the solid-fuel engine’s operation and stage separation and the late-stage guidance of the nuclear warhead which was recorded by a device mounted on the warhead, KCNA said. “Viewing the images of the Earth being sent real-time from the camera mounted on the ballistic missile, Supreme leader Kim Jong Un said it feels grand to look at the Earth from the rocket we launched and the entire world looks so beautiful,” KCNA said. The use of solid fuel presents great advantages for weapons because the fuel is more stable and can be transported easily in the missile’s tank allowing for a launch on very short notice. The Pukguksong-2 missile flew about 500 km (310 miles), reaching an altitude of 560 km, and landed in waters off the North Korea’s east coast, South Korea’s military said on Sunday.
S Korea questions re-entry technology
On Monday, the South’s military said the test provided more “meaningful data” for the North’s missile programme but whether the North mastered the re-entry technology for the warhead needs additional analysis to verify the North’s claims of advances.
The reclusive state has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the US mainland. On Saturday, it said it had developed the capability to strike the US mainland, although Western missile experts say the claim is exaggerated. The North has yet to demonstrate it has successfully miniaturised a nuclear warhead to mount on a ballistic missile despite claims to having mastered the technology.

24 injured in bomb blast at Bangkok hospital

MMNN:22 May 2017
A bomb blast at a hospital in the Thai capital, Bangkok, wounded 24 people on Monday, on the third anniversary of a 2014 military coup.
There was no claim of responsibility for the blast at the Phramongkutklao Hospital, which is popular with retired military officers.
“It was a bomb. We found the pieces that were used to make the bomb,” Kamthorn Aucharoen, commander of the police’s explosive ordnance team, told Reuters.
“Right now, authorities are checking out closed circuit cameras.” Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said 24 people had been wounded. (Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel)

India victim of terrorism, has endured unspeakable horror: Trump in Saudi Arabia

MMNN:22 May 2017
Donald Trump asks Middle-eastern countries to combat the crisis of Islamic extremism emanating from the region
United States President Donald Trump said India was a victim of terrorism and asked countries to ensure that terror groups don’t find sanctuaries on their soil.
During his speech at the Arab-Islamic-US summit Trump said, “The nations of Europe have also endured unspeakable horror, so too have nations of Africa and South America, India, Russia, China, Australia have all been victims.”.
Without naming Pakistan, Trump said “every country must ensure that terrorists do not find any sanctuary on their lands.”

Australia nixes skilled-visa programme; Trump to sign executive order on reform of H-1B visa system

MMNN:18 April 2017
Indians looking for skilled worker visas to countries like Australia and the US will no longer have it easy.
On Tuesday, Australia abolished its skilled visa programme, the employer sponsored temporary work visas, popularly known as the 457 visa. A statement from the Australia high commission said this would be replaced by a new temporary skill shortage work visa by March 2018.
In the US, President Donald Trump is expected to sign yet another executive order that will restrict H-1B visas to skilled professionals, one of the most attractive for Indian techies. While the broad aim behind the move is to add to the "buy American" programme, Trump is also expected to rework the H-1B program to move away from the lottery system to a merit-based system, as was promised by Trump in a series of tweets in recent weeks.
According to Axios, a US media network, "Trump campaigned on making major changes to the H-1B visa program, which many big tech and IT consulting firms use to bring in foreign workers to fill technical jobs. While many companies claim they need visas for job vacancies they can't find qualified Americans to fill, Trump has accused some companies of abusing the program by using the visas to hire cheaper overseas workers."
This year, the H-1B lottery system which opened in April took 1,99,000 applications for 85,000 positions. Indians take about 70 per cent of these visas. On the other hand, Australia takes the merit based system, which they already follow, one step further. "The new visa will have two streams: A short-term stream allowing entry for up to two years, and a medium-term stream allowing entry for up to four years, similar to the current 457 visa," a statement from the Australian government said. "The occupation list for the four year visa includes IT professionals, so there continues to be visa options for skilled Indian nationals."
Australian high commissioner to India, Harinder Sindhu said, "India provides the highest number of temporary skilled workers to Australia ; eight out of the top 10 occupations for Indian 457 visa holders (as at December 2016) were IT professionals."

US won't rest until North Korea gives up nuclear weapons, Mike Pence says

MMNN:18 April 2017
The US will not relent until it achieves its objective of ensuring the Korean Peninsula is free of nuclear weapons, Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday while visiting Japan.
After meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other leaders, Pence told reporters that President Donald Trump was confident that economic and diplomatic pressure has a chance of compelling North Korea to cooperate.
"It is our belief by bringing together the family of nations with diplomatic and economic pressure we have a chance of achieving a freeze on the Korean Peninsula," Pence said.
"We will not rest and will not relent until we obtain the objective of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula," he said.
The Trump administration has signaled a more forceful US stance toward North Korea's recent missile tests and threats, including a warning from Trump that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has "gotta behave."
So Pence struck a stern tone after arriving at a US naval base from South Korea.
"We appreciate the challenging times in which the people of Japan live with increasing provocations from across the Sea of Japan," he said. "We are with you 100 percent."
On Monday, Pence traveled to the tense Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea, where he warned North Korea's leaders that after years of testing the US and South Korea with its nuclear ambitions, "the era of strategic patience is over."
A senior North Korean official then accused the United States of bringing the countries to the brink of thermonuclear war.
Pence, on a 10-day Asia trip that will also take him to Indonesia and Australia, said Trump hopes China will use its leverage to get its longtime ally North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missiles.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a fresh appeal for calm.
Wang told reporters that although US officials have made clear that a military strike remains a possibility, he believes that Washington would still prefer to de-escalate tensions through multi-sided talks.
Abe said Japan likewise hopes for peaceful dialogue with Pyongyang, "but at the same time, dialogue for the sake of dialogue is valueless." Pressure on North Korea is crucial, the prime minister said.
After meeting with Abe, Pence held talks with Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso on a new US-Japan "economic dialogue" to be led by the two.
The new forum for trade talks was launched by Trump and Abe during the Japanese leader's visit to the US in February. In part, it is meant to take the place of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the regional trade pact that Trump withdrew from shortly after taking office.
Pence and Aso said they believed the dialogue could yield opportunities to create new jobs on both sides and to fortify the economic aspects of the alliance.
"We would like to seek the best shape and forum for our bilateral relationship," Pence said. "The TPP is a thing of the past for the United States of America."
He said Trump is certain that negotiating trade deals with individual countries was the best way to ensure they yield "win-win" situations for both sides.
The talks Tuesday did not delve into sector-by-sector issues such as auto exports. With no US trade representative yet in office and other key positions still unfilled, such nitty-gritty discussions will have to come later.

South Korea charges ousted president Park Geun-hye and Lotte chief with bribery

MMNN:17 April 2017
South Korean prosecutors on Monday charged ousted president Park Geun-hye and Lotte Group chairman Shin Dong-bin with bribery in the latest twist to a corruption scandal that rocked the country for months.
Prosecutors charged Shin without detaining him.
The retail giant Lotte, with interests ranging from hotels and retail to food and chemicals, becomes the second conglomerate mired in the political scandal after Jay Y. Lee, the chief of the biggest, Samsung Group, was arrested suspected of bribing Park and her friend, Choi Soon-sil.
Lee, Park and Choi are being held at detention centres.
Lotte, South Korea's fifth-biggest conglomerate, is grappling with the Chinese shutdown of dozens of its stores in China, after it agreed to provide land for the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system outside Seoul.
South Korea, which accuses China or discriminating against some South Korean companies working in China, and the United States say the sole purpose of THAAD is to guard against North Korean missiles. China says its powerful radar can penetrate its territory and undermine its security and spoke out against it again on Monday.
Lotte's chief Shin is also on a separate graft trial involving family members charged with embezzlement and breach of trust.
Prosecutors accused Park of colluding with Choi to receive 7 billion won ($6.16 million) from Lotte for favours, they said in a statement. Park was also charged with abuse of power and coercion by pressuring big businesses to contribute funds to non-profit foundations, the prosecutors said.
Park is also charged with taking bribes worth about 29.8 billion won from Samsung scion Lee in exchange for supporting his succession, according to the prosecutors' statement.
Lotte denied allegations that it made improper deals with Park, or those linked to her, for favours, but said it would explain itself at court to resolve suspicions.
"We find the decision on the indictment regrettable," Lotte Group said in a statement.
Park, Lee, Choi and Samsung Group have also denied wrongdoing.

Erdogan wins Turkish referendum: What are the immediate fallouts

MMNN:17 April 2017
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won the crucial referendum for a new constitution that will vastly increase his executive authority. The crucial referendum has laid a new course for the future of Turkish politics. So what does the yes vote mean and what are the immediate fallouts of the win for Erdogan?
According to state-run Anadolu news agency, the referendum won a yes vote of 51.3 per cent Turks against 48.7 per cent that voted no. In 2010, the ruling Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP) enacted a law governing electoral process. However, despite the clear provisions of the legislation, the High Electoral Board allowed counting of nearly 1.5 million unsealed ballots for the April 16 referendum. Erdogan won by 51% votes taking a lead at the last minute.
President Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) were of the opinion that an executive presidency would herald an ever more stable political environment in Turkey and that was the base of their referendum call. The yes vote, however, has left the Opposition, particularly the principal Opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP) crying foul over the result calling it fraudulent. The referendum could result in Turkey becoming more religious and divided.
The yes vote effectively means executive powers to Erdogan to a degree unprecedented since 1980s when the country was under military rule. It will also bring more of a 'one-man rule' situation in the country diluting the segregation of power in Turkey to great measure.
Erdogan can now expand his powers to an executive presidency which means that he will be the head of state and the head of government.
The victory has shown that the country has reached near the peak of its polarisation point. Study by Ihsan Yilmaz, professor of Islamic studies at Deakin University, westernised Turks as well as secularists account for a third of the Turkish population. Much of it stands against the AKP. The Alevis-non-Sunni Muslims-who follow a hybrid mix of Shia Islam-Turcoman Shamanism and Anatolian Sufism-have been apprehensive of the AKP and the possible rise of Salafists. Also, according to a study by Fondation-Institut kurde de Paris, Turkish Kurds account for around 20 per cent of the Turkish population. Much of this population is unlikely to stand with Erdogan.
The faultlines in Turkey continue to drop deeper with the increasingly undemocratic country led by a leader with no ambitions of a European Union membership. Erdogan is realistically left with less than half of an amalgam of of conservative, nationalist, Muslim voters.
What Erdogan could do
Unless he is occupied elsewhere, he could focus more on his bid to clamp down on Kurdish dissidents and the secularists (white Turks) as well as the Alevis. The leftist and anti-Gulenist purges are more than likely to go on, with increased force this time.
As Erdogan would now exercise more control over AKP as well, Abdullah Gul (former foreign minister of Turkey, prime minister and president and co-founder of AK Party), Bulent Arinc (former deputy PM, speaker and AKP co-founder), Ahmet Davutoglu (former foreign minister and prime minister) among other top leaders now face the threat of being purged and being imprisoned.

China willing to work with US against North Korea threat, seeks peaceful means

MMNN:12 April 2017
Beijing: Beijing is willing to work with Washington on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program but wants a peaceful solution to the escalating conflict, Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Donald Trump in a phone call on Wednesday.
Xi's comments came after Trump tweeted that China should do more on an issue that Washington sees as an increasingly urgent threat, or else the US would go it alone.
China's calls for calm come as tensions have risen with the dispatch of a US aircraft carrier to the area and the deployment of thousands of US and South Korean troops, tanks and other weaponry for their biggest-ever joint military exercises.
During their phone call, Xi told Trump that China is willing to continue working with the US on denuclearisation, according to a brief description of the call released by the Chinese foreign ministry.
"China insists on realising the denuclearization of the peninsula, insists on maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula, and advocates resolving the problem through peaceful means," Xi was quoted as saying.
The two leaders spoke on Tuesday night Washington time after Trump said an "armada" of vessels including the USS Carl Vinson carrier was steaming to waters off the Korean Peninsula in a show of force.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Wednesday at a regular briefing in Beijing that it was a "good thing" that the two leaders were in touch again days after meeting in Florida.
Regarding the US navy strike force's arrival in the western Pacific, Lu said: "We hope all parties will refrain from irresponsible actions that would be very dangerous at the moment."
North Korean state media has warned of a nuclear attack on the United States in retaliation for any signs of aggression, a threat that has been made numerous times before.
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump suggested the US could "solve" the North Korea issue unilaterally.
"North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! USA," Trump tweeted.
In another tweet, he sought to persuade Xi to put pressure on North Korea in exchange for a good trade deal with the US He wrote: "I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the US will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!"
Trump and other US officials have repeatedly called on China to leverage its status as North Korea's biggest economic partner and source of food and fuel aid to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
China says it is in full compliance with sanctions enacted under UN Security Council resolutions. In February, China suspended imports of coal from North Korea - a key source of foreign currency for Kim Jong Un's hard-line Communist regime.
The US and other foreign governments have long overestimated China's ability to affect Pyongyang's behaviour, said Ruan Zongze, a US relations expert at the China Institute of International Studies, a think tank run by the foreign ministry.
"There's a view that China possesses the key to solving the peninsula problem, or that China has the faucet and that all China has to do is shut it off and the peninsula issue is solved," Ruan said.
"In fact, I think the outside exaggerates the sort of role China can play. China isn't really as influential as all that," he said.
Beijing's insistence on a peaceful approach to resolving the issue is rooted in its belief that any attempt to denuclearize the North by force would bring cataclysmic results upon all sides, including China, Ruan said.
"When it comes to the issue of the Korean Peninsula, violence is not an option," he said.
Beijing says it will not countenance measures that could bring about a collapse of the regime that could release a flood of refugees across its border, destabilize northeast Asia and result in a US-friendly government taking power in Pyongyang.

Germany eyes Islamic extremist motive in Dortmund, arrests 1

MMNN:12 April 2017
DORTMUND: "A note left at the scene suggests a possible Islamic extremist motive for the attack on Borussia Dortmund's team bus, and one suspect has been detained, German prosecutors said on Wednesday.
Frauke Koehler, a spokeswoman for federal prosecutors, said investigators are focusing on two suspected Islamic extremists and have searched their homes, but authorities said a range of other motives are possible for the Tuesday evening attack before a Champions League match. One of the Islamic suspects, a man, was arrested.
Investigators found three copies of the note at the scene, including demands for the withdrawal of German Tornado reconnaissance jets that are assisting the fight against the Islamic State group and for the closure of the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Koehler.
Federal prosecutors took over the case on the basis that a "terrorist background" is likely, but the exact motive for the attack is still unclear," Koehler said. Because of the notes, "an Islamic extremist background to the attack appears possible."
Three explosions went off near Dortmund's bus as the team set off Tuesday evening from its hotel on the city's outskirts for its Champions League quarterfinal match against Monaco.
They shattered a window of the bus, injuring Borussia Dortmund defender Marc Bartra, who underwent surgery for injuries to his wrist and arm. Police said an officer accompanying the bus on a motorbike was suffering from blast trauma and shock.
The devices used in the attack contained metal pins, one of which buried its way into a headrest on the bus, Koehler said. Investigators are still working to determine how the devices were detonated and what substance was used.
The match was called off shortly before kickoff and rescheduled for Wednesday evening. It was being held under increased security, and the club said fans wouldn't be allowed into the stadium with backpacks.
Koehler said investigators are evaluating the credibility of the claim of responsibility. Tobias Plate, a spokesman for Germany's interior ministry, noted that notes claiming responsibility at the scene haven't been a feature of past Islamic extremist attacks.
There are "significant doubts" about a second claim of responsibility found online about a left-wing extremist motive for the bus attack, Koehler said.
Speaking shortly before Koehler, the region's top security official raised the possibility that the note found at the scene could be "an attempt to lay a false trail."
"We are investigating in every direction, and it's really meant that way," said Ralf Jaeger, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state. ``It could be left-wing extremism or right-wing extremism. It could be the violent fan scene, it could be Islamic extremism."
Borussia Dortmund president Reinhard Rauball said Wednesday's rescheduled match would be a challenge for the team. "However, we expect and I am confident that the team will do its best and deliver a spectacle in the Champions League this evening," he said.
UEFA, European soccer's governing body, said security was being reviewed at all three Champions Leagues games on Wednesday. It urged fans to allow extra time for tougher security.
About 40 fans gathered outside Dortmund's training ground on Wednesday, many in the club's distinctive yellow and black shirts. As police waited in vans in front of the screened-off training pitch, four young women drew ``You'll Never Walk Alone'' in black markers on yellow cards.
Annika Lentwojt, a 21-year-old engineering student, said she was in the stadium Tuesday when the match was called off but ``always felt safe.'' Lentwojt said she is confident that Dortmund's players will be able to perform in the rescheduled match.

Stockholm attack suspect Rakhmat Akilov admits to 'terror crime'

MMNN:11 April 2017
Suspected Stockholm truck attacker Rakhmat Akilov, a 39-year-old Uzbek and jihadist sympathiser, admitted today to committing a "terrorist crime" by mowing down pedestrians on a busy street, killing four people and injuring 15 others. "Akilov confesses to a terrorist crime and accepts his custody detention," his lawyer Johan Eriksson told a custody hearing in a Stockholm district court.
Akilov, who was arrested in a Stockholm suburb just hours after Friday's attack, appeared in the courthouse's special heavily-guarded, high-security courtroom. Handcuffed and wearing a thick green hoodie over his head, he kept his head bowed down.
Judge Malou Lindblom ordered him to remove the hoodie and he complied, revealing dark hair with streaks of grey.
Akilov, a Russian speaker, had an interpreter at his side to help him follow the proceedings. He did not address the court directly.
After Eriksson's statement, the judge consented to the prosecution's request to have the rest of the hearing held behind closed doors due to the classified nature of the information in the investigation.
After about an hour, journalists were readmitted into the courtroom and the judge remanded Akilov in custody.
Court documents seen by AFP showed Akilov, who is facing life behind bars, had requested that his state-appointed lawyer Johan Eriksson be replaced by a Sunni Muslim, saying "only a lawyer of this faith could assert his interests in the best way". The court refused the request.
The four people killed in the attack were two Swedes -one woman and an 11-year-old girl - a British man, and a Belgian woman.
Eight people were still in hospital, two of whom were in critical condition.
Akilov, a construction worker who had been refused permanent residency in Sweden in June 2016, had gone underground last year after receiving a deportation order, police said.
Friday's attack resembled previous rampages using vehicles in Nice, Berlin and London, all of them claimed by the Islamic State (IS).
IS has not claimed responsibility for the Stockholm attack, but Swedish media reports yesterday said Akilov had told investigators that he had received an "order" from IS to carry out the attack against "infidels".
The Aftonbladet newspaper reported that he had said he was "pleased with what he had done".
"I mowed down the infidels," Aftonbladet quoted him as saying, citing sources close to the investigation and describing him as a father of four whose family had stayed behind in Uzbekistan.
"The bombings in Syria have to end," he was quoted as saying.
On Sunday, a second suspect - also from Uzbekistan according to media reports - was formally placed under arrest, Stockholm district court judge Helga Hullman told AFP, refusing to disclose any links between the two suspects.
Police have said they expect their investigation to take a long time to wrap up.
"It can take up to a year to finish the investigation," said the head of national police operations, Mats Lofving.
Swedish politicians have meanwhile expressed anger over the failure by the authorities to deport the suspect, as police said around 12,000 people had absconded after being denied the right to stay.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who led a nationwide minute of silence for the victims yesterday, said he was "frustrated" by the problem, while far-right Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson called it a "huge scandal".
However, national police commissioner Dan Eliasson said "there was nothing in the system that indicated (the suspect) would do something like what he did on Friday".
The country of 10 million people took in 244,000 asylum seekers in 2014 and 2015, the highest per capita in Europe.
Justice Minister Morgan Johansson meanwhile told AFP he wants to beef up Sweden's anti-terror laws.
"We've criminalised foreign travel for terrorism purposes, we've extended (our laws) on terrorism financing. There is a possibility to extend them further."

North Korea state media warns of nuclear strike if provoked as US warships approach

MMNN:11 April 2017
North Korean state media on Tuesday warned of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of a US pre-emptive strike as a US Navy strike group led by a nuclear-powered aircraft steamed towards the western Pacific.
Tension has escalated sharply on the Korean peninsula with talk of military action by the United States gaining traction following its strikes last week against Syria and amid concerns the reclusive North may soon conduct a sixth nuclear test.
North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the country was prepared to respond to any aggression by the United States.
"Our revolutionary strong army is keenly watching every move by enemy elements with our nuclear sight focused on the U.S. invasionary bases not only in South Korea and the Pacific operation theatre but also in the US mainland," it said.
South Korean acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn warned of "greater provocations" by North Korea and ordered the military to intensify monitoring and to ensure close communication with the United States.
"It is possible the North may wage greater provocations such as a nuclear test timed with various anniversaries including the Supreme People's Assembly," said Hwang, acting leader since former president Park Geun-hye was removed amid a graft scandal.
The North convened a Supreme People's Assembly session on Tuesday, one of its twice-yearly sessions in which major appointments are announced and national policy goals are formally approved. It did not immediately release details.
But South Korean officials took pains to quell talk in social media of an impending security crisis or outbreak of war.
"We'd like to ask precaution so as not to get blinded by exaggerated assessment about the security situation on the Korean peninsula," Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-kyun said.
Saturday is the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country's founding father and grandfather of current ruler, Kim Jong Un.
A military parade is expected in the North's capital, Pyongyang, to mark the day. North Korea often also marks important anniversaries with tests of its nuclear or missile capabilities in breach of U.N Security Council resolutions.
Groups of men and women in colourful outfits were singing and dancing on street corners in Pyongyang, which was illuminated by better lighting than in previous years, apparently practising for the parade planned for later in the week.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sent a message of congratulations to mark the event, lambasting "big powers" for their "expansionist" policy.
"The friendly two countries are celebrating this anniversary and, at the same time, conducting a war against big powers' wild ambition to subject all countries to their expansionist and dominationist policy and deprive them of their rights to self-determination," the North's KCNA news agency quoted the message as saying.
"The two peoples of Syria and the DPRK are as ever struggling for their rights to self-determination and national sovereignty and the security and prosperity of their countries."
DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
The North's foreign ministry, in a statement carried by KCNA, said the U.S. navy strike group's approach showed America's "reckless moves for invading had reached a serious phase".
"We never beg for peace but we will take the toughest counteraction against the provocateurs in order to defend ourselves by powerful force of arms and keep to the road chosen by ourselves," an unidentified ministry spokesman said.
North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North regularly threatens to destroy the South and its main ally, the United States.
North Korea is emerging as one of the most pressing foreign policy problems facing the administration of US President Donald Trump. It has conducted five nuclear tests, two of them last year, and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.
The Trump administration is reviewing its policy towards North Korea and has said all options are on the table, including military strikes, but US officials said non-military action appears to be at the top of the list.
Russia's foreign ministry, in a statement ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said it was concerned about many aspects of US foreign policy, and particularly concerned about North Korea.
"We are really worried about what Washington has in mind for North Korea after it hinted at the possibility of a unilateral military scenario," a statement said.
"It's important to understand how that would tally with collective obligations on de-nuclearising the Korean peninsula, something that is underpinned in UN Security Council resolutions."

Egypt declares state of emergency after Palm Sunday church bombings

MMNN:10 April 2017
A day after brazen ISIS attacks killed dozens at two Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday, Egypt declared a three-month state of emergency, a measure designed to help authorities root out the killers.
A stunned nation watched funerals for victims of the bombings on national TV and citizens raised questions and fears about what some consider lax security at churches..
"The state of emergency means absolutely nothing to me," said Andrew Abdel Shaheed, an Egyptian Copt in Brussels.
"It means that people will get trailed for no reason and arrested with no warrants, but what does it do for the future of Egyptians? I personally do not feel safe to return to Egypt."
Mourners in Alexandria carry the coffin of one of the blast victims.
The Sunday strikes, which targeted Egypt's persecuted and vulnerable Christian minority on the first day of the faith's Holy Week leading up to Easter, left at least 49 dead, state TV said Monday.
At least 27 people died in a bomb blast inside a church in the northern city of Tanta, and 78 people were injured, according to Egypt's state-run news agency Al-Ahram.
In Alexandria, 18 civilians and four police officers were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Coptic church, Al-Ahram said.
ISIS, which claimed responsibility, warned of more attacks in a statement. "The Crusaders and their apostate followers must be aware that the bill between us and them is very large, and they will be paying it like a river of blood from their sons, if God is willing," the group said in Arabic.
After the bombings, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared a period of mourning. The government formed a council to counter terror and extremism and announced a three-month state of emergency.
"The attack will not undermine the resolve and true will of the Egyptian people to counter the forces of evil," the President said in a statement.
In a statement issued on the Telegram messaging platform and circulated by several ISIS supporters, the militant group identified the bombers as Egyptian nationals. Egyptian authorities have not confirmed the bombers' nationalities.

France isn't responsible for mass arrest of Jews in Paris during WW II: Marine Le Pen

MMNN:10 April 2017
North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Wednesday ahead of a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping in Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen drew protests from her political rivals and the Israeli government on Monday by denying the French state's responsibility for a mass arrest of Jews in Paris during World War Two.
Two weeks before the first round of the election in which she is a frontrunner, Le Pen touched a raw nerve by reopening debate about the state's role in one of the darkest episodes in French history under the Nazi occupation.
"I think France isn't responsible for the Vel d'Hiv," Le Pen said on Sunday, referring to the German-ordered roundup by French police of 13,000 Jews in July 1942. Most were crammed into the Velodrome d'Hiver cycling stadium, commonly known as the Vel d'Hiv, before being deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
"I think that, in general, if there are people responsible, it is those who were in power at the time. It is not France," Le Pen said in an interview with media groups Le Figaro, RTL and LCI.
Le Pen's rivals pounced on her comments, which could set back her attempts to clean up the image of her anti-immigration National Front and distance it from the anti-Semitic views of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party's founder.
"Some people had forgotten that Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen. They haven't changed," centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron told BFM television. The Israeli foreign ministry said it regretted that anti-Semitism "is raising its head again today".
"This contradicts the historical truth as expressed in statements by French presidents who recognised the country's responsibility for the fate of the French Jews who perished in the Holocaust," a ministry spokesman said.
"Vel d'Hiv" was the top trending topic on Twitter in France on Monday, the first official day of campaigning for the election, whose first round is on April 23. Gilles Ivaldi, a political scientist at the University of Nice, said Le Pen's remark was damaging for her. "It runs completely counter to the party's efforts and gives ammunition to all those who say that the National Front remains a party with extreme right militants and culture."
Jitters about the French election hit financial markets on Monday after polls tightened, with support growing for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon - who, like Le Pen, wants a referendum on the country's membership of the European Union. France's borrowing costs hit their highest level compared with Germany's for six weeks while the euro edged lower against the dollar.
Polls have for weeks shown Le Pen and Macron topping first-round voting and qualifying for the May 7 run-off that Macron is predicted to win easily.
But there has been a recent surge by the Communist-backed Melenchon, who would take France out of NATO, and support for conservative Francois Fillon, whose campaign has struggled as he fights nepotism allegations, has stabilised.
An Opinionway survey on Monday showed Le Pen winning 24 percent in the first round, ahead of Macron on 23 percent, Fillon on 19 and Melenchon on 18.
"Two weeks ago, investors were starting to get comfortable with the idea of a Macron victory, but with the rise of Melenchon this is on the verge of becoming a four-horse race," said Rabobank strategist Lyn Graham-Taylor. France has long struggled to come to terms with its role under the collaborationist Vichy regime during World War Two.
Altogether 76,000 Jews deported from France were killed. In 1995, then President Jacques Chirac recognised that the French state shared responsibility for deporting Jews to Nazi death camps, the first time a post-war French head of state had fully acknowledged France's role. Socialist President Francois Hollande in 2012 described the 1942 mass arrest as "a crime committed in France, by France."

Syria gas attack is enormous political gamble
MMNN:6 April 2017
President Bashar Assad took an enormous gamble if his forces were behind the chemical weapons attack that killed dozens in northern Syria: committing an overt war crime just as the Trump administration and most Western leaders had made clear they are no longer seeking his immediate removal.
Although Assad can count on the backing of his top allies, Russia and Iran, the attack has revived international outrage at a time when U.S.
President Donald Trump is still formulating his policy on Syria.
So why do it? Especially when Syrian government troops have the upper hand in the 6-year-old civil war?
There is a military rationale, as well as a political one, analysts say. Politically, Assad may have been emboldened to act to crush his opponents, thinking he could do so with impunity after recent statements from Washington, along with Trump's inclination to align with Russia.
On a visit to Turkey last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Assad's future was up to the Syrian people to decide, while Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, said the United States isn't ruling out cooperation with Assad to defeat the Islamic State group.
Militarily, Tuesday's attack took place in an area of Idlib province where rebels recently launched a heavy offensive against government troops. The assault brought insurgents to within miles of the key, government-held city of Hama. Khan Sheikhoun, the town targeted by Tuesday's attack, is right up the road from Hama, and although Syrian forces have since launched a counter-offensive and regained some ground, there is a clear government incentive to rid the area of insurgents.
President Bashar Assad took an enormous gamble if his forces were behind the chemical weapons attack that killed dozens in northern Syria: committing an overt war crime just as the Trump administration and most Western leaders had made clear they are no longer seeking his immediate removal.
"These weapons are frightening and disorienting to the targeted populations, and they also highlight to the local population and the rebels that there is no international limitation on regime behavior and that resistance is therefore futile," said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
Still, a chemical weapons attack of this magnitude carries significant risk.
The images of lifeless children and others gasping for breath were reminiscent of the 2013 attack near Damascus that killed hundreds of civilians, and triggered a blitz of denunciations by world leaders and organizations, who urged the U.S. to commit to a Syria solution.

North Korea's missile and nuclear tests
MMNN:6 April 2017
North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Wednesday ahead of a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping in Florida, where North Korea's weapons programmes is expected to be one of the prime topics.
The following is a timeline of North's Korea's nuclear and missile tests.
Aug. 1998: North Korea fires a multistage, long-range missile called Taepodong-I over Japan into the Pacific Ocean. North Korea called it a satellite launch.
July 2006: North Korea test-fires a Taepodong-2 missile, which the United States says failed after launch. Oct. 2006: North Korea conducts first nuclear test. April 2009: North Korea says it successfully launches three-stage Unha-2 rocket carrying satellite. Washington says it failed. May 2009: North Korea explodes a nuclear device underground.
April 2012: A slightly modified Unha-3 rocket explodes just after take-off. The North concedes failure.
Dec. 2012: North Korea again launches a Unha-3 rocket, saying it successfully put a satellite into orbit. U.S. officials confirm an object in orbit, but no signal is detected.
Feb. 2013: North Korea carries out third nuclear test.
Jan. 6, 2016: North Korea says it successfully tests a hydrogen bomb.
Feb. 7, 2016: North Korea launches a long-range rocket, which it says put a satellite into orbit
June 22, 2016: North Korea conducts two tests of an intermediate range Musudan missile after four failed launches of the same kind. July 18, 2016: North Korea fires three ballistic missiles off its east coast with a 500 km-600 km range.
Aug. 3, 2016: North Korea fires two missiles, one of them landing in Japan's economic exclusion zone.
Aug. 24, 2016: North Korea launches ballistic missile from a submarine, which flies 500 km.
Sept. 5, 2016: North Korea fires three ballistic missiles about 1,000 kms (620 miles), one of which enters Japan's air defence zone
Sept. 9, 2016: North Korea conducts fifth nuclear test
Sept. 20, 2016: North Korea says it complete ground test of a new rocket engine, which South Korea says is likely to be used for a long-range missile.
Feb. 12, 2017: North Korea fires intermediate-range Pukguksong-2 ballistic missile into nearby seas.
March 6, 2017: North Korea fires four ballistic missiles, three of them falling into Japan's exclusive economic zone.
March 19, 2017: North Korea announces rocket engine test, saying it will help country achieve "world-class satellite launch capability"
March 22, 2017: A North Korean missile appears to explode just after launch. April 5, 2017: North Korea fires ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast. U.S. officials say it appears to be a liquid-fueled, extended-range Scud missile.

Russia Chooses Its Own Path, Defends President Assad In Syrian Chemical Attack
MMNN:5 April 2017
Russia suggested on Wednesday it would publicly stand by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad despite outrage over a chemical weapons attack, setting Donald Trump's new US administration on course for a head-on diplomatic collision with Moscow.
Western countries including the United States blamed Assad's armed forces for the chemical attack, which choked scores of people to death in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in a rebel-held area of northern Syria hit by government air strikes.
Washington said it believed the deaths were caused by sarin nerve gas dropped by Syrian aircraft. But Moscow offered an alternative explanation that could shield Assad. It said it believed poison gas had leaked from a rebel chemical weapons depot struck by Syrian bombs.
Hasan Haj Ali, commander of the Free Idlib Army rebel group, called the Russian statement a 'lie'.
"Everyone saw the plane while it was bombing with gas," he told Reuters from northwestern Syria.
"Likewise, all the civilians in the area know that there are no military positions there, or places for the manufacture (of weapons). The various factions of the opposition are not capable of producing these substances."
The incident is the first time Washington has accused Assad of using sarin since 2013, when hundreds of people died in an attack on a Damascus suburb. At that time, Washington said Assad had crossed a "red line" set by then-President Barack Obama.
Obama threatened an air campaign to topple Assad but called it off at the last minute after the Syrian leader agreed to give up his chemical arsenal under a deal brokered by Moscow, a decision which Trump has long said proved Obama's weakness.
The new incident means Trump is faced with same dilemma that faced his predecessor, whether to openly challenge Moscow and risk deep involvement in a Middle East war by seeking to punish Assad for using banned weapons, or compromise and accept the Syrian leader remaining in power at the risk of looking weak.
Trump described Tuesday's incident as "heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime", but also faulted Obama for having failed to enforce the red line four years ago. Obama's spokesman declined to comment.
Washington, Paris and London have drawn up a draft U.N. Security Council statement condemning the attack and demanding an investigation. Russia has the power to veto it, as it has done to block all previous resolutions that would harm Assad.

Six killed, 18 injured in Lahore blast
MMNN:5 April 2017
Four Pakistani soldiers were among six people killed and 18 injured in a targeted attack on army men escorting a census team by a young suicide bomber here, the latest in a series of bombings to hit the country.
The blast happened near a Cantonment area in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province.
"Six people, including four army men, have been killed in the suicide attack. Over a dozen injured have been shifted to Combined Military Hospital (CMH) and General Hospital Lahore," Punjab government spokesman Malik Muhammad Khan confirmed.
TV footage and photographs from the scene showed two vans and a motorcycle damaged in the blast.
No group has claimed responsibility for the blast so far.
Khan said the area has been cordoned off and law enforcement agencies were at the site collecting evidence.
The blast struck when the army personnel accompanied a team carrying out Pakistan's first census in 19 years and launched in March.
Security has been put on high alert in Lahore.
A Lahore police source told PTI the young suicide bomber came near the army vehicle on foot and then blew himself up.
"The severed head of the suicide bomber has been found. It appears that some eight to 10 kilogrammes explosives were used," the source said.
An eyewitness, Taimur Shahid, said he was heading to a shop near the blast site to get groceries when he heard a loud bang metres away.
"I moved to the blast site and saw a number of soldiers lying in a pool of blood. The locals moved them to a nearby hospital. Later, rescue and army personnel reached the spot and cordoned off the area," he said.
Punjab Health Minister Imran Nazir said four of the injured were critical. He said an official of the Pakistan Air Force, who was passing by with his wife on a motorcycle at the time of blast, was among the four soldiers dead.
Lahore Corps Commander Sadiq Ali said the people would not be cowed down by such cowardly attacks. "The war against terror will continue," he said.
Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said terrorism in Pakistan could not end till the terror camps of Jammatul Ahrar and other terror groups are not eliminated in Afghanistan.
On February 23, a suicide blast in an upscale area in Lahore killed eight people and injured 30 people.
Another blast targeting police officers at a demonstration in the city in the same month killed 13 people, six of them police men. Jammatur Ahrar had claimed its responsibility.

St Petersburg Mourns After Metro Attack By Alleged 'Suicide Bomber'
MMNN:4 April 2017
Russia's second city Saint Petersburg was in mourning Tuesday after an explosion in the metro system killed 11 people and injured dozens, as Kyrgyzstan said a suicide bomber from the Central Asian nation was responsible.
Russian flags flew at half-mast as the city observed the first of three days of mourning.
Heightened security measures were imposed in the metro system, which has reopened, but the attack still weighed heavy on commuters.
"Everyone in the metro can only think of this," said 45-year-old Svetlana Golubeva as she entered the Saint Petersburg underground.
Investigators have launched a probe into an "act of terror" but stressed they would look into other possible causes of the blast, which hit a busy central metro line on Monday afternoon.
Kyrgyzstan security services said Tuesday the attack was staged by a "suicide bomber" named Akbarjon Djalilov, a naturalised Russian citizen born in southern Kyrgyzstan in 1995.
"He is a citizen of Russia," spokesman Rakhat Sulaimanov told AFP in Bishkek, adding that Kyrgyz security services are "in contact with Russian security services."
Russian authorities have not commented on the alleged bomber's identity.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion, which comes after the Islamic State group called for attacks on Russia in retribution for its military intervention in Syria against the jihadists.
Pictures screened on national television showed the door of a train carriage blown out, as bloodied bodies lay strewn on a station platform.
The blast occurred in the tunnel between two key hubs in the system.
President Vladimir Putin on Monday offered condolences as he was holding meetings outside Saint Petersburg and later placed a bouquet of red flowers at the entrance to one of the stations, Technological Institute, where people have improvised a memorial.
The death toll from the blast stood at 11, with 45 injured, according to anti-terror authorities.
"I will be afraid to take the metro now," said Maria Ilyina, 30, standing near the station. "Before we thought that this would not come to Saint Petersburg -- now our city is under threat."
'Barbaric act'
The blast occurred in a train carriage between stations at 2:40 pm (1140 GMT), said anti-terrorist committee (NAK) spokesman Andrei Przhezdomsky.
The NAK committee later confirmed security services had found another explosive device at the Vosstaniya Square metro station. This device did not explode and was immediately "neutralised."
Authorities on Monday said the Moscow metro as well as transportation hubs and crowded spots around the country were stepping up security.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the explosion as a "barbaric act," while US President Donald Trump spoke with Putin.
"President Trump offered the full support of the United States Government in responding to the attack and bringing those responsible to justice," the White House said in a statement about the phone call.
"Both President Trump and President Putin agreed that terrorism must be decisively and quickly defeated."
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini wrote on Twitter that she was following developments "together with all EU foreign ministers" gathered for a meeting in Luxembourg.
"Our thoughts are with all the people of Russia," she wrote.
Russia has not been hit by an apparent attack this deadly since the bombing of a plane carrying holidaymakers back to Saint Petersburg from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in October 2015, which was claimed by IS. All 224 people onboard were killed.
Russian ground transport has also been hit by extremists before.
In 2013, twin suicide strikes within two days at the main railway station and a trolleybus in the southern city of Volgograd -- formerly known as Stalingrad -- claimed 34 lives and raised alarm over security at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
A suicide raid on Moscow's Domodedovo airport claimed by Islamic insurgents from the North Caucasus killed 37 people in January 2011.

Syria: Suspected chemical attack in Idlib claims 58 lives, 11 children among dead
MMNN:4 April 2017
A suspected chemical attack in a town in Syria's northern Idlib province killed dozens of people on Tuesday, Syrian opposition activists said, describing the attack as among the worst in the country's six-year civil war.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group put the death toll at 58, saying there were 11 children among the dead. Meanwhile, the Idlib Media Center said dozens of people had been killed.
The media center published footage of medical workers appearing to intubate an unresponsive man stripped down to his underwear and hooking up a little girl foaming at the mouth to a ventilator.
There was no comment from the government in Damascus or any international agency in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
It was the third claim of a chemical attack in just over a week in Syria. The previous two were reported in Hama province, in an area not far from Khan Sheikhoun, the site of Tuesday's alleged attack.
Tuesday's reports came on the eve of a major international meeting in Brussels on the future of Syria and the region, to be hosted by the EU's High Representative Federica Mogherini.
The Syrian American Medical Society, which supports hospitals in opposition-held territory, said it had sent a team of inspectors to Khan Sheikhoun before noon and an investigation was underway.
The Syrian activists had no information on what agent could have been used in the assault. They claimed the attack was caused by an airstrike carried out either by the Syrian government or Russian warplanes.
It was also not immediately clear if all those killed died from suffocation or wounds sustained in the airstrikes.
Makeshift hospitals soon crowded with people suffocating, activist said.
Mohammed Hassoun, a media activist in nearby Sarmin - also in Idlib province where some of the critical cases were transferred - said the hospital there is equipped to deal with such chemical attacks because the town was also struck, early on in the Syrian uprising. The Sarmin hospital is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) away from the scene of the attack.
"Because of the number of wounded, they have been distributed around in rural Idlib," he told The Associated Press by phone. "There are 18 critical cases here. They were unconscious, they had seizures and when oxygen was administered, they bled from the nose and mouth."
Hassoun, who is documenting the attack for the medical society, said the doctors there have said it is likely more than one gas.
"Chlorine gas doesn't cause such convulsions," he said, adding that doctors suspect sarin was used.
Hussein Kayal, a photographer for the Idlib Media Center, said he was awoken by the sound of a bomb blast around 6:30 a.m. When he arrived at the scene there was no smell, he said.
He found entire families inside their homes, lying on the floor, eyes wide open and unable to move. Their pupils were constricted. He put on a mask, he said. Kayal said he and other witnesses took victims to an emergency room, and removed their clothes and washed them in water.
He said he felt a burning sensation in his fingers and was treated for that.
A Turkey-based Syrian man whose niece, her husband and one-year-old daughter were among those killed, said the warplanes struck early, as residents were still in their beds. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for the safety of family members back in Syria.
The province of Idlib is almost entirely controlled by the Syrian opposition. It is home to some 900,000 displaced Syrians, according to the United Nations. Rebels and opposition officials have expressed concerns that the government is planning to mount a concentrated attack on the crowded province.
Claims of chemical weapons attacks, particularly the use of the chlorine agent, are not uncommon in Syria's conflict. The worst attack was what a U.N. report said was an attack by toxic sarin gas in August 2013 on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta that killed hundreds of civilians.
The Syrian Coalition, an opposition group based outside the country, said government planes carried out the airstrike on Khan Sheikhoun, south of the city of Idlib, the provincial capital.
It said the planes fired missiles carrying poisonous gases, killing dozens of people, many of them women and children. The coalition described the attack as a "horrifying massacre."
Photos and video emerging from Khan Sheikhoun show limp bodies of children and adults. Some are seen struggling to breathe; others appear foaming at the mouth.
A medical doctor going by the name of Dr. Shajul Islam for fears for his own safety said his hospital in Idlib province received three victims, all with narrow, pinpoint pupils that did not respond to light. He published video of the patients on his Twitter account.
Pinpoint pupils, breathing difficulties, and foaming at the mouth are symptoms commonly associated with toxic gas exposure.
The opposition's Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, which released photos showing paramedics washing down victims, has not published a casualty toll.
The activist-run Assi Press published video of paramedics carrying victims from the scene by a pickup truck. The victims were stripped down to their underwear. Many appeared unresponsive.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused the Syrian government of conducting at least eight chemical attacks using chlorine gas on opposition-controlled residential areas during the final months in the battle for Aleppo last year that killed at least nine civilians and injured 200.
Also, a joint investigation by the United Nations and the international chemical weapons watchdog determined the Syrian government was behind at least three attacks in 2014 and 2015 involving chlorine gas and the Islamic State group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas.

St Petersburg explosion: 'At least 10 dead' in Russia metro blasts
MOSCOW:MMNN:3 April 2017
At least 10 people were killed in explosions in two train carriages at metro stations in St. Petersburg on Monday, Russian authorities said.
Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying one of the blasts was caused by a bomb filled with shrapnel.
President Vladimir Putin, who was in St. Petersburg for a meeting with Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko, said the cause of the blasts was not yet clear and efforts were underway to find out. He said he was considering all possibilities including terrorism.
A Reuters witness saw eight ambulances near the Sennaya Ploshchad metro station.
Video showed injured people lying bleeding on a platform, some being treated by emergency services. Others ran away from the platform amid clouds of smoke.
A huge whole was blasted in the side of one carriage with mangled metal wreckage strewn around the platform. Passengers were seen hammering at the windows of one closed carriage.
Authorities closed all St. Petersburg metro stations. The Moscow metro said it was taking unspecified additional security measures in case of an attack there.
Russia has been the target of attacks by Chechen militants in past years. Chechen rebel leaders have frequently threatened further attacks.
At least 38 people were killed in 2010 when two female suicide bombers detonated bombs on packed Moscow metro trains.
Over 330 people, half of them children, were killed in 2004 when police stormed a school in southern Russia after a hostage taking by islamist militants. In 2002, 120 hostages were killed when police stormed a Moscow theatre to end another hostage taking.
Putin, as prime minister, launched a 1999 campaign to crush a separatist government in the muslim southern region of Chechnya, and as president continued a hard line in suppressing rebellion.

Gibraltar says EU boss like 'cuckolded husband,' Spain bullying
MMNN:3 April 2017
Gibraltar's leader on Monday cast EU Council President Donald Tusk as a "cuckolded husband taking it out on the kids" for explicitly proposing that Spain be given a veto over the ties between the British enclave and the European Union after Brexit.
The future of Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory of just over 6.7 sq km of rock on Spain's southern tip, has become the first big dispute of Brexit since Prime Minister Theresa May filed formal divorce papers on March 29.
In the EU's draft position on the exit talks distributed by Tusk, Gibraltar was given explicit mention. Spain was specifically named as having a veto on the application of any future EU trade deal with Britain.
"Mr Tusk, who has been given to using the analogies of the divorce and divorce petition, is behaving like a cuckolded husband who is taking it out on the children," Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, told Reuters in an interview.
"This is clear Spanish bullying."
Picardo said the EU should remove the reference to Gibraltar, which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, from the draft guidelines.
While years of tortuous negotiations await on issues that could affect trillions of dollars in trade, the Brexit debate in Britain has for three days focused on the future of the "Rock" captured by Britain in 1704 but which Spain wants back.
The row over Gibraltar illustrates how swiftly the United Kingdom's influence has declined since the June 23 Brexit vote -- in this case in Spain's favour -- and how issues perceived by EU powers as marginal can become major complications.

Blast near Shia mosque in Pakistan's Parachinar kills 22
MMNN:31 March 2017
A bomb targeting a Shia mosque in Pakistan's northwestern town of Parachinar killed 22 people and injured nearly 70 others on Friday in an attack claimed by a Taliban faction.
The explosion occurred near the women's entrance of the Shia 'imambargah' in the headquarters of Kurram tribal region, located close to the Afghan border, as people gathered for Friday prayers.
The imambargah is located in Shendak bazaar of Parachinar, a town with a Shia majority. Ikramullah Khan, the local political agent, told the media 22 people were killed instantly and 68 were injured.
The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, claimed the attack in a message sent to the media. The group was behind a wave of attacks across Pakistan in February, including a suicide bombing in Lahore that killed 14 people.
Guards at the imambargah were busy checking people at the women's entrance when an unidentified person parked a car next to the mosque. Soon after, the explosion occurred.
The Pakistan Army took charge of rescue arrangements and used helicopters to fly the seriously wounded to nearby hospitals.
A parliamentarian from Parachinar, Sajid Hussain, said it was a suicide attack and was preceded by gunfire. "The attack took place in a busy area and a women's mosque appears to be the target," he said.
The injured were taken to hospitals in Hangu and Kohat. Officials said they feared the casualties could mount overnight.
Earlier this year, at least 21 people were killed when an explosion hit a vegetable market in Parachinar.
The attacks in February included a suicide blast at a Sufi shrine in Sindh province that killed 90 people and was claimed by Islamic State. The wave of violence dented optimism after Pakistan appeared to be making gains in its war on militancy.
The army launched a crackdown and politicians voted to extend legislation creating military courts to try civilians on terror charges. The law had expired in January, with the controversial tribunals having hanged 12 people and ordered the executions of 149 more.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says climate change not man-made, good for economy
MMNN:31 March 2017
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said climate change was unstoppable and not caused by human activity and urged countries to adapt to global warming.
One day after he visited the Franz Josef Land archipelago in the Arctic, Putin claimed that icebergs had been melting for decades and suggested that global warming was not mankind's fault. "The warming, it had already started by the 1930s," Putin said in comments broadcast from an Arctic forum held in the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk.
"That's when there were no such anthropological factors, such emissions, and the warming had already started." The Kremlin strongman added: "The issue is not stopping it...because that's impossible, since it could be tied to some global cycles on Earth or even of planetary significance. The issue is to somehow adapt to it."
Putin supported his argument by saying that an Austrian explorer who had a "photographic memory" visited the Franz Josef Land archipelago "in the 1930s." Twenty years later the explorer was shown photographs from another expedition there "by the future king of Italy" and concluded that "there were fewer icebergs there," Putin said. It wasn't immediately clear which explorers Putin was referring to and Italy did not have a king in the 1950s.
Austrian explorer Julius von Payer discovered and mapped the archipelago during a 1872-1874 expedition. The only Italian expedition to the area was organised in 1899 by Prince Luigi Amedeo, who was also an explorer. The archipelago was declared Soviet territory in 1926.
Putin had previously hailed global warming for exposing natural resources and transport routes which had long been too expensive to exploit. He had also once speculated that warming by "two or three degrees" could be a good thing for Russians who would no longer need fur coats.
On Thursday, while his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto called climate change a "serious threat" for the Arctic, Putin said that it brings "more propitious conditions for using this region for economic ends."

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson visits as Turkey says its Syria campaign over
MMNN:30 March 2017
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Ankara on Thursday for talks on the Syria conflict, just a day after Turkey announced that its military offensive was over. Tillerson, the most senior US official to visit Turkey since President Donald Trump took office in January, is seeking to turn around recently rocky relations between the NATO allies. He met with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and was also due to talk to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The trip comes after Turkey announced that "Euphrates Shield", its operation in northern Syria, had ended but did not say if troops had been withdrawn from the war-torn country.
Ties between Ankara and Washington were strained during Barack Obama's administration, particularly over US cooperation with Syrian Kurdish militia fighting against the Islamic State group.
Ankara views the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) as a "terror group" linked to Kurdish separatists waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984, but Washington regards them as the best force fighting IS.
Turkey has suggested it wants to join any operation to capture the IS bastion of Raqa but without involvement of Syrian Kurdish militia.
Speaking to NTV television on the eve of Tillerson's visit, Yildirim said Turkey was not yet officially informed if it would take part in a planned Raqa campaign.
"The developments give an impression that the (Trump administration) is following the path of the past administration," he said, referring to the same tensions of the Obama years over the Syrian Kurdish militia role.
"This issue will be told to the US Secretary of State without any buts and the United States will be asked to clarify its position."
Tillerson and Yildirim "discussed working to enhance our critical security and economic ties in the region," a State Department official said after the meeting.
And Tillerson "emphasized the important role of Turkey, a regional leader and longstanding NATO ally, to achieve these goals."
In a statement, Yildirim's office said the ministers discussed Syria, now in the seventh year of a war, and spoke about efforts to clear IS from Syria and Iraq.
There were also tensions with Obama over Ankara's calls for the extradition of US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, a matter that remains unresolved.
The premier's office also said Yildirim and Tillerson discussed the next steps that should be taken for Gulen's return to Turkey.
Turkey accuses the Muslim cleric living in self-exile of ordering last year's failed coup against Erdogan. Gulen denies the charges but Ankara has repeatedly called for his extradition from the United States.
Turkish officials hope relations will improve under Trump and have said Washington appears to be taking the Gulen issue "more seriously".
But there has not been any open indication of a change in policy under Trump.

Xi to meet Trump in Mar-a-Lago on April 6-7
MMNN:30 March 2017
Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump will meet for the first time on April 6-7 at the latter's Florida resort, China's Foreign Ministry announced on Thursday.
The future relationship between the world's No 1 and No 2 economies has been uncertain following the election of Mr. Trump, who accused China during his campaign of unfair trade practices and threatened to raise import taxes on Chinese goods and declare Beijing a currency manipulator.
It is unclear whether Mr. Trump will follow through with either threat. He is now seeking Beijing's help in pressuring North Korea over its nuclear weapons and missiles programmes.
China is the North's most important source of diplomatic support and economic assistance.
In February, Mr. Trump reaffirmed Washington's long-standing .
"One China" policy in a call with Xi, in an apparent move to ease concerns in China that he might use Taiwan as leverage in negotiations over trade, security and other sensitive issues.
The policy in place since 1979 requires Washington to maintain only unofficial ties with Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters that Mr. Xi would meet Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago, without providing any more details.
It is the same Florida resort where Mr. Trump hosted and played golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February.
Before arriving in the US, Mr. Xi will pay a state visit to Finland from April 4-6, Mr. Lu said.
Relations between China and the US under President Barack Obama were strained by issues including China's island-building in waters that straddle the international shipping lanes in the South China Sea, allegations of cyber hacking and a US policy rebalance to Asia.
One bright spot touted by both sides was their cooperation, as the world's top emitters of greenhouse gases, on tackling climate change.
Mr. Lu said on Wednesday that China would stick to its climate commitments after Mr. Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, this week rescinded measures enacted by Mr. Obama to reduce coal and oil use.

British PM Theresa May to file formal Brexit divorce papers
London:MMNN:29 March 2017
Prime Minister Theresa May will file formal Brexit divorce papers on Wednesday, pitching the United Kingdom into the unknown and triggering years of uncertain negotiations that will test the endurance of the European Union. Nine months after Britons voted to leave, May will notify EU Council President Donald Tusk in a letter that the UK really is quitting the bloc it joined in 1973. The prime minister, an initial opponent of Brexit who won the top job in the political turmoil that followed the referendum vote, will then have two years to settle the terms of the divorce before it comes into effect in late March 2019.
"Now that the decision has been made to leave the EU, it is time to come together," May will tell lawmakers, according to comments supplied by her office. "When I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the whole United Kingdom - young and old, rich and poor, city, town, country and all the villages and hamlets in between," May will say.
On the eve of Brexit, May, 60, has one of the toughest jobs of any recent British prime minister: holding Britain together in the face of renewed Scottish independence demands, while conducting arduous talks with 27 other EU states on finance, trade, security and other complex issues. The outcome of the negotiations will shape the future of Britain's $2.6 trillion economy, the world's fifth biggest, and determine whether London can keep its place as one of the top two global financial centres.
For the EU, already reeling from successive crises over debt and refugees, the loss of Britain is the biggest blow yet to 60 years of efforts to forge European unity in the wake of two devastating world wars.
Its leaders say they do not want to punish Britain. But with nationalist, anti-EU parties on the rise across Europe, they cannot afford to give London generous terms that might encourage other member states to break away.
May's notice of the UK's intention to leave the bloc under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty is due to be hand-delivered to Tusk in Brussels by Tim Barrow, Britain's permanent representative to the EU. Barrow arrived at the European Council building shortly before 0800 GMT for a routine weekly meeting with the senior diplomats of other member states.
He arrived in the ambassadorial Jaguar, carrying a well-worn black leather briefcase which may - or may not - have contained May's letter. British officials declined to say. Barrow has an appointment with Tusk, the EU summit chair and former Polish prime minister, in the Council President's offices on the top 11th floor of the new Europa Building at 1120 GMT, where he is due to hand over the letter.
That moment will formally set the clock ticking on Britain's two-year exit process. Tusk will speak to reporters after that. May signed the Brexit letter on Tuesday, pictured alone at the cabinet table beneath a clock, a British flag and an oil-painting of Britain's first prime minister, Robert Walpole. She will update the British parliament at around 1130 GMT.

Why the world is worried about this 'unstoppable' hypersonic Russian missile
MMNN:29 March 2017
Russia is expected to begin serial production of hypersonic missile Tsirkon or Zircon soon. The missile boasts of speed five times than that of speed of sound. Reports say the missile can travel with a speed of upto 4,600 mph or 7,400 km/h, which makes it almost impossible to be stopped.
Countries like the US and Britain, who have most powerful defence forces in the world, are already losing sweat over Russia's new missile defence system.
"State tests of Zircon are scheduled for completion in 2017 in accordance with the contract, and the missile's serial production is planned to be launched next year," a report carried out by Russian news agency TASS said quoting sources.
Zircon, which can strike targets as far as 400 km away, is expected to be inducted by the Russia defence forces by 2022. With its enormous speed, Zircon is capable of evading the best anti-missile systems presently in use across the world. A report in The Independent said that UK's Royal Navy's new aircraft carriers would be unable to stop.
The Royal Navy's current Sea Ceptor missile system can only shoot down missiles travelling up to 2,300mph, the report said.
On the other hand, the US Navy is worried that Russia may fit Zircon to its nuclear-powered Kirkov warship.
Zircon works on the scramjet technology to attain its hypersonic speeds. The missile uses air pressure for propulsion. A specially designed system pushes air from the atmosphere into the combustion chamber where the air is mixed with the on-board fuel to provide energy.
What makes Zircon lightweight and faster than other missiles is that it doesn't carry oxidizer. There are no fans or turbines to propel it, which essentially means less chances of any mechanical failure.
Russia may have taken the lead in developing a hypersonic missile, but India is not far behind. India is developing a second generation BrahMos-II missile is collaboration with Russia. The missile will use the same scramjet technology that Zircon has.
The BrahMos-II is expected to have a range of 600 km. The missile is expected to be ready for testing by 2020.

Kremlin Critic Alexei Navalny To Appear In Court Following Anti-Corruption Protest In Moscow
MOSCOW:MMNN:27 March 2017
Top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was set to appear in court on Monday after he and more than 1,000 other people were arrested at an anti-corruption protest in Moscow.
The United States and the European Union voiced deep concern about the detentions, with the State Department describing them as an "affront to democracy".
Navalny had called for the protests that swept the country Sunday after he published a report earlier this month accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of controlling a property empire through a murky network of nonprofit organisations.
As well as Moscow and Saint Petersburg, a number of provincial cities where protests are rarely seen also held demonstrations, attracting a significant number of minors born during President Vladimir Putin's 17 years in power.
Navalny, who has announced plans to run for president in the 2018 election, was arrested as he was walking to the Moscow protest.
About 7,000 to 8,000 people demonstrated in the heart of the Russian capital, according to police, making it one of the biggest unauthorised rallies in recent years.
Navalny, who spent the night in police custody, could face up to 15 days in police cells for having called for unsanctioned protests, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh wrote on Twitter.
About 1,030 people were arrested at the Moscow rally, according OVD-Info, a website that monitors the detention of activists.
The vast majority were released overnight after being fined, while about 120 remained in police custody on Monday, OVD-Info said.
One policeman was hospitalised after suffering a head injury during the Moscow rally, the interior ministry said.
The European Union urged Russia to release the demonstrators "without delay".
An EU spokesman said the police action had "prevented the exercise of basic freedoms of expression" association and peaceful assembly -- which are fundamental rights enshrined in the Russian constitution".
"We call on the Russian authorities to abide fully by the international commitments it has made, including in the Council of Europe... to uphold these rights and to release without delay the peaceful demonstrators that have been detained."
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the detention of "peaceful protesters, human rights observers, and journalists is an affront to core democratic values".
- 'Hope for a normal future' -
"I am proud of those who took to the streets today," Navalny wrote on Twitter on Sunday. "You are the country's best people and Russia's hope for a normal future."
Liberal business newspaper Vedomosti newspaper said Monday that the protests were reminiscent of the mass anti-government rallies that swept Russia in 2011 over vote-rigging after a parliamentary election, which snowballed into the biggest challenge against Putin since he took power in 2000.
The Russian constitution allows public gatherings, but recent laws have criminalised protests unauthorised by city authorities, which frequently refuse to grant permission for rallies by Kremlin critics.
Navalny, a 40-year-old lawyer by training, first announced plans to run for the presidency after he won a surprise 27 percent of the vote in the Moscow mayoral election in 2013.
But he has been the subject of several legal prosecutions in recent years, and in February he was found guilty of embezzlement and given a five-year suspended sentence which could make him ineligible to run in next year's vote.

Pakistan victim's family accepts money and pardons Indians convicted for murder
Dubai/islamabad :MMNN:27 March 2017
Ten Indian youths in the UAE may escape the noose for murdering a Pakistani man in 2015 after the victim's family accepted blood money amounting to 200,000 dirhams and agreed to pardon the convicts, according to media reports. Mohammad Riaz, the father of Mohammad Farhan, appeared in the Al Ain appeals court on March 22 and submitted a letter of consent to pardon the accused Indians, a senior Indian Embassy official told Gulf News on Sunday.
"It was unfortunate that I lost my son. I appeal the young generation not to indulge in such fights. I have forgiven these 10 individuals. In fact, Allah has saved their lives. Lives of at least 10 people, including a wife and children, hinge [financially] on one person [who comes to work in the UAE]," Riaz said.
On behalf of the accused, an Indian charity organisation deposited the blood money in the court and the case has been adjourned for further hearing on April 12, said Dinesh Kumar, Counsellor, Community Affairs at the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi. "It is expected that the court may commute the death sentence," Kumar said.
On December 8, 2016, the murder allegedly occurred during a brawl over bootlegging in Al Ain in December 2015. Eleven men from Punjab were convicted in the case but one was spared the death sentence. S P S Oberoi, Chairman of Sarbat Da Bhala Charitable Trust that donated blood money for the accused men, said it was a tough task to obtain pardon from the Pakistani family.
Oberoi, a Dubai-based businessman, said Riaz had been invited from Pakistan three days ago, with all arrangements, including a visa and accommodation being made by his trust. "We somehow made him agree...and as per the Sharia law, have submitted Dhs 200,000 as blood money in the court," Oberoi said.
He said his Pakistani manager traveled to Peshawar and talked to the family and their relatives to secure the pardon. All the convicted young Indian men are from poor families and worked in Al Ain as plumbers, electricians, carpenters and masons. Most of them in their twenties had paid huge sums to recruitment agents in India to secure a visa to reach the UAE.

London police arrest seven for terror attacks
MMNN:23 March 2017
The London police arrested seven persons in raids on Thursday linked to the deadly "Islamist-related" attacks at Westminter on Wednesday.
Britain's top anti-terror officer Mark Rowley said police have revised down the number of victims from Wednesday's rampage to three from four. Some 40 people were injured.
"We have searched six addresses and made seven arrests," Mr. Rowley told reporters.
He said the raids included locations in London and the central city of Birmingham.
Defiant British MPs meanwhile vowed to return to work as normal after the lightning attack on the iconic Parliament building in the shadow of Big Ben.
The authorities worked round-the-clock to piece together what happened as the attacker ran down several pedestrians on the nearby Westminster Bridge then charged at a policeman at the Parliament gates, stabbing him to death with a large knife.
Armed officers shot the attacker dead but not before he killed two members of the public and the 48-year-old policeman.
Press Association news agency photos believed to be of the attacker lying on an ambulance stretcher showed a burly man wearing black clothes and having a beard.
Other pictures showed two people being treated on the ground inside the vehicle entrance gates of Parliament, with a knife visible on the cobblestones, while three shots were heard ringing out on video footage as terrified passersby fled.
Lawmaker Mary Creagh told AFP there was "a real sense of panic" as the attack unfolded and a doctor at nearby St Thomas' Hospital said they were treating people with "catastrophic" injuries.

South Korean ferry in which hundreds died lifted from sea after 3 years
MMNN:23 March 2017
A 6,800-tonne South Korean ferry emerged from the water on Thursday, nearly three years after it capsized and sank into violent seas off the country's southwestern coast, an emotional moment for the country that continues to search for closure to one of its deadliest disasters ever.
More than 300 people - most of whom were students on a high school trip - died when the Sewol sank on 16 April 2014, touching off an outpouring of national grief and soul searching about long-ignored public safety and regulatory failures. The public outrage over what was seen as a botched rescue job by the government contributed to the recent ouster of Park Geun-hye as president.
Workers on two barges began the salvaging operation Wednesday night, rolling up 66 cables connected to a frame of metal beams divers spent months putting beneath the ferry, which had been lying on its left side in about 44 metres (144 feet) of water.
By 3:45am, Sewol's stabilizer surfaced from the water. About an hour later, the blue-and-white right side of ferry, rusty and scratched and its name "SEWOL" no longer visible from where it was, emerged for the first time in more than 1,000 days.
By about 7am, the ferry had been raised enough for workers to climb on it and further fasten it to the barges. As of 2pm, the top of the ferry was about six metres (19 feet) above the water surface.
Lee Cheoljo, an official from the ministry of oceans and fisheries, told reporters that workers will need until late afternoon or the evening to raise the ferry until its upper side is about 13 metres (42 feet) above the surface.
Workers had initially planned to do this by Thursday morning, but were forced to a temporarily halt when the ferry began rubbing against pulleys and other equipment on the barges as it came up, Lee said. They resumed lifting the ferry after spending hours on operations to better balance it.
Once Sewol is raised to the desired point, salvage crews will then load the ferry onto a semi-submersible, heavy-lift vessel that will carry it to a mainland port. The loading process, including emptying the ferry of water and fuel, is expected to take days.
The bodies of 295 passengers were recovered after the sinking on 16 April 2014, but nine are still missing. Relatives, some of whom who are watching from two fishing boats just outside the operation area, are hoping that those remains will be found inside the ferry.
"I can see it. I can see where my daughter is," Park Eun-mi, the mother of a missing 17-year-old girl, told a television crew as her boat approached the salvaging site on Wednesday. Lee Geum-hee, the mother of another missing student, said, "We just want one thing - for the ship to be pulled up so that we can take our children home."

US-led coalition strike on school in north Syria leave at least 33 dead: Sources
MMNN:22 March 2017
At least 33 people were killed in a US-led coalition strike on a school used as a centre for displaced people near a jihadist-held Syrian town, a monitor said Wednesday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike south of Al-Mansoura, a town held by the Islamic State group in the northern province of Raqa, "took place in the early hours of Tuesday."
"We can now confirm that 33 people were killed, and they were displaced civilians from Raqa, Aleppo and Homs," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
"They're still pulling bodies out of the rubble until now. Only two people were pulled out alive," Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The Britain-based monitor -- which relies on a network of sources inside Syria for its information -- says it determines what planes carried out raids according to their type, location, flight patterns and the munitions involved.
"Raqa is Being Slaughtered Silently," an activist group that publishes news from IS-held territory in Syria, also reported the raids.
"The school that was targeted hosts nearly 50 displaced families," the collective said.
The US-led coalition has been bombing IS in Syria since 2014 and is backing an offensive to defeat the group in Raqa city, the de facto heart of the group's so-called "Islamic caliphate".
Earlier this month, the coalition said its raids there and in Iraq and unintentionally killed at least 220 civilians.
But other monitors say the number is much higher.
More than 320,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced since Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

Trump administration hosting first meeting of anti-ISIS coalition
MMNN:22 March 2017
Foreign ministers from 68 countries meet in Washington on Wednesday to agree on the next steps to defeat Islamic State, the first such gathering of the U.S-led military coalition since the election of President Donald Trump in November.
The meeting will be hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Trump has vowed to make the fight against Islamic State a priority and directed the Pentagon and other agencies in January to submit a plan for defeating the militant group.
The militants have been losing ground in both Iraq and Syria, with three separate forces, backed by the United States, Turkey and Russia, advancing on the group's Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.
The meeting is the first of the international coalition since Iraqi government forces, backed by the U.S.-led international coalition, retook several Iraqi cities from Islamic State last year and liberated eastern Mosul.
While the jihadist group is overwhelmingly outnumbered by Iraqi forces, it has been using suicide car bombs and snipers to defend its remaining strongholds.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who met with Trump in Washington on Monday, said he had won assurances of more U.S. support in the war against Islamic State.
A White House statement after the meeting said both Trump and Abadi agreed that "terrorism cannot be defeated by military might alone," and the two leaders called for deepening commercial ties.
Discussions on Wednesday will also focus on how to help Mosul rebuild and ways to tackle Islamic State operations in Libya and elsewhere.
In Syria, the U.S.-led coalition has been working with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias. Its current focus is to encircle and ultimately recapture Raqqa - Islamic State's base of operations in Syria.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is supported by Russia and Iran, has said he saw scope for cooperation with Trump, although he has dismissed the U.S.-backed military campaign against Islamic State in Syria as "only a few raids."

Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif orders immediate reopening of border with Afghanistan
ISLAMABAD: MMNN:20 March 2017
In a goodwill gesture, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday ordered the immediate reopening of the border with Afghanistan to facilitate the movement of Afghan citizens and resumption of lucrative cross-border trade.
The Prime Minister also hoped that the Afghan government would take measures to address the reasons for which the borders were closed by Pakistan. He said recent incidents of terrorism in Pakistan have been traced back to anti-Pakistan elements in Afghanistan.
According to an official statement, Sharif also said that he reiterated time and again that durable peace in Afghanistan is imperative for peace and security in Pakistan.
He said Pakistan would continue to collaborate with Afghanistan to eliminate the menace of terrorism from the two countries.
The busy border was closed last month for indefinite period following a string of deadly militant attacks for which Pakistan accused terrorists hiding in Afghanistan.
The border remained shut except its temporary opening for two days to let more than 50,000 stranded people cross over.
Since then, traders have complained of daily losses and prices of goods imported from Pakistan rose sharply in Afghanistan.
Sharif ordered that the border should be reopened immediately "as a goodwill gesture," the statement said.
"The decision to reopen the border is being taken as closure of the border for a long time in the backdrop of religious, culture and historical ties between the two countries would not be in the interest of the people and the economy," said Sharif.
Pakistan's border with Afghanistan is more than 2,400 km long and is the main route of trade between the two countries.
The two-way annual trade is between $1.5-2 billion. The two sides had planned to increase to 5 billion dollars but frequent closure of border by Pakistan due to security reasons is one of the hurdles to increase the trade, an official said.
The decision to reopen that border came after last week's meeting between the Advisor on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz and Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar in London.
UK's National Security Advisor Mark Lyall Grant hosted the meeting.
Afghan side had expressed anger and frustration at the closure of the border, sources said.

North Korea's Test of Rocket Engine Shows 'Meaningful Progress,' South Says
MMNN:20 March 2017
South Korea - North Korea's latest test of a rocket engine showed that the country was making "meaningful progress" in trying to build more powerful rockets and missiles, South Korean officials said on Monday.
North Korea said on Sunday that it had conducted a ground jet test of a newly developed high-thrust missile engine, which its leader, Kim Jong-un, called "a great event of historic significance." Using the characteristic bombast of such announcements, he said that the test heralded "a new birth" of the country's rocket industry and that "the whole world will soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries."
The North's rival, South Korea, acknowledged on Monday that the test represented a breakthrough. Lee Jin-woo, a spokesman at the Defense Ministry, said it showed that the North was developing a more sophisticated rocket engine. The model that the North tested included a cluster consisting of a main engine and four vernier thrusters - smaller engines used to adjust the craft's velocity and stability.
"Through this test, it is found that engine function has made meaningful progress," Mr. Lee said during a news briefing, without divulging further details.
He declined to say whether the engine was for a rocket used to place a satellite into orbit or for an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, which the North has been threatening to test-flight any time. Mr. Lee said more analysis was needed to answer that question.
Mr. Kim has called for his country to develop and launch "a variety of more working satellites" using "carrier rockets of bigger capacity."
The country has also renovated and expanded the gantry tower and other facilities at the launch site to accommodate more powerful rockets.
The United Nations Security Council has banned the country from satellite launchings, considering its satellite program a cover for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The test of the rocket engine took place at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in Tongchang-ri, in northwestern North Korea, where the country fired a carrier rocket in February of last year to place its Kwangmyongsong, or Shining Star, satellite into orbit.
After that launch, South Korean defense officials said that the Unha rocket used in the launch, if successfully reconfigured as a missile, could fly more than 7,400 miles with a warhead of 1,100 to 1,300 pounds - far enough to reach most of the United States.
In September, North Korea conducted the ground test of what it called a new long-range rocket engine in Tongchang-ri, days after it conducted its fifth underground nuclear test.
Although the North has never test-flown an ICBM, it has recently demonstrated significant progress in its missile programs. Last month, it launched a new type of intermediate-range ballistic missile that it said could carry a nuclear payload.
That missile, the Pukguksong-2, uses a solid-fuel technology that American experts say will make it easier for the country to hide its arsenal in its numerous tunnels and deploy its missiles.
Since Mr. Kim took power in 2011, North Korea has launched 46 ballistic missiles, including 24 last year, violating resolutions by the United Nations Security Council that ban the country from developing or testing such weapons, according to South Korean officials. In his New Year's Day speech, Mr. Kim said his country was in the "final stage" of preparing for its first ICBM test.
In Seoul, the South Korean capital, on Friday, Rex W. Tillerson, the United States' secretary of state, said that two decades of international efforts to end the North's nuclear weapons and missile programs had failed. He warned that all options should be on the table to stop them, including possible pre-emptive military action.

China to co-produce ballistic missiles, aircraft with Pakistan after slamming India's weapons programme
Beijing: MMNN:17 March 2017
China and Pakistan have discussed co-producing ballistic missiles and advanced military aircraft as the new Pakistani Army Chief made his first visit to China, State media reported on Friday.
This comes barely months after Beijing blasted India's development of ballistic missiles and slammed the fourth test of Agni V as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
China had provided "authorisation to Pakistan to produce ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, anti-ship missiles and main battle tanks in Pakistan", the Global Times, a tabloid published by the official People's Daily, reported, citing Song Zhongping, a former officer of the PLA Second Artillery Corps (now renamed the PLA Rocket Force). He said other weapons exchanges would be discussed besides missiles, including the "mass production of FC-1 Xiaolong, a lightweight and multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by the two countries".
China's Foreign Ministry said it was not aware of any missile cooperation agreement, which was also not mentioned in the Defence Ministry's official statement of the meetings. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: "The Chinese military released information on meetings between the Pakistan Chief of Army Staff with his [Chinese] counterpart. From the news release we didn't see anything on an agreement on ballistic missiles. What I can tell you is China and Pakistan maintain normal defence exchanges and relevant cooperation."
The report, however, is likely to raise eyebrows, as after India's Agni V test in December Beijing then referenced the 1998 UN Security Council Resolution 1172, a non-binding resolution that called on India and Pakistan, after their nuclear tests, to also cease tests of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
The Foreign Ministry said then that the "UN Security Council has explicit regulations on whether India can develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. China always maintains that preserving the strategic balance and stability in South Asia is conducive to peace and prosperity of regional countries and beyond."
Asked if China believed that this applied to Pakistan's missile programme as well, Hua said, "Generally speaking, all UN members have obligations and responsibility to observe UN resolutions. Our position on the strategic balance in South Asia is consistent."
On Thursday, Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa met top PLA officials including Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission General Fan Changlong, General Fang Fenghui, chief of the Joint Staff Department, and Army Commander General Li Zuocheng.
Unusually for a military chief, he also met Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Gaoli, the seventh-ranked leader. Sources said this underlined the political support to push the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which China has billed as a flagship project of Xi Jinping's pet One Belt, One Road initiative.
The Pakistani Army Chief pledged to protect Chinese personnel and projects in the CPEC. Shortly after taking over in November, Bajwa visited the special security division of 15,000 troops being raised by Pakistan to protect the CPEC and spoke of "hostile" forces against the project.
On Thursday, both sides also discussed "anti-terrorism cooperation at the meeting, vowing to resolutely strike against terrorist forces including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement". "Pakistan's military is willing to deepen the cooperation with the Chinese army and fully support the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism in Counter Terrorism by Afghanistan-China-Pakistan-Tajikistan Armed Forces," Bajwa said.

Kansas recognises March 16 as Indian-American Appreciation Day
The US state of Kansas has recognised March 16 as 'Indian-American Appreciation Day' to honour an Indian techie who was killed last month in a racially-motivated hate crime .
Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, was killed when 51-year-old US Navy veteran Adam Purinton opened fire at him and his friend Alok Madasani at a bar in Olathe on February 22 before yelling "get out of my country". Madasani and American national Ian Grillot were injured in the attack.
Asserting that the senseless act of violence "will not divided or define" the state, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said, "The unique contribution of Indian community has made Kansas a better place. We are very very thankful to them."
"These actions can never overshadow our shared values and believes, the dignity of mankind...We will continue to welcome and support the Indian community in the State of Kansas," Brownback said at an event in Topeka, the State Capital.
Madasani and Grillot also attended the event to commemorate the life of Kuchibhotla. Brownback publicly apologised for the loss of life and injury to Madasani.
"I'd like to thank Ian Grillot for his heroic efforts to intervene, and I wish Alok and Ian both a speedy recovery," he said at the event during which he issued a proclamation to recognise March 16 as the 'Indian American Appreciation Day'.
"We find peace in the Sanskrit mantra Satyamev Jayate or truth alone triumphs. With this proclamation today, I am declaring Indian American Day in the State of Kansas," the Governor said.
"This is a deplorable act that happened, We will not let it define us as people," he said.
"Srinivas, embodied what it means to be a Kansan," Brownback said, adding that his is a similar story of tens of thousands of Indian Americans who have called Kansas home over the generations.
"Moving forward, Kansas remain committed to standing with the Indian community. We will always reject the acts of violence and harm. We reject hatred in all its forms," he said.
Brownback said Kansas is committed to protect all its neighbours and its guests.
In his brief remarks, Madasani said the proclamation is an honour that Kuchibhotla would be proud of.
Meanwhile, India House, Houston held a candle light vigil in honour of Kuchibhotla.
To celebrate true American spirit, India House has also decided to is honouring Grillot, who tried to stop the shooter.
The candle light vigil was attended for a large gathering of both Indian Americans, friends and several elected officials.
Vipin Kumar, Executive Director of India House said, the community will work toward combating ignorance and blind hatred and promoting the Hindu values of peace and love.
"We conclude this event today with a message of hope, love and peace," Kumar said.
"And with the resolve to fight hate."

After Hawaii, Maryland Judge Now Puts A Nationwide Hold On Travel Ban
Granting the temporary restraining order, in response to a lawsuit by the state of Hawaii, United States (US) District Judge Derrick Watson found on Wednesday that "a reasonable, objective observer ... would conclude that the executive order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion."
Earlier today, US District Judge Theodore Chuang issued a nationwide preliminary injunction in a similar case in Maryland brought by refugee resettlement agencies, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center.
President Donald Trump has pledged to appeal against the federal judge's order placing an immediate halt on his revised travel ban. He described the ruling as judicial overreach that made the US look weak.
Mr Chuang ruled that the agencies were likely to succeed in proving that the travel ban portion of the executive order was intended to be a ban on Muslims and, as a result, violates the US Constitution's religious freedom protection.
"To avoid sowing seeds of division in our nation, upholding this fundamental constitutional principle at the core of our nation's identity plainly serves a significant public interest," Mr Chuang wrote in his ruling.
The actions were the latest legal blow to the administration's efforts to temporarily ban refugees as well as travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries. The president has said the ban is needed for national security.
However, the orders are only a first step and the government could ultimately win its underlying case. Mr Watson and Mr Chuang were appointed to the Bench by former President Barack Obama.
President Trump, speaking after the Hawaii ruling at a rally in Nashville, called his revised executive order a "watered-down version" of his first.
The President said he would take the case "as far as it needs to go," including the Supreme Court, in order to get a ruling that the ban is legal.
The next stop, if the administration decides to contest the Hawaii judge's ruling, is likely to be the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Three judges on the Ninth Circuit upheld a restraining order on the first travel ban issued by a Washington state judge.
At that point, the government's legal options were to ask for a hearing by a larger panel of judges or petition the Supreme Court to hear the case. Instead, the administration withdrew the ban, promising to reframe it in ways that would address the legal issues.
If the Ninth Circuit were to uphold the Hawaii court's ruling, an appeal to the Supreme Court would be complicated by its current makeup of four conservative and four liberal judges, with no ninth justice since the death of Antonin Scalia more than a year ago.
The travel ban has deeply divided the country on liberal and conservative lines, and it is unlikely that a ninth Supreme Court justice would be seated in time to hear an appeal in this case.
President Donald Trump signed the new ban on March 6 in a bid to overcome legal problems with his January executive order, which caused chaos at airports and sparked mass protests before a Washington judge stopped its enforcement in February.
Mr Watson's order is only temporary until the broader arguments in the case can be heard. He set an expedited hearing schedule to determine if his ruling should be extended.
Trump's first travel order was more sweeping than the second revised order. Like the current one, it barred citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days. The order also included Iraq, which was subsequently taken off the list.
The revised ban also excluded legal permanent residents and existing visa holders and provided waivers for various categories of immigrants with ties to the United States.
Hawaii and other opponents of the ban claimed that the motivation behind it was President Trump's campaign promise of "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."
In Washington state, a group of plaintiffs applying for immigrant visas asked US District Judge James Robart in Seattle - who suspended the first ban - to stop the new order. Robart was appointed to the bench by Republican former President George W. Bush.
Judge Robart said he would issue a written ruling, but did not specify a time line.

North Korea 'need not fear' United States: Secretary of State Tillerson
TOKYO:MMNN:16 March 2017
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on North Korea on Thursday to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, saying the isolated nation "need not fear" the United States.
Tillerson made that declaration after meeting Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, where they discussed possible new approaches in dealing with Pyongyang.
He said 20 years of U.S. diplomatic and other efforts to get North Korea to denuclearize have failed, but gave no specifics about how the Trump administration, which is currently doing a policy review, would tackle the issue. Tillerson described the weapons programs as "dangerous and unlawful."
The former Exxon Mobil CEO is making his first trip to Asia as the top U.S. diplomat. Tensions are running high on the divided Korean Peninsula, and North Korea last week launched four missiles into seas off Japan and where the U.S. is currently conducting annual military drills with South Korea.
Pyongyang views this as a rehearsal for invasion.
"North Korea and its people need not fear the United States or their neighbors in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea," the secretary of state told a news conference in Tokyo. "With this in mind, the United States calls on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and refrain from any further provocation."
He later met separately with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
In Beijing, a North Korean diplomat said Thursday that Pyongyang must act in self-defense against the U.S.-South Korea military drills, which he said have brought the region to the brink of nuclear war. He said the drills were aimed at using atomic weapons for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea. Washington says the maneuvers are routine and defensive.
"The United States holds a joint military exercise every year to push the situation on the Korean Peninsula to a serious situation, and that is the source of the super tough measures we must take," Pak Myong Ho told reporters in a rare briefing at the North Korean Embassy in the Chinese capital.
He spoke through a translator.
North Korea has accelerated its weapons development in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and despite tough sanctions levied against it. Last year, the North conducted two nuclear test explosions and 24 ballistic missile tests. Experts say it could have a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the United States within a few years.
Citing the continued North Korean missile launches this year, Tillerson said that "in the face of this ever-escalating threat it is clear that a different approach is required." He said his trip was intended to get input from other governments. Tillerson, who is traveling without the usual contingent of journalists who normally cover the secretary of state, will be in South Korea on Friday and then China on Saturday.
Both Tillerson and Kishida urged China to use its economic leverage with North Korea to push it to change course.
During last year's election campaign, presidential candidate Donald Trump called into question U.S. security alliances and called for Tokyo and Seoul to contribute more for their defense. Tillerson, however, stressed that cooperation with Japan and South Korea was "critical."
Kishida said the U.S. and Japan had an "unwavering bond." In a sign of that, Tillerson reiterated that a U.S.-Japan mutual defense treaty covers Japanese-administered islands in the East China Sea also claimed by China.

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Donald Trump meeting A 'Turning Point'
WASHINGTON: MMNN:15 March 2017
Saudi Arabia hailed a "historical turning point" in US-Saudi relations after a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman highlighted the two leaders' shared view that Iran posed a regional security threat.
The meeting on Tuesday appeared to signal a meeting of the minds on many issues between Mr Trump and Prince Mohammed, in a marked difference from Riyadh's often fraught relationship with the Obama administration, especially in the wake of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
"This meeting is considered a historical turning point in relations between both countries and which had passed through a period of divergence of views on many issues," a senior adviser to Prince Mohammed said in a statement.
"But the meeting today restored issues to their right path and form a big change in relations between both countries in political, military, security and economic issues," the adviser said.
Saudi Arabia had viewed with unease the administration of US President Barack Obama, whom they felt considered Riyadh's alliance with Washington less important than negotiating the Iran nuclear deal.
Riyadh and other Gulf allies see in Trump a strong president who will shore up Washington's role as their main strategic partner and help contain Riyadh's adversary Iran in a region central to US security and energy interests, regional analysts said.
The deputy crown prince viewed the nuclear deal as "very dangerous", the senior adviser said, adding that both leaders had identical views on "the danger of Iran's regional expansionist activities". The White House has said the deal was not in the best interest of the United States.
Iran denies interference in Arab countries.
Praise For Mr Trump
The meeting was the first since Trump's January 20 inauguration with the prince, who is leading the kingdom's efforts to revive state finances by diversifying the economy away from a reliance on falling crude oil revenues.
Under the plan, which seeks to promote the private sector and make state-owned companies more efficient, Riyadh plans to sell up to 5 percent of state oil giant Saudi Aramco in what is expected to be the world's biggest initial public offering.
The two leaders, who discussed opportunities for US companies to invest in Saudi Arabia, kicked off their talks in the Oval Office posing for a picture in front of journalists.
US Vice President Mike Pence, Mr Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, chief of staff Reince Priebus and strategist Steve Bannon were also present at the Oval Office meeting with Prince Mohammed.
The meeting also appeared to illustrate support for some of the most contentious issues that Mr Trump has faced since taking office on January 20.
On a travel ban against six Muslim-majority countries, the adviser said Prince Mohammed did not regard it as one that was aimed at "Muslim countries or Islam".

Turkey-Netherlands row: As anti-immigrant sentiment rises, spat shows hazards of courting diaspora
MMNN:15 March 2017
Most countries with a large diaspora actively woo their overseas communities, but the diplomatic spat between Netherlands and Turkey has shown up the hazards of aggressively courting the diaspora.
The wave of anti-immigration sentiment flowing through Europe and America could bring about a rethink on the ways to engage with the diaspora so as not to accentuate the close ties many migrants have with their home countries.
The row, which is threatening to engulf even more European countries, began when the Netherlands prevented two ministers from Turkey from addressing political rallies of Turkish migrants in Rotterdam.
Both the Netherlands and Turkey were in the midst of an election campaign when the crisis sparked off after Turkey's Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya was barred from speaking to Turkish migrants and escorted across the border.
Dutch authorities used water cannons and mounted police to disperse crowds from the Turkish embassy. Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was prevented from flying into Rotterdam, leading Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to describe the Netherlands as a "Nazi remnant". Turkey threatened sanctions against the Netherlands and denied the Dutch ambassador permission to return to Ankara.
The Netherlands is holding its parliamentary elections on 15 March, where the closely fought electoral battle is between Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy and the radical right wing Party of Freedom led by Geert Wilders.
Immigration and integration of the Muslim minority are two issues in the elections. Turkey is to hold a referendum on a new constitution in mid-April. The new constitution seeks to change Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential form of government which would give sweeping new powers to the president.
Ministers from Turkey have been trying to drum up support for the government in the referendum from Turkey's large diaspora in Europe. But the Dutch are wary of importing the sharp political differences between the pro-Erdogan and anti-Erdogan groups in the Netherlands, especially after the heavy-handed crackdown in Turkey following the attempted coup in July 2016.
The Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland have all cited security and other concerns for their reluctance to allow Turkish officials to campaign in their countries for the referendum, infuriating Ankara.
There are large Turkish migrant communities in several European countries, (approximately 4.5 million in western European countries); many of the migrants are eligible to vote in Turkey and their support could be crucial to the Turkish referendum.
Despite the European Union calling on Erdogan not to escalate the crisis, Turkey has threatened to review an agreement signed in March 2016 to halt the flow of immigrants through Turkey to European countries.
Political campaigning by foreign political parties or leaders is frowned up in many countries. Indian leaders discovered the perils of political activity abroad last year when the Canadian government barred Punjab Congress president Capt Amarinder Singh, from holding political interactions and meetings in Canada last year.
The large Punjabi diaspora in Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand are closely linked to their families and politics in Punjab and a natural target for Punjab politicians. The Aam Admi Party too organized a campaign called 'Chalo Punjab 2017' to woo overseas Punjabis for the state elections.
The Canadian government invoked the 'Global Affairs Canada' regulation to bar the Congress meetings; the regulation prohibits foreign governments from conducting election campaigns in Canada or setting up political parties in Canada. Capt Amarinder Singh was forced to cancel his political interactions in Canada, but the AAP held some meetings without political banners.
The American dream has been shaken for the 3-million strong Indian-American community in the US by the recent attacks on Indians. Indians, Middle-Eastern and Jewish communities have faced harassment since Donald Trump became president and latent racist, anti-immigrant views came out into the open.
America had the salad bowl concept of immigrants adding to the cultural diversity of American society instead of totally assimilating in it. But Indians in the US are now being advised not to draw attention to themselves by speaking in Indian languages in public. The relative prosperity of many Indians has also been criticised for taking away jobs from Americans.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had addressed huge assemblies of Indians in Madison Square Garden and Silicon Valley in 2014 and 2015 in the US, and other similar meetings in Canada, UK and Australia. These were not political meetings, but such large exuberant gatherings of the Indian diaspora are likely to go against the prevailing anti-immigrant mood in these countries.

Preet Bharara Among 46 US Attorneys Asked To Quit By Trump Administration
MMNN:11 March 2017
The Trump administration has asked for the resignation of the Indian-American "crusader" prosecutor Preet Bharara and 45 other US attorneys, who were appointed by former President Barack Obama, to ensure a "uniform transition".
In all there are 93 US attorneys. Many of them have already left their positions, but 46 attorneys who stayed on in the first weeks of the Trump administration have been asked by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign "in order to ensure a uniform transition," Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said on Friday.
Defending the move, Flores in a statement said that both the George W Bush and Bill Clinton administrations made similar requests at the beginning of their term.
Among those asked to resign included Mr Bharara, the US Attorney General for Southern District of New York, who was appointed by Obama in 2009.
Mr Bharara, who has earned the reputation of a "crusader" prosecutor, had met President Trump in November after his electoral victory.
Following the meeting, media reports said that President Trump had asked Mr Bharara to stay.
Neither the White House, nor the Department of Justice responded to the questions on Mr Bharara.
48-year-old Mr Bharara has made a national and international mark for himself with many high-profile cases and investigations including foreign countries, insider trading and those involving US politicians. It was under his prosecution that India-born former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta was convicted for insider trading in 2012.
New York Senator Charles Schumer said he is "troubled" to learn the reports of requests for resignations from the remaining US Attorneys, particularly that of Mr Bharara.
"The President initiated a call to me in November and assured me he wanted Mr Bharara to continue to serve as US Attorney for the Southern District," he said.
"By asking for the immediate resignation of every remaining US Attorney before their replacements have been confirmed or even nominated, the President is interrupting ongoing cases and investigations and hindering the administration of justice," Mr Schumer said.
"Until the new US Attorneys are confirmed, the dedicated career prosecutors in our US Attorney's Offices will continue the great work of the Department in investigating, prosecuting and deterring the most violent offenders," the Justice Department said.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dianne Feinstein, said she is surprised to hear that Trump and Sessions have abruptly fired all 46 remaining US attorneys.
"At a time when Attorney General Sessions has recused himself from major investigations into the Trump campaign, the independence of federal prosecutors could not be more important. That's why many of us have called for the appointment of a special prosecutor," she said.
"Under previous administrations, orderly transitions allowed US attorneys to leave gradually as their replacements were chosen. This was done to protect the independence of our prosecutors and avoid disrupting ongoing federal cases," Feinstein said.

World Facing 'Largest Humanitarian Crisis' Since 1945: United Nations
MMNN:11 March 2017
The world is facing its "largest humanitarian crisis" since 1945, said the United Nations (UN), further issuing a plea for help to avoid "a catastrophe".
Stephen O'Brien, UN's Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that more than 20 million people are facing the threat of starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria, as reported by the BBC.
"We stand at a critical point in history," O'Brien told the Security Council on Friday.
"Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the UN."
UNICEF has already warned that 1.4 million children could starve to death in 2017. Mr O'Brien said $4.4 billion is needed by July to avert a disaster.
"Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease," he added.
According to the UN, a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from a preventable disease, while half-a-million children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition. Some 19 million people - or two thirds of Yemen's population - are in need of some sort of humanitarian help.
In South Sudan, 4.9 million people - or 40 per cent of the country's population - are "in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance," BBC quoted the UN as saying.
The UN has described the unfolding disaster in north-eastern Nigeria as the "greatest crisis on the continent". Estimates in December 2016 showed that there were 75,000 children at risk of starving to death. Another 7.1 million people in Nigeria and the neighbouring Lake Chad area are considered "severely food insecure".
Six years ago, when a famine was declared in Somalia, nearly 260,000 people died. At the beginning of March, there were reports of 110 people dying in just one region in a 48-hour period, the UN added.

2 dead in protest as South Korean court removes president Park Geun-Hye
MMNN:10 March 2017
Seoul: South Korea's Constitutional Court removed President Park Geun-hye from office on Friday over a graft scandal involving the country's conglomerates at a time of rising tensions with North Korea and China.
The ruling sparked protests from hundreds of her supporters, two of whom were killed in clashes with police outside the court.
Park becomes South Korea's first democratically elected leader to be forced from office, capping months of paralysis and turmoil over a corruption scandal that also landed the head of the Samsung conglomerate in jail. A snap presidential election will be held within 60 days.
She did not appear in court and a spokesman said she would not be making any comment nor would she leave the presidential Blue House residence on Friday. "For now, Park is not leaving the Blue House today," Blue House spokesman Kim Dong Jo told
Park was stripped of her powers after parliament voted to impeach her but has remained in the president's official compound.
The court's acting chief judge, Lee Jung-mi, said Park had violated the constitution and law "throughout her term", and despite the objections of parliament and the media, she had concealed the truth and cracked down on critics. Park has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.
The ruling to uphold parliament's 9 December vote to impeach her marks a dramatic fall from grace of South Korea's first woman president and daughter of Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee, both of whose parents were assassinated.
Park, 65, no longer has immunity as president, and could now face criminal charges over bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with her friend, Choi Soon-sil.
Markets rise
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn was appointed acting president and will remain in that post until the election. He called on Park's supporters and opponents to put their differences aside to prevent deeper division. "It is time to accept, and close the conflict and confrontation we have suffered," Hwang said in a televised speech.
A liberal presidential candidate, Moon Jae-in, is leading in opinion polls to succeed Park, with 32% in one released on Friday. Hwang, who has not said whether he will seek the presidency, leads among conservatives, none of whom has more than single-digit poll ratings.
"Given Park's spectacular demise and disarray among conservatives, the presidential contest in May is the liberals' to lose," said Yonsei University professor John Delury.

Shooting in Switzerland cafe leaves two Albanians dead
MMNN:10 March 2017
GENEVA: Swiss police said on Friday that a shooting by two gunmen at a cafe in the city of Basel was a targeted killing with no "terrorist" motive.
The assailants dressed in dark clothes burst into Basel's Cafe 56 at around 8:15 pm (1915 GMT) late on Thursday and fired several rounds, according to police in the picturesque city on the Rhine river.
The three victims were all Albanian nationals, including two dead aged 28 and 39, while a 24-year-old was seriously injured, police said in a statement.
A bullet hole pierced one of the cafe's windows.
Terrorism is "excluded" as an element of the crime, which appeared to be a "targeted" attack on the victims, the statement said.
Locals said Cafe 56 has a checkered past.
It "was previously an establishment known for its links to the drug world", one resident told local newspaper Basler Zeitung.
"But since the ownership changed several years ago it became an ordinary cafe."
After the shooting, the gunmen believed to be in their thirties fled towards the train station, police said, adding that initial evidence suggests they are also from eastern Europe.
Public broadcaster RTS has previously reported that Albanian criminal organisations in Switzerland have ties to heroin trafficking, but police stressed that the motive for Thursday's shooting was not immediately clear.
A 2013 report from Swiss federal police said Albanian gangs operating in the wealthy Alpine nation have a track record of using commercial businesses like restaurants and travel agencies as a front for drug trafficking.
Gun crime is infrequent in Switzerland, even though the country has one of the highest rates of firearm ownership in the world.
Citizens are allowed to keep their army-issue weapons at home outside periods of mandatory military service.
This right has been controversial as the weapons are sometimes used in domestic incidents.
The number of weapons held at home is believed to be two million for a population of eight million, according to Swiss press.

US sends Marines to Syria to expedite IS defeat in Raqqa
MMNN:9 March 2017
A US Marines artillery unit has deployed to Syria in recent days to help local forces speed up efforts to defeat Islamic State at Raqqa and the campaign to isolate the city is going "very, very well", the US-led coalition said on Thursday.
Coalition spokesman US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian said the additional US forces would be working with local partners in Syria - the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Coalition - and would not have a front line role.
The additional deployment comprises a total of 400 US forces - both Marines and Army Rangers. It adds to around 500 US military personnel already in Syria, Dorrian said.
The SDF, which includes the Kurdish YPG militia, is the main US partner in the war against Islamic State insurgents in Syria. Since November it has been working with the US-led coalition to encircle Raqqa, main urban bastion of IS in Syria.
This week, the SDF cut the road between Raqqa and the jihadists' stronghold of Deir al-Zor province - the last main road out of the city.
Islamic State is also being fought in Syria by the Russian-backed Syrian military, and by Syrian rebel groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner with Turkish backing in northern Syria and Jordanian backing in southern Syria.
Dorrian said the effort to isolate Raqqa was "going very very well" and could be completed in a few weeks. "Then the decision to move in can be made," he said.
The additional forces had arrived in "the last few days", he told Reuters by telephone.
The artillery will help "expedite the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa", he said, using another acronym for Islamic State. The Marines were armed with 155-millimetre artillery guns. Asked if they had been used yet, Dorrian said he did not believe so.
"We have had what I would describe as a pretty relentless air campaign to destroy enemy capabilities and to kill enemy fighters in that area already. That is something that we are going to continue and intensify with this new capability."
"We are talking about an additional 400 or so forces in total, and they will be there for a temporary period," he said.
A Kurdish military source told Reuters the extra US forces were deployed as part of a joint plan between the SDF and US-led coalition to capture Raqqa, and further US reinforcements were expected to arrive in the coming few days.
Dorrian said the Army Rangers were on a different mission to the Marines in a previously announced deployment near the city of Manbij to "create some reassurance" for US-allied Turkey and US partners in Syria - a reference to the SDF.
Turkey views the YPG as a threat to its national security and says the Kurdish militia maintains a presence in Manbij. The YPG denies this. Fearing deepening Kurdish influence in northern Syria, Turkey has been pressing Washington for a role in the final assault on Raqqa.
Dorrian said a possible role for Turkey "remains a point of discussion at military leadership and diplomatic levels".
"We have always said we are open to a role for Turkey in the liberation of Raqqa and will continue that discussion to whatever logical end there is."

Germany must not let Turkey 'grow more distant': Angela Merkel
MMNN:9 March 2017
Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday Germany must not allow Turkey to "grow more distant", despite a row in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused her government of "Nazi" practices. "As difficult as everything is at the moment, as unacceptable as some things are, it can't be in our security and geopolitical interest that Turkey, a NATO partner after all, grows even more distant from us," she told parliament.
Merkel vowed to "work for German-Turkish relations, on the basis of our values and in all clarity" - stressing that these included the freedoms of speech, the press and assembly.
German and Turkish politicians have traded barbs after German local authorities banned events by Turkish officials visiting Germany in a bid to boost support for an April referendum on whether to create an executive presidency in Turkey.
The ministers are anxious to tap into Germany's Turkish community with its 1.4 million people who are eligible to vote - the fourth largest electoral base after Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
Although Berlin has insisted that local authorities cancelled the rallies for logistical reasons, Turkish officials have repeatedly hit back, with Erdogan even comparing such actions to "Nazi practices". Merkel said such rhetoric was "sad and depressing", belittled Holocaust victims and was "so out of place as to be unworthy of serious comment".
On future rallies by Turkish ministers, she said: "We continue to view such appearances by Turkish government representatives as possible as long as they are duly announced, in a timely manner, and in an open way, so that they can be approved."
The row is the latest in a long list of problems that have plagued relations and comes just after Ankara's arrest of a journalist with the German daily Die Welt that sparked consternation in Berlin.
Merkel vowed her government would do "everything in its power" to work for the release of the writer, Deniz Yucel.
Germany and Turkey have a special relationship due to the large community of Turks who have settled in Europe's biggest economy, the legacy of a "guest worker" ("Gastarbeiter") programme dating to the 1960s and 70s.
"There are few countries with which we have ties this complicated but also this varied," said Merkel.
Those ties have been put to the test in the past year over differences on issues surrounding human rights and press freedom, particularly since last July's failed coup in Turkey aimed at ousting Erdogan.
Berlin has emerged as a strident critic of Ankara's vast crackdown in the aftermath of the putsch, which has seen more than 100,000 people arrested, suspended or sacked for alleged links to the plotters or to Kurdish militants.

Over 30 dead as gunmen dressed as doctors attack military hospital in Kabul
KABUL:MMNN:8 March 2017
Gunmen dressed as doctors stormed Afghanistan's largest military hospital on Wednesday, killing more than 30 people in a six-hour attack claimed by the Islamic State group as it makes inroads into the war-battered country.
Around 50 others were wounded in the assault on the Sardar Daud Khan hospital, with explosions and gunfire rattling Kabul's diplomatic district as dense clouds of smoke rose in the sky.
Medical staff hunkered down in the hospital wards posted desperate messages for help on social media. Television footage showed some of them trapped on the ledge of a top-floor window.
"Attackers are inside the hospital. Pray for us," a hospital staff member wrote on Facebook.
Hospital administrators told AFP three gunmen wearing white laboratory coats began spraying bullets after a suicide bomber on foot blew himself up at the backdoor entrance, sparking chaos inside the 400-bed facility.
"I saw one of the attackers, armed with an AK-47 and dressed as a doctor, shooting at patients and guards on the third floor," hospital nurse Abdul Qadeer said.
"They shot my friend but I managed to flee ... I had to jump over the barbed wire to escape."
At least two other loud explosions - including what the defence ministry called a car bomb in the hospital's parking lot - were heard as Afghan special forces launched a clearance operation that lasted around six hours.
The attackers were gunned down after special forces landed on the roof of the hospital in a military helicopter.
"More than 30 people were killed and around 50 wounded in today's attack," defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said. "Most of the victims are patients, doctors and nurses."
Afghanistan's warring parties, including government forces, have repeatedly targeted medical facilities, decimating the country's fragile health system and preventing conflict-displaced civilians from accessing life-saving care.
"This is a criminal act. Nothing can justify an attack on hospitals," Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said of the latest attack.
"We will never forgive these criminals. Unfortunately, this attack has resulted in some casualties."
Islamic State jihadists claimed the attack via a verified Telegram account.
The more powerful Taliban said they were not behind the raid. The militant group, Afghanistan's largest, is known to distance itself from attacks on medical facilities or those that result in high civilian casualties.
The assault comes just a week after 16 people were killed in simultaneous Taliban suicide assaults on two security compounds in Kabul.
Dozens of others were wounded as a suicide car bomber struck an Afghan police precinct in western Kabul and a five-hour gun battle ensued after another attacker sneaked in.
In the second attack last week, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gates of an Afghan intelligence agency branch in eastern Kabul.

NIA releases 2 Pakistani youths arrested in connection with Uri attack
MMNN:8 March 2017
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Wednesday handed over to the Army two Pakistani youths whom it had arrested in connection with last year's terror attack on a military base in Jammu and Kashmir's Uri that claimed the lives of 19 soldiers.
A spokesperson of the NIA said they handed over Faisal Hussain Awan and Ahsan Khursheed to the Army's 16 Corps headquarters in Jammu and they would be be sent back home.
The NIA's probe "revealed that the two had crossed over to the Indian side after altercation with their parents due to pressure of studies," he said.
"Evidence collected in the form of statements, technical analysis of their mobile phones, seized GPS devices and other circumstantial evidence collected by the NIA did not reveal any linkage of the suspects with the Uri attackers," the spokesperson added.
It was initially suspected that the two acted as guides for the Uri attackers.
The two were arrested by the BSF and the Army in a joint operation at 'Angoor Post at Gavalata village in Uri when they were trying to get into India.
They were also brought to the NIA headquarters here for detailed interrogation.
The NIA has claimed that terror group LeT was behind the Uri terror attack.

Pakistan temporarily opens two border crossings with Afghanistan
Islamabad:MMNN:7 March 2017
Pakistan on Tuesday temporarily reopened two border crossings with Afghanistan which were closed in February after a spate of terror attacks in the country.
The opening of the Torkham and Chaman border crossing points on March 7 and 8 is being seen as a move to ease tension between the two neighbours and relieve some of the backlog of people and vehicles at the border, Dawn online reported.
According to the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, Afghans and Pakistanis with valid travel documents will be allowed to cross the border points for two days. The two crossing points are major arteries for trade and commerce between Islamabad and Kabul. Other crossings, which are less in use, will remain closed. "We have only allowed patients to cross borders on the basis of valid documents," a Pakistani official told The News International.
According to an Afghan official, no trade activity between Pakistan and Afghanistan has resumed so far. Another security official at Chaman said hundreds of Afghans were crossing the border and Pakistanis were returning amid tight security. Pakistan shut the crossings hours after a bombing at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan town of Sindh on February 16.
Nearly 90 persons died in the attack which Islamabad blamed on militants operating from Afghanistan. Islamabad also sought to use the closure as a tool to pressure Kabul to act against militants with sanctuaries across the border.
The reopening came a day after the killing of five Pakistani soldiers in a gunfight with militants crossing over from Afghanistan, officials said. Islamabad demanded that Afghanistan take action against militants launching attacks in Pakistan. Afghanistan has described the allegations as baseless.

Japan goes to highest alert level after North Korea fires four missiles
MOSUL: MMNN:7 March 2017
Iraqi forces said Tuesday they had seized the main government offices in Mosul and its famed museum as they made steady progress in their battle to retake the city's west from jihadists.
News of the advances came on the third day of a renewed offensive against the Islamic State group in west Mosul -- the largest remaining urban stronghold in the "caliphate" declared by the jihadists in 2014.
Supported by the US-led coalition bombing IS in Iraq and Syria, Iraqi forces began their push against west Mosul on February 19. The advance slowed during several days of bad weather but was renewed on Sunday.
Recent advances have brought government troops and police closer to Mosul's densely populated Old City, where hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to still be trapped under IS rule.
Iraq's Joint Operations Command said in a statement that federal police and the elite Rapid Response unit had been able to "liberate" the headquarters for the Nineveh provincial government.
They also seized control of the Al-Hurriyah bridgehead, it said, in a step towards potentially relinking west Mosul with the city's east, which government forces seized from the jihadists earlier in the offensive.
All the bridges crossing the Tigris in Mosul have been damaged or destroyed, and Iraqi forces would either have to repair them or install floating bridges to reconnect the two banks of the river, which divides the city.
Officers said Tuesday that security forces had also managed to recapture the Mosul museum, where the jihadists destroyed priceless artefacts, releasing a video of their rampage in February 2015.
The video showed militants at the museum knocking statues off their plinths and smashing them to pieces. In another scene a jackhammer was used to deface a large Assyrian winged bull at an archaeological site in the city.
The jihadists' attacks on ancient heritage in Iraq and Syria have sparked widespread international outrage and fears for some of the world's most important archaeological sites.
The museum was on a police list released Tuesday of sites recently recaptured from IS, which also included Mosul's central bank building, which the jihadists looted along with other banks in 2014, seizing tens of millions of dollars.
Other sites recaptured during the last few days include the provincial police headquarters, the courts complex and the water and electricity directorates.
The recent fighting in west Mosul has forced more than 50,000 people to flee their homes, according to the International Organization for Migration. But the number who have fled is still just a fraction of the 750,000 people who are believed to have stayed on in west Mosul under IS rule.
Emerging from the chaos of the civil war in neighbouring Syria, IS seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq in mid-2014, declaring its Islamic "caliphate" and committing widespread atrocities.
The US-led coalition launched air strikes against the jihadists in both countries several months later and has backed both Iraqi forces and fighters in Syria battling IS.
The jihadists have been pushed from most of the territory they once seized but remain in control of key bastions including west Mosul and the caliphate's de facto Syrian capital Raqa.
In Syria they have faced offensives by three rival forces.
Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies have pushed south from the Turkish border and drove IS out of the northern town of Al-Bab.
Syrian government troops have pushed east from second city Aleppo with Russian support and seized a swathe of countryside from the jihadists.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the conflict, said Tuesday that regime forces had neared a key water pumping station for Aleppo and a military airport under IS control.

UK security services prevented 13 terror attacks since 2013
MMNN:6 March 2017
UK security services have foiled 13 terror attacks in the country since 2013 with 500 live counter-terror probes ongoing at any one time, Scotland Yards senior-most counter-terrorism officer said today. Investigators in Britain have been making arrests at a rate of close to one a day since 2014, the latest information showed. Metropolitan Police Assistant commissioner Mark Rowley said police faced a range of threats and challenges, including encrypted communication methods, propaganda and various possible attack methods. Rowley was speaking at the launch of a new appeal titled Action Counters Terrorism for the British public to report suspicions to the police. "The UK intelligence community and police have disrupted 13 UK terrorist attack plots since June 2013," Rowley said. Rowley noted that there were 500 live counter-terror investigations ongoing at any time. "Some of that [public] information is a change in someones behaviour, some of thats about suspicious activity. Sometimes that public information has actually started an investigation. Other times its part way through and it corroborates some things or adds to things we already know," Rowley said.
"If it turns out to be a call where you made it with good intent but actually there was no problem at the end of it, thats fine. Wed rather have many calls like that, rather than miss out on the critical one that helps us stop an attack," he added.
The senior Met Police officer urged the public to trust their "instinct" and "dont be cautious" when thinking of reporting anything of concern.
As part of the Action Counters Terrorism campaign, a podcast has been produced revealing previously untold stories of how terrorist attacks on UK soil were prevented, featuring accounts from detectives, bomb disposal and surveillance officers.
Rowley said the aim of releasing new material was to give an insight into how terrorists might prepare and provide more confidence for the public to report any suspicions.
The latest campaign comes as a study released this week reveals that converts to Islam were four times more likely to become terrorists than those who were born Muslims.
The report by the Henry Jackson Society think-tank, which analysed proven cases of Islamist-inspired terrorism between 1998 and 2015, also found that three quarters of terrorists are British nationals rather than immigrants.
Hannah Stuart, the author of the report, said: "This study identifies some significant new challenges for the authorities, including keeping track of a new generation of terrorists. I hope it will also tackle some of the myths that are prevalent in this area".
The official terror threat level in the UK has stood at "severe" for years, meaning an attack is "highly likely".
Much of the threat is posed by the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group, but senior officials believe Al Qaeda and far-right terrorism also remains a threat.

Japan goes to highest alert level after North Korea fires four missiles
Seoul: MMNN:6 March 2017
Japan moved to the highest possible alert level after North Korea fired four ballistic missiles simultaneously into nearby waters, the latest provocation from Kim Jong Un's regime.
Three of the missiles fell into Japan's exclusive economic zone, with one dropping about 350 kilometers west of the nation's northern Akita prefecture, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters after a meeting of Japan's National Security Council. Authorities were still analysing the type of missile launched, he said.
The launches "clearly show that this is a new level of threat" from North Korea, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told lawmakers in Tokyo. American officials held phone calls afterward with counterparts in Japan and South Korea, which rely on the US for security.
"North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities have really improved, and they are becoming more difficult to predict," Abe said. The missiles "are getting closer to Japan's waters and territory."
While North Korea routinely test-fires missiles-including more than two dozen last year-the timing of these launches is particularly sensitive.
Tensions have escalated in recent weeks between China and South Korea over American plans to deploy a missile-defense system known as Thaad on the peninsula, part of measures to thwart Kim from gaining the ability to strike the continental US with a nuclear warhead.
The launches also come as South Korea and the US undertake annual military drills that Pyongyang has called a prelude to an invasion, and right after the start of the National People's Congress in Beijing-a gathering aimed at showcasing President Xi Jinping's command over foreign and domestic affairs.
Long-time allies China and North Korea had a rare public spat last month after Beijing banned coal imports last month after the death of Kim's half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, in a Malaysia airport. Beijing accounts for more than 70% of its neighbour's trade and provides food and energy aid.
The missiles, launched early Monday from the country's northwest, flew around 1,000 kilometers (about 620 miles) into the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, Roh Jae-cheon, spokesman for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Seoul. There was a "low chance" the projectiles were intercontinental ballistic missiles, he said.
Kim Young-woo, a South Korean lawmaker and chairman of parliament's National Defense Committee who was briefed by the JCS, said that the projectile looks similar to the Pukguksong-2 missile that North Korea test-fired last month.
"It seems like the North lowered the angle to aim longer in distance this time as part of its attempts to test it in various ways," Kim said by phone.
Since taking power about five years ago, North Korea's Kim has fired dozens of missiles and conducted three nuclear tests in defiance of a United Nations ban on his weapons development. In January, he said his country was in the final stages of preparations to test-fire an ICBM, prompting US President Donald Trump to retort on Twitter: "It won't happen!"
The yen reversed an earlier decline and gained 0.2% against the dollar. The Topix index of Japanese shares closed down 0.2%, while South Korea's benchmark stock gauge ended the day up 0.1%.
Seoul's decision to deploy the Thaad missile-defense system has angered Beijing, prompting China to take economic retaliation.
The China National Tourism Administration verbally ordered local travel agencies to stop selling tour packages to South Korea. The Korea Economic Daily said Sunday, citing unidentified officials, that Chinese authorities suspended businesses of four Lotte Mart stores for a month.
South Korea responded by saying it would ensure Korean companies don't face unfair trade measures in China. South Korea's government is "deeply concerned about the measures taken in China and will closely monitor the situation and strengthen responses," trade minister Joo Hyung-hwan said Sunday.
In addition to the two this year, North Korea fired at least 25 projectiles last year, according to the UN. Pyongyang also detonated two nuclear devices in 2016. Trump vowed to deal with North Korea "very strongly" after its February missile test.
North Korea relations have fallen to their worst point in decades and talks are off the table until the regime is ready to give up its nuclear weapons, South Korea unification minister Hong Yong-pyo said last week in an interview.
"It's been over 20 years since North Korea's nuclear threats started, and tensions are at their worst," Hong, who oversees policy on North Korea, said in Seoul.

Senior Taliban commander killed in northern Afghanistan air strike
MMNN:27 Feb. 2017
After having been declared dead several times in the past, a senior Taliban commander has been killed in an air strike in northern Afghanistan, officials of the militant group confirmed on Monday.
Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund, who commanded Taliban forces in Kunduz, was one of three fighters killed in a weekend strike by an unmanned aircraft, a senior Taliban official in the province said on condition of anonymity to ensure his safety.
"He was on a journey a few days ago and stopped at a house at Dashte Archi town when the drone fired missiles," said the official.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed Akhund's death in a statement. A US military spokesman said an American warplane had conducted a strike in Kunduz on Sunday, but the command did "not have confirmation of the results".
The strike killed Akhund and eight other Taliban, said Sher Aziz Kamawal, a senior police commander in northern Afghanistan. Akhund, who oversaw the Taliban offensive that briefly seized Kunduz city in 2015, had previously been reported dead several times by Afghan officials.
This time however, his apparent death was confirmed by top Taliban officials, including a commander in the eastern province of Khost. "It's part of our life," said the commander. "We are proud to confirm that he was martyred for a cause."

Donald Trump to sign new immigration executive order on Wednesday
MMNN:27 Feb. 2017
US President Donald Trump is likely to sign a new immigration executive order on Wednesday, a day after addressing lawmakers at a joint session of Congress. Trump had initially planned to sign the new order last week, but according to Homeland Security spokesperson Sean Spicer, the president was apparently holding off the decision "to make sure that when we execute this, it's done in a manner that's flawless."
Several weeks back, Trump's initial order calling for temporarily halting entry from seven Muslim-majority countries into US was blocked by a federal judge. Trump had severely criticised the decision. Meanwhile, latest enforcement memos issued by the Homeland Security are the latest efforts by President Trump to follow through with his campaign promises to strictly enforce immigration laws.
Here's look at some of what the memos say the government will do:
1. Immigrants who have crossed over illegally be sent to Mexico, regardless of where they came from A border security memo suggests use of a long-standing albeit obscure US law to send some immigrants who have crossed the border illegally back to Mexico, regardless of which country the are from. However, the memo and the corresponding law it cites don't give details on how the country can force Mexico to allow foreigners into that country.
2. Stop providing legal protection to child immigrants caught crossing the border One of the memos tells the Homeland Security Department to stop providing certain legal protections to child immigrants caught crossing the border alone if they are reunited with their parents or a legal guardian inside the United States. According to the protections given to them, it allows for those children to have their case decided by a judge. But if the new policy is anything to go by, it would likely subject them to fast-track deportation proceedings that do away with judge's approval
3. Local police likely to enforce federal laws Under the Barack Obama administration, activities of local police and jailers acting as immigration agents was curtailed. There were communities who complained that some jurisdictions were overtly aggressive in enforcing federal laws. But the memos make it amply clear that the present government plans to restart those programs.
4. Jail and prosecute more people crossing border illegally The memos says if people are caught crossing border illegally, they will face criminal charges. The government considers it illegal to cross the border without permission, and charges those with felony. But this process is costly and resource intensive. One of the memos also calls for more jails.

Boxing Legend Muhammad Ali's Son Detained At Florida Airport, Quizzed About His Muslim Identity
Son of boxing legend Muhammad Ali was held for questioning for two hours at a Florida airport upon returning from Jamaica because of his Arabic-sounding name, US media reported late on Friday.
Muhammad Ali Junior, 44, who was born in Philadelphia and has a US passport, was traveling with his mother Khalilah Camacho-Ali, the late sports icon's second wife, friend and lawyer Chris Mancini told the Louisville Courier-Journal.
The lawyer told the newspaper that both were held for questioning on the Fort Lauderdale International Airport on February 7 because of their Arabic-sounding names.
Ms Camacho-Ali, however, was released after she showed US Customs agents a photo of herself with her ex-husband.
Mr Ali Jr. however had no such photo, and according to the lawyer was held for nearly two hours and repeatedly asked, "Where did you get your name from?" and "Are you Muslim?"
When he said that he, like his father, was a Muslim, the agents asked further probing questions.
"To the Ali family, it's crystal clear that this is directly linked to Mr Trump's efforts to ban Muslims from the US," Mr Mancini told the Courier-Journal, a reference to President Donald Trump's late January executive order imposing a 90-day entry ban for citizens of seven Muslim majority countries.
The travel ban has since been halted by a US federal court.
Mr Mancini said he and the Ali family were trying to find out how many other people were stopped for similar questioning, and are considering a federal lawsuit.
Airport and Customs officials did not answer queries from the newspaper about the case.
Muhammad Ali, one of the iconic 20th century sports heroes, died after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease on June 3. He was 74.
Mr Ali was celebrated as much for his three world heavyweight titles as for his civil rights battles outside the ring.
In 1964 he dropped his birth name of Cassius Clay when he converted to Islam.
The Louisville, Kentucky native was married four times and he is survived by seven daughters and two sons.

Mexico warns of tariffs, spurns US aid under review by Donald Trump
Mexico City:MMNN:25 Feb. 2017
An emboldened Mexico hardened its opposition to President Donald Trump on Friday by saying it would retaliate if the United States (US) imposed a border tax and that it can afford to lose financial aid that might be pulled to pay for a border wall.
Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said Mexico could respond to any tax the United States were to unilaterally impose on imports from its southern neighbour to finance the wall with levies on select goods, aimed at US regions most dependent on exports south of the border. "Without a doubt, we have that possibility, and what we cannot do is remain with our arms crossed," Videgaray said in a radio interview. "The Mexican government would have to respond."
The statements by Videgaray and Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, who minimised the potential impact of the rumored loss of US security aid, toughened the defiant tone from Mexico since President Enrique Pena Nieto in January canceled a trip to meet Trump over the wall dispute.
Mexicans are angry at Trump's calls for US firms not to invest south of the border, insults to immigrants and threats to make Mexico finance the border wall. The peso currency has weakened on concerns he will hurt Latin America's No. 2 economy. Pena Nieto had faced criticism he was too accommodating with Trump but got a much needed ratings boost after cancelling the summit. A plan to deport third-country nationals to Mexico fueled outrage this week.
Mexican officials were publicly blunt with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security John Kelly over Trump's immigration and trade proposals in a visit to Mexico on Thursday. Osorio Chong told local radio that Mexican officials' rejection of Trump's bid to send non-Mexican illegal migrants from the United States to Mexico was "very clear."
"They asked us if (non-Mexican illegal immigrants) could be here while they are going through the legal process there. We said that there was...absolutely no way." Videgaray said the trade strategy would replicate a 2009 campaign of retaliatory tariffs that helped Mexico win a dispute with the United States. On Wednesday, the minister mentioned Iowa, Texas and Wisconsin as states that could be targeted in a conversation with lawmakers leaked to two newspapers. "This is not our preference," he said. "Mexico believes in free trade."
A US executive order on January 25 that mandated the construction of a border wall also required government agencies to report the financial assistance they gave Mexico in the past five years, leading to speculation Trump wants to redirect the aid to pay for its construction. Osorio Chong said on Friday that Mexico had no need for such financial aid from the United States, signaling that it would not come close to paying for the estimated $21.6 billion cost of the wall.
Like in other middle-income emerging economies, many in Mexico consider it humiliating to take aid from wealthy countries. A large part of US aid to Mexico comes through the Plan Merida program, under which the US Congress allocated $2.6 billion to security assistance between 2008 and 2016.
Of that, $1.6 billion had been disbursed by November 2016, according to the US Congressional Research Service. "When they realize what's left of Merida, they will understand that it's not even that significant," Osorio Chong told local radio. "We don't object to them moving these resources... Mexico now has its own capabilities," he said.
The US Customs and Border Protection agency said on Friday it will accept proposals next month for the design of Trump's wall, a first step in picking vendors. Videgaray said a meeting of Tillerson, Kelly and Pena Nieto in Mexico City was a short courtesy visit.
He said in a more substantial meeting of the ministers, Kelly told him that deportations of undocumented immigrants from the United States would not be militarized, after Trump characterized the process as a "military operation.

North Korea Has Large Chemical Weapons Stockpile: Seoul
North Korea has up to 5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons, South Korean experts said Friday, including the toxin used to assassinate its leader's half-brother.
Traces of VX -- a nerve agent listed as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations -- were detected on swabs from the face and eyes of Kim Jong-Nam, who was poisoned at Kuala Lumpur's international airport last week, Malaysian police said Friday.
Malaysian detectives are holding three people -- women from Indonesia and Vietnam, and a North Korean man -- but want to speak to seven others, four of whom are believed to have fled to Pyongyang.
South Korea's defence ministry said in its 2014 Defence White Paper that the North began producing chemical weapons in the 1980s and estimated that it has about 2,500 to 5,000 tonnes in stock.
North Korea has chemical weapons production facilities in eight locations including the northeastern port of Chongjin and the northwestern city of Sinuiju, it said in the 2012 edition of the document.
"North Korea is believed to have a large stockpile of VX, which can easily be manufactured at low cost," defence analyst Lee Il-Woo at the private Korea Defence Network told AFP.
Developed some 100 years ago, VX can be produced at small laboratories or facilities producing pesticides, he said.
"Chemical and biological weapons can be delivered through various means such as artillery, missiles and planes", he added.
If absorbed through the skin, eyes or nose, just a tiny drop of the colourless, odourless nerve agent is enough to fatally damage a victim's central nervous system.

- Bubonic plague -

Military science professor Kim Jong-Ha at Hannam University said the North has 16 kinds of nerve agents including VX and sarin, used by a Japanese doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo, in the 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people.
It also possesses other lethal chemicals, including suffocating, blistering and blood agents, Kim said, as well as 13 types of biological weapons such as anthrax and bubonic plague.
Defence analyst Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. has said that North Korea "produces and possesses the capability to effectively employ throughout the Korean peninsula, significant quantities and varieties of chemical weapons", and could have as many as 150 chemical weapons warheads for ballistic missiles.
"It also has, to a lesser extent, the ability to employ these weapons worldwide using unconventional methods of delivery," he wrote on the closely-watched US-Korea Institute's website 38North in 2013.
There was a "growing body of evidence" that the North had an "ominous" history of proliferating chemical weapons capabilities to countries such as Syria and Iran, he added.
North Korea has not signed a global chemical weapons convention that prohibits the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.
More than 160 countries signed the treaty, that went into force in 1997.
In a 2015 assessment, the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative wrote: "North Korea claims that it does not possess chemical weapons.
"While assessing stockpiles and capabilities are difficult, the DPRK is thought to be among the world's largest possessors of chemical weapons, ranking third after the United States and Russia."

Iraqi forces regain control of Mosul airport from ISIS
MMNN:24 Feb. 2017
Iraqi forces closely supported by the US-led international coalition have seized control of the airport in the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants.
The three-pronged attack began just after sunrise, with three convoys of Iraqi forces snaking north across Nineveh's hilly desert on Mosul's southern approach.
Iraq's special forces joined federal police and rapid response units in the push - part of a major assault that started earlier this week to drive IS from the western half of Iraq's second-largest city. By afternoon they had entered the Ghazlani military base south of the city, as well as the airport.
Iraqi helicopters circled above Mosul firing down onto the city's southwestern edge. Coalition and Iraqi airstrikes that hit targets inside Mosul sent plumes of white smoke into the air on the horizon.
"We've broken the first line of IS defenses," said Iraqi special forces Lt. Yaser Mohsen, whose troops captured the key village of Tell al-Rayan, where Islamic State snipers had been slowing the government offensive. They then moved to the edge of Mosul's western Mamun neighborhood, where they were working to surround it before punching into the city.
Several armored coalition vehicles could be seen in the line of military vehicles, and security officials said coalition troops were embedded with the forward advancing forces, advising the Iraqi troops as they conducted the assault. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
The cautious advance stood in sharp contrast to the first days of Iraq's push into Mosul from the east, when Iraqi forces quickly advanced deep into the city's congested neighborhoods, where they were hit with heavy IS counterattacks, including dozens of car bombs that struck the slow-moving Iraqi convoys with deadly consequences.
Clashes at Mosul's airport continued for hours, with IS militants hunkered down inside several airport buildings. By early afternoon, federal police commander Maj. Gen. Raid Shakir Jawdat told Iraqi state TV that his troops had control of "more than half" of the airport complex. About 200 families were evacuated to safe areas in government-controlled areas, he said.
Separately, the spokesman of the Joint Military Operation Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool confirmed to the AP that Iraqi special forces entered the Ghazlani military base next to the airport on the southern edge of the city.
On Sunday, after weeks of preparations, Iraqi forces launched the operation to take Mosul's western half, with the Iraqi regular army and federal police forces taking part in the initial push. Since then, the military says they have retaken some 120 square kilometers (nearly 50 miles) south of the city.
Thursday marked the first time the Iraqi special forces, which played a key role in securing the eastern half of the city, joined the fight for western Mosul.
A special forces officer overseeing the operation said IS targeted the advancing troops with dozens of bombs dropped from drones. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said his troops sustained at least a dozen casualties, including some inflicted by a car bomb attack.
Making up for a lack of fighters, IS militants are increasingly relying on modified commercial drones to guide suicide car bombers to their targets and to launch small-scale airstrikes on Iraqi forces.
While some 750,000 civilians are estimated to be trapped in Mosul's western sector, only a few dozen could be seen fleeing the city on foot Thursday alongside convoys of Iraqi Humvees.
Hamad Khalaf fled the Mamun neighborhood in southern Mosul with his wife and four children. Covered in dust, he said IS fighters were targeting people as they tried to escape.
"There are many injured still inside," he said.
"We've been walking since the morning," said his wife, Badriya, cradling their 1.5-year-old daughter in her arms. A few meters (yards) away a mortar fired from inside the city hit a nearby hill.
In January, Iraqi authorities declared the eastern half of Mosul "fully liberated" from IS. The battle for western Mosul, the extremist group's last major urban bastion in Iraq, is expected to be the most daunting yet.
The streets are older and narrower in the sector of the city that stretches west from the Tigris River that divides Mosul into its eastern and western halves. The dense urban environment will likely force Iraqi soldiers to leave the relative safety of their armored vehicles.
Mosul fell to IS in the summer of 2014, along with large swaths of northern and western Iraq. But the Sunni militant group has been steadily losing territory, as backing by the U.S.-led coalition proved critical for Iraqi government efforts clawing back territory lost to the extremists.
IS has suffered losses in Syria as well: Turkish troops and Syrian opposition forces seized the center of the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab on Thursday, breaking a weeks-long deadlock between the two sides at the periphery of the town, Turkey's state news agency and opposition activists said. The northern Syrian town in Aleppo province is one of the militants' last urban strongholds in Syria west of Raqqa, the Islamic State group's de facto capital.
The Iraqi special forces officer overseeing this week's operation said he expected heavier IS resistance once his forces punched inside the city, but he said Iraqi forces wouldn't make the same mistakes they made in the east: quickly punching into dense neighborhoods only to be hit with overnight IS counterattacks.
"It's not caution," he said, adding, "They've learned, they're smarter now."

US, Mexico at odds over deportation as top officials meet
Mexico's mounting unease and resentment over President Donald Trump's immigration crackdown are looming over a gathering of U.S. and Mexican leaders that the U.S. had hoped would project a strong future for relations between neighbours.
There is no shortage of tension points as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly meet Thursday with top Mexican officials. After all, it's Kelly who's tasked with executing Trump's plan to target millions for possible deportation and Tillerson who must explain it to the rest of the world.
As the pair arrived in Mexico City, the two countries seemed much farther apart than their close geographical proximity would suggest.
"I think Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Kelly are going to have a great discussion down there," said White House press secretary Sean Spicer. He called the relationship "phenomenal."
But while Spicer said the officials would "talk through the implementation of the executive order," Mexico made clear it intended to do nothing of the sort.
"I want to say clearly and most emphatically that the Mexican government and the Mexican people have no reason to accept unilateral decisions imposed by one government on another," said Mexico's foreign relations secretary, Luis Videgaray. "We are not going to accept that because we don't have to."
Videgaray added a cryptic but pointed warning that Mexico wouldn't hesitate to challenge the U.S. move at the United Nations or other global venues.
The visiting Americans planned to meet Thursday with Videgaray before a working lunch with Mexican officials and a formal meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
The worsening rift over deportations and illegal immigration adds to an array of disputes that have sent U.S.-Mexico relations plunging since Trump took office a month ago. Trump's insistence that Mexico pay billions for a border wall led Pena Nieto to cancel a planned Washington visit. Mexican officials are also apprehensive over Trump's pledge to overhaul the trade relationship and possible apply steep taxes to Mexican products, a move with profound impacts of Mexico's export-heavy economy.
New immigration enforcement memos signed by Kelly this week call for sending send some immigrants who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally back into Mexico - even those from third countries who have no connection to Mexico. The memos also prioritise deportation for anyone charged or convicted of any crime, rather than just serious crimes, potentially subjecting millions in the U.S. illegally to deportation, including many Mexicans.
Those policies have raised fears in Mexico about the possibility of deportee and refugee camps emerging along Mexico's northern border. Mexican officials are also likely to seek answers about whether a forthcoming report ordered by Trump's administration that will list all current U.S. aid to Mexico is intended to threaten Mexico into compliance over immigration or the wall.
Dismayed by the deteriorating relations, six Democratic senators urged Tillerson and Kelly to strike a more cooperative tone than Trump.
"We urge you to use your visit to disavow vitriolic rhetoric and forge a strong partnership based on mutual respect with the government of Mexico," the senators wrote in an open letter to be released Thursday.
Kelly arrived in the Mexican capital from Guatemala on a visit intended to deter Guatemalans from trying to enter the U.S. illegally. Though Kelly promised "there will be no mass roundups," he acknowledged that those caught will be removed from the U.S. much more quickly than in the past.
"My best advice is to not do it," he said.

Iraq forces attack IS-held Mosul airport
MMNN:23 Feb. 2017
Iraqi forces backed by jets, drones and gunships attacked Mosul airport on Thursday in a key step in their four-month-old offensive to retake the city from the Islamic State group.
The disused airport commands access to the south of the city, which the jihadists seized in June 2014 and where their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Federal police and the interior ministry`s Rapid Response units reached the walls of the airport compound, which lies on the west bank of the Tigris River that runs through the city, AFP correspondents reported.
Iraq forces attack IS-held Mosul airport "Right now we`re on the southern edge of Mosul airport and the sugar factory, our troops are attacking it," said Hisham Abdul Kadhem, commander of the Rapid Response`s Scorpion Regiment.
He said his forces and federal police controlled the southern and western sides of the airport.
"Engineers are starting to clear the roads and remove IEDs (improvised explosive devices)," he said, as an attack helicopter fired rockets at the sugar factory.
There was no sign that government forces had entered the airport yet but the regional command coordinating the battle said elite Counter-Terrorism Service forces also attacked the neighbouring Ghazlani military base, where some of them were stationed before IS seized the city in June 2014.
Control of the base and airport would set government forces up to enter Mosul neighbourhoods on the west bank of the Tigris, a month after declaring full control of the east bank.
All of the city`s bridges across the river have been blown up.
The US-led coalition has played a key role in supporting Iraqi forces with air strikes and advisers on the ground, and on Thursday US forces in armoured vehicles were seen moving on the airport.
The American troops are not supposed to be doing the actual fighting but in recent weeks have got so close to the front that they have come under attack, coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian said.
"They have come under fire at different times, they have returned fire at different times, in and around Mosul," Dorrian told reporters on Wednesday.
He declined to say if there had been any US casualties in the attacks, but an unnamed official later told CNN that several personnel had been evacuated from the battlefield.
The latest push to retake Mosul, the second city and the last stronghold of the jihadists in Iraq, was launched on Sunday and involves thousands of security personnel.They started closing in on the airport four days ago. It is unclear how many jihadists are defending the airport but US officials said Monday that only around 2,000 remain in Mosul.
There are an estimated 750,000 civilians trapped on the city`s west bank, which is a bit smaller than the east side but more densely populated.
It is home to the Old City and its narrow streets, which will make for a difficult terrain when Iraqi forces reach it because they will be impassable for some military vehicles.
The noose has for months now been tightening around Mosul and the living conditions for civilians are fast deteriorating.
Residents AFP has reached by phone spoke of dwindling food supplies forcing many families to survive on just one meal a day.
Medical workers say the weakest are beginning to die of the combined effect of malnutrition and the lack of medicines, which IS fighters are keeping for themselves.
A smaller than expected proportion of the east side`s population fled when Iraqi forces stormed it nearly four months ago but the United Nations is bracing for a bigger exodus from the west.
It had said 250,000 people or more could flee their homes on the west bank and has scrambled to set up new displacement camps around the city.

Ex-Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang jailed in fall from 'such a height'
MMNN:22 Feb. 2017
Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang was jailed for 20 months on Wednesday for misconduct in public office, making him the most senior city official to serve time behind bars in a ruling some said reaffirmed the financial hub's vaunted rule of law.
The sentence brings an ignominious end to what had been a long and stellar career for Tsang before and after the 1997 handover to Chinese control, service that saw him knighted by the outgoing British colonial rulers. "Never in my judicial career have I seen a man falling from such a height," said High Court justice Andrew Chan in passing sentence.
Tsang, 72, wearing one of his trademark bow ties, was escorted in handcuffs to the court from hospital where he'd been staying since Monday night after experiencing breathing difficulties and chest pains. The devout Catholic appeared stoic, occasionally closing his eyes as the judge spoke.
Scores of establishment Hong Kong figures, including top former officials and some leading opposition democrats, had written letters vouching for Tsang's good character and longstanding public service in a bid for mitigation. Justice Chan said the seriousness of the offence lay in Tsang's high position as a person of integrity who had breached public trust.
He reduced the sentence by 10 months, saying "it was indisputable that the defendant has dedicated himself to public service in the past 40-odd years". Hong Kong returned to China under a "one country, two systems" agreement that ensures its freedoms, including a separate legal system. Its spartan British-built prisons demand strict routines, including light work duties, and offer no special treatment to wealthy or powerful inmates.
The nine-person jury on Friday found Tsang guilty of a charge of misconduct in public office. He had deliberately concealed private rental negotiations with property tycoon Bill Wong Cho-bau while his cabinet discussed and approved a digital broadcasting licence for a now defunct radio company, Wave Media, in which Wong was a major shareholder.
This offence had occurred at the twilight of Tsang's career, just before retiring in 2012, when reports began surfacing of Tsang's lavish spending on overseas duty visits, along with allegations of trips with tycoons by private jet and luxury yacht. Tsang was acquitted of a second misconduct charge.
In a regular column published in the AM730 newspaper before sentence was passed, Tsang said working in the government for 45 years was the "biggest honour of his life".
"In life, a lot of things are out of our control. But serving Hong Kong was my choice. No matter what the result of the trial is, I have no regrets." His conviction adds to a number of scandals ensnaring powerful officials that have marred the city's reputation as a relatively corruption-free society guarded by a powerful and independent anti-graft agency.
His right-hand man, Rafael Hui, who worked under him for two years as the city's second highest-ranking official, was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail in late 2014 for receiving bribes from a billionaire tycoon helming Sun Hung Kai, one of Asia's largest property developers.
After sentencing, Tsang's wife, Selina, said it was a "very dark day" but that her husband would appeal. "We are very sad about today's outcome. But we will face it with strength and courage. We will appeal."
Tsang's brother, Tsang Yam-pui, a former chief of police and current head of property developer NWS Holdings, didn't comment after leaving court. Former Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung praised the man who appointed him for helping uphold the rule of law and pushing democratic reforms despite the risks of antagonising Beijing, according to a letter published by the South China Morning Post.
The head of Hong Kong's de facto central bank, Norman Chan, said the city wouldn't have been able to "survive the Asian financial crisis without Donald's contributions", referring to Tsang's decision as Financial Secretary in 1998 to intervene in the stock and futures market to fight off speculative attacks on Hong Kong's currency. Tsang's legal woes look set to continue, however, with the court saying a retrial would be tentatively set for September for another bribery charge on which jurors failed to return a majority verdict.

China Finishing South China Sea Buildings That Could House Missiles: US Officials
China, in an early test of U.S. President Donald Trump, has nearly finished building almost two dozen structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea that appear designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles, two U.S. officials told Reuters.
The development is likely to raise questions about whether and how the United States will respond, given its vows to take a tough line on China in the South China Sea.
China claims almost all the waters, which carry a third of the world's maritime traffic. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. Trump's administration has called China's island building in the South China Sea illegal.
Building the concrete structures with retractable roofs on Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs, part of the Spratly Islands chain where China already has built military-length airstrips, could be considered a military escalation, the U.S. officials said in recent days, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"It is not like the Chinese to build anything in the South China Sea just to build it, and these structures resemble others that house SAM batteries, so the logical conclusion is that's what they are for," said a U.S. intelligence official, referring to surface-to-air missiles.
Another official said the structures appeared to be 20 meters (66 feet) long and 10 meters (33 feet) high.
A Pentagon spokesman said the United States remained committed to "non-militarization in the South China Sea" and urged all claimants to take actions consistent with international law.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Wednesday he was aware of the report, though did not say if China was planning on placing missiles on the reefs.
"China carrying out normal construction activities on its own territory, including deploying necessary and appropriate territorial defense facilities, is a normal right under international law for sovereign nations," he told reporters.
In his Senate confirmation hearing last month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised China's ire when he said Beijing should be denied access to the islands it is building in the South China Sea.
Tillerson subsequently softened his language, and Trump further reduced tensions by pledging to honor the long-standing U.S. "one China" policy in a Feb. 10 telephone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Longer Range
Greg Poling, a South China Sea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a December report that China apparently had installed weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven of the islands it has built in the South China Sea.
The officials said the new structures were likely to house surface-to-air missiles that would expand China's air defense umbrella over the islands. They did not give a time line on when they believed China would deploy missiles on the islands.
"It certainly raises the tension," Poling said. "The Chinese have gotten good at these steady increases in their capabilities."
On Tuesday, the Philippines said Southeast Asian countries saw China's installation of weapons in the South China Sea as "very unsettling" and have urged dialogue to stop an escalation of "recent developments."
Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay did not say what provoked the concern but said the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, hoped China and the United States would ensure peace and stability.
Political Test
The U.S. intelligence official said the structures did not pose a significant military threat to U.S. forces in the region, given their visibility and vulnerability.
Building them appeared to be more of a political test of how the Trump administration would respond, he said.
"The logical response would also be political - something that should not lead to military escalation in a vital strategic area," the official said.
Chas Freeman, a China expert and former assistant secretary of defense, said he was inclined to view such installations as serving a military purpose - bolstering China's claims against those of other nations - rather than a political signal to the United States.
"There is a tendency here in Washington to imagine that it's all about us, but we are not a claimant in the South China Sea," Freeman said. "We are not going to challenge China's possession of any of these land features in my judgment. If that's going to happen, it's going to be done by the Vietnamese, or ... the Filipinos ... or the Malaysians, who are the three counter-claimants of note."
He said it was an "unfortunate, but not (an) unpredictable development."
Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month that China's building of islands and putting military assets on them was "akin to Russia's taking Crimea" from Ukraine.
In his written responses to follow-up questions, he softened his language, saying that in the event of an unspecified "contingency," the United States and its allies "must be capable of limiting China's access to and use of" those islands to pose a threat.

China building third aircraft carrier to protect 'overseas interests'
BEIJING:MMNN:21 Feb. 2017
China is building a third aircraft carrier based on American models as it seeks to fortify its claims in the disputed South China Sea and dominate the larger Indian Ocean region to realise its blue water aspirations.
Chinese experts said China is on course to build 5-6 aircraft carriers.
While the first aircraft carrier, Liaoning , is a refitted Soviet-era ship, the second is being built on the same model with more advanced facilities and is likely to enter service in 2020.
The latest carrier, under construction at Shanghai, is based on US models, state-run Global Times reported today.
Based on information released by Chinese defence ministry, the second Type 001A carrier being built at the northeast Dalian port uses the ski-jump technology for aircraft to take off, like the first carrier Liaoning rather than a more advanced catapult technology used by American carriers.
The second aircraft carrier is expected to have a displacement of 50,000 tonnes.
China is looking into catapult technology for the third Type 002 carrier being built in Shanghai, the daily quoted Li Jie, a naval military expert, as saying.
"In other words, 002 is entirely different from Liaoning (001) and 001A, and it will look like a US aircraft carrier rather than a Russian one," Li added.
Official Chinese media have earlier reported about the possibility of a third carrier but it is the first time they have announced that it was being built.
Most advanced carriers use the Electromagnetic Catapult System, or Electromagnetic launcher (EML), to launch fighter jets, but China is also testing steam catapults, Li said.
"In order to protect China's territories and overseas interests, China needs two carrier strike groups in the West Pacific Ocean and two in the Indian Ocean . So we need at least five to six aircraft carriers," Yin Zhuo, a senior researcher at the PLA Navy Equipment Research Centre, said.
Chinese media has often highlighted the construction of aircraft carriers as the US deployed aircraft carriers in the disputed South China Sea challenging Beijing's claims.
The US Navy on Sunday announced that an aircraft carrier strike group has begun "routine operations" in the South China Sea. The announcement came despite a warning from China not to interfere with Chinese sovereignty in the region.
China has a long history of maritime disputes with its South China Sea neighbours. It claims almost all of the South China Sea, despite objections from the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
China has also created artificial islands in the area , outfitting some of them with military features.

Pakistan blasts: 3 explosions outside Charsadda court, 6 dead and 15 injured
MMNN:21 Feb. 2017
At least six persons were killed and 15 injured in three explosions carried out by terrorists outside a court in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Tuesday.
Security forces killed three suicide attackers outside the court in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Charsadda district, police said.
The three attackers attempted to enter the court premises in Tangi town through the main gate. They opened fire and threw grenades, prompting retaliatory fire by security forces deployed there.
One of the bombers detonated his suicide vest at the court's main gate while police shot and killed the two other assailants, according to the district police chief, Sohail Khalid. The other two also wore suicide vests but had not managed to set them off before being gunned down.
Khalid said 15 people were wounded in the attack and taken to hospital.
Some reports said a lawyer was among the dead and that up to 17 persons were injured. Meanwhile, Urdu TV channel Abb Takk said the injured included five policemen, Xinhua news agency reported.
The Pakistani Taliban breakaway Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack in a text message sent to an Associated Press reporter.
The terrorists resorted to indiscriminate firing after the blasts in Tangi town of Charsadda district, police said. Gunfire was heard after one of the blasts near the gate of a sessions court located at Tangi Bazaar, Pakistani media reported.
Deputy Commissioner of Charsadda said judges and lawyers were safe. He said due to tight security the bombers could not enter the court, but had they been successful in entering the premises it "would have been a catastrophe". A search and rescue operation was underway, he added.
Up to 10 ambulances were rushed to Charsadda from Peshawar, approximately 30 kilometres away, where the Lady Reading Hospital was put on high alert. Security forces and police personnel have cordoned off the area. Deputy Commissioner of Charsadda said security has been put on high alert.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf member Shaukat Yousufzai said the militants came from Mohmand Agency.
The Dawn quoted witnesses as saying that the remains of the bombers were lying along with their explosives and ammunition.
The latest attack came as security has been tightened across Pakistan after a recent wave of terrorist strikes killed more than 100 people and wounding hundreds. The brazen suicide bombings have been claimed by various Islamic militant groups, including the breakaway Taliban faction.
In one of the attacks last week, dozens of worshippers gathered at a famed Sufi shrine were killed when an Islamic State suicide bomber walked into the shrine's main hall in the southern Sindh province and detonated his explosives on Thursday. The death toll from that attack has since risen to 90.
The shrine bombing prompted a countrywide crackdown by security forces targeting militants and their hideouts.
A suicide bomber had struck a local court in Charsadda's Shabqadar area last year in March, killing 17 people.
Pakistan has been at war with Islamic militants for more than a decade. In recent years it has launched major offensives against militant strongholds in the tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan, but insurgents have continued to carry out attacks elsewhere in the country.

Washington prepares to bring North Koreans to US for talks
MMNN:20 Feb. 2017
Preparations are under way to bring senior North Korean officials to the United States for talks with former US officials, the first such meeting in more than five years, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.
The talks would be the clearest indication yet that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to communicate with the new Trump administration.
Planning for the "Track 1.5 talks" is still in a preparatory stage, the Post reported, citing multiple people with knowledge of the arrangements.
That name, reflecting planned contact between former US officials and current North Korean ones, is a reference to what are known as "Track 2" talks involving former officials on both sides.
The US State Department has not yet approved the North Koreans' visas for the talks, the newspaper said.
A State Department spokesman commented to Reuters only that Track 2 meetings "routinely" take place on a variety of topics around the world and occur independent of the U.S. government.
A White House official commented that the US government had no plans to meet with North Korea.
North Korea's testing of an intermediate-range ballistic missile drew international condemnation last week. President Donald Trump told a news conference after the test: Obviously North Korea is a big, big problem and we will deal with that very strongly."

US 'Not In Iraq To Seize Anybody's Oil', Says Defense Secretary James Mattis
BAGHDAD:MMNN:20 Feb. 2017
The United States is not about to plunder Iraq's petroleum reserves, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, who arrived in Baghdad on Monday, said as he sought to soothe partners rattled by remarks President Donald Trump made. Mr Trump has repeatedly said both while campaigning and since his election that America, whose troops occupied Iraq for eight years, should have grabbed Iraqi oil to help fund its war effort and to deprive the ISIS of a vital revenue source.
But Mr Mattis, a retired Marine general who commanded troops during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, appeared to nix the idea.
"All of us in America have generally paid for gas and oil all along, and I am sure that we will continue to do so in the future," Mr Mattis told reporters at the start of a visit to Iraq.
"We are not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil," he said.
While speaking at the CIA headquarters last month, Mr Trump cited the adage, "To the victor belong the spoils," and said America "should have kept the oil" after pulling most of its troops out of the country under his predecessor Barack Obama.
The president then added, without elaborating, that "maybe we'll have another chance."
Mr Mattis has emerged as a vital statesman for the Trump administration and has spent the past week in Europe and the Gulf on a mission to reassure allies that America is not about to abandon old military alliances.
Mr Trump also despatched Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence to Europe in a bid to show "unwavering" US support to NATO.
Travel ban friction
The Pentagon chief was due to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defence Minister Irfan al-Hayali, and his visit comes as the battle to recapture west Mosul from ISIS gets under way.
Adding to the friction from Mr Trump's oil comments is his executive order blocking Iraqis from travelling to the United States, part of a decision to stop people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering America for at least 90 days.
The move drew immediate international condemnation and prompted the Pentagon to lobby for special consideration of Iraqis who had supported US troops, such as translators and support staff.
After a federal judge blocked Mr Trump's travel ban, the White House is planning a new order this week that would tweak it to circumvent the court.
Mr Mattis said he had not seen the new executive order but was confident it would cater to the Iraqis who had served alongside US forces.
"I right now am assured that we will take steps, allow those who have fought alongside us for example to be allowed into the United States," he said.
"They will have been vetted obviously by their performance on the battlefield and by normal procedures and I am sure we will work our way through this quickly."

Pakistan lists JuD chief Hafiz Saeed, four others under anti-terrorism act
Islamabad:MMNN:18 Feb. 2017
Mumbai attack mastermind and JuD chief Hafiz Saeed has been listed under Pakistan's anti-terrorism act by the provincial Punjab government, a tacit acknowledgement of his links to militancy. Dawn News reported that the Punjab government has included names of Saeed and one of his close aides, Qazi Kashif, in the fourth schedule of the Anti-terrorism Act (ATA).
Three other men were also added to the list - Abdullah Obaid from Faisalabad, and Zafar Iqbal and Abdur Rehman Abid from the Markaz-i-Taiba, Muridke.
Saeed and the four men added to the fourth schedule of the ATA were also placed under house arrest on January 30 in Lahore amid an angry uproar from his party and political allies.
The five men were identified by the Interior Ministry as "active members of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-i-Insaniyat (FIF)," the report said.
The ministry directed the Counter Terrorism Department to "move and take necessary action" against them.
The names of Saeed and 37 other JuD and FIF leaders had earlier also been placed on the Exit Control List (ECL), barring them from leaving the country.
The Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 empowers the government to mark a person as "proscribed" and to place that person on the fourth schedule on an ex-parte basis.
The mere listing of a person in the fourth schedule of the ATA shows that he is linked with militancy in some way, the report said.
Those listed face a barrage of legal consequences like travel bans and scrutiny of assets etc.
Any violation of provision of the fourth schedule may result in imprisonment of up to three