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.
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.
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.
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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.
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."
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.
US, BRITAIN WORRIED
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.
WHAT MAKES ZIRCON LETHAL
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.
WHEN WILL INDIA HAVE ITS OWN HYPERSONIC MISSILE
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 UNAWARE?
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."
PAK ARMY CHIEF MET TOP PLA OFFICIALS
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.
BOTH PARTIES DISCUSS ANTI-TERRORISM COOPERATION
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
WASHINGTON:MMNN:17 March 2017
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
HONOLULU/NEW YORK: MMNN:16 March 2017
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.
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
WASHINGTON:MMNN:25 Feb. 2017
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."
NO HANDOUTS PLEASE
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
SOUTH KOREA:MMNN:24 Feb. 2017
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 CITY:MMNN:23 Feb. 2017
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
WASHINGTON:MMNN:22 Feb. 2017
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.
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.
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 years and fine or both.
The action against Saeed was taken after the country was hit by at least eight terror attacks which killed more than 100 people.
"Detention of Saeed shows that army supported the step by the civilian government, and it was viewed by many as a sign of changing security priorities," the daily said.
Saeed was also put under house arrest after Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008 but he was freed by court in 2009.
Saeed also carries a reward of USD 10 million announced by the US for his role in terror activities.
Kim Jong-nam: Malaysian police arrest North Korean man
MMNN:18 Feb. 2017
Malaysian police say they have arrested a North Korean man involved in the killing of Kim Jong-nam, a move which could further entrench an intensifying diplomatic altercation.
The detained man, identified as Ri Jong Chol, 46, is the fourth person to be picked up by investigators and the only suspect from North Korea. They other three suspects hold Vietnamese, Indonesia and Malaysian documents.
People close to Kim Jong-nam say the former heir to the North Korean leadership had feared his younger brother, the country's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un - a man he's reportedly never met but who has executed several senior officials including family members - might make an attempt on his life.
North Korea has tried to stymie the Malaysian investigation, attempting to block an autopsy on Kim Jong-nam's body and demanding Malaysia release the corpse, a move authorities refuse until Kim's family has provided an identifying DNA sample.
Late on Friday, North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia broke the country's silence on the apparent assassination in a heated statement to reporters in which he accused Kuala Lumpur of forcing an autopsy.
"We will strongly respond to this act by the Malaysia side and also the hostile forces towards the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] and we will sue [sic] this matter to the international court."
"I asked them, I strongly demanded, to release the body to our side without any further delay but they rejected," he said. The ambassador said Malaysian police had told him the cause of death was a heart attack, which is why he said no postmortem was needed.
"This strongly suggests that they are deceiving us, that they are concealing something ... and that they are colluding with outside forces who are interested in damaging the image of our republic."
Although the ambassador spoke about an hour after the North Korean national was arrested, it is not clear if he knew of the arrest.
Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world with normalised relations and visa-free travel into North Korea. In October 2016, several former US diplomats held talks with senior Pyongyang officials in Kuala Lumpur.
The diplomatic spat threatens Malaysia's role as a space for Pyongyang to semi-officially engage with world powers, increasingly important as North Korea moves towards its goal of developing a nuclear weapon capable of striking the US mainland.
Kim Jong-nam was attacked in Kuala Lumpur airport on Monday by two women. He complained to medics of being sprayed with chemicals before dying en route to the hospital.
South Korean and US officials have suggested Kim Jong-nam's death is a political assassination by North Korean agents. And Malaysia has performed a second autopsy on Kim's body because the first procedure was inconclusive.
Details of the attack, which took place at the budget airline terminal, suggest the two women may have been duped into the alleged killing of Kim, who was 45 or 46 and had lived in exile for years.
Indonesia's national police chief, Tito Karnavian, said that the Indonesian suspect, 25-year-old Siti Aisyah, was tricked into thinking she was part of a comedy show prank.
He said she and another woman, believed to be the suspect with Vietnamese documents, performed stunts which involved convincing men to close their eyes and then spraying them with water.
"Such an action was done three or four times and they were given a few dollars for it, and with the last target, Kim Jong-nam, allegedly there were dangerous materials in the sprayer," Karnavian said.
"She was not aware that it was an assassination attempt by alleged foreign agents."
Siti's family have said they were shocked to hear of her involvement in the case, describing her as a struggling mother who had travelled to Malaysia for work. Her 26-year-old Malaysian boyfriend has also been arrested.
The second female suspect, captured on security camera footage at the airport in a top emblazoned with "LOL", stayed at a hotel near the airport in the days before the attack, booking the cheapest room and carrying a wad of cash, according to a receptionist who spoke to Reuters.
Unverified reports in Malaysian media said Doan Thi Huong, who held a Vietnamese passport, also told police she thought she was working for a reality TV comedy.
Kim Jong-nam reportedly fell out of favour with his father, the late Kim Jong-il, in 2001, when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a forged Dominican Republic passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
A Japanese journalist and former friend, Yoji Gomi, said Kim had already become disillusioned with the North Korean dictatorship in the early 1990s when "he saw the reality of the country's situation".
Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine strike was actually Islamic State's message to Donald Trump
MMNN:17 Feb. 2017
Before we get into dissecting Thursday night's attack on the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Sufi shrine in Sehwan in Pakistan's Sindh province, that as per recent reports, has killed over 70 and injured around 250 people, it's instructive to first look at two other incidents.
First, on 27 January, the Pakistani province of Punjab's Ministry of Interior issued an order to put Jamaat-ud-Dawah leader Hafiz Saeed under house arrest. That this came in very close temporal proximity to US president Donald Trump's decree that immigrants from seven Islamic-majority countries would be denied US visas was unmissable.
Second, earlier this week, reports emerged out of Pakistan that its army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, had at the tail-end of 2016, pointed to his top officers that the army had no business trying to run the government and that they should take lessons from India's democracy and democratic processes. He seemed to indicate a disapproval with the way the Pakistan Army has been such an integral part of domestic and foreign policy in the past.
We live in a day and age of fake news, hacked social media accounts, frequent 'I was misquoted'-driven efforts to rewrite history and what-not, and so, cynicism appears to be the most appropriate prism through which to try and make sense of developments, global and domestic. And viewed, to an extent, through that prism, the two incidents mentioned above indicate the Pakistan government and army were sending out a message to the US - more crucially, to Trump - that Islamabad and Rawalpindi (home to the Pakistan Army's GHQ) are willing to play ball.
Or to be more specific, are "willing to give the impression of a willingness to play ball". And that's the message they wanted to transmit to Washington.
The Islamic State too appeared to want to send out a message to Trump. It may be recalled that all through his campaign and in the few months since he was elected president, Trump has been relentlessly sending messages to the group, whether via Twitter, on television, at rallies, or from the pulpit of the Oval Office.
You get the idea. In turn, the Islamic State too wanted to send Trump a message.
Only the organisation doesn't hold press conferences or public rallies, and doesn't show up on Fox News to articulate its vision to Sean Hannity. In fact, its own social media handles and websites are regularly pulled off the internet. On Thursday night, it chose to send out its message by targetting the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine and launching its (officially) first attack on Pakistani soil, according to the widely-cited (but almost untraceable online) Amaq News Agency.
Taken at face-value, the attack bore all the hallmarks of a regular Islamic State strike. The victims were innocent civilians and the target was a famous symbol of one of the world's most syncretic forms of Islam - Sufism. This is antithetical to the Islamic State's violent Salafi brand of Islam. However, a closer look indicates more of a statement of intent by the Islamic State, which appears to be announcing its arrival in Pakistan, having made its South Asian debut in Bangladesh (the attack on Dhaka's Holey Artisan Bakery) in July last year. With this "announcement", it seems to be confirming the theory propounded by several experts over the course of the US presidential campaign trail - and again after the immigration ban imposed by the US government - that a Trump presidency would actually embolden and strengthen the multinational terror outfit.
And now, strengthening of the Islamic State seems to have been confirmed. Whether the perpetrators were local recruits, self-radicalised 'lone wolves' or visitors from Iraq or Syria is as-yet-unknown. Equally unknown is whether the IS senses that its domination of Iraq and Syria might be at risk, given Trump's warning to unleash US troops, and so the organisation must seek greener pastures. But there are two clear threats for the region:
The first is the threat of the Islamic State now taking on a more active role in Kashmir. The second is the possibility of more terrorist attacks in Pakistan, ergo greater destabilisation.
And whether or not Trump received the Islamic State's message, neither of these conditions augur well for India, South Asia or indeed the world.
Pakistan blasts: Army summons Afghan officials, hands over list of 76 terrorists
Islamabad:MMNN:17 Feb. 2017
Hit by a wave of terror attacks, which it blames on militants from Afghanistan, the Pakistan army on Friday summoned Afghan embassy officials and handed over a list of 76 terrorists hiding in the neighbouring country.
According to Inter Services Public Relations, the Deputy Head of Mission and other officials of the Afghan embassy were summoned to the Pakistani Army headquarters in Rawalpindi to lodge protest against the use of Afghan soil by terrorists to carry out attacks in Pakistan, Dunya news reported.
The officials were told to take immediate action or hand over the militants to Pakistan, Pakistan media reported.
The development comes after a series of terrorist attacks hit Pakistan within a week, including Thursday's bombing at a crowded Sufi shrine in Sehwan city of Sindh province in which 75 persons died and about 300 were injured.
The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the bombing at the shrine of Lal Shehbaz Qalandar, a revered 13th century Muslim saint.
The security officials believe that militant groups now operate from the Afghanistan border region to launch attacks in Pakistan.
Hours after the Thursday bombing, Pakistan closed the Torkham border with Afghanistan due to security concerns.
On Wednesday, the Foreign Office had taken up evidence against the Jamaatul Ahrar based inside Afghanistan at the diplomatic level. The Ahrar split away from the TTP in 2014 and is believed to have with links with Daesh or the IS.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share a border of about 2,600 km, mostly porous, and the military seeks cooperation of the Afghan government to closely monitor the illegal cross-border movement.
US VP Mike Pence's mission in Europe: Clarify Donald Trump's foreign policy vision
MMNN:16 Feb. 2017
US Vice President Mike Pence will soon head to Europe to meet with allies seeking clarity on the Trump administration's foreign policy strategy and its stance toward Russia after the resignation of the top White House national security aide.
Pence, who has hewn more closely to Republican orthodoxy than his boss President Donald Trump, will attend the Munich Security Conference this weekend and will visit Brussels. The trip comes as turmoil swirls within the administration following the resignation of Trump's national security adviser, Michael Flynn, on Monday.
Flynn, who championed closer ties to Russia, stepped down after reports he had discussed US sanctions on Moscow with Russia's ambassador. Even before Flynn's departure, Trump's calls for warmer ties with Moscow and his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin had unnerved both US lawmakers at home and NATO allies. Trump has called NATO "obsolete" and said member nations were not paying their fair share for US protection.
Some European capitals greeted Flynn's departure with relief. Flynn was seen by some officials in Europe as one of the Trump administration's leading advocates of closer ties to Russia and a hardline opponent of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and western powers.
One fear, ahead of a series of important elections in Europe, is that a Trump White House could actively promote the disintegration of the European Union (EU), Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference told reporters in Berlin. Ischinger said he hopes Pence states clearly that the breakup of the EU is not the goal of the US government.
Pence may be unable to lay out many details about Trump's policies given the turbulence on the foreign policy team, but he could provide insight into White House views ahead of a NATO summit in May that Trump will attend. "I think from the administration's point of view, this is an opportunity to make a very major pronouncement on its foreign policy and its European policy," said Alexander Vershbow, a former US ambassador to Russia and a former deputy secretary general of NATO.
The White House has not yet previewed Pence's remarks. Pence's comments on Russia's incursions into Ukraine will be closely parsed to see whether Trump will be willing to trade off US economic sanctions to achieve other security goals, said Vershbow, now with the Atlantic Council.
Trump's mixed messages on NATO have perplexed European allies. "One minute NATO is obsolete - the next minute he loves NATO. One minute NATO is an impediment and doesn't do anything for terrorism - the next minute NATO is the centerpiece of the global fight," said retired US Navy Admiral James Stavridis, a former supreme allied commander of NATO. Pence is the right person to set a more reassuring tone, said Stavridis, now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. "Because of his personality: he's calm, he's centred, he's thoughtful, he's widely regarded with respect on both sides of the aisle in the United States," Stavridis said in an interview.
With Flynn's departure, European officials said they hope Pence, Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson become the dominant players in Trump's foreign policy. But this remains an open question. Tillerson is also in Europe this week, meeting with G20 nations in Bonn, and Mattis travelled to NATO, warning allies that they must honour military spending pledges.
Malaysia will return body of North Korean leader's half-brother
Kuala Lumpur:MMNN:16 Feb. 2017
Malaysia will return the body of the half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un at Pyongyang's request, although there are "procedures to be followed", the deputy prime minister told reporters on Thursday.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi confirmed Pyongyang had made the request when questioned by journalists following a meeting with regional business leaders, footage from the event showed.
"We will facilitate the request by any foreign government although there are procedures to be followed. Our policy is that we have to honour our bilateral relations with any foreign country," he said.
He also confirmed the man who was killed at Kuala Lumpur airport on Monday was Kim Jong-Nam, the estranged sibling of Kim Jong-Un.
Malaysian police have referred only to a Korean male in their official statements on the matter.
"He carries two different identities, probably this is an undercover document and this is an authentic passport," Zahid added.
Kim, 45, was believed to have been in Malaysia on a passport bearing the name Kim Chol, a known alias, according to South Korean media.
South Korean intelligence chiefs say he was poisoned by agents from the North as he walked through Kuala Lumpur International Airport on his way to board a flight for Macau.
South Korea suspects female assassins killed half-brother of North Korea leader
Seoul/kuala Lumpur:MMNN:15 Feb. 2017
South Korea's spy agency suspects two female North Korean agents assassinated the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Malaysia, lawmakers in Seoul said on Wednesday, as Malaysian medical authorities sought a cause of death. U.S. government sources also told Reuters they believed that North Korean assassins killed Kim Jong Nam. Malaysian police said he had been assaulted on Monday in Kuala Lumpur International Airport and died on the way to hospital.
South Korean intelligence believed Kim Jong Nam was poisoned, lawmakers said after being briefed by the spy agency. They said the spy agency told them that the young, unpredictable North Korean leader had issued a "standing order" for his half-brother's assassination, and that there had been a failed attempt in 2012.
Kim had been at the airport's low-cost terminal to catch a flight to Macau on Monday, when someone grabbed or held Kim's face from behind, after which he felt dizzy and sought help, Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat told Reuters.
According to South Korea's spy agency, Kim Jong Nam had been living, under Beijing's protection, with his second wife in the Chinese territory of Macau, the lawmakers said. One of them said Kim Jong Nam also had a wife and son in Beijing.
Portly and gregarious, Kim Jong Nam was the eldest son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and had spoken out publicly against his family's dynastic control of the isolated state. "If the murder of Kim Jong Nam was confirmed to be committed by the North Korean regime, that would clearly depict the brutality and inhumanity of the Kim Jong Un regime," South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is also acting president, told a security meeting.
The meeting was called in response to Kim Jong Nam's death, news of which first emerged late on Tuesday. South Korea is acutely sensitive to any sign of instability in isolated North Korea, and is still technically in a state of war with its impoverished and nuclear-armed neighbour, which carried out its latest ballistic missile test on Sunday.
TICKET TO MACAU
Malaysian police said the dead man held a passport under the name Kim Chol, with a birth date that made him 46. Kim Jong Nam was known to spend a significant amount of time outside North Korea, travelling in Macau and Hong Kong as well as mainland China, and has been caught in the past using forged travel documents.
His body was taken on Wednesday morning to a second hospital, where an autopsy was being performed. North Korean embassy officials had arrived at the hospital and were coordinating with local authorities, police sources said.
One of the South Korean lawmakers said Seoul's spy agency expected the body would be returned to Kim's family in Macau. A Malaysian police source who had seen closed-circuit TV footage from the airport said a woman was involved in the attack. "So far from the CCTV we can confirm it's a woman," the source said.
Asked during a news briefing if the murder of Kim Jong Nam was confirmed, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said: "Yes, I have said it is confirmed." Officials at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur would not speak to reporters gathered outside its gate and refused them entry. A few cars were seen leaving the embassy. There was no mention of Kim Jong Nam's death in North Korean state media. In Beijing, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing that he noted media reports of Kim's death and understood the Malaysian authorities were investigating.
Michael Madden, a U.S.-based expert on the North Korean leadership, cast doubt on the notion that Kim Jong Un had personally ordered the killing of his half-brother. Doing so would further feed the perception that Kim Jong Un was engaged in a "reign of terror" and is insecure about his leadership, and would also irritate China and Malaysia, two of the few countries with which North Korea has relatively good relations, he said. "It does not serve Kim Jong Un's political interests to have Jong Nam assassinated," Madden said. "It is likely that if he was killed by North Korean operatives, then someone else pushed the button."
South Korea's Unification Ministry urged North Korean defectors in South Korea and abroad to be mindful of their security. Numerous North Korean officials have been purged or killed since Kim Jong Un took power following his father's death in 2011. Those include his uncle Jang Song Thaek, who was considered the country's second most-powerful person and was believed to have been close to Kim Jong Nam. Jang was executed on Kim Jong Un's orders in 2013. Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said that given Kim Jong Nam's family connection, it was "difficult to imagine" an assassination would be carried out without the leader's consent.
"Kim Jon Un may have been worried about more and more of North Korean elites turning against him after Thea Yon Ho defected to the South," he said, referring to last year's defection by North Korea's deputy ambassador in London.
Chinese media warns India against playing Taiwan card or challenging 'One China' policy
Beijing:MMNN:15 Feb. 2017
China's official media on Wednesday warned India against playing the 'Taiwan card', saying New Delhi will suffer losses by challenging Beijing over the sensitive issue. The warning came after a Taiwanese women Parliamentary delegation visited India.
"By challenging China over the Taiwan question, India is playing with fire," state-run Global Times said in an op-ed article titled 'New Delhi will suffer losses if it plays Taiwan card'.
"At a time when new US President Donald Trump has put the brakes on challenging China over the Taiwan question, agreeing to change course and respecting the "one China" policy, India stands out as a provocateur," the tabloid daily, which is a part of Communist Party of China's publications, said.
"High-level visits between India and Taiwan are not very frequent, so why did India invite the Taiwan delegation to visit at this time?" the article asked referring to Taiwanese MPs delegation. It is the first such visit since the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen administration took office, it said.
Tsai, who won on elections last year is a strong supporter of Taiwan's independence from China.
"Some Indians view the Taiwan question as an Achilles' Heel of the mainland. India has long wanted to use the Taiwan question, the South China Sea and Dalai Lama issues as bargaining chips in dealing with China," the article said.
India may be looking to use the Taiwan card against China out of its suspicions with China specially over the USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project with Pakistan, it said. "With the advancement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in recent years, India's strategic suspicions about China have been growing," it said.
"It stubbornly misinterprets the flagship project of the One Belt, One Road Initiative that will benefit countries along the route, including India. As the corridor passes through the disputed Kashmir, some Indian strategists have advised the Modi government to play the Taiwan card," it said.
To India, the island can not only help realise some of India's development goals, but also, strategically, check the mainland.
Growing Taiwanese investment in India, including in steel, telecom and information technology sectors, are important to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Made in India" campaign, it said.
"Although the mainland is a major trading partner of India, political discord and the historical feud make economic cooperation between the two difficult," the article said.
"Tsai is exploiting India's vigilance and strategic suspicions against China. The pro-independence leader came up with the new southbound policy" to ramp up trade and economic interactions in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Oceania, in which India is considered not one of the, but the most" important country," it said.
Quoting Taiwan's representative to India Chung Kwang Tien, the article said "Tsai hopes to put pressure on the mainland by tying India and Taiwan closer".
"India wants benefits from the development of trade with Taiwan and Taiwanese investment. But it should be wary of Tsai's political intentions and avoid being used to confront the mainland," it said.
Trumps NSA Flynn quits amid controversy over Russia contacts
Washington:MMNN:14 Feb. 2017
President Donald Trumps embattled national security advisor Michael Flynn resigned today amid allegations that he secretly discussed US sanctions against Russia with its envoy before Trumps inauguration and then tried to cover up the conversations.
Flynns departure came soon after reports surfaced the Justice Department warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled administration officials regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.
58-year-old Flynn, one of the early backers of Trump during his presidential run, remained in the top position of National Security Advisor for just three weeks, making him one of the shortest-serving senior presidential advisers in modern American history.
Flynn has been replaced by Lt General (rtd) Joseph Keith Kellogg as acting National Security Advisor, the White House announced.
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, in his resignation letter released by the White House, apologised to President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for briefing them with incomplete information on his talks with the Russian Ambassador before the swearing in.
"In the course of my duties as the incoming National Security Advisor, I held numerous phone calls with foreign counterparts, ministers, and ambassadors. These calls were to facilitate a smooth transition and begin to build the necessary relationships between the President, his advisors and foreign leaders. Such calls are standard practice in any transition of this magnitude," Flynn wrote in the resignation letter.
"Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador. I have sincerely apologised to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology," Flynn said.
Flynn said he knows with the strong leadership of President Trump and Vice President Pence and the superb team they are assembling, this team will go down in history as one of the greatest presidencies in US history.
"The sudden exit marks the most public display yet of disarray at the highest levels of the new administration, which has faced repeated questions over a slew of controversies and reports of infighting among senior aides during its first three weeks, CNN commented on Flynns resignation.
Flynn?s replacement General Kellogg is a decorated veteran of the US Army, having served from 1967 to 2003, including two tours during the Vietnam War, where he earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with ?V? device, and the Air Medal with ?V? device.
He served as the Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division from 1997 to 1998.
Prior to his retirement, General Kellogg was Director of the Command, Control, Communications, and Computers Directorate under the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Tunisia PM, in Germany, dismisses criticism over asylum deportations
MMNN:14 Feb. 2017
Tunisia's prime minister, in Germany for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, rejected criticism on Tuesday that his country had been slow to take back failed asylum seekers from Europe, including Berlin Christmas market attacker Anis Amri.
Youssef Chahed also rejected the idea of Tunisia setting up its own asylum centres to ease the burden on Europe.
Shortcomings in the system were exposed in December by the failure to deport Tunisian Islamic State supporter Amri, who was on a watch list and had been denied asylum six months before he killed 12 people by driving a truck through the market.
In an interview in Bild, Chahed said cooperation with Germany on asylum seekers was functioning well.
"The biggest problem for Europe is refugees who go from Libya to Italy," he said, adding that German authorities needed to provide the correct paperwork to be able to send back failed asylum seekers to Tunisia.
It was largely a delay in getting the right documents, including identity papers, that prevented Amri from being repatriated. He was shot dead by Italian police in Milan on Dec. 23.
"Illegal immigrants who use false papers sometimes make things difficult and prolong the process," he said.
Asked about the possibility of Tunisia building refugee centres with European help, Chahed said:
"Tunisia is a very young democracy, I don't think that it can function or that we have capacity to create refugee camps," he said, adding that the main focus should be finding a solution with Libya.
Merkel has been weakened by her open-door migrant policy which allowed more than a million refugees into Germany in the last two years. She is now trying to show voters she is beefing up security and cracking down on illegal migrants before a national election due in September.
Merkel needs the cooperation of countries like Tunisia to speed up deportations. She also plans to give police greater powers to detain rejected asylum seekers seen as a terrorist threat and to set up 'federal departure centres' near airports to house rejected applicants ahead of their deportation.
Chahed visited the site of the December attack by Amri in western Berlin and laid flowers there.
Marchers across Mexico vent anger over Donald Trump, and their own president
Mexico City:MMNN:13 Feb. 2017
Thousands of protesters in more than a dozen Mexican cities took to the streets on Sunday to express their fierce opposition to US President Donald Trump, portraying the new leader as a menace to both America and Mexico.
Waving Mexicans flags and hoisting anti-Trump signs in both Spanish and English, some vulgar, many protesters also heaped scorn on their own president, deriding Enrique Pena Nieto as a weak leader who has presided over rampant corruption and violence at home. Trump and Pena Nieto have been locked in battle over their countries' deep ties for months, even before Trump won the presidency with promises to get tougher on immigration and trade from Mexico.
Mexico fears Trump's policies could send Latin America's second biggest economy into crisis. In a rare display of national unity, marchers and organizers came from across the country's deeply polarised political factions, encouraged in part by a pro-march ad campaign by Televisa, the country's dominant broadcaster.
Local officials estimated that a total 30,000 marched in the country's two largest cities, Mexico City and Guadalajara. In the Mexican capital, two separate marches were set to converge on the Angel of Independence monument on the city's leafy Paseo de la Reforma avenue. "He's such a bad man and he shouldn't act the way he does," said 62-year-old marcher Jorge Ruiz about Trump. Ruiz was particularly angry at how the former reality TV star has insulted migrants.
One marcher carried a larger-than-life painted Trump mannequin, portraying him as an outlandish cartoon character, while others carried pinatas resembling the US leader wearing floppy Mexican hats bearing pro-Mexico slogans. "Mexicans demand respect, we want bridges not walls," read one banner carried by nearby marchers. "Trump you diminish America," read another.
Maria Paro Cassar, an organiser, said Trump has made Mexico and Mexicans in the United States "his favorite target." "His policies are a global threat that go against pluralism and diversity and they represent a particular threat to Mexico," she added.
Three weeks into his administration, Trump has vowed to move ahead with construction of his signature border wall, which he has repeatedly said Mexico will pay for, as well as signaling a new push to deport millions of unauthorised immigrants from the country. While organizers of the marches promoted them as non-partisan, many singled out Pena Nieto as a major obstacle.
"We're also marching today to demand that our own rulers put an end to corruption and so much loss of life here and actually look out for the good of the country, not just themselves," said 28-year-old office worker Victor Robledo.
In January, a poll showed that Pena Nieto's approval ratings had hit a record low at just 12%, the lowest level of support for any president in decades. "We as Mexicans have to demand that Pena Nieto defends us and acts with dignity," said Mari Carmen Quiroz, a 51-year-old university professor. "Unfortunately, so far he's done a bad job."
Turkmen President Wins New 7-Year Term With Nearly 98 Per Cent Of Vote
ASHGABAT:MMNN:13 Feb. 2017
Turkmenistan's reigning strongman Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov bagged a new seven-year term with nearly 98 per cent of a weakly contested vote, electoral officials said Monday, following a preliminary count. The election commission claimed at a press conference in the capital Ashgabat a turnout of over 97 per cent for the poll, in which eight men viewed as token opponents for Berdymukhamedov also competed.
Central Electoral Commission chief Gulmyrat Myradov did not even mention the shares of the vote gained Sunday by the other candidates.
But he said: "using this opportunity we would like to congratulate with all our hearts Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on his electoral victory."
Berdymukhamedov, 59, a former dentist and health minister took power in 2006 after the death of Turkmenistan's first president, Saparmurat Niyazov.
Casting his vote at a school in Ashgabat, the president said the election would decide "the fate of the people for the coming seven years".
"If I am elected then our policies aimed at improving the welfare of the people will continue," Berdymukhamedov said.
Last year, Berdymukhamedov signed off on constitutional changes that paved the way for his lifelong rule by removing upper age limits for presidential candidates.
Another change lengthened presidential terms from five to seven years.
Voters in Ashgabat overwhelmingly said they were backing Berdymukhamedov.
"I voted for the first time, and chose our president," said Zokhra, an 18-year old student who was voting at her university.
"We are deciding our future," said Zokhra, adding that she was handed one of Berdymukhamedov's books and a bunch of flowers by officials after she cast her vote.
But a number of people in and around the capital told AFP they did not intend to vote, casting doubt on the official turnout figure.
Sabir Rakhmanov, an Ashgabat taxi driver, said he could not participate because he is registered to vote in another region.
"I don't think my vote would affect anything anyway," he told AFP.
"The main thing is to have regular work. That's something I would vote for!"
One-sided votes are typical in Central Asia, a Muslim-majority ex-Soviet region politically close to Russia and China, where reigning presidents are usually expected to die in power.
"These regimes have a logic of their own and they very much follow that logic," said Annette Bohr, an associate fellow of the Russia and Eurasia programme at the Chatham House think tank.
Turkmenistan's regime is "even more repressive and personalist" than those found in neighbouring Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Bohr said.
"Berdymukhamedov is predictable in that he will do what he has to do in order to perpetuate that regime."
Like Turkmenistan's first president Niyazov, who renamed months after family members and wrote a "book of the soul" that was compulsory in schools, Berdymukhamedov has presided over a flowering leadership cult.
Both men are honoured by golden statues in Ashgabat, where natural gas wealth is flaunted in lavish, grandiose white marble architecture, even as other parts of the country suffer from poverty.
Berdymukhamedov is referred to by state media as the country's "protector" and has written a number of poems and songs as well as books on tea, medicine and his beloved horses.
New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch said ahead of the polls that Berdymukhamedov has taken "a few modest steps to reverse some of Niyazov's damaging policies" but has continued some of his "most serious abuses."
"Voters cannot express their views about all candidates in an open manner and without fear," the group warned ahead of the vote.
Turkmenistan is set to host the Asian Indoor Games in September and Reporters Without Borders said Friday that the handful of independent journalists in the country are "being subjected to an unprecedented crackdown" ahead of the showpiece event.
Although Turkmenistan sits on the world's fourth largest natural gas reserves, it has failed to diversify export routes and its hydrocarbon-based economy as a whole.
In recent years the country of over 5 million people has traded its traditional economic reliance on Russia for dependence on China, which buys the vast majority of its gas.
At the beginning of 2015 the government devalued the manat currency by 19 percent, while Berdymukhamedov has warned of the need to raise tariffs for water, gas and electricity, which were all free under Niyazov.
Donald Trump, Shinzo Abe pledge to strengthen US-Japan strategic ties
Washington:MMNN:11 Feb. 2017
President Donald Trump has pledged close security and economic cooperation with Japan as he described the US-Japan alliance as the "cornerstone" of peace and stability in the Pacific region, a day after patching up with an assertive China over the Taiwan issue.
"We are committed to the security of Japan and all areas under its administrative control and to further strengthening our very crucial alliance. The US-Japan alliance is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Pacific region," Trump told reporters at a joint news conference with the visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday.
Seeking to put behind any friction as a result of his sometimes provocative statements during the presidential campaign, Trump hugged Abe as he arrived at the White House, and offered strong reassurances about America's commitment to Japan's defense in the face of China's increased military assertiveness.
"The bond between our two nations and the friendship between our two peoples runs very, very deep," Trump said. "This administration is committed to bringing those ties even closer. We are committed to the security of Japan and all areas under its administrative control and to further strengthening our very crucial alliance."
Abe's visit, which was Trump's second with a head of government since being sworn in last month, came a day after the US President, in a telephonic talk with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and agreed to "honor" a position that effectively acknowledges Taiwan is not separate from China. Trump had enraged China by stating that the 'One-China' policy on Taiwan is up for negotiation and that he is not fully committed to it.
During the press conference, Trump insisted that it is important that both Japan and the US continue to invest very heavily in the alliance to boost their defence capabilities. He said the two countries face numerous challenges and bilateral cooperation is essential to address them.
"We will work together to promote our shared interests, of which we have many, in the region, including freedom from navigation and of navigation and defending against the North Korean missile and nuclear threat, both of which I consider a very, very high priority," Trump said.
"On the economy, we will seek a trading relationship that is free, fair and reciprocal, benefiting both of our countries. The vibrant exchange between us is a true blessing. Japan is a proud nation with a rich history and culture and the American people have profound respect for your country and its traditions," Trump said. Abe, speaking through translator, congratulated Trump on being elected as the US President. "The mutually beneficial economic relations have been built by Japan and the US," he said.
With Trump taking on the leadership, Abe said major scale infrastructure investments will be made, including the high-speed train. Japan, with high level of technical capability will be able to contribute to Trump's growth strategy, he said.
US blocks former Palestinian PM from leading UN mission in Libya
MMNN:11 Feb. 2017
The United States on Friday blocked the appointment of the former Palestinian prime minister to lead the UN political mission in Libya, saying it was acting to support its ally Israel.
US ambassador Nikki Haley said the Trump administration "was disappointed" to see that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had sent a letter to the Security Council indicating his intention to appoint Salam Fayyad, who served as the Palestinian authority's prime minister from 2007-2013, as the next UN special representative to Libya.
"For too long, the UN has been unfairly biased in favour of the Palestinian authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel," Haley said.
Palestine is a non-member observer state at the United Nations and its independence has been recognised by 137 of the 193 UN member nations. But Haley said the United States doesn't currently recognise a Palestinian state "or support the signal" Fayyad's appointment would send within the United Nations.
UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said Fayyad is well-respected for his work in reforming the Palestinian authority and spurring its economy and had the support of the 14 other Security Council members to succeed Martin Kobler in the Libya job.
Despite opposition to Fayyad, Haley indicated that the Trump administration wants to see an end to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We encourage the two sides to come together directly on a solution," she said.
Haley's statement came ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's scheduled meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump on February 15, and was welcomed by Israelis.
"This is the beginning of a new era at the UN, an era where the US stands firmly behind Israel against any and all attempts to harm the Jewish State," Israel's UN ambassador Danny Danon said of the US decision to block Fayyad's appointment.
"The new administration proved once again that it stands firmly alongside the state of Israel in the international arena and in the UN in particular."
The new US ambassador made clear that "going forward, the United States will act, not just talk, in support of our allies."
But Trump also indicated in comments to an Israeli newspaper on Friday that there might be some difficult discussions with Netanyahu next week on Israel's settlement expansion. The US leader was quoted as saying that Israel's settlement expansion in land claimed by the Palestinians does not advance peace.
Israel's settlement building has been a key obstacle to the revival of stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Most of the international community considers all Israeli settlements in territory the Palestinians want for a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal and counterproductive to peace.
Bill introduced in US senate to cut legal immigration by half; to impact Indian Americans
MMNN:8 Feb. 2017
In what could be perceived as a potential challenge for those aspiring to get a green card or permanent residency in the US, two top senators have introduced a legislation in the senate, proposing to cut the level of immigrants to the country by half. In other words, the RAISE Act - introduced by Republican senator Tom Cotton and David Perdue from the Democratic party- have proposed to reduce the number of green card or Legal Permanent Residency issued every year from currently about a million to half a million.
The passage of the bill, which is said to have the support of the Trump administration, will have a major impact on hundreds and thousands of Indian Americans who are currently painfully waiting to get their green cards on employment-based categories.
Notably, the current wait period of an Indian to get a green card varies from 10 years to 35 years and this could increase if the proposed bill becomes a law. The bill however does not focus on H-1B visas. "It's time our immigration system started working for American workers," Cotton said.
"The RAISE Act would promote higher wages on which all working Americans can build a future-whether your family came over here on the Mayflower or you just took the oath of citizenship," he added.
The RAISE Act would lower overall immigration to 6,37,960 in its first year and to 5,39,958 by its tenth year-a 50 per cent reduction from the 1,051,031 immigrants who arrived in 2015. "We are taking action to fix some of the shortcomings in our legal immigration system," Perdue said. "Returning to our historically normal levels of legal immigration will help improve the quality of American jobs and wages," he added.
The RAISE Act among other things would retain immigration preferences for the spouses and minor children of US citizens and legal permanent residents while eliminating preferences for certain categories of extended and adult family members. It also proposes to eliminate diversity visa lottery. "The Diversity Lottery is plagued with fraud, advances no economic or humanitarian interest, and does not even deliver the diversity of its namesake. The RAISE Act would eliminate the 50,000 visas arbitrarily allocated to this lottery," it said.
The legislation further proposes to place responsible limit on permanent residency for refugees. The RAISE Act would limit refugees offered permanent residency to 50,000 per year, in line with a 13-year average. In an interview to Breitbart News, Cotton said the legislation would help create jobs for American citizens. "My bill today would be a first and modest down payment by getting a handle on green cards because we give out a million a year and the vast majority of those are unrelated to unemployment and they let in low-skilled and unskilled workers. That needs to change," he said.
Cotton told the news website that focusing on America first-- like what President Donald Trump campaigned on--rather than foreigners first makes the issue of immigration much "clearer".
Cotton told Breitbart News that the legislation "doesn't focus at all on temporary work visas" like H1B, H2A, H2B. "I may do that in the future but many Democrats in the Senate acknowledge the notorious levels of fraud and abuses in those programs and the bad consequences they've had for blue collar workers in America. "Because my legislation is designed to serve the very economic interests of those very blue collar workers while at the same time being humane to the families of recent immigrants and refugees, we hope that we can get bipartisan support," he said.
Turkey sacks more than 4,000 civil servants, including teachers and police
Istanbul:MMNN:8 Feb. 2017
Turkey has dismissed more than 4,000 civil servants including teachers, police officers and academics over their suspected links with terrorist organisations, a decree showed late on Tuesday, in the latest purge since a failed coup last July. Ibrahim Kaboglu, a prominent constitution professor who has expressed opposition to planned constitutional changes giving President Tayyip Erdogan greater executive powers, was among those ousted under the decree published in the Official Gazette.
Court clerks, computer experts and librarians were also among 4,464 sacked, part of a crackdown since the July coup bid which Turkey says was carried out by US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen denies the allegation. The dismissals drew criticism on social media, with main opposition CHP lawmaker Sezgin Tanrikulu saying on Twitter that Turkey's long-established universities were being destroyed.
Turkey has already removed or suspended more than 125,000 people and formally arrested 40,000 since the attempted coup during which rogue soldiers tried to overthrow the government and Erdogan, killing more than 240 people, most of them civilians. The government says the action is justified by the nature of the threat to the state.
The crackdown has covered a wide range of professions from civil servants and soldiers to medics. Dismissals are announced in the Official Gazette with no reasons given beyond "membership of, or links to, terrorist organisations or groups deemed to be acting against national security interests". Rights groups and some European countries have said Erdogan is using the current state of emergency to quash dissent. Ankara says the measures are necessary to root out supporters of the putsch and other terrorists.
Among the 330 academics dismissed were those who signed a petition last year criticising military action in the restive southeast against Kurdish militants. Erdogan had said the academics would pay a price for their "treachery". Hundreds of civilians, members of the security forces and militants have been killed since the conflict with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) reignited in July 2015 in the worst violence Turkey has seen for 20 years. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
United States should 'brush up on' South China Sea history: China
BEIJING:MMNN:7 Feb. 2017
The United States needs to brush up on its history about the South China Sea, as World War Two-related agreements mandated that all Chinese territories taken by Japan had to be returned to China, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said in Australia.
China has been upset by previous comments from the new US administration about the disputed waterway.
In his Senate confirmation hearing, secretary of state Rex Tillerson said China should not be allowed access to islands it has built there. The White House also vowed to defend "international territories" in the strategic waterway.
However, last week US defense secretary Jim Mattis suggested that diplomacy should be the priority in the South China Sea.
In comments carried on the foreign ministry's website late on Tuesday, Wang said he had a "suggestion" for this American friends. "Brush up on the history of World War Two," Wang was quoted as saying during a visit to Canberra, Australia.
The 1943 Cairo Declaration and 1945 Potsdam Declaration clearly state that Japan had to return to China all Chinese territory taken by Japan, Wang said.
"This includes the Nansha Islands," he added, using China's name for the Spratly Islands.
"In 1946, the then-Chinese government with help from the United States openly and in accordance with the law took back the Nansha Islands and reefs that Japan had occupied, and resumed exercising sovereignty," Wang said.
"Afterwards, certain countries around China used illegal methods to occupy some of the Nansha islands and reefs, and it's this that created the so-called South China Sea dispute."
China is committed to having talks with the parties directly involved, and in accordance with historical facts and international law to peacefully resolve the issue, and that position will not change, Wang said.
Countries outside the region should support the efforts of China and others in the region to maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea, and not do the opposite, he added.
China sets great store on Mattis' comments stressing diplomatic efforts in the South China Sea, as this is not only the position set by China and Southeast Asia but also the "correct choice" for countries outside the region, Wang said.
China claims most of the South China Sea, while Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei claim parts of the waters that command strategic sea lanes and have rich fishing grounds along with oil and gas deposits.
15,000 residents lose homes in Manila shantytown fire
Manila:MMNN:7 Feb. 2017
Authorities say 15,000 residents of a shantytown beside Manila's port have lost their homes in a fire that raged overnight before being put out on Wednesday morning.
Fire department officials said about 1,000 homes were gutted in the sprawling Parola Compound, where several families often share tiny houses running along narrow alleyways.
Fire officer Edilberto Cruz said seven people suffered minor injuries in the fire that broke out yesterday night then quickly spread. The cause is under investigation.
Social welfare officer Regina Jane Mata says three evacuation centers have been opened, and food and water are being provided to the 3,000 families who lost their homes.
Many people were huddled on a nearby road with their belongings, including clothes and even washing machines and electric fans.
Russia, Turkey, Iran discuss Syria ceasefire in Astana
MMNN:6 Feb. 2017
Representatives from Russia, Turkey and Iran have kicked off a technical meeting in Kazakhstan's capital Astana to discuss details of the implementation of the Syrian ceasefire agreement.
The meeting comes two weeks after the three countries reached an agreement in Astana to create a trilateral mechanism aimed at monitoring breaches of a fragile truce established in late December and paving the way towards UN-led peace talks in February.
Representatives of Jordan are also expected to take part in Monday's meeting.
The agenda for the meeting, according to a spokesperson for Kazakhstan's foreign ministry, includes a review of the ceasefire implementation, and a discussion of a proposal submitted from the Syrian armed opposition about the truce.
"This is about creating a mechanism to control the implementation of the ceasefire," the ministry spokesman said.
The parties also plan to discuss cooperation on humanitarian issues and increasing levels of trust between the Syrian government and the opposition.
The Kazakh foreign ministry gave no information about the line-up of the delegations, who were meeting behind closed doors.
Talks last month in Astana brought together representatives of the Syrian government and armed opposition groups for the first time since the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011.
The two-day Astana talks, organised by Russia and Turkey, came as Moscow takes the diplomatic lead in the war after its 2015 military intervention helped turn the tides of the conflict in favour of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Before the meetings began, observers expected to see the first face-to-face negotiations between the government and representatives of the armed opposition since the war began, but rebels refused to participate in direct talks over ceasefire violations.
The Russian delegation spent the two days shuttling between meetings with the Syrian government, the Iranian delegation - one of the Syrian government's strongest allies, the opposition, and Turkey - a key backer of rebel groups operating in the country.
The talks marked the beginning of the latest diplomatic initiative to put an end to nearly six years of war which have left much of the country in ruins, killed nearly half a million people, and displaced half of the population.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Sunday the Astana talks were a "breakthrough step" in efforts to resolve the crisis but were not intended to be a substitute for UN-led talks.
"We are not planning to replace Geneva with the Astana format," he said in an interview published on the ministry's website.
The talks spotlighted sharp differences between Moscow and Tehran over the possible future participation of the United States and also excluded Gulf states, both major backers of armed opposition groups in Syria.
Iran, whose relations with Washington have nosedived since Donald Trump assumed the presidency, opposes any US involvement.
Lavrov reiterated on Sunday that the US and Moscow were in a position to solve bilateral issues, improve ties and coordinate efforts to fight "international terrorism", but said it had to be on the basis of mutual respect.
The secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, also praised the Astana talks in a meeting with Russia's special envoy on Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, in Tehran on Sunday, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
But he said peace was not achievable with certain groups still active on the ground - specifically the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, known as al-Nusra Front before officially cutting ties with al-Qaeda.
"As long as Daesh [ISIL] and al-Nusra and groups linked to them are present in Syria - and they are being protected and supported by some countries in the region - a political solution and peace for Syria and the region will not be achievable."
The Syrian opposition have objected to Iran's role in the Astana talks, blaming Shia militias backed by Tehran for violations of the fragile ceasefire agreement by launching military assaults in rebel-held suburbs of the capital.
UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura said the UN would attend a follow-up technical meeting in Astana on February 6 to further discuss the implementation and monitoring of the ceasefire.
States urge appeals court to leave judge's order in place blocking Trump's immigration order
MMNN:6 Feb. 2017
Removing a hold on President Trump's travel moratorium would "unleash chaos again" and hurt business and universities, two states told a federal appeals court Monday.
In written arguments , lawyers for the states of Washington and Minnesota said a temporary hold on Trump's executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations should remain in place until a lower court determines whether the order was unconstitutional.
The state of Washington citied a litany of problems caused by the order. More than 7,000 non-citizen immigrants from the affected countries live in Washington, the state told the appeals court.
"Those who were abroad were blocked from returning home," the states argued. "Husbands were separated from wives, brothers from sisters, and parents from their children."
Nearly 100 businesses, including well-known technology firms like Apple, Google, Twitter and Uber, filed arguments supporting the states' case.
The companies argued the ban was disruptive, making it more difficult for them to recruit and retain employees and threatening their ability to attract attract talent, business, and investment to the United States.
A number of former national security and intelligence officials-including former secretaries of state John Kerry and Madeleine Albright, former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta, and ex-national security advisor Susan Rice-also sided with the states.
In a declaration , they argued that the order "could do long-term damage to our national security and foreign policy interests, endangering U.S. troops in the field and disrupting counter-terrorism and national security partnerships."
After US Sanctions, Iran To Deploy Missiles As Show Of Defiance
IRAN:MMNN:4 Feb. 2017
Iran is to deploy missiles for a Revolutionary Guards exercise Saturday in a show of defiance a day after the United States imposed sanctions over a ballistic missile test launch last weekend.
Relations between Washington and Tehran have deteriorated sharply since Donald Trump took office last month promising a tough line on what he sees as Iranian belligerency towards US interests and allies.
Hours after the new US sanctions were announced, Pentagon chief James Mattis charged that Iran was "the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world."
The new sanctions are the first of Trump's presidency and target what US officials say is Iran's weapons procurement network in Lebanon and China.
They are a response to Iran's test launch of a medium-range ballistic missile last Sunday as well as its support for Yemeni rebels who attacked a Saudi frigate earlier this week, the officials said.
Iran's medium-range missiles can reach 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles), sufficient to strike Israel or US bases in the Gulf.
But the Revolutionary Guards said that the missiles deployed for Saturday's exercise would only be of very short range -- up to 75 kilometres (47 miles).
They said the manoeuvres in the northeastern province of Semnan were aimed at demonstrating their "complete preparedness to deal with the threats" and "humiliating sanctions" from Washington.
"Different types of domestically produced radar and missile systems, command and control centres, and cyber warfare systems will be used in this exercise," the Guards' website said.
The new sanctions do not yet mean that Washington has abandoned commitments it made to lift measures aimed at Iran's nuclear programme, US officials said.
But Trump has made no secret of his contempt for that accord, which his predecessor Barack Obama approved in July 2015, and officials said Friday's measures would not be the last.
Iran reacted angrily, vowing to impose "legal limitations" on Americans it says are involved in creating and supporting "extreme terrorist groups."
"In response to the new move by the United States of America and as a reciprocal action, (Iran) will impose legal limitations for some American individuals and companies that have had a role in the creation and support of extreme terrorist groups in the region," the foreign ministry said.
It said it would publish a list of names later.
US intelligence and Treasury officials are constantly scrutinising Iran's networks, looking for evidence of extremist funding and advanced weapons procurement.
But Mattis said Washington had no immediate plans to increase troop numbers in the Middle East.
A defence official said the US Navy had sent a destroyer to waters off Yemen in response to the attack on the Saudi frigate.
The USS Cole, which had been conducting operations in the Gulf, is now stationed in the Bab al-Mandab strait, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, which links the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.
Tehran says its missiles do not breach UN resolutions because they are for defence purposes only and are not designed to carry nuclear warheads.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday that Iran would "never initiate a war", despite facing threats, "but we can only rely on our own means of defence."
The missile row is just one of a raft of issues souring relations between Tehran and the Trump White House.
Iran is one of seven mainly Muslim countries targeted by the visa ban he ordered last week and its government has reacted angrily.
The order, which caused mayhem worldwide, was suspended by a federal judge on Friday but only after Tehran ordered tit-for-tat action against a US wrestling team due to take part in an international tournament in Iran later this month.
UN Removes Former Afghan Warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar From Blacklist
KABUL:MMNN:4 Feb. 2017
The United Nations has removed the name of a former Afghan warlord from its ISIS and al-Qaida sanctions list. According to a statement posted on Friday by the Security Council, a UN committee removed Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's name from the sanctions list. The statement said Hekmatyar, leader of Islamist organization Hezb-i-Islami, would no longer have his assets frozen, be subject to a travel ban or to an arms embargo.
The Security Council provided details on Hekmatyar, including his date of birth and the date he was included on the list.
Hekmatyar, a former warlord who battled US forces after the 2001 invasion and nursed bitter rivalries with other Afghan factions, agreed to lay down arms last year. Amin Karim, his chief negotiator, earlier told The Associated Press that he would return to the capital in "a matter of weeks, not months."
Hekmatyar is seen as a potential rival to President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who have governed the country through a shaky, US-brokered power-sharing agreement since the disputed elections of 2014. His return could inject new political uncertainty as the government struggles to confront a reinvigorated Taliban that has been advancing on several fronts.
In September, Ghani signed a peace treaty with Hekmatyar in which Ghani pledging to lobby the US and the United Nations to remove him and his party from terrorist blacklists. Hekmatyar signed the agreement via a video link into Kabul's presidential palace. The ceremony was broadcast live on television at that time.
The 25-point peace agreement gives Hekmatyar and his followers immunity for past actions and grants them full political rights.
Hekmatyar battled the Soviets in the 1980s and then took part in the civil war that erupted after their withdrawal, clashing with the so-called Northern Alliance. He was driven out when the Taliban seized power in 1996, but returned after the American invasion, vowing to resist the foreign "occupation."
His forces were largely confined to just two provinces, however, and have carried out few attacks in recent years. He is believed to be in hiding somewhere in the eastern Kunar province, where he enjoys popular support, and to make occasional trips into Pakistan across the nearby border.
US Stands '100%, Shoulder-To-Shoulder' With Japan: James Mattis
TOKYO, JAPAN:MMNN:3 Feb. 2017
US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Friday that the United States stands "100 percent" with Japan on a visit to reassure Asian allies rattled by President Donald Trump's isolationist rhetoric.
Mattis spoke in Tokyo on the first overseas tour by a senior Trump administration official, as concerns rise about the direction of US policy in the region under the protectionist and fiery leader.
He arrived earlier in the day from Seoul, where he warned nuclear-armed North Korea that any attacks by their forces would be met with an "effective and overwhelming" response.
Japan and the US have a decades long security alliance and US-South Korea military ties date back to the 1950-53 Korean War. But on the campaign trail, Trump threatened to withdraw US forces if they do not step up their financial support.
Some 28,500 US troops are based in South Korea to defend it against the North, and 47,000 in Japan.
"We stand firmly, 100 percent, shoulder-to-shoulder with you and (the) Japanese people," Mattis told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"I wanted to make certain that Article Five of our mutual defence treaty is understood to be as real to us today as it was a year ago, five years ago and it will be a year and 10 years from now," he added in remarks at the start of their meeting.
Article five commits each country to repel attacks against the other in Japan or territories it administers. The US has said that includes the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea administered by Japan but also claimed by China.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters after his separate meeting with Mattis that the US defence chief also reconfirmed that commitment.
On the campaign trail, Trump also raised the possibility of Japan and South Korea arming themselves with nuclear weapons, particularly sensitive in Japan -- the only country to ever be attacked by atomic bombs -- but later drew back from the remarks.
"I do have a hope, and also I am convinced, together with you and President Trump we will be able to demonstrate the unwavering alliance between Japan and the United State both to the public inside Japan as well as outside Japan," said Abe, who is set to hold a summit with Trump next week in the US.
- 'Effective and overwhelming' -
Abe has repeatedly argued that Japan bears an appropriate share of the costs of the alliance, which he stresses benefits the US, Japan and the broader region.
A senior South Korean defence ministry official told reporters that defence cost sharing did not come up at Mattis' meeting his South Korean counterpart Han Min-Koo.
Japanese media, meanwhile, reported that Mattis also made no mention of base support costs to Abe.
Mattis' visit comes amid heightened fears over North Korea's nuclear ambitions, a major concern for both South Korea and Japan.
Before leaving Seoul, he sought to warn Pyongyang against violent adventurism.
"Any attack on the United States or our allies will be defeated and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming," Mattis told reporters ahead of a meeting with Han.
North Korea carried out two atomic tests and a series of missile launches last year, and casts a heavy security shadow over the region.
Leader Kim Jong-Un said in his closely watched New Year speech that Pyongyang was in the "final stages" of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, prompting Trump to tweet: "It won't happen!"
On Thursday Mattis and South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn agreed to push through with the deployment of a US missile defence system strongly opposed by China.
The two confirmed that they will go ahead with the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in the South this year as planned.
Beijing fears it will undermine its own ballistic capabilities, weakening its nuclear deterrent. It has repeatedly condemned the move as destabilising regional security, and imposed measures seen as economic retaliation in South Korea.
The Latest: Lawmaker: French faces 'double menace' of terror
PARIS:MMNN:3 Feb. 2017
A French Socialist lawmaker who wrote a report on the fight against terror is warning that France faces a "double menace," coming from both outside the country and from within.
Speaking after a knife-wielding man attacked a patrol of French soldiers near the Louvre Museum, Sebastien Pietrasanta told The Associated Press that "the worse has yet to come."
Pietrasanta said that France is likely to be targeted again, either by well-organized cells sent by the Islamic State group or by lone wolves radicalized in France and capable of launching attacks from one day to the next.
The said in a phone interview that "we are facing a persistent threat and instability will last for at least one generation."
Pietrasanta added that military personnel and police officers are particularly targeted by extremists because they represent the French state.
He said that "this is not something new, it already happened. Fortunately their protection gear has greatly improved."
Staff members are returning to a shopping mall beneath the Louvre Museum and roadblocks have been cleared after a man was shot after trying to attack a soldier guarding the site.
Police said the area around the attempted attack was evacuated following the incident. A French soldier shot the attacker - who shouted "Allahu akbar," or "God is great" - and seriously wounded him.
As the roadblocks were cleared, tourists began streaming out of the Louvre.
Hundreds of tourists had remained inside the museum during the incident, and some were brought into special safe rooms, according to a witness.
Conor Bakhuizen, 18, is in Paris on a school trip. In a Twitter exchange with The Associated Press, he said he "was in the foyer and suddenly rushed into another room in the museum."
He said the mood was "very tense at first but everyone was vigilant and now" everyone is in a good mood.
The attack on a soldier outside the Louvre Museum took place only hours before leaders of Paris' bid for the 2024 Olympics unveil their final candidate files.
French officials have repeatedly dismissed security concerns over the bid despite the wave of attacks that have left more than 200 people dead in the country over the past two years.
The attack will raise more questions before Friday's ceremony near the Eiffel Tower, although bid officials claim the French capital has the experience needed to organize and protect major events if it gets the 2024 Games.
Speaking outside the Louvre, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who will attend the ceremony alongside athletes and other bid leaders, said all big cities in the world are under threat. She said that "there is not a single one escaping that menace."
Paris, which hasn't hosted the Olympics since 1924, is competing against Budapest and Los Angeles. The International Olympic Committee will choose the host city in September.
US puts Iran 'on notice' after missile test, won't elaborate
Washington:MMNN:2 Feb. 2017
The White House issued a cryptic warning Wednesday that the U.S. will act against Iran unless it stops testing ballistic missiles and supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen, but declined to say what retaliatory actions the U.S. would pursue. Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's national security adviser, forcefully denounced Iran's behavior in his first public remarks since Trump took office. He accused Iran of threatening U.S. allies and spreading instability throughout the Middle East while faulting the Obama administration for doing too little to stop the Islamic Republic.
"As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice," Flynn said from the White House podium.
On notice for what, Flynn didn't say. Senior Trump administration officials said they were actively considering a "range of options" including economic measures and increased support for Iran's regional adversaries. The officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, declined repeatedly to say whether military action was being considered.
Later Wednesday, Trump tweeted: "Iran is rapidly taking over more and more of Iraq even after the U.S. has squandered three trillion dollars there. Obvious long ago!"
The warning was an early manifestation of Trump's promise of a tougher American approach to Iran. Yet administration officials emphasized that their allegations were unrelated to Iran's obligations under the Iran nuclear deal that President Barack Obama and world leaders negotiated. Though Flynn noted Trump has criticized that deal, officials declined to say whether Trump planned to follow through on his campaign pledge to renegotiate it.
"The Obama administration failed to respond adequately to Tehran's malign actions _ including weapons transfers, support for terrorism and other violations of international norms," Flynn said.
The White House also faulted Iran for backing Houthi rebels in Yemen who on Tuesday claimed a successful missile strike against a warship belonging to a Saudi-led coalition fighting to reinstall Yemen's internationally recognized government. The media arm of the Shiite rebels said the vessel was believed to belong to the Saudi Arabian navy.
Administration officials said Iran was providing key support by arming, training and financing the rebels, with a goal of leveraging its relationship with the Houthis to "build a long-term presence in Yemen."
The White House said the goal in putting Iran "on notice" was to signal to Tehran that it needed to rethink its behavior. Flynn said Iran specifically violated the U.N.'s ban on "activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology."
Iran's Defense Minister Gen. Hossein Dehghan confirmed Wednesday that Iran conducted a missile test, but did not say when the test was carried out or specify the type of missile.
He insisted it wasn't a violation of U.N. resolutions.
The U.S. said the test was of a medium-range ballistic missile. It ended with a "failed" re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, said a U.S. defense official, who wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Reports of the test emerged after Trump signed an executive order last week temporarily suspending immigration from Iran and six other majority-Muslim countries.
On one point, the U.S. and Iran agree: The test didn't violate the nuclear deal itself.
Ballistic missile testing wasn't explicitly included in the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers. But as part of the final negotiations, Iran agreed to an eight-year extension of a U.N. ban on ballistic missile development. The U.N. Security Council later endorsed the agreement, calling on Iran not to carry out such tests. But Iran has flouted the prohibition regularly in the past year-and-a-half, drawing sanctions from the U.S. but also diplomatic cover from Russia.
At America's request, the U.N. Security Council held a session Tuesday to address the missile test. The council referred the matter to its committee on Iran and asked for an investigation.
Iran has long boasted of having missiles that can travel 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles), putting much of the Middle East, including Israel, in range. Such capability would also put U.S. bases in the region in danger. Iran says its missiles are key to deterring a U.S. or Israeli attack.
In March, Iran test-fired two ballistic missiles. One was emblazoned with the phrase "Israel must be wiped out" in Hebrew, sparking international outcry.
China testsmissile with 10 nuclear warheads
Beijing:MMNN:2 Feb. 2017
China has reportedly tested a new version of a missile that can carry up to 10 nuclear warheads, signalling a major shift in its nuclear capability as Beijing gears up for a possible military showdown with the US under Trump Presidency.
The flight test of the DF-5C missile was carried out last month using 10 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
The test of the inert warheads was monitored closely by US intelligence agencies, said two officials familiar with reports of the missile test.
The Dongfeng-5C missile, carrying 10 dummy warheads, was launched from the Taiyuan Space Launch Centre in Shanxi province, and flew to a desert in western China, the report said.
The missile is a new variant of the DF-5, an intercontinental ballistic missile that first went into service in the early 1980's.
"The [Defence Department] routinely monitors Chinese military developments and accounts for PLA capabilities in our defence plans," Pentagon spokesman Commander Gary Ross was quoted as saying by the report.
For decades, the US has put the estimated number of warheads in China's nuclear arsenal at about 250.
But the report suggested that the latest test with 10 warheads meant the actual number could be larger.
China also began adding warheads to older DF-5 missiles in February last year, according to US intelligence agencies.
US defence officials have previously warned that China's rapid development of long-range ballistic missiles, coupled with a lack of transparency about its nuclear capabilities, could bring uncertainty to stability in the region.
The timing of the test coincided with the election of Donald Trump as US President who signalled a tougher stance against China over a range of issues, from the trade deficit to Beijing's military build-up in the disputed South China Sea.
Chinese military expert from an institute affiliated with the People's Liberation Army, (PLA) said a new test would not have been aimed at Trump.
"The test of a nuclear missile requires permission from the highest level - the Central Military Commission. It takes at least one year for the military to get the approval and to prepare for it," the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted unnamed expert as saying.
"It is not a random decision to be made just because Trump is now in office," the expert said.
Although China had made steady progress in nuclear arms development in recent years, the government had no plans to drastically adjust its nuclear policy, the expert said.
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Also recent commentaries in the official media here said China is stepping up preparedness for a possible military conflict with US after Trump election.
A commentary in the official website of People's Liberation Army's (PLA) said on January 20 the day Trump assumed Presidency that the chances of war have become "more real" amid a more complex security situation in Asia Pacific.
The commentary written by an official at the national defence mobilisation department in the Central Military Commission, China's overall military high command said the call for a US rebalancing of its strategy in Asia, military deployments in the East and South China Seas and the instillation of a missile defence system in South Korea were hot spots getting closer to ignition.
"A war within the President's term or war breaking out tonight are not just slogans, they are becoming a practical reality," the commentary said.
Recent images purporting to show China's Dongfeng-41 missile have surfaced on Chinese websites with reports suggesting that Beijing has deployed them in Heilongjiang province, which borders Russia.
The missile, with a range of 14,000 km and a payload of 10-12 nuclear warheads, is considered one of the military's most powerful.
Global Times, a state-run tabloid in a recent commentary said the deployment of the DF-41 was a "strategic deterrence tool" and Beijing would "ready itself for pressures imposed by the new US government".
Israeli forces begin evacuation of West Bank outpost
MMNN:1 Feb. 2017
Israeli forces began an operation to evacuate settlers from a West Bank outpost on Wednesday whose slated destruction could rupture Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's narrow coalition, dominated by ultranationalists who support settlements.
Unarmed police in blue sweatshirts and black baseball caps made their way up the hill around midday Wednesday. On the hilltop, youngsters erected makeshift barricades from smashed tiles, rusty metal bars and large rocks to slow their advance. Some protesters threw rocks at security forces, while others set fire to tires and trash piles.
Activists gathered in homes, praying, singing religious songs and dancing. Residents have said they plan to resist their evacuation peacefully. Some chained themselves to heavy objects and locked their doors.
A few residents left their homes with young children in the arms.
Bilha Schwarts, 24, came along with her husband and nine-month-old daughter to support the residents. "If they want it they can take it, we will not fight. We will leave but we will come back," she told The Associated Press.
Shortly after noon, bulldozers began making their way up the hill, one of them clearing a path.
Several activists crawled under a house and chained themselves to its foundations. One of them, Mordechai, told Channel 2 TV they won't act violently toward police but "we will hold on to the ground and not give up because this is our land that God promised to the people of Israel."
Others pleaded with officers to refuse their orders.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said that as part of "the dialogue" with residents ahead of the evacuation, one of the families handed over to officers a bag of stun grenades and other munitions of that caliber. She called on residents and settler leaders to exercise restraint.
Amona is the largest of about 100 unauthorized outposts erected in the West Bank without permission but generally tolerated by the Israeli government. Israel's Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that Amona was built on private Palestinian land and must be demolished. It has set Feb. 8 as the final date for it to be destroyed.
The outpost, built in the 1990s, stretches out over a rugged, grassy hilltop and looks out across the valley onto Palestinian villages. In 2006, also on Feb. 1, Israeli police demolished nine homes at Amona, setting off violent clashes pitting settlers and their supporters against police and soldiers. Several dozen trailers have remained and the outpost has become a symbol for the settlement movement.
About 50 families, some 250 people, live in Amona now. In recent weeks dozens of mostly young supporters, including high school students, have arrived to face off against Israeli forces.
"This is a dark day for us, for Zionism, for the state and for the great vision of the Jewish people returning to its homeland," Avichay Buaron, a spokesman for Amona, told Channel 2 TV.
The fate of Amona has threatened to destabilize Netanyahu's narrow coalition that includes the pro-settler party Jewish Home and other hardliners. However, it's unlikely that Amona's demise would be sufficient to topple the government as the nationalist parties have too much to lose by leaving Netanyahu's government at this stage.
Speaking at Israel's parliament as the evacuation was in process, Education Minister Naftali Bennett - leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home Party - called the Amona settlers "heroes" and vowed to "build a new settlement."
Bennet said he is confident a bill that will pass next week that would legalize scores of other Israeli settlement outposts.
Netanyahu has struggled to find a balance between appeasing his settler constituents and respecting Israel's Supreme Court, which has drawn the ire of hard-liners by ruling against the settlers.
Bezalel Smotrich, a lawmaker from the Jewish Home party, was one of several politicians who went to Amona to show support. "There is a great pain, a huge disappointment. They are uprooting a community in Israel. It is a terrible thing," he told Channel 2 TV.
While readying to evacuate Amona, Israel announced plans to build 3,000 homes in the West Bank late Tuesday. The Palestinians claim the territory along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as parts of a future independent state - a position that has wide international backing.
The election of Donald Trump, who has promised to be far more supportive of Israel than his predecessor, has emboldened Israel's settlement movement. His campaign platform made no mention of a Palestinian state, a cornerstone of two decades of international diplomacy in the region, and he has signaled that he will be far more tolerant of Israeli settlement construction.
Australian PM Says Not Sure How Many Refugees US Will Accept
MMNN:1 Feb. 2017
Australia's prime minister on Wednesday would not say how many refugees from Pacific island camps would be resettled in the United States after President Donald Trump's administration said "extreme vetting" would be used to check their cases.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that Trump had agreed during a weekend telephone conversation to keep an Obama administration promise to resettle an undisclosed number of mostly Muslim refugees. Australia has refused to accept them and instead pays for them to be housed on the impoverished nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters that the refugees would undergo enhanced screening designed to reduce the terrorist threat to the United States.
"There will be extreme vetting applied to all of them," Spicer said.
Questioned about Spicer's comments on Wednesday, Turnbull would not say how many refugees the United States could end up accepting.
"We don't cut corners or compromise on keeping Australians safe and the U.S. government has exactly the same attitude," Turnbull told reporters.
"They will do their own extremely rigorous vetting of people that are the subject, or potentially the subject of the agreement," he said.
More than 1,200 asylum seekers are held on Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Almost 400 who came to Australia for medical treatment and then refused to return to the islands are also eligible for resettlement to the United States. Many are from the seven Muslim-majority countries from which Trump has suspended immigration for three months.
The U.S. deal could solve a major political headache for Turnbull's government that is under mounting criticism over the plight of desperate asylum seekers, some who have been on the islands for more than three years.
Australia has all but stopped refugee boat arrivals by refusing to allow any to stay. But Iran won't take back its citizens unless they return voluntarily and most refugees have refused Australia's offer to resettle permanently in Cambodia or Papua New Guinea.
The United States is an attractive option for most asylum seekers who would otherwise prefer to languish in island camps in the hope that Australia will eventually relent and take them in.