Rahul attacks Modi govt on sluggish job creation, says GST implementation leaves much to be desired
MMNN:20 September 2017
Expressing concern over the sluggish job creation under the NDA government, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi today warned that the government’s refusal to acknowledge unemployment as an issue would cause the people’s anger to spill over into non-democratic and more conflictual channels of grievance redressal.
Addressing students at the Woodrow Wilson School Centre for Security Studies At Princeton University, Mr Gandhi, while praising adoption of GST by the government, said its implementation left much to be desired. Addressing the students, Mr Gandhi charged BJP government with polarising society and instigating identity conflict in order to blame unemployment on minorities, tribals and socially and economically backward communities.
Mr Gandhi said reversing job destruction was a key focus of the Congress Party as he saw underemployment as a force multiplier of insecurity and social evils like substance abuse. He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi ‘s New India’s economic track record was alienating 29,550 young jobseekers everyday who were unable to find their niche in the job market due to sluggish job creation.
Mr Gandhi also focussed on attention to the conflicts arising from the mismatch between skills held by economic migrants and those required by the job market, which he said alienated youth relocating to urban environments from traditionally closely knit and embedded rural communities.
He said that only after people have jobs, can they be conscripted into the next ground-breaking national vision. In his address to the students, Mr Gandhi drove home the importance of employment as an all-encompassing means to empower, enfranchise and involve Indians in the nation building process.
While praising the Modi government’s adoption of the GST and the intention of ‘Make In India’ to capture a larger share for India in world trade, Mr Gandhi, however, said that their implementation leaves much to be desired as it does not mainstream the needs of India’s Medium and Small Enterprises, which the Congress vice president saw as the engine of employment and innovation in India.
Mr Gandhi urged the government to pick up the pace on furthering gender equality and to be mindful of its big corporate-centric approach widening inequality and paralysing job creation.
No Fear Of 'International Scrutiny' Over Rohingya Crisis: Aung San Suu Kyi.
MMNN:19 September 2017
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi today reached out to the global community in a broad appeal for support over a refugee crisis the UN has decried as "ethnic cleansing", urging outsiders to help her nation unite across religious and ethnic lines and offering a pathway back to the country for some of the Rohingya Muslims forced to flee by army operations.
Communal violence has torn through Rakhine state since August 25, leaving hundreds dead and driving more than 410,000 of the Rohingya minority from Myanmar into Bangladesh.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, has been decried for failing to speak up publicly for the stateless Rohingya or urge restraint from the military.
But in 30-minute televised speech Tuesday she reached out to her critics, deploying the soaring rhetoric that once made her a darling of the global rights community.
"Hate and fear are the main scourges of our world," she said.
We don't want Myanmar to be a nation divided by religious beliefs or ethnicity... we all have the right to our diverse identities."
While expressing her sorrow for "all" groups displaced by violence, she said her country stood ready "at any time" to take back refugees subject to a "verification" process.
It was not immediately clear how many of the estimated 410,000 Rohingya who have fled Myanmar would qualify to return.
But the subject of their claims to live Myanmar is at the heart of a toxic debate about the Muslim group.
Myanmar's army has previously it will not take back people linked with "terrorists" -- suggesting many came from the hundreds of Rohingya villages that have subsequently been burnt to the ground.
Inside Myanmar, supporters say the 72-year-old lacks the power to rein in the army, with whom she is in a delicate power-sharing arrangement.
The UN has accused Myanmar's army of "ethnic cleansing" over a campaign of alleged murder and arson that has left scores of Rohingya villages in ashes.
The army denies that, insisting its operations are a proportional response to the late August raids by Rohingya militants, who they label "extremist Bengali terrorists
Since then just under half of Rakhine's Rohingya population has poured into Bangladesh, where they now languish in one of the world's largest refugee camps.
A further 30,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have also been displaced -- apparent targets of the August 25 attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militant group.
Suu Kyi skipped this week's UN General Assembly in New York to manage the crisis at home and deliver her televised address -- the biggest yet of her time in office.
Analysts say Suu Kyi must walk a treacherous line between global opinion and Islamophobic anti-Rohingya views at home, where the military has curdled hatred for the Muslim minority.
While stories of weary and hungry Rohingya civilians streaming into Bangladesh have dominated global headlines, there is little sympathy for the Muslim group among Myanmar's Buddhist majority.
Many reject the existence of a Rohingya ethnicity and insist they are "Bengalis" -- illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
That narrative has justified the denial of citizenship for the estimated one million Rohingya who lived in Rakhine before the recent crisis.
Loathing for the Rohingya has brought the public, including prominent pro-democracy activists, into an unlikely alignment with an army that once had them under its heel.
A siege mentality has emerged in Myanmar with the UN, international NGOs and foreign media the focus of ire for apparent pro-Rohingya bias.
Many Facebook users changed their profile picture on Tuesday to carry a banner with a photo of 'The Lady' and saying "We stand with you Daw Aung San Suu Kyi" -- using an honorific.
Tensions over the status of the Rohingya have been brewing for years in Myanmar, with bouts of anti-Muslim violence erupting around the country as Buddhist hardliners fan fears of an Islamic takeover.
Although the military stepped down from outright junta rule in 2011, it kept control of security policy and key levers of government.
Any overt break from the army's policy in Rakhine could enrage the generals and derail Suu Kyi's efforts to prevent a rollback on recent democratic gains.
Observers say the military may be deliberately destabilising her government with one eye on 2020 elections.
Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has emerged during the crisis as an unexpectedly popular figure, pitching himself as a defender Myanmar's territorial integrity and the Buddhist faith.
Pakistan Prepares Tough Diplomatic Policy For US After Donald Trump's Warning: Report.
MMNN:18 September 2017
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is ready with a tough diplomatic policy if the US imposes any sanctions on it or lowers Islamabad's major non-NATO ally status over failure to crack down on terrorists, according to a media report.
Pakistan's new strategy comes after US President Donald Trump, while unveiling his new policy for South Asia and Afghanistan, criticised Pakistan for providing safe havens to terrorists.
A day after Trump's announcement, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that US could downgrade Islamabad's status as a major non-NATO ally if it does not crack down on terrorists.
The Express Tribune reported that the Pakistan government has prepared a three-option 'toughest diplomatic policy'. According to official sources, the policy includes gradually limiting diplomatic relations with the US, reducing mutual cooperation on terrorism-related issues and non- cooperation in US strategy for Afghanistan.
"The last option may include a ban on using Pakistani land for NATO supplies to Afghanistan," according to the newspaper.
However, the policy will be implemented after the approval of the National Security Committee. Meanwhile, the US and Pakistan are expected to sort out their differences during the meetings between their leaders on the sidelines of UN General Assembly session starting tomorrow.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is expected to meet US Vice President Mike Pence while the foreign ministers of the two countries are also expected to meet.
Amnesty says Myanmar military torching Rohingya villages.
MMNN:15 September 2017
Pressure on Myanmar soared as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the violence against Rohingya Muslims “unacceptable” and rights group Amnesty said on Friday it has evidence of the military’s “systematic” torching of villages.
The increasingly harsh global condemnation comes as the number of Rohingya who have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state for Bangladesh to escape ethnic unrest hit 389,000, and the United Nations warned of a looming “worst case scenario” with all of the Muslim minority group trying to leave.
The number of refugees was up 10,000 in just 24 hours, as the three-week old crisis deepens.
“We need to support Aung San Suu Kyi and her leadership but also be very clear and unequivocal to the military power sharing in that government that this is unacceptable,” Tillerson said Thursday of Myanmar’s first civilian leader in decades.
“This violence must stop. This persecution must stop. It has been characterised by many as ethnic cleansing. That must stop,” he said during a visit to London, speaking alongside British counterpart Boris Johnson.
Johnson also called on Myanmar’s de facto leader to use her “moral capital” to highlight the plight of the Rohingyas.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate and long-time human rights champion, has been condemned for a lack of moral leadership and compassion in resolving the crisis
She has no control over the powerful military, which ran the country for 50 years.
UN chief Antonio Guterres on Wednesday said the mass displacement of Rohingya amounted to ethnic cleansing.
Amnesty International released fresh satellite images Friday of burned villages in Rakhine state, alleging Myanmar’s security forces have led “systematic” clearances of Rohingya Muslim settlements over the last three weeks.
At least 26 villages had been hit by arson attacks in the Rohingya-majority region, the rights group said, with patches of grey ash picked up in photos marking the spots where homes had once stood.
Backing up the pictures, Amnesty said fire sensors also deployed on satellites had detected 80 large-scale blazes across northern Rakhine state since August 25, when the army launched “clearance operations”.
“Rakhine state is on fire,” said Olof Blomqvist, a researcher with Amnesty International, in a “clear campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Myanmar security forces”.
The group quoted Rohingya witnesses who described security officers and vigilantes using petrol or shoulder-fired rocket launchers to set homes alight, before firing on villagers as they fled.
“It’s very difficult to conclude that it is anything other than a deliberate effort by the Myanmar military to drive Rohingya out of their own country by any means necessary,” Blomqvist added.
- ‘Worst case scenario’ -
Relief workers are struggling to contain the humanitarian disaster unfolding around the Bangladesh border town of Cox’s Bazar with 10,000-20,000 people crossing over each day -- far more than the UN and other agencies had expected.
“We have to estimate the worst case scenario” where all Rohingya flee Rakhine, said Mohammed Abdiker Mohamud, a director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN’s migration agency.
“We cannot just put our heads in sand (and) say that everything will be OK,” he added.
“Unless a political solution is found there is a possibility that the entire Rohingya community may come to Bangladesh.”
There were previously an estimated 1.1 million Rohingya in Rakhine state, who have endured decades of persecution in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar.
At least 300,000 had fled to Bangladesh before the latest crackdown started on August 25, following attacks by Rohingya militants on police targets.
The exodus since has taken the overall figure of those who have quit Myanmar to at least 700,000.
Even before arriving to safety in Bangladesh, refugees who have trekked through jungles for days to reach the border are being targeted by profiteering boat operators who have hiked prices 200 times to cross the river separating Myanmar and Bangladesh.
An AFP correspondent at the Naf river said boat owners were charging refugees up to $100 for a 10-30 minute trip that would normally cost less than 50 cents.
“The boatmen threatened to throw us into the sea if we refused to give them our valuables,” said Nadera Banu, 19, who got married only last year but is already a widow.
“I gave up the final memento of my husband, a gold locket given on my wedding day, to escape.”
Bangladeshi magistrates operating mobile courts in Cox’s Bazar and nearby districts have now started sentencing boat owners and local villagers to terms of up to six months in prison, officials said Thursday.
Once in Bangladesh, refugees -- with UNICEF saying 60 percent of new arrivals are children -- are faced with desperate conditions in already overstretched camps around Cox’s Bazar. UN agencies have warned the country is struggling to cope.
“There are acute shortages of everything, most critically shelter, food and clean water,” UNICEF’s representative in Bangladesh Edouard Beigbeder said in a statement.
“Conditions on the ground place children at risk of high risk of water-borne disease. We have a monumental task ahead of us to protect these extremely vulnerable children.”
ISIS Is Near Defeat In Iraq. Now Comes The Hard Part.
MMNN:14 September 2017
MOSUL, REUTERS: The collapse of the Islamic State in its most important Iraqi strongholds has brought a rare moment of hope for a country mired in war for most of the past four decades.
It is also a moment of peril, as Iraq emerges from the fight against the militants only to be confronted with the same problems that fueled their spectacular rise in 2014.
Old disputes between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds over territory, resources and power already are resurfacing as the victors of the battles compete to control liberated areas or jostle for political advantage in the post-Islamic State landscape.
These rivalries now are compounded by the mammoth task of rebuilding the towns and cities destroyed by the fighting, returning millions of displaced people to their homes and reconciling the communities that once welcomed the Islamic State's brutal rule as preferable to their own government's neglect and abuse.
A failure to manage the post-conflict situation risks a repeat of the cycle of grievance and insurgency that fueled the original Iraqi insurgency in 2003, and its reincarnation in the form of the Islamic State after 2011, Iraqis and other observers say.
But it is a vast and potentially insurmountable challenge, laid bare in the traumatized communities of Mosul. In the relatively unscathed eastern part of the city, life has bounced back. Traffic clogs the streets, music blares from markets and stores are piled high with consumer goods, such as cellphones, air conditioners and satellite dishes, that were banned or hard to find under Islamic State rule.
In the ravaged west, which bore the brunt of the fighting, entire neighborhoods have been leveled beyond repair. In the Old City alone, 230,000 people have been left without habitation, and "they are not going home soon; the whole district has to be rebuilt," said Lise Grande, the deputy special representative of the United Nations mission in Iraq.
So far, there is no sign of any reconstruction effort on the scale that will be required, said Hoshyar Zebari, a former Iraqi former foreign minister who is from Mosul and now works as an adviser with the Kurdish regional government.
"All the writing is on the wall that there will be another ISIS," he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. "The scale of frustration. The lack of hope. The lack of government stepping in. What can you expect?"
Meanwhile, distractions loom as Iraq's attention shifts to the long-standing political rivalries that were put on hold by the imperative of confronting the Islamic State.
The Kurdish region is pressing ahead with a referendum on independence - over the strenuous objections of Iran, Turkey and the United States - that has the potential to ignite a new war before the present one is over. The vote is reopening the contentious question of where the borders of the Kurdistan region lie, and tensions are rising in areas where the Kurdish peshmerga forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias have been brought face-to-face by the war against the Islamic State.
Rifts are emerging within Iraq's governing Shiite majority, which rallied behind the country's security forces and militias - known as al-Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces - for the sake of fighting ISIS. There are sharp divergences, however, over the future identity of their country, over whether it should tilt further toward Iran or maintain an alliance with the United States, and over how far to go to reconcile minority Sunnis with the Shiites.
These issues are expected to come to the fore in elections due in the spring of 2018 that could become a focus for conflict as the political parties behind the powerful Iranian-backed militias that played a big role in the fighting seek to capitalize on their victories on the battlefield by winning a bigger share in parliament.
The country's Sunnis are in disarray, scattered among refugee camps or returning to wrecked homes in towns and cities that have been laid waste. Some 2 million of the 5 million people displaced by the fighting over the past three years have returned home. But 3.2 million still live as refugees, mainly in dismal camps, according to the United Nations. Many have no homes to which they can return, and others fear retribution from neighbors or the security forces, Grande said.
In Mosul, there is relief that the militants have gone but also trepidation about what the future holds. Multiple militias roam the streets, loyal to a variety of political masters, government ministers, tribal leaders and members of parliament. The government security forces are spread thin, and some have been withdrawn and deployed elsewhere for the other battles still to be fought before the final territorial defeat of the militants.
Some of the armed men in Mosul are local Sunnis, trained as part of a U.S.-promoted initiative to include locals in the city's future security arrangements. Others are members of the Iranian-backed Shiite militias that were kept out of the battle for fear they would inflame sectarian tensions, but which have moved in to set up offices and recruit local allies.
The militias are needed because there are not enough police and other security-forces personnel to keep the city safe, said Mohammed al-Sayyab, a businessman originally from the majority-Shiite city of Basra who heads a small Sunni fighting force controlled by the minister of education. "We cannot say it is 100 percent safe. It is 70 percent safe," he said. "There are still ISIS sleeper cells. We are working to clear them, but we are up against a very clever enemy."
Few think the Islamic State has gone away. Everyone, it seems, has a story about someone they know who was with the Islamic State and has reappeared in their neighborhoods, sometimes after being detained and released. Corruption within the security forces and judiciary contributes to the perception that Islamic State fighters have bought their way out of prison.
Omran Mohammed Bashir, 32, who runs a laundry in eastern Mosul, ticked off on his fingers the formerIslamic State members he has seen around his area and elsewhere in the city. Among them are a relative who has not been detained, even though her father reported her to the security services, and a man who commanded the fighters in Bashir's neighborhood; Bashir ran into the man while visiting a different part of Mosul.
"I don't think there will be any support for another insurgency. The people of Mosul have learned a lesson," he said. "But it's unpredictable what will happen, especially if the situation continues like this, with no reconstruction and corruption inside the government."
But Iraq has no budget for reconstruction, government officials say. Years of declining oil prices and the financial demands of the war against the Islamic State have left the country bankrupt, forced last year to take a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
The absence of a discernible reconstruction plan in turn fuels perceptions among Sunnis that the Shiite-led government is neglecting them, said Hassan Alaf, the deputy governor of Nineveh, the province in which Mosul lies.
"It seems some of the politicians are not keen to bring life back to Mosul," he said. "We still suffer from sectarian conflict and its implications are reflected in the reconstruction."
It will be left to the international community to come up with the money to repair the damage, much of it caused by the relentless airstrikes and artillery bombardments conducted under the auspices of the U.S.-led coalition formed to fight the Islamic State, according to Grande, the U.N. representative. The United Nations is planning a fundraising conference in Kuwait this month at which it will seek up to $100 billion in donations for Iraqi reconstruction.
But the countries that so enthusiastically prosecuted the war are proving less willing to pay to fix the resulting damage, U.N. and aid agency officials say. The U.S. military has spent $14.3 billion on fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria over the past three years, according to Pentagon figures, but just 10 percent of that - or $1.4 billion - on repairs.
The State Department has asked for $300 million to fund basic repairs such as fixing electricity and water systems in 2018, but the United States does not plan to contribute to the reconstruction effort. The military coalition led by the United States against the Islamic State "is not in the business of nation-building or reconstruction," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said earlier this year.
One glimmer of hope lies in a recent rapprochement between the Iraqi government and Saudi Arabia, which have been icily estranged since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion brought a Shiite-dominated government to power in Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has visited the kingdom, and so has the Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has broken ranks with Iran's Shiite allies in Iraq to champion calls for reconciliation with Sunnis.
U.S. and U.N. officials are hoping that the wealthy Arab states of the Persian Gulf will offer to provide much of the funding. But they are embroiled in their own conflicts, disputes and budget shortfalls, and may not have the will or inclination to come up with the many billions of dollars required.
North Korea Vows To Boost Weapons Programmes After Sanctions
MMNN:13 September 2017
SEOUL: North Korea vowed Wednesday to accelerate its weapons programmes in response to "evil" sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council following its latest and most powerful nuclear test.
The respected 38 North website in the US raised its estimate for the yield from the explosion, which Pyongyang says was a hydrogen bomb small enough to fit onto a missile, to around 250 kilotons -- more than 16 times the size of the device that devastated Hiroshima in 1945.
The detonation, Pyongyang's sixth nuclear blast, prompted global condemnation and came after it carried out two intercontinental ballistic missile launches in July that appeared to bring much of the US into range.
The UN Security Council unanimously imposed an eighth set of sanctions on North Korea on Monday, banning it from trading in textiles and restricting its oil imports, which US President Donald Trump said was a prelude to stronger measures.
The resolution, passed after Washington toned down its original proposals to secure backing from China and Russia, came just one month after the council banned exports of coal, lead and seafood in response to the ICBM launch.
The North's foreign ministry condemned the new measures "in the strongest terms", calling them a "full-scale economic blockade" driven by the US and aimed at "suffocating" its state and people.
It was "another illegal and evil 'resolution on sanctions' piloted by the US", it said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
"The DPRK will redouble the efforts to increase its strength to safeguard the country's sovereignty and right to existence," the ministry said, using the abbreviation for the North's official name.
But the South's unification ministry described the statement as "the most low-key form of response from North Korea to UN Security Council resolutions".
Seoul conducted its first live-fire exercise of its new long-range Taurus missile in response to the nuclear test, its Air Force said.
The German air-to-surface weapon was capable of precision strikes on key North Korean facilities even if launched from the central part of the South, it added.
The US and its allies argue that tougher sanctions will pile pressure on North Korea to negotiate an end to its weapons programmes but experts are sceptical.
US President Donald Trump said the latest measures were a "very small step - not a big deal" that must lead to tougher measures.
"Those sanctions are nothing compared to ultimately what will happen," Trump said, but added that it was "nice to get a 15 to nothing vote".
- Radioactive gas -
The North says it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself from "hostile" US forces and analysts believe Pyongyang's weapons programme has made rapid progress under leader Kim Jong-Un, with previous sanctions having done little to deter it.
Government estimates of the yield from its sixth nuclear test vary from South Korea's 50 kilotons to Japan's 160, but 38 North, which is linked to Johns Hopkins University in the US, raised its estimate to "roughly 250 kilotons", in line with upward revisions for the magnitude of the resulting tremor.
South Korea's Nuclear Safety and Security Commission said Wednesday it had collected a small amount of xenon-133 -- a radioactive isotope of the inert gas that does not occur naturally -- that was "linked to the latest nuclear test".
But the commission said in a statement it was "unable to confirm what type of nuclear test was conducted".
Washington had initially sought a full oil embargo and a freeze on the foreign assets of leader Kim Jong-Un in response to the blast, but dropped them following strong opposition from China and Russia.
The new resolution instead bans trade in textiles, cuts off natural gas shipments to North Korea, places a ceiling of 2 million barrels a year on deliveries of refined oil products and caps crude oil shipments at current levels.
Retail petrol prices in the North jumped earlier this year, with some analysts suggesting the authorities were stockpiling in the expectation of a ban.
According to the US mission to the United Nations, the North imports around 8.5 million barrels a year of oil and oil products, 4 million as crude and 4.5 million in refined form -- which includes substances such as petrol and diesel.
It added that the North's textile exports averaged $760 million a year.
The UN resolution also barred countries from issuing new authorisations to North Korean workers sent abroad. There are almost 100,000 of them, according to the US mission, earning more than $500 million a year for the regime.
Under the measure, joint ventures with North Korean entities are prohibited, while governments are authorised to inspect ships suspected of carrying banned cargo from the country, but must first seek the consent of the vessels' flag state.
Chinese Banks Halt Transactions For North Koreans
MMNN:12 September 2017
BEIJING: Branches of China's biggest banks have suspended financial transactions for North Koreans, employees told AFP, suggesting that Beijing has pursued stronger measures against its nuclear-armed ally than previously thought.
Staff at branches in Beijing and the border city of Yanji -- a major trade and transportation hub between the two neighbours -- said their banks have banned North Koreans from opening new accounts and some have even started to close existing ones.
The restrictions were imposed well before the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved, with China's blessing, new sanctions on Pyongyang on Monday following its latest and largest nuclear test.
Employees at several branches of the country's "big four" -- Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Agricultural Bank of China, Bank of China and China Construction Bank -- confirmed the financial curbs for North Korean clients.
"We have frozen their accounts, which means they cannot withdraw (money)," a staff member at a Yanji branch of China Construction Bank told AFP.
"They cannot use (their accounts) in Yanji anymore, as well as our services... We have already started to inform them to cancel their account. If they can cancel, we let them cancel. If they cannot, we will not let them use it," the staffer said.
An employee at the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China in Yanji said the restrictions began last year or the previous year.
"We also won't open new accounts now. We offer no service to them. Opening accounts or foreign currency operations, we don't offer such services to them," the employee said.
Other local bank branches said the bans have been carried out for a while, but they did not remember exactly when.
Some said they have received a written document on the ban but others said there has only been a "verbally delivered" message.
A staff member at a Beijing branch of China Construction Bank said they received a notice in May, and North Koreans can no longer conduct transactions.
An Agricultural Bank of China employee in Beijing said North Koreans are barred from opening new accounts but those with current accounts can carry out transactions.
Cut off nuclear funds
Zhang Liangui, a professor at the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee school, said the ban is "very normal" and in accordance with UN resolutions.
"Chinese banks restricting financial flows between (China and) North Korea is actually restricting trade on the whole," Zhang said.
"It mainly aims at limiting North Korea's foreign exchange revenue and cutting off the foreign exchange (supply) that it needs to develop its nuclear plans."
A 2013 UN Security Council resolution stipulates that member states must curb financial services or transactions that could subsidise North Korea's nuclear programmes.
China has long been accused of lax enforcement of UN sanctions on North Korea, and US President Donald Trump complained earlier this year that trade between the two countries surged in the first quarter.
In June, the United States slapped sanctions on the Bank of Dandong, a Chinese bank located at the border with North Korea which it accused of "facilitating millions of dollars of transactions for companies involved in North Korea's WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and ballistic missile programs."
But China has insisted that it adheres to the UN sanctions. It suspended North Korean coal imports in February and more recently banned new business ventures and stopped buying iron, seafood and lead from its neighbour.
China also backed Monday's UN resolution, which bans textile exports and restricts shipments of oil products, though it did so only after Washington toned down its original proposal to secure the backing of Beijing and Moscow.
Bad News Is This Is Some Big Monster': Donald Trump On Hurricane Irma
MMNN:11 September 2017
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump called Hurricane Irma "some big monster" as it battered the Florida coast, saying he wanted to go to the state very soon and praising emergency officials for their efforts to protect people.
"The bad news is that this is some big monster," Trump told reporters at the White House, saying damage from the storm would be very costly.
"Right now, we are worried about lives, not cost," Trump said after returning from Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland where he monitored the storm and met with his Cabinet.
The path of the storm, tracking the west coast of Florida, meant it might be less destructive than it would otherwise have been, Trump said, noting the next five or six hours would be critical.
"I hope there aren't too many people in the path," he said. "You don't want to be in that path."
The U.S. House of Representatives canceled votes scheduled for Monday because of the hurricane.
Trump said the U.S. Coast Guard had been heroic and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was doing a good job to help coordinate the response with states. He added, however: "I think the hard part is now beginning."
Trump has offered the full resources of the federal government to Florida and the affected states, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters during a visit to FEMA's Washington headquarters on Sunday.
"Wherever Hurricane Irma goes, we'll be there first," Pence said. "We'll be there with resources and support, both to save lives and to help to recover and rebuild these states and these communities."
On Sunday, Trump also issued a disaster declaration for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, and expanded federal funds available to the U.S. Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Irma, the White House said.
Trump owns a resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where he has often traveled during his presidency, as well as three golf courses in the state.
He told reporters he hoped to travel to the state soon.
"We're going to Florida very soon," Trump said.
Death toll in Mexico earthquake rises to 61 as search for victims continues
MMNN:9 September 2017
The quake that hit minutes before midnight onThursday was strong enough to cause buildings to sway violently in the capital city more than 1,000 kilometers away.
One of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in Mexico struck off the country’s southern coast, toppling hundreds of buildings and sending panicked people fleeing into the streets in the middle of the night. At least 61 people were reported dead.
The quake that hit minutes before midnight on Thursday was strong enough to cause buildings to sway violently in the capital city more than 650 miles (1,000 kilometers) away. As beds banged against walls, people still wearing pajamas ran out of their homes and gathered in frightened groups.
Rodrigo Soberanes, who lives near San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, the state nearest the epicenter, said his house “moved like chewing gum.”
The furious shaking created a second national emergency for Mexican agencies already bracing for Hurricane Katia on the other side of the country. Intense rains were reported in the Gulf state of Veracruz, where the storm was expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday as a Category 2 storm that could bring life-threatening floods.
President Enrique Pena Nieto said Friday evening in a televised address that 61 people were killed — 45 in Oaxaca state, 12 in Chiapas and 4 in Tabasco — and he declared three days of national mourning.
The worst-hit city was Juchitan, on the narrow waist of Oaxaca known as the Isthmus, where 36 quake victims died.
About half of Juchitan’s city hall collapsed in a pile of rubble and streets were littered with the debris of ruined houses. A hospital also collapsed, Pena Nieto said after touring the city and meeting with residents. The patients were relocated to other facilities.
The president said authorities were working to re-establish the supply of water and food and provide medical attention to those who need it. He vowed the government would help people rebuild and called for people to come together.
“The power of this earthquake was devastating, but we are certain that the power of unity, the power of solidarity and the power of shared responsibility will be greater,” Pena Nieto said.
Mexico City escaped major damage, but the quake terrified sleeping residents, many of whom still remember the catastrophic 1985 earthquake that killed thousands and devastated large parts of the city.
Families were jerked awake by the grating howl of the capital’s seismic alarm. Some shouted as they dashed out of rocking apartment buildings. Even the iconic Angel of Independence Monument swayed as the quake’s waves rolled through the city’s soft soil.
Part of a bridge on a highway being built to the site of Mexico City’s planned new international airport collapsed due to the earthquake, local media reported.
Elsewhere, the extent of destruction was still emerging. Hundreds of buildings collapsed or were damaged, power was cut at least briefly to more than 1.8 million people and authorities closed schools Friday in at least 11 states to check them for safety.
The Interior Department reported that 428 homes were destroyed and 1,700 were damaged in various cities and towns in Chiapas.
“Homes made of clay tiles and wood collapsed,” said Nataniel Hernandez, a human rights worker living in Tonala, Chiapas, who warned that inclement weather threatened to bring more down.
“Right now it is raining very hard in Tonala, and with the rains it gets much more complicated because the homes were left very weak, with cracks,” Hernandez said by phone.
The earthquake’s impact was blunted somewhat by the fact that it was centered 100 miles offshore. It hit off Chiapas’ Pacific coast, near the Guatemalan border, with a magnitude of 8.1 — equal to Mexico’s strongest quake of the past century. It was slightly stronger than the 1985 quake, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The epicenter was in a seismic hotspot in the Pacific where one tectonic plate dives under another. These subduction zones are responsible for producing some of the biggest quakes in history, including the 2011 Fukushima disaster and the 2004 Sumatra quake that spawned a deadly tsunami.
The quake struck at 11:49 p.m. Thursday (12:49 a.m. EDT; 4:49 a.m. GMT Friday). Its epicenter was 102 miles (165 kilometers) west of Tapachula in Chiapas, with a depth of 43.3 miles (69.7 kilometers), the USGS said.
Dozens of strong aftershocks rattled the region in the following hours.
Three people were killed in San Cristobal, including two women who died when a house and a wall collapsed, Chiapas Gov. Manuel Velasco said.
“There is damage to hospitals that have lost energy,” he said. “Homes, schools and hospitals have been damaged.”
In Tabasco, one child died when a wall collapsed, and an infant died in a children’s hospital when the facility lost electricity, cutting off the ventilator, Gov. Arturo Nunez said.
The quake triggered tsunami warnings and some tall waves, but there was no major damage from the sea. Authorities briefly evacuated a few residents of coastal Tonala and Puerto Madero because of the warning.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported waves of 3.3 feet (1 meter) above the tide level off Salina Cruz, Mexico. Smaller tsunami waves were observed on the coast or measured by ocean gauges elsewhere.
In neighboring Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales appeared on national television to call for calm while emergency crews surveyed damage. Officials later said only four people had been injured and several dozen homes damaged.
The quake occurred near the point of collision between three tectonic plates, the Cocos, the Caribbean and the North American.
The area has seen at least six other quakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater since 1900. Three of those occurred within a nerve-wracking nine-month span in 1902-1903, according to Mexico’s National Seismological Service.
Scientists were still reviewing data, but a preliminary analysis indicated the quake was triggered by the sudden breaking or bending of the Cocos plate, which dives beneath Mexico. That type of process does not happen often in subduction zones. Usually, big quakes in subduction zones occur along the boundary between the sinking slab and the overriding crust.
“It’s unusual, but it’s not unheard of,” said seismologist Susan Hough of the USGS, describing how stresses on the seafloor can produce big earthquakes.
The new quake matched the force of a magnitude 8.1 quake that hit the country June 3, 1932, roughly 300 miles (500 kilometers) west of Mexico City.
A study by the seismological service concluded that that quake killed about 400 people and caused severe damage around the port of Manzanillo. A powerful aftershock that hit 19 days later caused a tsunami that devastated 15 miles (25 kilometers) of coastline, killing 75 people.
In Veracruz, tourists abandoned coastal hotels as winds and rains picked up ahead of Hurricane Katia’s expected landfall. Workers set up emergency shelters and cleared storm drains, and forecasters warned that the storm threatened to bring torrential rainfall, high winds and a dangerous storm surge off the Gulf of Mexico.
Katia had maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
“The arrival of (hashtag)Katia may be particularly dangerous for slopes affected by the earthquake. Avoid these areas,” Pena Nieto tweeted.
US Asks Pak Bank To Pay $225-Million Fine Over Money Laundering Concerns
MMNN:8 September 2017
WASHINGTON: The New York State Department of Financial Services on Thursday said Pakistan's Habib Bank had agreed to pay $225 million to settle an enforcement action brought against it for infringing laws designed to combat illicit money transfers.
The DFS said in a legal filing last month it was seeking to fine the bank, Pakistan's biggest lender, up to $630 million for "grave" compliance failures over anti-money laundering and sanctions rules at its only US branch.
The regulator said the bank, known as HBL, agreed to pay just over a third of that sum as part of a broader settlement in which it will shutter its New York branch, subject to conditions.
These include submitting to a DFS investigation of transactions processed by the branch from October 2013 to the end of September 2014, and from April 2015 through the end of July 2017.
In a statement HBL said it "remains committed to strengthening its compliance processes, operations and controls" across its 1,700 branches.
Shares of HBL surged 5 percent, to 160.58 rupees per share, amid investor relief that the fine was not larger than $225 million.
Thursday's announced settlement does not preclude further future enforcement action if the DFS investigation reveals further problems.
The enforcement action followed a 2016 review in which the regulator said it found "weaknesses in the bank's risk management and compliance" that management had failed to tackle.
The review showed HBL had failed to properly screen thousands of transactions and had processed payments for known criminals and sanctioned entities, among other failings.
"The bank has repeatedly been given more than sufficient opportunity to correct its glaring deficiencies, yet it has failed to do so," Financial Services Superintendent Maria Vullo said in the statement.
"DFS will not stand by and let Habib Bank sneak out of the United States without holding it accountable for putting the integrity of the financial services industry and the safety of our nation at risk."
HBL disclosed it was in negotiations with the DFS last month and said the potential fine and closure of its New York branch would have no material impact on its business outside the United States.
"HBL is pleased to have this matter behind it and has begun the orderly wind-down of its New York operations," Matthew Biben, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and the bank's US lawyer, said in a statement.
"HBL believes that the opportunity to resolve this matter consensually at this time is in the best interests of its investors, shareholders and customers. HBL remains committed to strengthening its operations and controls."
The DFS said a court hearing set for later this month had been canceled as part of the settlement.
Pakistani brokerage firm Intermarket Securities said the hefty fine would hurt profits and could force HBL to issue foreign-currency subordinated debt to pay the regulator.
But the sum was "manageable" and the medium-term outlook for the bank should not be affected, it said in a research note.
"Under the circumstances, we believe it makes sense for the bank to take this one-off hit, rather than approaching courts which would have put the share price under a cloud for longer."
UK's Prince George's First Day At School, Pregnant Mum Kate Too Ill To Go
MMNN:7 September 2017
LONDON: Britain's Prince George, the great-grandson of Queen Elizabeth and third-in-line to the throne, started school on Thursday but without his pregnant mother Kate to support him because she is suffering from severe morning sickness.
George, 4, was taken by his father, Prince William, from their Kensington Palace home to Thomas's Battersea school in southwest London, which says its most important rule is to "Be Kind" and charges almost 18,000 pounds ($23,490) per pupil per year.
"We expect our pupils to make impressive progress as a result of their own hard work, the best efforts of their teachers, the judicious support of their parents and the encouragement of their peers," the school says on its website.
A nervous-looking George, wearing a school uniform of dark shorts and a navy jumper with red trim, held his father's hand as the Head of Lower School, Helen Haslem, escorted the royal duo to his classroom.
His mother Kate missed the occasion due to acute morning sickness and has cancelled other engagements this week after the palace announced on Monday that she was expecting her third child.
Like his parents, George and his younger sister Charlotte have already appeared on the front covers of magazines around the world and this summer they travelled on official royal tours of Poland and Germany where crowds cheered them.
Trump’s ‘China First’ option in North Korea will Make China Great Again
MMNN:6 September 2017
Although a Chinese military intervention in North Korea is unlikely, it’s Beijing’s best opportunity to achieve greater strategic parity with the US in the region
Most pundits agree that the least bad way to deal with North Korea’s nuclear sabre rattling is a continued combination of tight containment and aggressive diplomacy. Fewer, however, have recognised that the least bad military option — the one implied by US President Donald Trump’s insistence that China take responsibility for its dangerous neighbour — is a Chinese invasion, or regime change forced through China’s threat to launch one.
This outcome, which would sharply shift East Asia’s strategic balance in China’s favour, is not as unlikely as most people think. In fact, its very plausibility is one reason why it needs to be taken seriously, including by Chinese military planners. In Trumpian terms, this is a ‘China First’ option that could help ‘Make China Great Again’.
Any military intervention, Chinese or otherwise, would carry huge risks. But before dwelling on them, consider what a successful Chinese intervention would achieve. For starters, it would put North Korea right where the country’s post-Korean War history suggests it belongs: Under a Chinese nuclear umbrella, benefiting from a credible security guarantee.
Mao Zedong used to say that his country and North Korea were “as close as lips and teeth” — a fitting description, given Chinese troops’ role in averting an American victory in the Korean War. But while Japan and South Korea have remained close allies of the United States during the six decades since then, hosting US bases and sheltering under US nuclear protection, China and North Korea have drifted ever further apart.
As a result, China has little control over its neighbour and purported ally, and probably scant knowledge of what is going on there. It could, it is true, tighten the existing siege on North Korea by cutting trade further and blocking energy supplies. But this might achieve little beyond pushing Kim Jong-un’s cloistered regime to look for support from its other neighbour, Russia.
If, as is commonly assumed, North Korea wants some sort of credible security guarantee in exchange for curtailing its nuclear programme, the only country capable of providing it is China. No American promise would remain credible beyond the term of the president who gave it, if even that long.
So if China were to combine threats of invasion with a promise of security and nuclear protection, in exchange for cooperation and possible regime change, its chances of winning over large parts of the Korean People’s Army would be high. Whereas a nuclear exchange with the US would mean devastation, submission to China would promise survival, and presumably a degree of continued autonomy. For all except those closest to Kim, the choice would not be a difficult one.
China’s strategic gains from a successful military intervention would include not only control of what happens on the Korean Peninsula, where it presumably would be able to establish military bases, but also regional gratitude for having prevented a catastrophic war.
No other action holds as much potential to make Chinese leadership within Asia seem both credible, and desirable, especially if the alternative is a reckless, poorly planned US-led war. What China needs, above all, is legitimacy, and intervention in North Korea would provide it. Successful use of hard power would bring China, to borrow the distinction coined by Harvard’s Joseph S. Nye, huge reserves of soft power.
But now to the 64 billion renminbi question: Could it work? We can’t know the answer for sure, and any military intervention carries great risks. The Chinese armed forces are now well equipped, but lack comparable battlefield experience. Their inferior opponents have leaders who might be prepared to use nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction, if they did not simply accept Chinese terms and surrender.
What we can say with near certainty is that a Chinese land and sea invasion, rather than an American one, would stand a better chance of avoiding Kim’s likely response: An artillery attack on the South Korean capital, Seoul, which lies just a few dozen miles south of the demilitarised zone. Why would North Korea slaughter its southern brothers and sisters in retaliation for a Chinese invasion that came with a promise of continued security, if not autonomy?
Moreover, while the Kim regime’s nuclear restraint could hardly be taken for granted, China would be a less likely target than the US for North Korean missiles. Were a Chinese military option to be contemplated seriously, some intelligence and missile-defense collaboration with the US might be worth exploring. Given the risks, it would be hard for the US to refuse.
This scenario may well never happen. But it is so logical that the possibility of it should be taken seriously. It is, after all, China’s best opportunity to achieve greater strategic parity with the US in the region, while removing a source of instability that threatens them both.
Foreign Media On First Talks For PM Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping After Doklam Tension Ended
MMNN:5 September 2017
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held their first talks since defusing a border stand-off, with Xi calling for stable ties between the two Asian giants.
A healthy, stable relationship is in the fundamental interest of both nations, the official Xinhua News Agency cited Xi as saying on Tuesday after the conclusion of a summit of so-called BRICS nations in China's Xiamen. He called for pushing ties forward on the "right track."
PM Modi and Xi had a "forward-looking" and "constructive" meeting, India's foreign secretary S. Jaishankar said in a briefing. The countries agreed it was natural for large neighbors to have differences but that they should keep in close contact -- particularly on defense issues -- to ensure differences don't become disputes, he said.
Both sides agreed to try and maintain peace in border areas, Jaishankar added.
The sit-down follows the easing of an acrimonious, months-long dispute in a remote mountainous border area in the Himalayas. The day before the meeting, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa pledged to increase economic cooperation to boost global growth.
The dispute on the Doklam plateau had simmered since mid-June, evoking memories of a brief border war in 1962 where China emerged the victor. The latest tensions began after a Chinese road building party moved into territory claimed by Bhutan, and Indian troops moved into Bhutan to assist its much smaller neighbor. The face-off led to a troop build up in the area, with barbs traded between Chinese state-owned media and India's media.
On Aug. 28, India said both sides agreed to an "expeditious disengagement" of troops. China's foreign ministry said later that India withdrew personnel and equipment from its territory, and vowed to continue exercising "sovereign rights" in the area.
The two countries contain 36 percent of the world's population and account for 18 percent of global gross domestic product.
BRICS Declaration Names Pakistan-Based Terror Groups For The First Time
MMNN:4 September 2017
India today scored a significant diplomatic win as BRICS nations at a summit in China named, for the first time, Pakistan-based groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Haqqani network in a strongly-worded declaration condemning terror.
"We strongly condemn terrorist attacks resulting in death to innocent Afghan nationals. We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al Qaida and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir," said the declaration issued by BRICS countries or Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, at the summit in Xiamen.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is attending the summit and will hold talks with President Xi Jinping of China tomorrow, their first meeting after the prolonged Doklam standoff ended last month.
Pakistan has not been named in the declaration adopted by BRICS. While it is a close ally of China, the statement makes a strong reference to the need for states to act against terror.
"We deplore all terrorist attacks worldwide, including attacks in BRICS countries, and condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations wherever committed and by whomsoever and stress that there can be no justification whatsoever for any act of terrorism. We reaffirm that those responsible for committing, organizing, or supporting terrorist acts must be held accountable," said the statement.
Getting China - in China - on board in a statement that refers to Pakistan-based terror is important since they had resisted the same at last year's summit in Goa.
However, experts say this does not signal any big difference in Beijing's policy on Pakistan, one of its closest allies.
While this is the first time that a BRICS declaration has named Pakistan-based terror groups, a similar declaration was made in Amritsar during the Heart of Asia conference on Afghanistan last December. There too, the Lashkar and Jaish were named and Pakistan and China, who are members, were both in the meeting.
Jaish was banned way back in 2001 by the UN. China has made a distinction between the group and its chief Masood Azhar. China has repeatedly blocked efforts by India at the United Nations to designate the Masood Azhar a terrorist. The US, UK, France and other countries are backing India.
After 288 Days And 4623 Orbits Of Earth, Astronaut Peggy Whitson Returns To Earth
MMNN:2 September 2017
WASHINGTON: Record-breaking NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is set to depart the International Space Station (ISS) and return to Earth after completing a 288-day long mission, the US space agency said.
Ms Whitson, along with fellow Expedition 52 Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA and Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos will undock their Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from the space station and land in Kazakhstan at 9:22 pm EDT.
On Friday, Mr Yurchikhin will hand over station command to NASA's Randy Bresnik.
Ms Whitson is completing a 288-day mission that began in November 2016, spanning 122.2 million miles and 4,623 orbits of Earth - her third long-duration stay on the outpost.
At the time of their landing, she will have accrued a total of 665 days in space over the course of her career, more than any American astronaut, placing her eighth on the alltime space endurance list.
Mr Yurchikhin and Mr Fischer, who launched in April, will complete 136 days in space.
Mr Yurchikhin will return to Earth with a total of 673 days in space on his five flights, putting him in seventh place on the all-time endurance list.
As a result of the impacts of Hurricane Harvey, NASA is reviewing return plans to Houston of Ms Whitson, Mr Fischer and the science samples landing in the Soyuz spacecraft.
The crew will participate in standard post-flight medical evaluations.
While living and working aboard the space station, the Expedition 52 crew pursued hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard humanity's only orbiting laboratory, NASA said.
At the time of undocking, Expedition 53 will begin aboard the station under the command of Randy Bresnik.
Along with his crewmates Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency), the threeperson crew will operate the station until the arrival of three new crew members.
Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA and Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos, are scheduled to launch on September 12 from Kazakhstan.
'We Only Kill Black People', Says US Cop, Loses Job
MMNN:1 September 2017
WASHINGTON: A Georgia police lieutenant who faced being fired over racially charged comments captured on dash-cam footage has announced his retirement, according to local media.
In the video Lieutenant Greg Abbott told a woman who feared moving her hands during a traffic stop not to worry because "we only kill black people."
Told she could pick up her cell phone, the woman said she did not want to move her hands because she has seen "way too many videos of cops."
"But you're not black," Abbott replies in the July 2016 video. "Remember? We only kill black people."
Police Chief Mike Register told journalists Thursday that Abbott would be removed from the force, saying "there's really no place for these types of comments in law enforcement."
"I feel that no matter what context you try to take those comments in, the statements were inexcusable and inappropriate."
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Abbott emailed the county announcing his retirement from the force, which he had served in nearly three decades.
The dash-cam video was released after a local television station obtained it through an open records request.
The timestamp on the footage shows it occurred amid a spate of race-tinged violence involving law enforcement, including the fatal shootings of black men Alton Sterling and Philando Castile that came just days apart.
Those deaths sent shockwaves nationwide, fueling mass protests and a fierce debate over race and criminal justice
Blast hits bus in Turkey’s Izmir, seven wounded
MMNN:31 Aug 2017
Seven people were wounded when an explosion hit a shuttle bus carrying prison guards in the Turkish coastal province of Izmir on Thursday, and authorities were investigating a possible terrorist attack, the local mayor said.
The bus was hit as it passed a garbage container at around 7.40 am (0440 GMT), Levent Piristina, the mayor of Izmir’s Buca district, said on Twitter.
Photographs he posted on social media showed its windows blown out and its windscreen shattered. The force of the blast appeared to have blown out some of the bus’s panels, and the nearby street was littered with debris.
“We are getting information from police sources and they are focusing on the possibility of a terrorist attack,” he said, adding all seven wounded were in good condition.
Both state-run TRT Haber and private broadcaster Dogan news agency said the explosion was caused by a bomb placed in a garbage container that exploded when the shuttle bus passed.
No one immediately claimed responsibility. Both Kurdish militants and Islamic State militants have carried out suicide and bomb attacks in major Turkish cities in recent years.
Kurdish militants have previously targeted buses carrying security personnel.
In December, a bomb killed at least 13 soldiers and wounded more than 50 when it ripped through a bus carrying off-duty military personnel in the central city of Kayseri, an attack the government blamed on Kurdish militants.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organisation by the US, Turkey and the European Union, has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.
The outlawed PKK wants autonomy for Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast.
Pentagon Chief Lets Transgender Troops Remain In Service
MMNN:30 Aug 2017
WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday that transgender troops would continue to serve in the military while he studies an order by President Donald Trump banning them from US forces.
Trump surprised Pentagon leaders in July by announcing via Twitter the ban on transgender people serving "in any capacity", reversing a plan launched by his predecessor Barack Obama that would see the military accept openly transgender recruits.
Trump said at the time that the integration of transgender troops would result in "tremendous medical costs and disruption," and issued a formal memorandum last Friday on the issue, saying the ban should be in effect from March 23, 2018.
But the memorandum gave Mattis discretion on how to handle transgender people already serving in the military.
The administration was facing lawsuits by transgender groups and service members, and on Monday the American Civil Liberties Union also filed a suit on behalf of several transgender troops challenging Trump's order.
In a statement Tuesday Mattis appeared cautious about implementing Trump's order.
He said the Department of Defense would establish a panel of experts and develop an implementation plan with a focus "on what is best for the military's combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield."
In what appeared to be a barb against the slow movement in the White House to approve all the senior staff he needs, Mattis said "the soon arriving senior civilian leadership of the DOD will play an important role in this effort."
In the meantime, he said, existing policy on currently serving transgender troops would not change.
On Monday Pentagon officials declined to say whether there had been any studies or anecdotal reports on the impact of transgender people in the military, and they also declined to reveal any estimates of the number of transgender troops. Estimates run from the low thousands to as many as 15,000.
Israel Prime Minister: Iran Building Missile Production Sites In Syria, Lebanon
MMNN:28 Aug 2017
ERUSALEM: Iran is building sites to produce precision-guided missiles in Syria and Lebanon, with the aim of using them against Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.
At the start of a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Netanyahu accused Iran of turning Syria into a "base of military entrenchment as part of its declared goal to eradicate Israel."
"It is also building sites to produce precision-guided missiles towards that end, in both Syria and in Lebanon. This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the U.N. should not accept," Netanyahu said.
Trump tells Mattis to indefinitely ban transgender recruits in US military
MMNN:26 Aug 2017
President Donald Trump on Friday directed the Pentagon to extend indefinitely a ban on transgender individuals joining the military, but he appeared to leave open the possibility of allowing some already in uniform to remain.
Trump gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authority to decide the matter of openly transgender individuals already serving, and he said that until the Pentagon chief makes that decision, “no action may be taken against” them.
The Obama administration in June 2016 had changed longstanding policy, declaring that troops could serve openly as transgender individuals. And it set a July 2017 deadline for determining whether transgender people could be allowed to enter the military. Mattis delayed that to Jan. 1, 2018, and Trump has now instructed Mattis to extend it indefinitely.
But on the question of what will happen to those transgender individuals who already are serving openly - estimated to number in the low hundreds - Trump seemed to leave wiggle room for exceptions. A White House official who briefed reporters on the presidential order would not say whether Trump would permit any exceptions.
That official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House, said Mattis has been directed to take a number of factors into consideration in determining how to deal with transgender individuals already serving. Those factors are to include broad measures such as “military effectiveness,” budgetary constraints and “unit cohesion,” as well as other factors Mattis deems “relevant.” It was not clear whether that means it is possible for Mattis to come to the conclusion that some transgender troops should be allowed to remain.
Trump gave Mattis six months to come up with a policy on those currently serving, and he must implement it by March 23, 2018, the official said.
In a tweet last month, Trump said the federal government “will not accept or allow” transgender individuals to serve “in any capacity” in the military.
Carl Tobias, a legal expert at the University of Richmond’s School of Law, said he interprets the Trump directive as leaving open the chance for some transgender servicemembers to stay.
“Trump seems to be granting Mattis discretion to decide which currently serving transgender people can continue to serve,” Tobias said via email. “It appears that Mattis has discretion substantively and procedurally.
The White House official on Friday said Trump also directed Mattis to halt the use of federal funds to pay for sexual reassignment surgeries and medications, except in cases where it is deemed necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun the transition. That policy is to be written within six months and implemented by March 23.
In his directive to Mattis, Trump said he found that his predecessor’s transgender policy was flawed.
“In my judgment, the previous administration failed to identify a sufficient basis to conclude” that ending the longstanding ban on transgender service would not “hinder military effectiveness and lethality” and be disrupting in the ranks, he wrote.
The Pentagon had little to say on the subject Friday. Dana W. White, the main spokeswoman for Mattis, issued a two-sentence statement saying Mattis had received White House guidance on transgender policy, adding, “More information will be forthcoming.”
Only one year ago, in June 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that transgender individuals could serve openly for the first time. Prior to that, most transgender people in the military had been forced to keep their status secret to avoid being discharged; Trump’s order appears to have returned the military to that same situation.
Since Carter’s policy change, some troops — possibly a couple hundred — have openly declared their status as transgender individuals.
Carter also had given the military services until July 1 of this year to present plans for allowing transgender individuals to join the military. Shortly before that date, Mattis extended the study period to the end of this year. And shortly after that, Trump went to Twitter to announce a total ban, without having used the customary interagency policy process.
At the time of Trump’s tweet, the Pentagon was not prepared to change its policy. A flurry of White House meetings ensued, with participation by representatives of the Defense Department, to translate Trump’s announcement into guidance that could be implemented and would stand up to expected legal challenges.
Just last week, Mattis suggested he was open to the possibility of allowing some transgender troops to remain in uniform.
“The policy is going to address whether or not transgenders can serve under what conditions, what medical support they require, how much time would they be perhaps non-deployable, leaving others to pick up their share of everything,” he said Aug. 14.
Estimates of the number of transgender troops in the service vary widely. A Rand Corp. study said roughly 2,500 transgender personnel may be serving in active duty, and 1,500 in the reserves. It estimated only 30 to 130 active-duty troops out of a force of 1.3 million would seek transition-related health care each year. Costs could be $2.4 million to $8.4 million, it estimated.
Among those who have cheered Trump’s tweet, Elaine Donnelly said the president is halting “a massive social experiment.”
“Expensive, lifelong hormone treatments and irreversible surgeries associated with gender dysphoria would negatively affect personal deployability and mission readiness, without resolving underlying psychological problems, including high risks of suicide,” said Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., an Army combat veteran, said the Pentagon should not exclude people based on gender status.
“If you are willing to risk your life for our country and you can do the job, you should be able to serve — no matter your gender identity or sexual orientation,” she said Thursday. “Anything else is not just discriminatory, it is disruptive to our military and it is counterproductive to our national security
The new Obama’: Abdul El-Sayed, the man who could be US’ first Muslim governor
MMNN:25 Aug 2017
At seven years old, Abdul El-Sayed sat in the eye of Hurricane Andrew, the most destructive hurricane in US history until Katrina. Living near Miami, El-Sayed drank juice while swaddled under mattresses between his father and stepmother, who was holding El-Sayed’s newborn baby brother just home from the hospital.
The 1992 storm had taken an unexpected turn southward, and the El-Sayeds could not be evacuated. The wind made an awful rattling sound on the screens.
The front door blew in. The wind and the rain whipped into the house, “as if the ocean was coming at you.”
El-Sayed’s father, Muhammad, crawled on his stomach to shut the door, the rain whipping his face, the wind beating his body. The eye of the storm passed directly over them and The National Guard eventually evacuated them.
At the moment, American politics feels a bit like being in the eye a hurricane. Donald Trump has stated America’s nuclear arsenal is “ locked and loaded ”, should North Korea make any false moves and neo-Nazis are openly parading in the streets bearing torches, resulting in a young woman, Heather Heyer , being murdered in Charlottesville, Virginia.
No one man can stop the hurricane. But in Michigan, a grown up El-Sayed is now having a go, trying to keep the storm at bay in a state that is having some of the hardest times in the union. He’s still a year out from the primary, but in his attempt at running for governor of the state, he is trying not just to win, but to change American politics itself
When driving from Detroit to Adrian, Michigan, my hometown, you pass by a mosque near Ypsilanti that was burned to the ground in an arson last March. Adrian is 45 minutes from any freeway, the county is rural, and the cornfields rolling. You pass by a number of road signs offering jobs – $28 dollars an hour for skilled work, less for driving a truck.
The city itself, the largest town in the county, holds only about 20,000 people. It is the kind of place with lots and lots of American flags. It’s also Trump country, white and Christian, the county voting with the president 57% to Clinton’s 36%.
El-Sayed was speaking there on a recent Sunday afternoon in a public hall. A young local transgender man introduced El-Sayed to the audience – a brave choice for a region still coming to terms with gay rights, let alone trans rights. Just a few miles away in Jackson, Michigan, the house of two organizers for the town’s first ever pride parade was burned in what investigators are calling a possible arson .
El-Sayed’s stump speech revolves around fleshing out his personal story. He’s the son of an Egyptian immigrant, who remarried to a now-converted white, rural protestant mother. His uncles learned to prepare venison Halal so his entire family could share in the meals. Throw in an atheist mathematician uncle from the former Soviet Union, and Thanksgiving dinners were interesting to say the least.
At this stage in his speech, El-Sayed usually pivots to speaking about the US constitution and the soaring rhetoric of hope and commonality.
“As you can imagine, these people come from fundamentally different walks of life, they have known different realities. But. They see a common future. And that’s because it’s a common future they have built together,” he said. “I learned about a society that was founded on an ideal that my father invested in back in 1978 when he came here, one that told him, ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal.’”
One of the first questions El-Sayed gets asked that day is about Sharia law, asking about his thoughts on the custom, by a clearly agitated man in a checked button-down shirt.
The rumors surrounding El-Sayed’s faith are small but persistent, spread by a handful of far-right websites preying on the uninformed and fearful.
One morning, I asked him about them over breakfast.
“Are you the spear-tip of a vast Muslim conspiracy to bring Sharia law to the US?”
“No,” he said.
“Are you a front for the Muslim brotherhood to pervert American politics towards terrorism?”
“Were you handpicked by George Soros to lead a vast liberal takeover of the government?”
“No. I’ve never met George Soros.”
It’s tempting to make any story about El-Sayed about his faith, and how it is central to how voters perceive him. He answers questions about his faith like all the others about more mundane matters like tax policy or infrastructure development: head on, with razor-sharp intellect and rhetoric.
But to reduce him to his faith would also be a disservice. His story is one of responsibility, courage and hope.
“I believe in a separation of church and state,” he started, making a note that John F Kennedy’s Catholicism was also a turning point in American politics.
“I can tell you that my ability to practice my faith in person, in my own home, when I choose to, where I’m allowed to, because of freedoms in this country have everything to do with that separation of church and state,” he said. “If I am going to want to be able to put my face on the ground 34 times a day, like I do, because I’m Muslim, I want to make sure no one can take that right away from me. And I will not take that right away from anyone else.”
He received an enormous round of applause after answering the question – in a nearly completely white and Christian room – and a standing ovation at the end of the event, that went over time by almost an hour.
Afterward, I asked the man who asked the Sharia question if, after hearing El-Sayed speak, he thought he would bring Sharia law to the United States.
“No,” the man said. “I don’t.”
El-Sayed’s résumé and progressive bonafide are nearly impeccable. He is a Rhodes Scholar, a doctor, formerly a professor at an Ivy League university (where he wrote the textbook for his class) and is the former director for the health department in Detroit, the youngest in any major city. He’s only 32, and would be the youngest governor since Bill Clinton in 1978. He will also become a father for the first time in less than three months.
He has pledged to take no corporate Pac money and is unabashedly disdainful of big money influencing elections, opening calling corporate campaign contributions “bribes”. He has pledged universal healthcare to all Michiganders if it fails on the federal level, says he will push to legalise marijuana, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and make Michigan a “sanctuary state”, defying federal immigration law for non-violent undocumented immigrants.
And he has a real chance of winning. A year out of the Democratic primary he has raised $1m, Bernie Sanders style, through individual donations – more than $1,300 last month alone – despite little name recognition or support from the “establishment” Democratic party in the state. His campaign is lithe and muscular, knocking on tens of thousands of doors already.
Maybe most importantly, El-Sayed has a rhetorical style and charisma that draws easy comparisons to a young Barack Obama, his events often inexplicably packed. At a campaign event in Ann Arbor one woman, Tamanika Terry Seward, said: “I think the last time I sat there and gave that kind of smirk is when I first heard Obama in Chicago, when he was running for senator.”
Michigan is ready for change. Flint’s water was just poisoned by the state government in what is likely the largest environmental disaster of the 21st century so far. And according to a study from the Center for Michigan , public trust in state government has never been lower, with staggering numbers like 80% of people mistrusting the government in areas like education.
El-Sayed’s personality, policies and campaign apparatus are clearly large enough to overcome Islamophobia in the state – a decade ago, who would have thought the president of the US would have been black and bear the middle name of Hussein, and the mayor of Detroit, the blackest city in the nation, would be white?
The question becomes, can he overcome the cynicism and distain for current politics tearing the US apart?
El-Sayed’s campaign staff is young, fun and smart. Political stickers slapped on laptops are ubiquitous, staffers hail from Harvard and other elite institutions, and the campaign on the whole seems incredibly diverse and well run.
After chatting for a few moments with campaign interns, I ran into two of them in the bathroom. One, a Muslim, was washing his feet in the sink before praying. Another, pierced and dyed and queer, washed his hands in the sink directly next.
The campaign, reflected in his staff, is a reflection of a different America to the one hailed by the alt-right – pluralistic and diverse .
El-Sayed himself reflects this, bouncing between subjects in casual conversations in a campaign vehicle en route to speak to voters at polling places for a primary election in Detroit. We talk about the percentage of C-sections and Shakespeare, and he makes uproarious jokes likely never to be seen in public like faux campaign slogans (“The Egyptian Prescription”).
But El-Sayed can also be deadly serious and ferociously passionate about America’s political reality, speaking with barbs in a way nearly unheard of from the mouths of politicians who hedge and weasel.
“I’m trying to remind people why the system is built the way it is, and that it has been corrupted by a very small, very powerful, very rich group of people, who have fundamentally bought out our politicians,” he said. “I don’t think our forefathers were imagining huge corporate behemoths that were not aligned to anything but a quarterly bottom line of some amorphous group of stockholders, who would then be ruled as having the rights of people, and then be able to either, up front of behind closed doors, buy out our politicians to create a system of politics that was not beholden to anything but corporate bottom lines.”
The turnout in Detroit’s primary election that day was just over 10%, heavily favouring the incumbent mayoral candidate awash in big money . I asked El-Sayed if he would rather win with corporate money or lose without it. He replied the latter.
Many of his staffers are veterans of the Sanders campaign, and his funding structure is remarkably similar. He’s also running on his conscience, not trying to “reverse engineer” a candidate with poll testing opinions or policies.
Where Sanders failed, though – he never broke from a laser focus on economics or really addressed inequalities brought by race and gender – El-Sayed embraces those challenges, represents them even.
“The electorate [in Michigan] doesn’t know what it wants, but it wants something different,” his campaign manager, Max Glass, said. “I wouldn’t have taken this race if I didn’t think we could win.”
The other, less comfortable, comparison is to Trump. El-Sayed is an outsider candidate who speaks his mind, with no elected political experience aside from his appointment as health director of Detroit. In many ways, he’s the other side of the same coin, a populist candidate in a populist time.
A fan of hip-hop, El-Sayed played a song late one night coming home from a campaign event. In vulgar terms, the song, America by Logic , decries racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, police brutality and other modern ills, a sort of 21st century “Mississippi Goddamn”.
“This is the best line in the song,” he said turning the music up ever so slightly.
“Don’t run from Trump,” it went. “Run against him.”
Running against Trump – a President who touted a “Muslim travel ban” as one of his policies – poses its logistical challenges.
The location of the campaign office is a guarded secret and many staffers have had to speak with their families about potential danger before starting their jobs.
Since April 2013, there have been 370 hate incidents directed at US mosques and Muslim community centers. In 2015 alone, there were 257 anti-Muslim hate crimes in the US, according to the FBI. And in Michigan, the village president of Kalkaska, a small town in the north, has called for the death of Muslims, “ all, every last one ”. He still sits in office.
As much of El-Sayed’s public persona and story revolves around his multicultural family, I went to visit some of them including his step-grandparents, whom he lived with during college at the University of Michigan, his parents, and his wife. I asked them if they were worried about the candidate’s safety.
'As Syria war tightens, US and Russia military hotlines humming
MMNN:24 Aug 2017
Even as tensions between the United States and Russia fester, there is one surprising place where their military-to-military contacts are quietly weathering the storm: Syria.
It has been four months since US President Donald Trump ordered cruise missile strikes against a Syrian airfield after an alleged chemical weapons attack.
In June, the US military shot down a Syrian fighter aircraft, the first US downing of a manned jet since 1999, and also shot down two Iranian-made drones that threatened US-led coalition forces.
All the while, US and Russian military officials have been regularly communicating, US officials told Reuters. Some of the contacts are helping draw a line on the map that separates US- and Russian-backed forces waging parallel campaigns on Syria’s shrinking battlefields.
There is also a telephone hotline linking the former Cold War foes’ air operations centres. US officials told Reuters that there now are about 10 to 12 calls a day on the hotline, helping keep US and Russian warplanes apart as they support different fighters on the ground.
That is no small task, given the complexities of Syria’s civil war. Moscow backs the Syrian government, which also is aided by Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah as it claws back territory from Syrian rebels and Islamic State fighters.
The US military is backing a collection of Kurdish and Arab forces focussing their firepower against Islamic State, part of a strategy to collapse the group’s self-declared “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.
Reuters was given rare access to the US Air Force’s hotline station, inside the Qatar-based Combined Air Operations Area, last week, including meeting two Russian linguists, both native speakers, who serve as the US interface for conversations with Russian commanders.
While the conversations are not easy, contacts between the two sides have remained resilient, senior US commanders said.
“The reality is we’ve worked through some very hard problems and, in general, we have found a way to maintain the deconfliction line (that separates US and Russian areas of operation) and found a way to continue our mission,” Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, the top US Air Force commander in the Middle East, said in an interview.
As both sides scramble to capture what is left of Islamic State’s caliphate, the risk of accidental contacts is growing.
“We have to negotiate, and sometimes the phone calls are tense. Because for us, this is about protecting ourselves, our coalition partners and destroying the enemy,” Harrigian said, without commenting on the volume of calls.
The risks of miscalculation came into full view in June, when the United States shot down a Syrian Su-22 jet that was preparing to fire on US-backed forces on the ground
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said those were not the only aircraft in the area. As the incident unfolded, two Russian fighter jets looked on from above and a American F-22 stealth aircraft kept watch from an even higher altitude, they told Reuters.
After the incident, Moscow publicly warned it would consider any planes flying west of the Euphrates River to be targets. But the US military kept flying in the area, and kept talking with Russia.
“The Russians have been nothing but professional, cordial and disciplined,” Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the Iraq-based commander of the U.S.-led coalition, told Reuters.
DIVIDING LINE DOWN THE EUPHRATES
In Syria, US-backed forces are now consumed with the battle to capture Islamic State’s former capital of Raqqa. More than half the city has been retaken from Islamic State.
Officials said talks were underway to extend a demarcation line that has been separating US- and Russian-backed fighters on the ground as fighting pushes towards Islamic State’s last major Syrian stronghold, the Deir al-Zor region.
The line runs in an irregular arc from a point southwest of Tabqa east to a point on the Euphrates River and then down along the Euphrates River in the direction of Deir al-Zor, they said.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, during a visit to Jordan this week, said the line was important as US- and Russian-backed forces come in closer proximity of each other.
“We do not do that (communication) with the (Syrian) regime. It is with the Russians, is who we’re dealing with,” Mattis said. “We continue those procedures right on down the Euphrates River Valley.”
Bisected by the Euphrates River, Deir al-Zor and its oil resources are critical to the Syrian state.
The province is largely in the hands of Islamic State, but has become a priority for pro-Syrian forces. It also is in the crosshairs of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters last week that there would be an SDF campaign towards Deir al-Zor “in the near future,” though the SDF was still deciding whether it would be delayed until Raqqa was fully taken from Islamic State.
'Severe Typhoon Hato wreaks havoc in Hong Kong, flights cancelled, trading delayed
MMNN:23 Aug 2017
Hong Kong braced for Typhoon Hato, a maximum category 10 storm on Wednesday, with hundreds of flights cancelled, trading in financial markets suspended and schools and most businesses in the Asian financial hub closed.
Streets were largely deserted as winds intensified and rain lashed down, with many skyscrapers in the heart of the financial centre in darkness as the city battened down for one of the worst storms in years.
Hato churned up water in Hong Kong’s iconic Victoria Harbour and triggered large swells and massive waves on some of the city’s most popular beaches, with the weather observatory warning of serious flooding in low-lying areas.
Maximum winds near Hato’s centre were recorded at a destructive 155 kmh (95 mph). Gusts in some residential areas were already causing damage, sending tarpaulins, roof screens and tree branches flying through the air.
A senior scientific officer for the Hong Kong observatory said sea levels could rise up to five metres (15 feet) in some places.
The weather observatory issued a signal 10 storm warning, its highest weather warning, and said Hato will be closest to the territory in the next few hours, skirting about 50 km (31 miles) to the south of Hong Kong, and warned of flash floods.
Winds intensified in the morning, with the maximum sustained winds recorded at Tate’s Cairn and Waglan Island at 77 kmh (48 mph) and 72 kmh (48 mph), with maximum gusts of 103 kmh (64 mph) and 86 kmh (53 mph) respectively.
Trading in Hong Kong’s financial markets was delayed on Wednesday morning, the stock exchange said. Trading will be suspended for the whole day if storm signal 8 or higher is in place at noon.
The city’s flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific, said the storm would “severely” impact flight operations, with the majority of flights to and from Hong Kong between 2200 GMT Tuesday and 0900 GMT Wednesday to be cancelled.
Other transport services, including ferries to the gaming hub of Macau and outlying islands in Hong Kong, were suspended.
Financial markets, schools, businesses and non-essential government services close when the signal 8 or above is hoisted.
Typhoon Nida in August last year was the last storm to close the stock exchange for the whole day.
'After Donald Trump's Warning, China Jumps To Defense Of Pakistan
MMNN:22 Aug 2017
NEW DELHI: China today jumped to the defence of its all-weather ally Pakistan in the wake of US President Donald Trump's stern warning to it over providing safe havens to terrorists, claiming that Islamabad is at the frontline of combating terrorism.
Donald Trump, in his first prime-time televised address to announce his Afghanistan and South Asia policy, hit out at Pakistan for providing safe havens to "agents of chaos" that kill Americans in Afghanistan and warned Islamabad that it has "much to lose" by harbouring terrorists.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, while reacting to President Trump's comments on Pakistan, said, "Hope the relevant policy decision by US side will be conducive to promoting security, stability of the relevant region."
"(On) President Trump's remarks on Pakistan, I should say that Pakistan is at the frontline of fighting terrorism, has made sacrifices in fighting terrorism, making an important contribution to upholding peace and stability," Ms Hua said, strongly defending Beijing's all-weather friend Pakistan.
Donald Trump, in his address, said a pillar of his new strategy was a change in America's approach to Pakistan.
He slammed Pakistan for its support to terror groups and warned Islamabad of consequences if it continues to do so. "We can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond," President Trump said.
"Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbour terrorists," he said, in a warning to Pakistan.
Ms Hua, in response to Donald Trump's scathing criticism of Pakistan's support to terror groups, said, "I think the international community should truly affirm" the efforts made by Pakistan in combating terrorism. "We are pleased to see US and Pakistan to conduct cooperation in anti-terrorism efforts on the basis of mutual respect and contribute to the global peace and stability," she said.
In his speech, Donald Trump slammed Islamabad for harbouring terrorists who target US service members. "But that will have to change. That will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country's harbouring of terrorists who target US service members and officials. It is time for Pakistan to demonstrate its commitment to civilisation, order, and to peace," President Trump said.
'No Element Pointing To A Terrorist Attack': Marseille Prosecutor
MMNN:21 Aug 2017
NEW DELHI: One person was killed and another seriously injured in the southern French city of Marseille on Monday after a van ploughed into people at two different bus stops, police sources, adding that the suspected driver had been arrested.
Marseille's prosecutor Xavier Tarabeux said that investigators had no "element pointing to a terrorist attack" and that the driver was believed to suffer from "psychiatric" problems.
"He was found with a letter from a psychiatric clinic and we are leaning towards treating it as a mental health case," Tarabeux told AFP.
The vehicle first drove at speed towards a bus stop in the city's northern 13th district at around 9:00 am (0700 GMT), leaving one person seriously hurt.
The driver then continued onto the eastern 11th district, where he drove at another bus stop, causing one fatality.
The incident comes as police across Europe search for the driver of a van that mowed down pedestrians in Barcelona last week, killing 13.
Several European cities, including London, Berlin and Stockholm, have been targeted in a wave of attacks by Islamist radicals using vehicles to run down people.
Terrorism experts have warned that the intense media coverage of the attacks could spur copycat attacks by people with mental health problems that include a propensity for violence.
Julien Ravier, mayor of the 11th and 12th districts, told the BFMTV news channel that the victim in the Marseille incident was a woman in her 40s who was waiting alone for a bus.
A police source, who asked not to be identified by name, said the driver was in his mid-30s and was not from Marseille.
The local La Provence newspaper reported that he was known to police for minor offences.
BFMTV reported that a bystander noted the registration number of the van, which the police used to trace the vehicle to the city's Old Port district, where the suspect was arrested.
Police sealed off the port area and urged residents in a tweet to avoid the neighbourhood, which is popular with tourists.
Police forensic teams also combed the area around the bus stops for evidence.
The bloodiest vehicle attack in Europe took place in the French city of Nice in July 2016, when a radicalised Tunisian drove a truck through crowds celebrating France's national holiday, killing 86 people.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for several of the attacks.
Citing Trump remarks on Charlottesville, entire president’s arts council quits
MMNN:19 Aug 2017
The arts and humanities committee was established in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan and all the current members had been appointed by President Barack Obama
Two Indian Americans – actor Kal Penn and author Jhumpa Lahiri – are among 16 members of the US president’s committee on arts and humanities who resigned on Friday, protesting Donald Trump’s remarks regarding the Charlottesville clashes last week.
“Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions,” they wrote in a joint letter of resignation signed by all but one of the 17 committee members.
“Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.”
The letter cited the “false equivalence” of Trump’s comments about last weekend’s “Unite the Right” gathering in Charlottesville. Trump has blamed “many sides” for the demonstrations that left an anti-racism activist dead.
Over the past few days, members of the president’s advisory councils on manufacturing and strategy and policy resigned, forcing him to shut them down. He disbanded the infrastructure council on Thursday.
In a statement Friday, a White House spokesperson said Trump was going to disband the panel anyway.
“While the committee has done good work in the past, in its current form it simply is not a responsible way to spend American tax dollars,” the statement read.
The members of the committee on arts and humanities brought on other issues as well: “You released a budget which eliminates arts and culture agencies. You have threatened nuclear war while gutting diplomacy funding.
“The administration pulled out of the Paris agreement, filed an amicus brief undermining the Civil Rights Act and attacked our brave trans service members. You have subverted equal protections, and are committed to banning Muslims and refugee women & children from our great country.”
The arts and humanities committee was established in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan and all the current members were appointed by Barack Obama.
Earth-Like Planet May Exist In Nearby Star System: Indian Origin Scientists
MMNN:18 Aug 2017
WASHINGTON: An Earth-like planet may be lurking in a star system just 16 light years away, scientists including one of Indian origin have predicted.
Astrophysicists at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) in the US investigated the star system Gliese 832 for additional exoplanets residing between the two currently known alien worlds in this system.
Their computations revealed that an additional Earth-like planet with a dynamically stable configuration may be residing at a distance ranging from 0.25 to 2.0 astronomical unit (AU) from the star.
"According to our calculations, this hypothetical alien world would probably have a mass between 1 to 15 Earth's masses," said Dr Suman Satyal, UTA physics researcher and lead author of the research published in The Astrophysical Journal.
Gliese 832 is a red dwarf and has just under half the mass and radius of the Sun. The star is orbited by a giant Jupiter-like exoplanet designated Gliese 832b and by a super-Earth planet Gliese 832c.
The gas giant with 0.64 Jupiter masses is orbiting the star at a distance of 3.53 AU, while the other planet is potentially a rocky world, around five times more massive than the Earth, residing very close its host star- about 0.16 AU.
"This is an important breakthrough demonstrating the possible existence of a potential new planet orbiting a star close to our own," said Dr Alexander Weiss from UTA.
"The fact that Dr Satyal was able to demonstrate that the planet could maintain a stable orbit in the habitable zone of a red dwarf for more than one billion years is extremely impressive," Dr Weiss said.
The team analysed the simulated data with an injected Earth-mass planet on this nearby planetary system hoping to find a stable orbital configuration for the planet that may be located in a vast space between the two known planets.
Gliese 832b and Gliese 832c were discovered by the radial velocity technique, which detects variations in the velocity of the central star, due to the changing direction of the gravitational pull from an unseen exoplanet as it orbits the star.
By regularly looking at the spectrum of a star- and so, measuring its velocity - one can see if it moves periodically due to the influence of a companion.
"We also used the integrated data from the time evolution of orbital parameters to generate the synthetic radial velocity curves of the known and the Earth-like planets in the system," said Dr Satyal.
"We obtained several radial velocity curves for varying masses and distances indicating a possible new middle planet," he said.
Pakistan's Apex Anti-Corruption Group Summons Nawaz Sharif, Sons
MMNN:17 Aug 2017
LAHORE: Pakistan's ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his two sons have been summoned by the country's top anti-graft body to appear before it tomorrow for interrogation in connection with the money laundering and corruption cases.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on the directive of the Supreme Court issued summons to Mr Sharif and his sons Hussain and Hasan -- to interrogate them in its Lahore office in connection with their offshore properties revealed by the Panama Papers case.
On July 28, the five-member bench of the Supreme Court had disqualified Mr Sharif for possessing a work permit in the firm of his son in the UAE.
The apex court had also directed the NAB to investigate money laundering and other corruption charges against Mr Sharif and his children, son-in-law Safdar and relative federal finance minister Ishaq Dar in light of the report of the Joint Investigation Team.
The NAB confirmed that Mr Sharif and his sons have been directed to appear before its Lahore office on August 18.
The NAB said that it will take up the reference against Mr Sharif's close aide Ishaq Dar on August 23 and summons has been issued to him.
Mr Sharif, however, has not yet decided to appear before the NAB.
"Nawaz Sharif is considering boycotting the NAB proceedings because he thinks it is very much likely that like the Panama Papers case he may not get justice in its case as well," a PML-N senior leader told PTI.
He said Mr Sharif has already expressed his concern over a Supreme Court judge who is supervising the NAB's investigation against him, fearing that he (judge) will ensure adverse verdict against him in the accountability court.
"Sharif will discuss the NAB summons with his confidants on Thursday before making a final decision about his appearance in NAB," he added.
Clerical sex abuse scandal hits Argentine president’s school
MMNN:14 Aug 2017
The case is one of several that have shown the church has not been spared sexual scandals even in the home territory of Pope Francis.
Rufino Varela was a distraught, confused 12-year-old when he went looking for help from the school chaplain to tell him he’d been sexually abused by a mason at his family’s home.
Instead of aiding, Varela says, the Rev. Finnlugh Mac Conastair took off the boy’s pants, flogged him and fondled him in a room below the chapel at one of Argentina’s most prestigious schools. Then, the Irish priest known by many as “Father Alfredo,” offered him candy and told him that they should keep it as a secret with God.
“I had come looking for help, but I felt that it was a punishment from God,” Varela said. “I came back to the classroom, holding back tears, went home and never spoke about it.”
The secret was kept for nearly four decades. But in recent months, Varela’s decision to break his silence has led several other former students to denounce clerical abuse at a school that has educated President Mauricio Macri and many other members of Argentina’s elite.
The case is one of several that have shown the church has not been spared sexual scandals even in the home territory of Pope Francis, who has pledged a zero-tolerance policy against abuses that have rocked the church around the world.
While the pope had no connection with the abuse at the time — he led the Argentine branch of the Jesuit order with no relationship to the school — Varela said he received a call from the pontiff this year after revealing the abuse publicly.
The Cardenal Newman school was launched in Argentina in 1948 by the Christian Brothers, a religious order founded two centuries ago to focus on educating disadvantaged youth. In recent years, it has faced abuse claims at many of the schools it has opened worldwide.
At the time of Varela’s 1977 encounter with Mac Conastair, the socially conservative church school had evolved into something of a refuge for children of the rich.
Varela said he decided to confront Newman authorities about the abuse after he heard that the school planned to add a crown to the lion in its coat of arms in honor of Macri, a 1976 graduate who was elected president in 2015.
“Instead of a crown, it would give me more comfort to see a whip or a crown of thorns,” Varela said in a letter to the rector. “This would be in remembrance of the aberrations that many others suffered.”
Varela said Newman’s rector, Alberto Olivero, then met with him, offered psychological treatment and tried to dissuade him from going public with the story. The school refused to comment and referred questioners to written statements.
Frustrated at the lack of public acknowledgement, Varela said, he spoke to Argentina’s La Nacion newspaper in December 2016. He also began writing about it on Facebook.
In February, his phone rang and Pope Francis was on the line. The pontiff expressed his solidarity and apologized on behalf of the church. “He told me that I needed to understand that I was a very important part of a broken link,” Varela said.
The Vatican doesn’t confirm or deny such calls, saying they are part of Francis’ pastoral
Varela said about 20 other former students have contacted him to describe similar abuse carried out by Mac Conastair, a Passionist, and by at least one Christian Brother priest at the school. At least four of the ex-students repeated accounts of witnessing or suffering abuse to The Associated Press, though it is not clear if the others had reported the incidents earlier. Both of the priests have died.
Pedro Ellis told the AP he was about 14 years old when Mac Conastair called him into his room. With the excuse of giving him a sex talk, he asked him to get naked and lie down on his bed.
“He touched my buttocks and then, he introduced one or two fingers inside my rectum,” Ellis told the Associated Press.
Ellis, now 52, said that he’s considering seeking compensation for the abuse.
Julio Castano said the chaplain he’d seen as “God’s representative on earth” called him into his room in 1979 and fondled the then 12-year-old.
“I decided it was now time to tell it, so we can get this off our backs,” said Castano, who until then, had not told anyone else publicly or informed the school.
Another former student alleged that the Brother John Derham sat him on his lap in the school library and kissed him on the mouth. A fourth ex-student, Guillermo Newbery, 68, told the AP that he witnessed Derham make students sit on his lap during his class, saying he would “caress students excessively, rubbed them and hugged them inappropriately.”
Newbery said he told his parents in 1963 and they reported it to the school’s Parent Association. Derham died in 1986.
After Varela spoke to the press, Olivero sent a letter addressed to the Newman community and acknowledged the abuse of at least one student 40 years ago.
A copy of the letter was posted on the school gate. Without naming anyone, it said that the Christian Brothers apologized “for the abuse that all former students could have suffered as a result of the inadequate and unjustified behavior” of the chaplain.
The head of the Christian Brothers for Latin America, Hugo Caceres, sent Varela a letter expressing “solidarity and Christian compassion” for all abuse victims.
At the time of Varela’s abuse, the rector was John Burke, an Irishman who was in charge of Newman from 1979-1996. Burke was later named member of a Christian Brothers committee for safeguarding children in Europe.
Burke confirms he learned of the abuse in 1980, but said he didn’t know the identity of the victim until Varela went public.
“Towards the end of the school year of 1980, I was made aware of a complaint of inappropriate behavior by the college chaplain towards a pupil whose identity was not known or revealed to me,” Burke said in a statement to the AP.
It wasn’t clear how Burke had learned of the case, though Varela said that he once told lay brother Desmond Finnegan, who counseled him to remain quiet about the incident and pray for the elderly chaplain.
In an odd twist, Burke said he sought advice about the case from a lawyer who turned out to be Varela’s father, a judge in charge of child protection cases.
“I can understand your shock at hearing that I had spoken with your father concerning the priest,” Burke wrote in a June 2016 letter to Varela. Varela said his father died without ever learning of the abuse of his son.
Burke told Varela that, “I took immediate and what I judged to be appropriate measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all the pupils in the school and of every person who had contact with the chaplain.”
The measures included “immediate removal of the chaplain by his religious superior and the Bishop of the Diocese.”
Records obtained by the AP show that Mac Conastair was transferred to the San Cayetano vicary, but it’s unknown whether he had contact with other children before he died in 1997.
Clerical abuse experts say Burke’s action was significant because in the 1970’s there were no church rules for reporting such crimes.
“It sounds like at least John Burke took some action and the bishop forced the priest out of the school,” said Maeve Lewis, executive director of victims group One in Four. “That happened here (in Ireland) all the time and no one brought it to the attention of their bishop.”
But Varela remained frustrated at the failure of Burke, the school and the Brothers to acknowledge the “abhorrent sexual and psychological abuses” in public.
“I am not the only victim of Newman School. We both know it,” Varela wrote in a letter to Burke in October 2016. He also criticized for former rector for failing to mention the abuse when he spoke at an annual alumni dinner attended by Macri that month.
A video published online by Newman’s alumni association five years ago, shows Burke referring to Derham as his novice master and praising him as “the most extraordinary person.”
Islamic State ‘outsources’ terror attacks to Pakistan based outfits: UN
MMNN:12 Aug 2017
The Islamic State terror group “outsources” terror attacks to Pakistan-based outfits like the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, according to a UN report.
The Islamic State terror group enlists “partners of convenience” in Afghanistan and “outsources” terror attacks to Pakistan-based outfits like the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, according to a UN report.
The 20th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team was submitted to the UN Security Council Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee here.
It said that in South Asia, the al-Qaeda’s core continues to compete with the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), for dominance over terrorist groups in the region.
The report said the current leader of al-Qaeda Aiman al- Zawahiri “is still assumed” to be in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
“ISIL in Afghanistan tends to enlist partners of convenience and ‘outsources’ terrorist attacks to other groups such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan splinter group,” the report said.
It said that the al-Qaeda core and its regional affiliates continue to actively cooperate with the Afghan Taliban in return for sanctuary and operating space.
“By embedding itself within the Taliban movement, the Al-Qaeda core also aims to maintain local bases of influence as a part of the wider Afghan insurgency and receives operational support from the Taliban for its regional affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS),” the report said.
It cited a UN Member state, which informed the committee that AQIS comprises around 200 fighters, who operate as advisers and trainers of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. Individuals associated with the Al-Qaeda core are active in Paktika, Paktiya, Khost, Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan, the report said.
It said that the ISIS core continues to fund the group in Afghanistan, noting that while sometimes the financial flows are robust, other times they run dry.
“In the assessment of one Member State, ISIL in Afghanistan would not exist without support from the ISIL core. However, the ISIL core has instructed its affiliate in Afghanistan to begin to develop its own internal funding sources,” the report said.
Further, the Taliban, through the al-Qaeda core, continues to wield substantial influence over regional Al- Qaeda affiliates.
“Many Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters from the Afghanistan- Pakistan border area have integrated into the Taliban, leading to a marked increase in the military capabilities of the movement,” the report said, adding that currently more than 7,000 foreign terrorist fighters are fighting in Afghanistan for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda affiliates.
However, the report notes that under the order of the al- Qaeda core, several of the group’s second-tier leaders had left South Asia for Syria “in line with the continued ambition of the Al-Qaeda core to play a more direct role in that ongoing conflict and use it to further its agenda”.
The report noted that in a video released in April this year, Al-Zawahiri tried to inject Al-Qaeda ideology into the ongoing fight, with the aim of expanding its support base and rebuilding its regional network in the aftermath of a potential collapse of ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
In the video, he directly addressed fighters in Syria, painting the Syrian conflict as part of the global fight against the “crusader enemy” and urging them to reject nationalist sentiment and wage a protracted guerrilla war against the Syrian government. PTI YAS ASK ASK
Muslim man sues Virgin Atlantic, taken off the flight as crew felt threatened for saying 9/11
MMNN:11 Aug 2017
Mohammad Khan has alleged that Virgin Atlantic staff “racially and religiously profiled” him over a “harmless” conversation with a flight stewardess and another passenger
A London-based Muslim man has sued the Virgin Atlantic airlines following his being ordered off a flight by police after “innocently” mentioning the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the media reported.
Mohammad Khan has alleged that Virgin Atlantic staff “racially and religiously profiled” him over a “harmless” conversation with a flight stewardess and another passenger, the Independent daily reported on Friday.
The 26-year-old said he was escorted off his flight from London to Atlanta, Georgia, following a “massive overreaction” by the cabin crew.
The Middlesex University graduate was travelling to the US for an interview for a business internship in Medellin, Colombia.
He said another passenger had complained about the length of airport security queues as the plane taxied on the runway.
“I totally innocently said ‘there’s been more security since 9/11’, then asked the stewardess ‘I bet your job has changed since 9/11’, but she looked stunned,” Khan said on Thursday.
The plane was then turned around and taxied back to the terminal where he was led off by police officers.
“I was racially and religiously profiled. It was a complete overreaction to completely innocent and harmless comments. I know this would not have happened if I was a white man in his 60s who had done the same thing.
“It totally ruined my trip and I felt humiliated. I was made to feel like a criminal,” the Independent quoted Khan as saying.
He was denied a refund on his 560 pounds ($720) ticket and was forced to spend 817 pounds ($1,060) on flights with another airline.
Escalation of tension between India and China will be disruptive, says UAE
MMNN:10 Aug 2017
UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said his country has been keeping an eye on the India-China Doklam issue and hoped that both the great powers will find a way to resolve it.
Any escalation of tension between India and China on the Dokalam standoff will be potentially “very disruptive” for the countries of the region and both sides should try to resolve the issue amicably, the United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday.
UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said his country has been keeping an eye on the issue and hoped that both the great powers will find a way to resolve it.
Gargash on Wednesday held talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj covering all major bilateral and regional issues. The face-off between the armies of India and China in Dokalam is understood have figured at the meeting.
“Any escalation between two great powers -- India and China -- is potentially very disruptive for all of us. More we have a way in adressing the the issue between these two great nations, I think we will feel more stable,” he told reporters.
Gargash said he conveyed to Indian leaders that the dispute a number of Arab countries including the UAE are having with Qatar will not impact the Indian community as well as Indian interests in the region.
At the same time, he accused Qatar of attempting to destabilise the Gulf region by openly supporting extremism, terrorism and jihadist elements and said that country must abandon such destructive policy.
Asked about terror attacks on India from Pakistani soil, he said the UAE has been very vocal against such attacks and asserted that terrorism in the name of pushing political agenda cannot be tolerated at all.
He said terrorism must be dealt with firmly and all countries must come together to combat the menace, cautioning against politicisation of religion.
Gargash said ties between India and the UAE have intensified to a great extent over the last few years, adding the focus of the cooperation is now on strategic and political sphere.
Asked about investment in India from the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds, the minister said a framework has to be put in place for investments.
He said both sides are working together to ensure that investments in India from Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds are on a solid institutional ground.
“I think we are working on this together. It will be a collective effort in order to make sure that our investments in India are on solid institutional ground,” he said.
Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, has a sovereign wealth fund of USD 800 billion. India has been eyeing the fund, parked with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, for its infrastructure sector.
“We have huge appetite for India. We need a legal framework (for investment). There is a huge potential,” he said.
The minister indicated that the investments from the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds will come to India through its National Infrastructure and Investment Fund (NIIF).
India is the UAE’s number one trading partner and the annual trade currently stands at nearly USD 60 billion. The UAE, a major player in the Gulf region, is a strategically important country for India.
North Korea warns of a strike on Guam after Trump says threats to be met with fire, fury
MMNN:9 Aug 2017
The official North Korean news agency said Pyongyang is examining operational plan for making an enveloping fire around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-1
ust hours after President Donald Trump said the US will respond to further North Korean threats with “fire and fury”, Pyongyang shot back saying it was examining plans for a missile strike on US territory in the Pacific Guam.
“The KPA (Korean People’s Army) Strategic Force is now carefully examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 in order to contain the US major military bases on Guam including the Anderson Air Force Base,” a spokesman for the North Korean army said in a statement carried by the country’s state news agency.
The spokesman added the plan will be put into effect when the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un decided.
There was no mention in the statement to President Trump’s threat earlier in the day, which some critics said was too sharp and that he had gone too far too soon. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United states,” Trump said in remarks at his golf resort in New Jersey. “They will be met with the fire and the fury like the world has never seen.”
He was responding to questions on the North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.
“He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said they will be met with the fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” he added presumably referring to Kim Jong-Un, the North Korean leader, who oversaw a series of missile tests since Trump took office
The president’s remarks raised concerns at home if he was indeed ready to carry out his threat and punish Pyongyang if pushed. Republican senator John McCain, who heads the senate armed services committee, told a TV station he takes exception to Trump’s comments “because you got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do”.
Senior Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said the situation on the Korean peninsula was already volatile and Trump was not helping with “his bombastic comments”.
Shortly after the president’s remark, US military announced two B-1 bombers flew from Guam over the Korean Peninsula as a part of “continuous bomber presence”, a US official said, in a sign of the strategic importance of Guam.
Trump’s remarks followed news reports North Korea may have developed miniaturised nuclear warhead that could be carried inside missiles, and Pyongyang’s threats to teach the US “a severe lesson with its strategic nuclear force”.
And that was in response, in a back-and-forth on for weeks now, to the UN security council slapping new sanctions on North Korea based on a US-led resolution — after two ICBM tests carried out by Pyongyang in one month.
North Korean said it was ready to use nuclear weapon against the US if it was attacked. “Should the US pounce upon the DPRK with military force at last, the DPRK is ready to teach the US a severe lesson with its strategic nuclear force,” it said in a statement on Monday.
Iran’s Rouhani presents new male-only cabinet
MMNN:8 Aug 2017
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani put forward a new cabinet line-up on Tuesday that again included no women, despite criticism of their absence from his reformist allies.
There were no major changes to Rouhani’s government, which is expected to continue his push for greater foreign investment and a technocratic approach to reviving the country’s stagnant economy.
He did replace the defence minister, Major General Hossein Dehghan, with his deputy, General Amir Hatami -- the first time in more than two decades that the post has been filled by someone from the regular army rather than the elite Revolutionary Guards.
The deputy economy minister, Masoud Karbasian, also replaced his boss, Ali Tayebnia.
Key names in Iran’s efforts to rebuild ties with the West -- Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh -- retained their positions.
All 18 cabinet members must be approved by parliament over the coming week.
Rouhani’s reformist allies have already criticised the president after news leaked that he would again fail to appoint any women to the cabinet -- seen as a capitulation to religious leaders.
“The lack of women ministers shows we are treading water,” Shahindokht Mowlaverdi, Rouhani’s outgoing vice president for women’s affairs, told the reformist Etemad daily on Monday.
During his first term, she was one of three women among his large cohort of vice presidents, who do not require parliamentary approval.
The 68-year-old president is a moderate cleric, who won a sizeable election victory over hardliner Ebrahim Raisi in May, thanks largely to the support of reformists, who have felt ignored in the selection process for the new government.
Ironically, the sole female minister since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution came under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani’s hardline predecessor, whose health minister Marzieh Dastjerdi served between 2009 and 2013.
With no official parties in parliament, Rouhani must coordinate among a shifting pattern of political factions, none of which holds a definitive majority of the 290 seats.
He is known to have coordinated closely on his appointments with other power-brokers, including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guards and the judiciary.
Trump’s global warning: US launches process to exit Paris climate agreement
MMNN:5 Aug 2017
US officially informs UN it will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, pressing ahead with President Donald Trump’s announcement in June.
The United States on Friday formally communicated to the UN its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate “as soon as it is eligible to do so” but left the door open for re-joining if and when terms were “more favorable to it”.
President Donald Trump announced in June he was pulling the US out of the accord alleging it unfairly favoured countries such as India and China at the expense of America, but had said he was open to re-negotiating the deal.
His offer was was rejected by most signatories, who vowed to press ahead with the Paris deal that aims to prevent the Earth from heating up by 2 degrees Celsius since the start of the industrial age.
A state department statement, however, said the US will continue to participate in international climate change negotiations and meetings, including the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP-23) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The US will be sending delegations to COP-23 in Bonn, Germany in November and such other conferences and meetings, according to a state department official who spoke on the background.
“As the President indicated in his June 1 announcement and subsequently, he is open to re-engaging in the Paris Agreement if the United States can identify terms that are more favourable to it, its businesses, its workers, its people, and its taxpayers,” the statement said.
The president had then insisted that leaving the accord would not diminish America’s commitment to protecting the environment but the series of measures ordered by him rolling back some of President Barack Obama’s green regulations — such as those pertaining to mining of coal, for instance — would have severely limited the ability of the US to fulfill its commitments.
Underlining Trump’s position, the statement said the US supports a balanced approach to climate policy that lowers emissions while promoting economic growth and ensuring energy security.
The US is on a very short list of countries with Syria and Nicaragua that are not a part of the global pact signed by 195 countries in 2015 and that came into effect last November, the month Trump was elected president running on the promise of ending America’s association with it.
The impact of the US exit on global warming will be severe. Climate Interactive, which tracks global emissions and pledges, estimates that if the US doesn’t reach its Paris Agreement goal an additional 0.3 degrees Celsius will be added to global warming by the end of the century.
Climate Action Tracker, another outfit, expects lesser impact — additional 0.1 to 0.2 degrees Celsius by 2100.
Associateed Press said the earliest the US can be out of the climate agreement is November 4, 2020 -- the day after the next presidential election.
“The state department is telling the UN what the president already told the world on June 1 and it has no legal effect,” said Nigel Purvis, who directed US climate diplomacy during the Bill Clinton and George W Bush administrations.
Purvis said countries can’t withdraw from new international agreements, including the Paris climate one, until three years after they go into effect. Then the process takes a year.
The state department cited the same timeline, saying it can officially start withdrawing as soon as November, 2019.
Under Obama, the US agreed to reduce polluting emissions more than a quarter from 2005 levels by the year 2025. There is no climate court. All that’s required in the agreement is a plan and reporting on progress toward reaching self-set goals.
Here’s how the Obamas responded to a woman’s wedding invitation
MMNN:4 Aug 2017
Liz Whitlow, from Texas, invited the Obamas to her daughter Brooke Allen’s wedding in March and received a congratulatory card signed by both of them
A woman recently sent a wedding invitation to the former US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, and she received a congratulatory card signed by both of them.
Liz Whitlow, from Texas, invited the Obamas to her daughter Brooke Allen’s wedding in March and received the response on July 31.
“Congratulations on your wedding. We hope that your marriage is blessed with love, laughter, and happiness and that your bond grows stronger with each passing year. This occasion marks the beginning of a lifelong partnership, and as you embark on this journey, know you have our very best for the many joys and adventures that lie ahead,” their letter read.
When Allen found out about Obamas’ message, she took to Twitter to share her excitement.
“MY MOM DEADASS SENT THE OBAMAS A WEDDING INVITATION BACK IN MARCH AND JUST RECEIVED THIS IN THE MAIL. IM HOLLERING,” she wrote.
Her tweet immediately caught the attention of the fans of the former first couple and received more than 45,000 retweets and 200,000 likes within a few days.
Allen even shared a screenshot of her conversation with her mother where she says she didn’t invite the current President Donald Trump.
Many came forward to share the letters they received from the Obamas.
During Obama’s tenure, the White House received around 20,000 messages addressed to him each day, according to the BBC. Although he is no longer in service, it seems the Obamas continue to stay in touch with their fans with their sweet gestures.
NASA seeks ‘planetary protection officer’ to defend Earth from aliens
MMNN:3 Aug 2017
The person will draw a six figure salary and will have security clearance listed as “secret.”
NASA is hiring a “planetary protection officer” who would be tasked to protect the Earth from potential alien contamination.
The US government’s official employment site advertised the job which is open to US citizens and nationals for applications until August 14, Newsweek reported on Wednesday.
“Planetary protection is concerned with the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration,” the advertisement said.
The person who lands the job will draw a six figure salary — $124,406 to $187,000 per year — and security clearance is listed as “secret.”
“NASA maintains policies for planetary protection applicable to all space flight missions that may intentionally or unintentionally carry Earth organisms and organic constituents to the planets or other solar system bodies, and any mission employing spacecraft, which are intended to return to Earth and its biosphere with samples from extraterrestrial targets of exploration” the job advert said.
“This policy is based on federal requirements and international treaties and agreements,” it added.
Candidates must have “broad engineering expertise,” and should be an expert in planetary protection.
“This includes demonstrated technical expertise to independently form technically sound judgments and evaluations in considerably complex situations,” according to the advert.
Doklam standoff: China cites 2006 document to accuse Indian troops of trespassing
MMNN:2 Aug 2017
The stand-off on a plateau next to the Indian state of Sikkim, which borders China, has ratcheted up tensions between the neighbours
China on Wednesday cited a 2006 diplomatic document from talks between the Special Representatives on the border issue to back up its claim that Indian troops had trespassed into Chinese territory, triggering the standoff at Donglang in June.
Beijing contended the document – a “non-paper” provided by the Indian side during the meeting of the Special Representatives on the boundary issue on May 10, 2006 – indicated the two sides had agreed to the boundary alignment in the Sikkim sector under an 1890 treaty signed by Great Britain and China.
“Both sides agree on the boundary alignment in the Sikkim Sector,” the Chinese foreign ministry quoted the non-paper as saying.
In a first, China also floated the idea that New Delhi and Beijing should sign a new boundary convention to replace the 1890 “Convention between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet” that is said to have demarcated the Sikkim boundary.
A non-paper is an informal document, usually without explicit attribution, used in diplomatic negotiations. It is rare for the contents of such a document to be officially made public by either parties involved in negotiations.
The 15-page Chinese statement made no mention of the India foreign ministry’s assertion in a statement issued on June 30 that the two sides had reached an agreement in 2012 that the “tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries”.
India had also said that any attempt to “unilaterally determine tri-junction points” would violate this understanding.
The face-off began on June 16, when Indian troops opposed the building of a road by Chinese forces at Donglang or Doklam, which is under China’s control but claimed by Bhutan.
China insists that the Indian troops had trespassed into its territory. India has said the road construction alters the status quo and has “serious security implications”.
The Chinese statement said the boundary in the Sikkim sector “has long been delimited by the 1890 convention” between China and Great Britain and even the signing of a new boundary convention would “in no way” alter the nature of the boundary in the sector.
“The Chinese and Indian sides have been in discussion on making the boundary in the Sikkim Sector an ‘early harvest’ in the settlement of the entire boundary question during the meetings between the Special Representatives on the China-India Boundary Question,” it added.
The more than 2,500-word statement was the latest in the series of steps by the Chinese side blaming India for the impasse. Beijing wants India to withdraw its troops from Donglang before the two sides can open talks
Referring to the standoff, the statement said: “On 16 June 2017, the Chinese side was building a road in the Dong Lang area. On 18 June, over 270 Indian border troops, carrying weapons and driving two bulldozers, crossed the boundary in the Sikkim Sector at the Duo Ka La (Doka La) pass and advanced more than 100 meters into the Chinese territory to obstruct the road building of the Chinese side, causing tension in the area.
“In addition to the two bulldozers, the trespassing Indian border troops, reaching as many as over 400 people at one point, have put up three tents and advanced over 180 meters into the Chinese territory. As of the end of July, there were still over 40 Indian border troops and one bulldozer illegally staying in the Chinese territory,” it added.
The statement argued it was India that was changing the “status quo” by fortifying its positions. It contended that Indian troops had built a “large number of infrastructure facilities”, including roads at Duo Ka pass and nearby areas on the Indian side, and “fortifications and other military installations”.
China, the statement said, has very little infrastructure on its side. “The fact of the matter is it is India that has attempted time and again to change the status quo of the China-India boundary in the Sikkim Sector, which poses a grave security threat to China,” it said.
The statement reiterated China’s contention that it would take steps to safeguard its “legitimate and lawful rights and interests”. It added, “India should immediately and unconditionally withdraw its trespassing border troops back to the Indian side of the boundary. This is a prerequisite and basis for resolving the incident
US ‘done talking about North Korea’, agrees with Japan on need for action
MMNN:31 July 2017
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke with US President Donald Trump on Monday and agreed on the need for further action on North Korea just hours after the US Ambassador to the United Nations said the United States is “done talking about North Korea”.
Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement that China must decide if it is willing to back imposing stronger UN sanctions on North Korea over Friday night’s long-range missile test, the second this month.
Any new UN Security Council resolution “that does not significantly increase the international pressure on North Korea is of no value,” Haley said, adding that Japan and South Korea also needed to do more.
Abe told reporters following his conversation with Trump that repeated efforts by the international community to find a peaceful solution to the North Korean issue had yet to bear fruit in the face of Pyongyang’s unilateral “escalation” of the situation.
“International society, including Russia and China, need to take this seriously and increase pressure,” Abe said, adding that the two nations would take steps towards concrete action but did not give details.
Abe and Trump did not discuss military action against North Korea, nor what would constitute the crossing of a “red line” by Pyongyang, Deputy Chief Cabinet spokesman Koichi Hagiuda told reporters.
North Korea said on Saturday it had conducted another successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that proved its ability to strike the US mainland, drawing a sharp warning from Trump and a rebuke from China.
Trump later wrote on Twitter that he was “very disappointed” in China and that Beijing had done “nothing” for the United States in regards to North Korea, something he would not allow to continue
China has yet to officially respond to Trump’s tweet, but State-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said in a Monday editorial that Trump’s “wrong tweet” was of no help to resolving the situation, and that he did not understand the issues.
“Pyongyang is determined to develop its nuclear and missile programme and does not care about military threats from the US and South Korea. How could Chinese sanctions change the situation?” the paper, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, added.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is on vacation, planned to have a phone call with Trump soon, a senior official at the Presidential Blue House said.
“If the two heads of state talk, they will likely discuss their respective stances on North Korea, the U.S.-(South Korea’s) alliance’s standpoint on North Korea and other things including how to impose heavy sanctions.”
The United States flew two supersonic B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula in a show of force on Sunday in response to the missile test and the July 3 launch of the “Hwasong-14” rocket, the Pentagon said. The bombers took off from a US air base in Guam, and were joined by Japanese and South Korean fighter jets during the exercise.
“North Korea remains the most urgent threat to regional stability,” Pacific Air Forces commander General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy said in a statement. “If called upon, we are ready to respond with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing.”
Pakistan: PML-N to choose Nawaz Sharif’s successor today
MMNN:29 July 2017
The ruling PML-N will decide on Nawaz Sharif’s successor at a meeting in Islamabad following his ouster as prime minister by the Supreme Court
Pakistan’s ruling PML-N party will decide on Saturday whether Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif will take on the mantle of prime minister following Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification or some other party leader will hold the post till elections due next year.
Hours after he was ousted by the Supreme Court on Friday for dishonesty in declaring his assets, Pakistani media reported that Sharif had told a meeting of top PML-N leaders he wanted Shehbaz to succeed him.
However, Shehbaz is a member of the provincial assembly of Punjab and will have to be elected to Parliament in order to become premier.
Reports suggested the PML-N could nominate another MP to serve as interim prime minister for the 45-day period during which the ruling party can prove its two-thirds majority in Parliament and elect a new leader of the House.
However, there were also reports that the PML-N was mulling the option of nominating an MP who would serve as premier for the remaining tenure of the government. Elections are expected to be held by May 2018.
A final decision will be made at a PML-N meeting in Islamabad on Saturday. The meeting will also choose members of the new premier’s cabinet.
If the party decides to choose an interim prime minister, the names being floated are of federal ministers Khaqan Abbasi, Khwaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal and Khurram Dastagir Khan and National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq. Some circles have also named Sharif’s wife Kulsoom Nawaz as a possible candidate.
Sharif has moved out of the sprawling Prime Minister House’s in the heart of Islamabad and into the nearby Punjab House. All members of his cabinet have been denotified and all protocol has been removed.
At many public places such as airports and train stations, Sharif’s picture has been removed. There were no reports of major disturbances in any city following the Supreme Court’s verdict except for some minor skirmishes between workers of different parties in Islamabad.
The top court also directed the National Accountability Bureau, the main anti-corruption watchdog, to file a case against Sharif, his children Maryam, Hussain and Hassan and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar for owning offshore assets. It also ordered a criminal investigation against finance minister Ishaq Dar, who is related to Sharif.
Uzbekistan jails ex-president’s daughter Gulnara Karimova for fraud, money laundering
MMNN:28 July 2017
Uzbekistan said Friday that it has jailed the eldest daughter of late president Islam Karimov, Gulnara Karimova — once a prominent socialite, fashion designer and singer — after charging her with massive fraud and money laundering.
In a statement the Uzbekistan Prosecutor-General’s Office said that “Gulnara Karimova has been charged” with crimes including fraud, money laundering and concealing foreign currency “and she has been held behind bars”.
Karimova, 45, is the eldest daughter of the late authoritarian president of the secretive ex-Soviet Central Asian state, who died following a reported stroke in September last year.
She was once tipped to succeed her father and was a high-profile figure, serving in diplomatic posts including as ambassador to Spain and Uzbekistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva.
She also organised a fashion week, had her own jewellery line and released pop singles under the name Googoosha as well as running entertainment television channels.
In a statement, the organised crime unit of the Prosecutor-General’s Office said she was a member of an organised criminal group that controlled assets worth more than $1.3 billion in 12 countries.
It said these included London properties worth £22.9 million ($29.95 million) and hotels in Dubai worth $67.4 million.
Among the long list of allegations against Karimova are that she fraudulently acquired assets worth $595 million and received $869.3 million in kickbacks that were paid into offshore accounts.
She has been reportedly under house arrest in the country since 2014 after publicly feuding with her mother and her younger sister Lola on Twitter. She did not attend her father’s funeral.
The statement by the Prosecutor-General’s office says that she was handed a five-year non-custodial sentence, that did not see her jailed, in 2015.
In an interview with the BBC in December, her London-based son Islam Karimov Jr., 23, called on authorities in Uzbekistan to prove that his mother was alive and well.
Karimova is also the subject of a multi-year corruption probe targeting Western telecoms firms that US and European investigators say paid her billions of dollars to secure access to the national market.
Swiss prosecutors reportedly questioned her in Tashkent in December, quashing rumours of her possible death
In India-Israel Defense Ties, A Rope-Maker Makes Big Gains
MMNN:27 July 2017
Garware-Wall Ropes Ltd. aims to win defense contracts by forging partnerships and developing new products to complement its traditional offerings of industrial ropes, textiles and nets used in fishing and sports
Amid the scores of companies looking to cash in on India's plans to boost defense spending and open up contracts to the local private sector, one unlikely hopeful stands out: a ropemaker.
Garware-Wall Ropes Ltd. aims to win defense contracts by forging partnerships and developing new products to complement its traditional offerings of industrial ropes, textiles and nets used in fishing and sports. The company plans to begin making fabric covers that protect radar equipment from weather conditions, and earlier this month it signed a pact with Israel's Aero-T to manufacture surveillance balloons called aerostats.
"We will work out the details on the venture such as revenue-sharing and investments soon, and Garware aims to have a significant stake in it," Shujaul Rehman, chief executive officer of the Pune-based company, said in a phone interview on Tuesday.
India plans to spend $250 billion by 2025 to modernize its armed forces and in May approved a policy that allows companies to partner with foreign firms and to boost local manufacturing. The plans have helped inflate shares of companies that are queuing up to bid for supply contracts ranging from explosives and surveillance equipment to combat planes and submarines. Garware-Wall's stock has nearly doubled in the past 12 months compared with a 32 percent gain in the S&P BSE Small Cap Index.
While the ropemaker has yet to officially factor in any boost from defense orders, the CEO envisions a total revenue contribution of about 1 billion rupees over 2020-22.
"Demand from all the businesses that it supplies to is expected to improve the top-line, and we see the defense sector adding to the stream in the next couple of years," Hyderabad-based Anil Kumar, an equity analyst at Firstcall India Equity Advisors Pvt., said by phone. Kumar, who has an overweight rating on the stock, expects Garware-Wall Rope's operating profit and net income to rise at least 22 percent annually and sees its partnership with Aero-T as "another step for future growth."
Widening margins have helped the ropemaker's profits rise at a faster pace than revenue. Net income increased at an average 47 percent annually for the past three financial years versus around 8 percent sales growth. The company cites lower costs and sales of more-profitable products as the main reason for the margin improvement. Garware-Wall aims to maintain its recent growth and profitability levels.
"We sell a considerable percentage of high-margin products and aim to improve it to as much as 70 percent of total sales from the current contribution of around 50 percent," Rehman said.
Trump blames Obama for Russia and Iran’s control over Syria
MMNN:26 July 2017
President Donald Trump said he will not let Bashar al-Assad get away with using chemical weapons on his people in Syria, as he slammed his predecessor Barack Obama for not taking enough action on “horrible acts against humanity” in the war-ravaged country.
Had President Obama gone across that line and done what he should have done, I don’t believe you’d have Russia and I don’t believe you’d have Iran to anywhere near the extent, and maybe not at all, in Syria today,” Trump told reporters at a joint news conference with visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday.
“I am not a fan of Assad. I certainly think that what he’s done to that country (Syria) and to humanity is horrible. I have been saying that for a long time. I am not somebody that will stand by and let him get away with what he tried to do,” he said.
In the “red line” warning of 2013, Obama responded to reports that Assad had used chemical weapons by saying he would meet further chemical weapons use with force.
Later, Assad again used chemical weapons, and Obama opted to have Russia step in to remove them.
“He (Assad) did it a number of times when President Obama drew the red line in the sand, and then he should have crossed that red line, because some horrible acts against humanity took place, including gas and the killing through gases. That was a bad day for this country,” Trump said.
He said the US is having extraordinary success against the ISIS
One of the things that we have made tremendous strides at is getting rid of ISIS. We have generals that don’t like to talk, they like to do,” he said.
Trump said the US has made “tremendous strides” against the Islamic State terror group in Syria, Iraq and other locations.
“Our military is an incredible fighting force. And as you know, I let the commanders on the ground do what they had to do,” he said.
The US president added that before he took charge, “The commanders had to call the White House and speak to people that didn’t know what was happening, where they were, what locations, practically, probably never heard of the countries they were talking about or the towns.”
Responding to another question, Trump said he would be making his position clear on the Hezbollah clear in the next 24 hours.
“I’ll be making my position very clear over the next 24 hours. We’re going to see what is exactly taking place. I have meetings with some of my very expert military representatives and others. So I’ll be making that decision very shortly,” he said.
US Envoy Holds Russia Responsible For 'Hot War' In Ukraine
MMNN:24 July 2017
Kurt Volker, who was appointed this month as the State Department's special representative for negotiations to end more than three years of fighting, was visiting Kiev on the eve of telephone talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France on how to stem a conflict that has claimed 10,000 lives.
KIEV: The new US special envoy on Ukraine said Sunday that Russia is responsible for the "hot war" in the country's east, after fresh clashes between government forces and Russian-backed rebels.
Kurt Volker, who was appointed this month as the State Department's special representative for negotiations to end more than three years of fighting, was visiting on the eve of telephone talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France on how to stem a conflict that has claimed 10,000 lives.
"This is not a frozen conflict, this is a hot war and it is an immediate crisis that we all need to address as quickly as possible," Volker said while visiting the government-controlled city of Kramatorsk in the war-torn Donetsk region.
"I wanted to come here... and to see firsthand the situation along the line of conflict," Volker, wearing a bulletproof vest, told journalists.
"It is truly a high degree of suffering, there was a high human cost to this conflict and that is another reason why it is so urgent that we address it."
His visit follows a fresh flare up in fighting in eastern Ukraine which has claimed the lives of 11 Ukrainian troops over the past few days, the most serious surge in bloodshed in recent months.
Ukraine and the West say Moscow has funnelled troops and arms across the border to fan the flames of the war in Europe's backyard.
Moscow has denied the allegations, despite overwhelming evidence that it has been involved in the fighting and its explicit political support for the rebels.
Volker agreed when asked whether he considered the conflict to be the result of Russian aggression rather than a Ukrainian civil war.
"We understand the way this conflict has begun, we understand the way it is being managed today and that is why it is important the US become more engaged," the former US ambassador to NATO said.
On Monday, Volker will have talks with Ukrainian authorities in Kiev and next week will visit France, Belgium, Austria and Britain before going back to Washington to make "some recommendations about exactly how the US can engage better".
The US and EU have imposed sanctions on Russia, but efforts to secure a peace Ukraine deal have ground to a halt as the fighting has dragged on.
The conflict, along with Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, has pushed ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.
Nawaz Sharif’s brother to replace him in case of conviction: Report
MMNN:22 July 2017
Defence minister Khawaja Asif will most likely become the interim prime minister for 45 days till Punjab province chief minister Shehbaz Sharif is elected in bypolls, Geo News reported,
Beleaguered Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother and Punjab province chief minister Shehbaz Sharif is expected to replace him if he is disqualified by the Supreme Court for alleged corruption and money laundering in the sensitive Panama Papers case, according to a media report.
Since Shehbaz is not a member of the National Assembly — the lower house of the Parliament — he cannot succeed immediately and would have to contest elections.
Therefore, defence minister Khawaja Asif will most likely become the interim prime minister for 45 days till Shehbaz is elected in bypolls, Geo News reported, citing sources, that it was decided in a high-level huddle of ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) on Friday.
It was also decided during the meeting that the party will utilise all legal and constitutional options available if the verdict goes against the premier.
The meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Sharif, was also attended by Shehbaz along with federal ministers, advisers and the legal team representing the Sharif family in the Panama Papers case.
The meeting reviewed the situation following developments in the Supreme Court.
According to sources, the legal team briefed the prime minister on the Panama Papers case.
Speaking in a talk show, Asif rebuffed the media reports.
“The entire party is behind the leadership of Nawaz Sharif. There is no any prime ministerial candidate. There has been no discussion in the meeting on this issue”.
The Supreme Court concluded hearing the sensitive Panama Papers case against Sharif, 67, and his family on Friday for alleged corruption and money laundering, but reserved its verdict that could jeopardise his political future.
The judgement was reserved after counsels of both sides concluded their arguments before a three-judge bench of the apex court headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan. The bench did not immediately give any date to give its judgement.
A six-member JIT was set up in May by the Supreme Court with the mandate to probe the Sharif family for allegedly failing to provide the trail of money used to buy properties in London in 1990s.
The JIT has recommended that the report’s Volume-X should be treated as confidential as it contains the details of correspondence with other countries.
So far Sharif has refused to quit, calling the investigators’ report a compilation of “allegations and assumptions”. His decision to stay in power was endorsed by the federal Cabinet last week.
Two killed, over 100 injured as 6.7-magnitude earthquake hits Greek, Turkey tourist resorts
MMNN:21 July 2017
Two people, likely foreign tourists, were killed and more than 100 people injured on the Greek island of Kos when an earthquake shook popular Greek and Turkish holiday destinations in the Aegean Sea.
The epicentre of the shallow 6.7 magnitude quake was some 10.3 kilometres (6.4 miles) south of the major Turkish resort of Bodrum, a magnet for holidaymakers in the summer, and 16.2 kilometres east of the island of Kos in Greece, the US Geological Survey said.
“We have two dead and people injured,” a hospital official on Kos told AFP, adding that the victims were killed when the ceiling of a building collapsed.
Kos mayor Georges Kyritsis told Skai radio the two victims were foreigners. A local journalist, interviewed by the same station, said the victims were found in a bustling part of the town.
The Greek secretary of state for the merchant navy Nektarios Santorinios, said the injury toll had risen to 120.
Reports said the state hospital in Bodrum was evacuated after cracks appeared, with new patients being examined in a garden outside.
The governor of the southern Mugla province -- where Bodrum is located -- said some people had been slightly injured after falling out of windows in panic.
Television footage showed throngs of worried residents and holidaymakers in Bodrum’s streets.
“The biggest problem at the moment are electricity cuts in certain areas (of the city),” Bodrum mayor Mehmet Kocadon told NTV television.
“There is light damage and no reports that anyone has been killed” in the area, he added.
The quake struck Friday at 0131 local time (2231 GMT Thursday).
The Adliye mosque in central Bodrum suffered some damage, with police cordoning it off to prevent people being wounded by fallen debris, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.
The quake was also felt on the Datca peninsula -- also a major resort area -- as well as Turkey’s third city of Izmir on the Aegean to the north.
Turkish television said the earthquake triggered high waves off Gumbet near Bodrum which flooded a road and left parked cars stranded. There were no reports of casualties.
An AFP correspondent holidaying in Bodrum said the quake was followed by aftershocks.
“The bed shook a lot. Some bottles fell and broke in the kitchen and the patio,” said Turkish pensioner Dilber Arikan, who has a summer house in the area.
“I screamed I was very scared because I was alone.”
Erdinc Kalece, 47, and his son Baris, 23, were seeing out the night in the open air in a makeshift bed outside their house in the Turgutreis district outside Bodrum.
“My father and mother were sleeping, I was driving. It was very bad. The road was trembling... I slowed down, waited. I was not scared but anxious,” said Baris.
Erdinc added: “Now we’re waiting for the aftershock quakes to end.”
The quake was also felt on the Greek island of Rhodes.
“We were very surprised. We were scared and we immediately went outside,” Teddy Dijoux, who was holidaying with his family at a Rhodes resort, told AFP.
“That lasted a long time. I quickly gathered up my children to leave the hotel,” said holidaymaker Sylvie Jannot.
Turkey and Greece sit on significant fault lines and have regularly been hit by earthquakes in recent years.
This year alone, Turkey’s western Aegean coast was hit by several significant earthquakes, which brought back memories of past deadly earthquakes.
In June, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake gutted a village on the Greek island of Lesbos, killing a woman and leaving more than 15 injured. The quake also caused panic on Turkey’s Aegean coast.
On August 17, 1999, a huge earthquake measuring more than 7.0 magnitude near the city of Izmit devastated vast areas in the country’s densely populated northwestern zone, notably around Istanbul, killing over 17,000 people.
Flower seller receiving help from strangers will make you believe that goodness still exists
MMNN:20 July 2017
In times when our newspapers are flooded with stories of hatred and negativity, this story of an old man from Karachi, Pakistan is heartening. A Facebook page ‘As If I Have Eaten’ shared the story of Baba Hameed who was selling jasmine garlands in pouring rain at 2am.
A passerby, Muhammad Usman, couldn’t stop wondering why was such an old man was trying to sell flowers so late in the night on the deserted road. He stopped to ask if he had eaten anything and if he would like to have dinner with him. Hameed was pleasantly surprised by the offer.
They both headed to a nearby Subway and that’s when the two got chatting. Usman discovered that Hameed was trying to arrange money for his only daughter’s wedding, planned at the end of the month. “I earn a daily wage of 200 to 300 PKR (120-180 INR). How can I go home until I do not earn my targeted amount?” According to the FB post, Hameed was running short of 50,000 PKR (around 30,000 INR).
The dinner was finished and both parted ways, but it didn’t end there.
Usman along with his friend Usama Bin Ahmed run the Facebook page ‘As If I Have Eaten’ aimed to support the cause to feed poor children. They posted about Usman’s chance encounter on the page requesting people to contribute and help Hameed in whatever way they could.
In two days, the required amount to help Hameed was collected.
The post has over 31k reactions and over 8300 shares in less than a week.
We oppose militarisation of South China Sea: Australia’s foreign minister
MMNN:19 July 2017
India has commercial interests in the South China Sea and has been pressing for resolving the dispute as per the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop on Tuesday said her country opposes Beijing’s construction of artificial reefs and their militarisation in the disputed South China Sea, holding that freedom of navigation must be ensured.
The minister, who was delivering a lecture in New Delhi, said at the same time that there was a need to engage with Beijing as it would be in no one’s interest to see the Chinese economy falter.
“Rising nationalism is leading to a narrow definition of national interest and a more transactional approach in negotiations. These factors reduce the prospects of multilateral cooperation in collective interest,” said Bishop, who is on a two-day visit to New Delhi.
China has constructed artificial reefs in the resource- rich South China and has been ramping up military infrastructure there despite stiff opposition from countries including Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines, which are involved in the territorial dispute.
“We continue to oppose the construction of artificial reefs and militarisation of those structures in the South China Sea,” the visiting minister said.
India has commercial interests in the South China Sea and has been pressing for resolving the dispute as per the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, besides advocating freedom of navigation in the resource-rich area.
Bishop said the right to freedom of navigation must be ensured as it its crucial for trade.
“It is important that all states respect international laws including the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) using it as a guide to resolve disputes,” she said while delivering the Second Indo-Pacific Oration, organised by think-tank ORF and the Australian high commission.
“Our objective must be to encourage China to exercise its economic and strategic weight in a way that respects the sovereign equality of states that upholds and strengthen the rules-based order and benefits all nations,” she said.
The Australian foreign minister also “applauded” India for successfully and peacefully resolving a long-running maritime dispute with Bangladesh in 2014 under the provisions of the UNCLOS.
Bishop emphasised on the need to “close the gaps” for an early conclusion of the negotiations for a free trade agreement between India and Australia.
She said that in years to come, the greatest hope of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region lies in all nations “respecting and contributing to international law to protect national sovereignty” of other nations and strengthen the norms that guide relations between countries.
“In the Indian Ocean, we need a collective leadership of Australia, India, Indonesia and other partners to ensure a strong rule-based culture is respected,” she said.
Bishop also pitched for strengthening the Indian Ocean Rim Association forum.
She also said Australia has always supported India’s bid for a seat in the United Nations Security Council “to better reflect contemporary realities”.
Bishop welcomed the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax and said this will increase India’s competitiveness, enable it to open up its market and benefit from trade opportunities.
She also called for a quadrilateral maritime exercise involving India, Australia and other Indo-Pacific countries.
As India looks to increase its energy supply security through a combination of traditional, nuclear and renewable resources to support its growth, Australia is more poised as reliable supplier of resources and technology, she said.
India and Australia have signed a nuclear cooperation agreement under which it latter can supply uranium.
Pakistan: Bomb attacks in Peshawar and Chaman kill 3 troops
MMNN:17 July 2017
A Two bomb attacks in Peshawar and Chaman, targeting the security forces, killed three troops and wounded eight more.
Separate bombings targeted members of Pakistan’s paramilitary border force on Monday, killing at least three troops and wounding eight, officials said.
In the first attack, a Taliban suicide bomber on a motorcycle hit a Frontier Corps vehicle in Peshawar, near the Afghan border, killing two troops and wounding seven.
A few hours later, a second bomb struck at Chaman in southwestern Balochistan province, also on the border with Afghanistan, killing a soldier and wounding another.
Christian man in Pakistan arrested for blasphemous remark against Prophet
MMNN:15 July 2017
A Christian man has been arrested on charges of blasphemy in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Soon after arresting the suspect, police shifted him to an undisclosed location over fears that people led by religious groups might attack the police station.
The incident took place at Kharian Gujrat, some 200 km from Lahore, the capital of Punjab.
Nadeem Ahmed, owner of an electric shop in Dinga town, filed a police complaint that a friend informed him on Thursday that a Christian sweeper allegedly uttered remarks against the Prophet, according to superintendent of police Maaz Zafar.
The sweeper worked at a private hospital, and a case has been registered against him.
Zafar said police raided the whereabouts of the sweeper and arrested him.
He said the situation in the area was under control and police are patrolling the town.
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan and those accused of it have become an easy target for extremists.
Russia scandal: Democrats call for removal of Jared Kushner’s security clearance
MMNN:14 Jul 2017
Donald Trump’s eldest son Don Jr may be in the media spotlight over his notorious Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. But the latest revelation in the burgeoning scandal has added to the pressure on another family member who was at the meeting and is already in the crosshairs of investigators - Jared Kushner, the president’s influential son-in-law.
Democrats are up in arms, demanding that the 36-year-old Kushner - a senior adviser to the president with an office in the White House - be stripped of his security clearance.
“There doesn’t seem to be any ethical standard in the White House,” Democratic House minority leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted on Thursday. “Jared Kushner’s security clearance must be immediately revoked.”
Even some from Trump’s Republican Party are not so sure that Kushner - who is married to the president’s eldest daughter Ivanka - should remain in the West Wing.
“I’m going out on a limb here - but I would say I think it would be in the president’s best interest if he removed all of his children from the White House,” Texas representative Bill Flores said on Thursday. “Not only Donald Trump (Jr.), but Ivanka and Jared Kushner.”
Omissions on security clearance forms
While Donald Jr has no role in his father’s administration - he is helping run his corporate empire - Kushner is one of Trump’s closest advisors.
The Harvard graduate is also the progeny of a powerful New York real estate family, and has long been in Trump’s inner circle.
It was actually an omission on a government security clearance application filed by Kushner that led to the revelation of the meeting between himself, Donald Jr, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and the Russian lawyer.
It also led Donald Jr to release an email chain about the planning of that meeting - which is now being cited as the most serious evidence yet of alleged collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.
In the June 2016 emails, Donald Jr eagerly agrees to a meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer who is said to possess incriminating information about Clinton and invites Kushner and Manafort to come along.
Kushner, filing a security clearance document known as an SF-86, initially neglected to mention that he attended the meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya - as well as contacts he had with several other Russians, including Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.
The meeting with Veselnitskaya came to light only after Kushner filed an amended SF-86 form.
Veselnitskaya confirmed to CNN and MSNBC that Kushner attended the meeting but said he was there for only “seven to 10 minutes” and she had never intended to hand over damaging information about Clinton anyway.
Russia ties under microscope
But even before revelations of the Veselnitskaya meeting came to light, Kushner’s other dealings with Russian officials have been facing scrutiny.
According to The Washington Post, Kushner - at a December 2016 meeting with Kislyak - raised the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications link between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin.
That same month, Kushner also met with Sergey Gorkov, chief of Vnesheconombank and a former member of Russian intelligence. The bank, a key arm of the Russian government, is under tough US sanctions.
The Post reported last month that Kushner’s finances and business dealings were being examined as part of the probe led by special counsel and former FBI director Robert Mueller into whether the Trump campaign teamed with Russia to help tilt the presidential race in favor of the billionaire tycoon.
And this week, the McClatchy newspaper group reported that congressional and Justice Department investigators were looking into whether the Trump campaign helped Russian cyber operatives bombard key voting districts with “fake news” about Clinton.
Kushner was in charge of the Trump campaign’s digital operations. He now plays a major role in shaping foreign policy.
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.