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Dubai to have world’s first air taxi, agreements inked at World Government Summit 2024

MMNN: 13 Feb 2024
Delhi|In a pathbreaking move set to revolutionize urban transportation, Dubai has inked agreements at the World Government Summit 2024 to launch the world's first air taxi service. The agreements pave the way for Dubai to pioneer the deployment of a city-wide electric aerial taxi service and vertiport network.
At the heart of the initiative lies the Joby Aviation S4, an innovative aircraft designed to comfortably accommodate four passengers along with a pilot. Sporting six propellers and powered by four battery packs, the S4 boasts a maximum range of 161 km and a top speed of 321 km per hour. Its Vertical take-off and landing capabilities render it ideal for urban settings, minimizing the space requirements typical of conventional stations and reducing noise pollution compared to helicopters. With an eye toward efficiency, safety, and sustainability, the air taxi project promises a host of benefits, including reduced noise levels, zero operating emissions, and enhanced passenger convenience. Leveraging cutting-edge technology, these aerial vehicles aim to seamlessly integrate into Dubai's urban landscape, offering swift and eco-friendly transportation solutions. The electric-powered aircraft can be swiftly recharged between flights, the initiative represents a bold step toward a more sustainable and accessible transportation future.
The air-taxi network will commence its operations in 2026, marking a significant milestone in Dubai's quest to redefine urban mobility.

Election Commission of Pakistan issued orders to hold re-elections at various polling places nationwide following destruction of voting materials by crowd of outrageous people

MMNN: 11 Feb 2024
Delhi|The Election Commission of Pakistan issued orders to hold re-elections at various polling places nationwide following the verification of complaints regarding the snatching and damaging of voting materials. According to media reports having crossed through all challenging phases in conducting nationwide elections on February 8, the poll organising authority is now in the final stages of announcing vote results as the compilation process enters its 48th hour.
In a recent development, the top electoral body has scheduled repolling at multiple polling stations. Re-polling will take place at 26 polling stations following the destruction of voting materials by a crowd of outrageous people.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Meets President Droupadi Murmu at Rashtrapati Bhavan

MMNN: 09 Feb 2024
Delhi|Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Dr Hasan Mahmud called on President Droupadi Murmu at Rashtrapati Bhavan today.
Welcoming Dr Mahmud, the President conveyed congratulations to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her unprecedented fourth consecutive term as Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The President expressed confidence that under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, Bangladesh will achieve new milestones of progress and prosperity.
President Droupadi Murmu said that a strong, stable and prosperous Bangladesh is in India's interest, and there is immense political will on both sides to see the relationship grow. She further expressed satisfaction at the progress made in almost all areas of bilateral cooperation, such as border and security, trade, connectivity, power, infrastructure, people to people contacts, among others. The President noted that both sides have been reviving rail, road and waterways that traditionally linked the people and economies on both sides, and are also simultaneously creating new connectivity links.
Dr Mahmud arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday on a four day official visit.

EAM S. Jaishankar met Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Dr. Hasan Mahmud in New Delhi

MMNN: 08 Feb 2024
Delhi|External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Dr. Hasan Mahmud in New Delhi yesterday evening. The External Affairs Minister held delegation-level talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart and hosted a dinner in his honour. During their interaction, the two Ministers reviewed the progress in wide-ranging areas of bilateral relations, including cross-border connectivity, economic and development partnership, cooperation in defence and security, power, energy, water resources and people-to-people exchanges. They also discussed areas of future engagement in line with the national development goals of the two countries, including the visions of Viksit Bharat 2047 and Smart Bangladesh 2041. The two leaders also exchanged views on regional and multilateral issues of common interest. They expressed commitment to further enhance their collaboration to promote sub-regional cooperation within the framework of BIMSTEC, IORA and BBIN.
The visiting dignitary paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat yesterday. He also met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
During the visit, Mr Mahmud will call on President Droupadi Murmu and hold a meeting with Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal.
Dr Mahmud arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday on a four day official visit.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe inaugrates fifth session of ninth Parliament of Sri Lanka

MMNN: 7 Feb 2024
Delhi|The fifth session of the ninth Parliament of Sri Lanka was inaugurated by President Ranil Wickremesinghe today. Presenting the policy statement, President Wickremesinghe announced key economic highlights of his government. The president unveiled plans for economic revival which included a Debt restructuring strategy in the first six months of the year. In addition, Mr. Wickremasinghe outlined the positives for the island nation and added that tourism and industry were taking a positive turn. Plans were outlined to reduce the tax burden as economic reforms continue to stabilize the economy, while also revising the VAT percentage to further support economic growth. The President expressed optimism about achieving economic growth of 2% to 3% this year with scope for further increase in years to come.

Sri Lanka is in the process of reviving its economy after it faced its worst-ever economic crisis over the last two years. India has been a crucial support through assistance of over 4 billion dollars and financing assurances to the IMF.

Russia and China Slam US Air Strikes in Iraq and Syria at UN Security Council Meeting

MMNN: 6 Feb 2024
Delhi|Russia and China have slammed the United States for its recent air strikes on targets in Iraq and Syria. The two countries accused Washington of raising the risk of regional escalation at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York late yesterday. Russia also asserted that the US decision to launch the attacks was linked to the upcoming presidential election.

China also condemned the attacks. Beijing’s ambassador Zhang Jun echoed the concern about escalating tensions.

The attacks followed a drone strike on a US base in Jordan that killed three American soldiers.

President of Chile Gabriel Boric announces national mourning for two days in honor of fire victims

MMNN: 5 Feb 2024
Delhi|President of Chile Gabriel Boric has announced national mourning for two days in honor of the fire victims. Deadly wildfires in Chile have claimed at least 112 lives till now and hundreds of people also have been reported missing. The President warned that the country faces a tragedy of very great magnitude.

A state of emergency has been proclaimed as smoke engulfed the coastal cities of Chile, forcing residents in core regions to flee their homes. Wildfires that began several days ago are menacing the outer edges of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, two coastal cities popular with tourists. Curfew has been enforced in the towns of Vina del Mar, Quilpue, Villa Alemana, and Limache so that officials could concentrate on putting out the fires. The mayor of Quilpue said that the fire was probably the largest ever in the area and that around 1,400 homes had been damaged.

EAM Dr S Jaishankar says Indian investments in Tanzania are growing in wide range of areas.

MMNN: 8 july 2023
Delhi|External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar has said that Indian investments to Tanzania are growing in a wide range of areas. Speaking at the India-Tanzania business conclave in Dar es Salaam, he said India is Tanzania's best trading partner, and New Delhi is committed to taking the partnership forward. He noted that strong growth in both countries opens up more possibilities. Dr Jaishankar informed that India is investing in building African capabilities, and the IIT Madras Zanzibar campus is its most visible symbol.

During the visit, the Minister had a productive regional Ambassadorial conference in Dar es Salaam, where he took stock of India's relations with different countries. He underlined India’s commitment to strengthening its partnership with Africa and the Global South. Dr. Jaishankar inaugurated the bust of Swami Vivekananda at the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre in Dar es Salaam.

Member of US President's Advisory Commission recommends recapture of all unused green cards for family and employment categories since 1992

MMNN: 7 July 2023
Delhi|A member of the US President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders has recommended recapture of all unused green cards for family and employment categories since 1992. T

he move could benefit thousands of Indian-Americans waiting for their green cards. This includes the recapture of more than 2,30,000 unused employment-based green cards from 1992 to 2022 and processing a portion of these every fiscal year in addition to the annual limit of 1,40,000 for this category, Indian-American Ajay Bhutoria said in his set of recommendations submitted before the commission on Thursday.

Recapture Unused Green Cards and Prevent Future Green Card Waste aims to address bureaucratic delays in the green card application process and provide relief to individuals waiting in backlogs, he said.

The President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders is now voting to approve draft recommendations for submission and full commission approved Recapture of unused Green card visas!

Shanghai Cooperation Organization reaffirms its commitment to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism

MMNN: 6 July 2023
Delhi|Emmanuel Bonne, Diplomatic Advisor to the President of France, called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi today. They briefed about the progress in various areas of bilateral cooperation in the context of the upcoming visit of Mr. Modi to France. Shri Modi thanked President Emmanuel Macron for inviting him as the special guest at the Bastille Day celebrations on the 14th of this month. On his recent meeting with President Macro in Hiroshima, Shri Modi said that the talks in Paris will further strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization reaffirms its commitment to fight terrorism, separatism and extremism

MMNN: 5 July 2023
Delhi|The Shanghai Cooperation Organization has expressed its commitment to fight terrorism, separatism and extremism. The organization has stressed on measures to stop terror financing, prevent radicalization of youth and eliminate sleeper cells and terrorist safe havens and their cross-border movement.

The New Delhi Declaration was adopted after a virtual meeting of the Organization's Heads of State. Accordingly, the member states shall endeavor to develop common principles and approaches to prepare a unified list of terrorist, separatist and extremist organizations. The activities of these extremist organizations are banned in the member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Member countries opposed the militarization of information and communication technologies. In addition, concerns were expressed about the increased production, trafficking and abuse of narcotics and the dangers of using drug-trafficking proceeds as terrorist financing.

America: 10,000 people gather in Texas to recite Bhagavad Gita on the occasion of Guru Purnima

MMNN: 4 July 2023
Delhi| On the occasion of Guru Purnima, ten thousand people gathered together to recite Bhagavad Gita at Allen East Center in Texas, USA tomorrow. gathered for This grand event was organized for the first time. The recitation of Bhagavad Gita during the event emphasized the importance of the holy book as a light in the spiritual life of the people. The event was organized by Yoga Sangeeta Trust America and SGS Geeta Foundation.

President Vladimir Putin accuses West of wanting Russians to kill each other during mutiny by Wagner group

MMNN: 27 Jun 2023
Delhi|Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday accused Ukraine and its Western allies of wanting Russians to kill each other during a revolt by the Wagner group. Putin said this in his first address to the nation since the rebels pulled back. He said that he had issued orders to avoid bloodshed. Putin said that amnesty was granted to the Wagner fighters, whose mutiny served up the greatest challenge yet to his two-decade rule. He added that Wagner fighters could choose whether to join the Russian army or leave for Belarus, or even return to their homes. Putin also paid tributes to pilots who were killed during the failed weekend mutiny. He thanked his security officials for their work during the armed rebellion. Meanwhile, Despite the deal to end the Wagner mutiny, Yevgeny Prigozhin remains under investigation for trying to organise an armed rebellion. Prigozhin has said in an audio message that the move was a protest against Russia’s military leadership and not an attempted coup. Earlier, United States President Joe Biden said that Washington and NATO had no involvement in the Wagner uprising. According to the State Department, US Ambassador Lynne Tracy had directly contacted Russia and made it clear that the US was not involved.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets CEO of Google, CEO of Amazon and CEO of Boeing in Washington DC

MMNN: 24 Jun 2023
Delhi|Prime Minister Narendra Modi today met CEOs of three big US companies Google, Amazon and Boeing. Google's Sundar Pichai told Mr. Modi that Google is investing $10 billion in the Digitization Fund in India. He also announced that Google will open its Global Fintech Operations Center in GIFT City, Gujarat. Mr. Pichai said that the Prime Minister's vision of Digital India is a source of inspiration for other countries as well. Amazon CEO Andrew Jesse said that his company is among the biggest investors in India and Amazon has already invested $11 billion in India. Mr. Jesse said that this investment will be increased by another 15 billion dollars. Boeing CEO Mr. David Calhoun said that the most important thing is Mr. Modi's passion for India's development. He said that Shri Modi has a special interest in the aviation sector. He said that transparency of leadership with technology and technology is invaluable for any country.

Bilateral talks between Prime Minister and US President Joe Biden continue at White House

MMNN: 22 Jun 2023
Delhi|The US President said in his speech that the relationship between America and India is one of the historical relations of the 21st century. He said that he was proud to be the first President of the United States to host a state visit by Mr. Modi. Mr. Biden said that India and America need to work together in the challenges and opportunities that are there today. He said that both the countries are making efforts to jointly solve problems like poverty, climate change and food security. He was received by US President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden. The national anthems of India and America were played on this occasion. An American delegation led by US Vice President Kamala Harris also received the Prime Minister at the White House Complex. External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra and Indian Ambassador to the US Taranjit Sandhu were present on the occasion. A large number of people from the overseas Indian community also reached the White House to see and welcome the Prime Minister. Bilateral talks have started between Prime Minister Modi and US President Joe Biden.

Grand welcome to Prime Minister Narendra Modi at White House

MMNN: 22 Jun 2023
Delhi|Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that friendship between India and America will help in increasing the power of the entire world in the post-Cold War era. In his address at the grand reception at the White House in Washington DC this evening, Prime Minister Modi said that India and the United States are committed to working together for world welfare and peace, stability and prosperity. He said that India and America are proud of their diversity and believe in the fundamental principle of everyone's interest, everyone's welfare. Shri Modi said that he will discuss regional and global issues during his talks with US President Joe Biden. He expressed confidence that the talks would be positive. Mr. Modi thanked Mr. Biden for his warm welcome, the visionary speech of the US President and friendship. He said that this grand ceremony is the honor of one billion and forty crore people of India and four million non-resident Indians.

International Day of Yoga being observed across the world today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lead the celebrations at the United Nations Headquarters in New York

MMNN: 21 Jun 2023
Delhi|Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India's culture, social structure, spirituality and ideals have always been nurturing traditions that unite people, adopt and embrace them. Greeting people on the International Day of Yoga through a video message, Shri Modi said that Yoga creates a healthy and powerful society where the collective energy is greater. He said that those who do yoga regularly get healthy AYUSH strength. The Prime Minister will attend the Yoga Day celebrations at the United Nations Headquarters at 5.30 pm today. He said that it is historic and unprecedented for 180 countries to celebrate Yoga Day together. He said that Yoga has become a global spirit and is spreading the message of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam all over the world. Shri Modi said that keeping in mind the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the theme of the G-20 Summit this year has been kept – One Earth, One Family and One Future. The Prime Minister highlighted the idea of ​​the Ocean Ring of Yoga which makes Yoga Day even more special. Mr Modi said it is based on the correlation between the idea of ​​yoga and the vastness of the ocean. He also highlighted the 'Yoga Bharatmala and Yoga Sagarmala' made by the army personnel using water sources. Shri Modi said that two research bases of India from Arctic to Antarctica are also connected with Yoga. He emphasized that the participation of crores of people of the country and the world in such a spontaneous manner in this unique festival shows the vastness and fame of Yoga.

World Bank likely to approve substantial aid package worth 700 million to crisis-hit Sri Lanka

MMNN: 19 Jun 2023
Delhi|World Bank is likely to approve a substantial aid package worth $700 million to crisis-hit Sri Lanka. Agency sources report that the board meeting, scheduled for 28th of June, would allow the largest funding tranche the island nation has received since securing a deal with the International Monetary Fund in March. The proposed funding would comprise $500 million for budgetary support, likely to be disbursed in two installments of $250 million each. The initial tranche is anticipated to be granted immediately following board approval, with the second installment potentially arriving in October, contingent upon Sri Lanka's progress in debt restructuring and the upcoming first review of the IMF program in September. Additionally, an allocation of $200 million will be earmarked for programs aimed at assisting the country's impoverished population, which has swelled to 25% in the wake of last year's severe economic crisis. The country experienced a record 7.8% contraction last year, primarily due to depleted foreign exchange reserves. In March, the International Monetary Fund approved a rescue package of nearly $3 billion. Sri Lanka anticipates that this endorsement will attract additional funding of up to $4 billion from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and other multilateral institutions.

First Women's Kabaddi League Inaugurated in Dubai, Showcasing India's Talented Athletes

MMNN: 17 Jun 2023
Delhi|Following the success of the Men's Pro Kabaddi League, it is now the turn of female athletes to shine on the kabaddi mat. The inaugural edition of India's first-ever Women's Kabaddi League (WKL) commenced with great fanfare in Dubai on June 16. This historic event marks the first time that women kabaddi players from across India have been given the opportunity to exhibit their skills and prowess on a global stage. The league consists of eight teams, featuring a total of 96 players, each representing Indian states. These teams bear the names of various states, including the Delhi Dynamites, Gujarat Angels, Great Marathas, Haryana Hustlers, Punjab Panthers, Rajasthan Riders, Uma Kolkata, and Bengaluru Hawks. The victorious team will be awarded a prize of approximately half a million dirhams (equivalent to 1 crore INR). The opening ceremony of the IPL-style women's kabaddi league was graced by the presence of Bollywood actor Govinda, who unveiled the coveted trophy. APS Sports, the primary organizer of the WKL, highlighted that this substantial reward exemplifies the league's commitment to acknowledging and appreciating the relentless efforts, dedication, and exceptional talent exhibited by these outstanding athletes. The Women's Kabaddi League is set to span over a period of 12 days, from June 16 to June 27, at the Shabab Al Ahli Sports Club in Dubai. The league's overarching objective is to enhance the prominence of kabaddi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and empower female athletes from India. It provides a robust platform for these exceptional talents to exhibit their prowess, ultimately inspiring a new generation of kabaddi enthusiasts. Pradeep Kumar Nehra, director of the Women's Kabaddi League, emphasized the league's mission and its impact on women's empowerment, stating, "We have started the league to promote women power. Talented girls from villages and rural areas, who were playing very well in school and college, but could not find a good platform. We tried to give them a platform". Chandrashekhar Bhatia, a resident of Dubai, shared his thoughts on the initiative, saying, "This is an initiative to fulfill the Prime Minister's dream of promoting women in sports. In the coming times, we hope basketball, kho-kho, cricket, and other events will be organised." As the Women's Kabaddi League unfolds in Dubai, it promises to captivate audiences with exhilarating matches and extraordinary displays of athleticism. This landmark event stands as a testament to the growing recognition and support for women's sports, paving the way for a brighter future for female athletes in India and beyond.

UAE President Calls for Dialogue and Diplomacy to Resolve Ukraine Crisis

MMNN: 16 Jun 2023
Delhi|President of UAE Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has reiterated the UAE's commitment to de-escalation and a negotiated political solution to the crisis in Ukraine.Sheikh Mohamed made the call during a working visit to St. Petersburg, Russia, where he met with President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders discussed the longstanding relations between the UAE and Russia, and expressed their ongoing commitment to further build on the bilateral ties.Sheikh Mohamed stressed the importance of accelerating efforts to mitigate the humanitarian repercussions of the crisis in Ukraine, and supporting prisoner-exchange initiatives on both sides. He also called for communication and dialogue to support regional and international stability and peace.The UAE President was accompanied during the working visit by a delegation including Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, Ali bin Hammad Al Shamsi, Dr. Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber, and Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Al Jaber. The visit comes as part of the UAE's continuous communication with all nations in an effort to build bridges and foster positive partnerships to ensure regional and international security and stability. The visit of Sheikh Mohamed to Russia is a significant one, as it comes at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and the West over the crisis in Ukraine. Moreover, the UAE is currently participating in the four-day St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF 2023) as a 'Guest of Honour.' The UAE's high-level delegation, composed of representatives from various ministries, institutions, government agencies, and major national companies, is actively involved in discussing key economic issues concerning Russia, emerging markets, and the global landscape. The UAE's call for dialogue and diplomacy is a positive step forward, and it is hoped that the meeting between Sheikh Mohamed and President Putin will yield progress in resolving the Ukraine crisis. This visit also underscores the significance of the UAE-Russia strategic partnership, which has long-standing cooperation in trade, investment, and security matters. The UAE's continued engagement with Russia plays a vital role in ensuring regional stability and fostering mutual understanding.

Former PM Boris Johnson deliberately misled UK Parliament, says Committee Report

MMNN: 15 Jun 2023
Delhi|In the United Kingdom, the main disciplinary body for lawmakers known as the House of Commons Privileges Committee has said that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson deliberately misled the British Parliament in an unprecedented way over rule-breaking parties at his office during COVID-19 lockdowns. The verdict by the Committee has further tarnished Johnson's image. The committee also said that he should be stripped of automatic access to parliament. The Committee also accused Johnson of being involved in a campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation towards them.
Johnson had earlier dismissed the report terming it a lie while accusing the Committee members of waging a vendetta against him. Johnson resigned from Parliament on the 9th of June after seeing an advance copy of the report, calling the inquiry a witch hunt.

Donald Trump to appear in federal court to face criminal charges

MMNN: 13 Jun 2023
Delhi|Former President Donald Trump will appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday to face criminal charges that he unlawfully kept national security documents when he left office. It will be the second courtroom visit for Trump since April, when he was charged by a Manhattan grand jury in a separate hush-money case. Meanwhile, Trump has denied any wrongdoing in both cases and accused Democratic President Joe Biden of orchestrating the federal cases to undermine his campaign for the 2024 presidential election. U.S. Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the prosecution, accuses Trump of taking thousands of papers containing some of the nation's most sensitive national-security secrets when he left the White House in January 2021 and storing them in a haphazard manner at his Mar-a-Lago Florida estate. The indictment alleges Trump lied to officials who tried to get them back. The 37-count indictment includes violations of the Espionage Act, which criminalizes unauthorized possession of defence information, and conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Earthquake of magnitude 6.2 hits Japan

MMNN: 12 Jun 2023
Delhi|A magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido yesterday, June 11. Japan's Meteorological Agency said, no tsunami warning was issued. The quake was 140 kilometres deep and struck the southwestern part of Hokkaido. It shook much of the island, including the cities of Chitose and Atsumacho, the agency added. There were no immediate reports of casualties due to the earthquake, police and other local authorities said. Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone nations.

Donald Trump indicted on 37 counts in Mar-a-Lago documents case

MMNN: 10 Jun 2023
Delhi|Former US president Donald Trump was indicted yesterday on 37 counts in the Mar-a-Lago documents case after he illegally kept top secret files on US nuclear and weapons programs and defense plans after leaving the White House. The charges against Trump include willful retention of national defense information, conspiracy to obstruct justice, corruptly concealing documents, and false statements. The charges, brought by Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith, bring up to 20 years in prison each.

India, France, and UAE Conclude Successful Trilateral Maritime Exercise in Gulf of Oman, Enhancing Naval Cooperation

MMNN: 9 Jun 2023
Delhi|India, France, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) successfully concluded their first trilateral maritime exercise in the Gulf of Oman on June 8. The two-day exercise, which began on June 7, involved the participation of naval assets from all three countries. The exercise was aimed at enhancing maritime security and interoperability among the participating nations. The exercise witnessed a wide spectrum of naval operations such as Surface Warfare, involving tactical firing and Drills for Missile engagements on surface targets, Helicopter Cross Deck Landing Operations, gunnery exercises, seamanship drills, Advanced Air Defence Exercises and Boarding operations. The exercise included cross-embarkation of personnel for the exchange of best practices. India was represented in the exercise by the guided-missile frigate INS Tarkash. France was represented by the frigate FS Surcouf and fighter aircraft. The UAE was represented by Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Helicopters from all three countries participated in the exercise. The exercise was a success, and the participating navies were able to achieve their objectives. They were able to improve their coordination and interoperability, and they were able to exchange valuable information and best practices. The successful conclusion of the first trilateral maritime exercise is a significant milestone in the growing cooperation between India, France, and the UAE. The maiden exercise aimed at enhancing trilateral cooperation between the three navies and paved the way for adopting measures toward addressing traditional and non-traditional threats in the maritime environment. The exercise will also enhance collaboration in ensuring the safety of mercantile trade and freedom of navigation at high seas in the region.

BIMSTEC framework showcases India’s commitment to rapid development of region through joint endeavours: PM Modi

MMNN: 6 Jun 2023
Delhi|Leaders of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) grouping have reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen regional cooperation. The leaders issued messages on the occasion of the 26th anniversary of the BIMSTEC on Tuesday, 6th June. Secretary General Tenzin Lekphell in his message on this occasion said that as it marks its 26th anniversary, BIMSTEC seeks to revisit and re-examine its working methods to better serve the people through the appointment of an Eminent Persons Group to put forth practical recommendations on its future directions. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh highlighted the importance of regional cooperation to meet the challenges of the economic crisis caused by the Ukraine war. She commended BIMSTEC for creating its administrative and regulatory structure and its charter. She reiterated Bangladesh’s commitment to help BIMSTEC in transforming itself into a results-driven organisation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his message said that BIMSTEC framework is India’s commitment to create an enabling environment for the rapid development of the region through joint endeavours in a spirit of equality and friendship. He said the current efforts to have a maritime cooperation agreement and an agreement to facilitate the movement of motor vehicles across the region reinforces the importance of the Bay of Bengal for our collective security, connectivity and prosperity. BIMSTEC is a regional organisation. Established in 1997, it comprises seven member states including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal. Its headquarter is based in Dhaka.

Indian American Ajay Banga takes over as World Bank President

MMNN: 3 Jun 2023
Delhi|Indian American Ajay Banga took over as the President of the World Bank on Friday, making him the first person of colour to head either of the two global financial institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
On May 3, the Executive Directors of the World Bank selected Banga, 63, as the 14th President of the World Bank for a five-year term. In February, President Joe Biden announced that the US would nominate Banga to lead the World Bank.
Banga has become the first-ever Indian-American to head the World Bank. He replaces David Malpass, who announced his decision to step down in February.
On Thursday, a media release said that Treasury Yellen met with Banga at the Treasury Department. During their engagement, Yellen warmly welcomed Banga's upcoming presidency and conveyed her strong desire for the Treasury to continue close collaboration with him in building on the strong progress made so far on evolving multilateral development banks.

EAM Dr. S. Jaishankar and his South African counterpart review progress of strategic partnership; Agree to commemorate 30th anniversary of their diplomatic ties.

MMNN: 1 Jun 2023
Delhi|External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and his South African counterpart agreed to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their diplomatic ties in a fitting manner in Cape Town today. In a tweet, Dr Jaishankar said that they also reviewed the progress of strategic partnership between India and South Africa. The discussions also held on collaborations within prominent forums such as BRICS, IBSA, G20, and the United Nations, where both the countries have a strong tradition of close cooperation.
Dr. Jaishankar also met Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan today. In the meeting with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister, both leaders expressed their commitment to advancing bilateral cooperation through the Strategic Partnership Council, reinforcing the strong ties between India and Saudi Arabia. They also exchanged views on the global situation.
Dr Jaishankar is on a two nation tour of South Africa and Namibia from today. This is the first visit by an External Affairs Minister of India to Namibia.

Nepal PM Prachanda to reach New Delhi on Wednesday on 4-day visit to India

MMNN: 30 May 2023
Delhi|Prime Minister of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda will reach New Delhi on Wednesday afternoon on a four-day official visit to India. This will be his the first bilateral visit abroad after assuming office in December last year. He will be accompanied by a high-level delegation. During the visit, the Nepalese Prime Minister will call on President and Vice-President and will hold extensive talks with Prime Minister Modi to discuss the diverse areas of the bilateral partnership between India and Nepal. In addition to the official engagements, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda will be visiting Ujjain and Indore as part of his visit. Ministry of External Affairs said, the visit continues the tradition of regular high-level exchanges between India and Nepal in furtherance of India's Neighbourhood First policy. It said, the bilateral relations between the two countries have significantly strengthened in the last few years in all areas of cooperation. This visit underscores the importance given by both sides in adding further momentum to the bilateral partnership.

BAPS Hindu Temple in Abu Dhabi Leaves a Lasting Impression on Global Diplomats, Reflecting Harmony and Cultural Exchange

MMNN: 26 May 2023
Delhi|Diplomats from more than 30 countries embarked on a visit to the remarkable BAPS Hindu Temple complex in Abu Dhabi yesterday. The foundation stone of the temple was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018. Hosted by Sunjay Sudhir, Ambassador of India to the UAE, the visit aimed to showcase the temple's exquisite carvings and motifs representing diverse cultures from around the world, emphasizing the values of unity and cultural appreciation. During the visit, Ambassador Sudhir provided updates on the temple's progress since its foundation stone was laid, symbolizing the deep historical and cultural bonds between India and the UAE. Sunjay Sudhir, the Indian ambassador to the UAE, highlighted the longstanding friendship between India and the UAE, rooted in history, culture, and trade. He commended the tolerance and generosity of the UAE leadership and expressed his belief that the temple represents the collective aspirations of the Indian community in the UAE, particularly the saints and volunteers of BAPS, who tirelessly and selflessly serve to build this temple of tolerance and harmony. Through a video presentation, Dr. S. Jaishankar, the Minister of External Affairs of India, spoke about the temple's significance for the UAE and the world. He expressed his deep respect for the vision and direction of the UAE leadership and described the announcement and construction of the BAPS Hindu Temple as one of the most touching and fulfilling moments of his life. He emphasized that real change occurs when different cultures connect with each other respectfully, embracing equality and fairness. The BAPS Hindu Temple is expected to be completed by February 2024.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announces bid for 2024 US Presidential Elections

MMNN: 25 May 2023
Delhi|In the United States, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has officially declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President of the country.

DeSantis rolled out the news with a campaign video and a glitch-riddled hour-long live interview on Twitter with the owner of the social media site, Elon Musk. Before his planned event, DeSantis filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.

DeSantis has for months been seen as the most serious challenger to former President Donald Trump, who is also seeking to become the Republican nominee to take on President Joe Biden of Democratic party in the US Presidential elections next year. Other Republican candidates include Senator Tim Scott, former envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who served under Trump is also likely to launch a presidential campaign. The first Republican primaries will take place in Iowa early in 2024.

Japan to not Join NATO but acknowledges security alliance's plan to open a liaison office: PM Fumio Kishida

MMNN: 24 May 2023
Delhi|Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said today the country had no plans to become a NATO member but acknowledged the security alliance's plan to open a liaison office in Japan.
Kishida's comments came after Japan's ambassador to the US Koji Tomita, earlier this month said Tokyo and NATO were working towards opening an office - the first in Asia, to facilitate consultations in the region.
After Kishida's statement not ruling out the possibility of opening a NATO office, China reacted sternly. Beijing said Asia-Pacific does not welcome NATO's plan.
Japan hosted the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima over the weekend, where the leaders of rich democracies agreed to “de-risk, not decouple” economic engagement with China and reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

At least 19 children killed in a fire accident in a school in South America's Guyana

MMNN: 23 May 2023
Delhi|In Guyana, at least 19 children were killed nearly 200 miles from Georgetown, the nation's capital, when fire broke out in the hilly interior town of Mahdia Secondary School. A Spokeswoman for the national fire department confirmed the number of students perished in fire were not correct. According to reports the dead included 18 girls and a caretaker's son.
Government has established full scale medical emergency action plan with planes stocked with personnel and equipment to help local responders. Victims with critical injuries were transported to Georgetown in a matter of hours and others were admitted to Mahdia District Hospital.
Guyana's President, Irfaan Ali called the blaze as tragic , painful and horrific.

G7 top financial leaders pledge to bring inflation under control, help countries struggling with onerous debts & strengthen financial systems

MMNN: 13 May 2023
Delhi|The Group of Seven's (G7) top financial leaders have pledged to bring inflation under control, help countries struggling with onerous debts and strengthen financial systems. The G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Chiefs ended three days of talks in Niigata, Japan today, with a joint statement, committing to build more stable, diversified supply chains for developing clean energy sources and to enhance economic resilience globally against various shocks. They also expressed their support for Ukraine and their determination to enforce sanctions against Russia for its aggression but stopped short of any overt mention of China.

The finance leaders’ talks laid the groundwork for a Summit of G-7 leaders in Hiroshima next week. United States President Joe Biden is expected to attend despite a crisis over the U.S. debt ceiling that could result in a national default if it is not resolved in the coming weeks.

EAM Dr. Jaishankar lauds Bangladesh for its Indo-Pacific outlook, cautions countries against unsustainable debt generated by unviable projects

MMNN: 12 May 2023
Delhi|External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar has lauded Bangladesh for releasing its Indo-Pacific outlook and its respect for the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) as one of the elements of its 4 guiding principles and 15 objectives. Delivering the keynote address at the inaugural function of the 6th Indian Ocean Conference in Dhaka on Friday, Dr. Jaishankar said that it is essential for the credibility of the global order that such foundational regimes are respected and scrupulously observed by all signatories.
Speaking about the Bay of Bengal countries, he said these countries have their particular aspirations and agenda. He said BIMSTEC is increasingly coming into its own and the countries of the region are cognisant of the challenges they face in governance, modernization, and security.
Highlighting the issue of unsustainable debt generated by unviable projects, Dr. Jaishankar said we can ignore these at our own peril. He said if opaque lending practices are encouraged which are at price points unrelated to the market, these are bound to bite back, sooner rather than later. He said that countries in the region are today confronting the consequences of our past choices. This is time to reflect and reform, not one to repeat and reiterate, said the External Affairs Minister.
Underlining the importance of connectivity, Dr. Jaishankar said the more we work on facilitating smooth and effective connectivity, the better off we all are. He however called for respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity while doing so. He said from India’s perspective, efficient and effective connectivity to ASEAN in particular will be a game-changer. India accords this the utmost priority, said Dr. Jaishankar.

India & Canada agrees to explore enhanced cooperation in near future through a Memorandum of Understanding

MMNN: 10 May 2023
Delhi|India and Canada have agreed to explore enhanced cooperation through measures such as coordinated investment promotion, information exchange and mutual support in near future through a Memorandum of Understanding. Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal along with his Canadian counterpart Mary Ng co-chaired the sixth India-Canada Ministerial Dialogue on Trade and Investment on 8th May in Ottawa. The Ministers emphasised the solid foundation of the trade and economic relationship between Canada and India and recognized the significant opportunity to deepen bilateral ties and economic partnership. The Ministers reviewed the progress achieved in the India-Canada Free Trade Agreement negotiations in the seven rounds of negotiations so far.

Ms. Mary Ng expressed Canada's support for India as G20 Chair and the priorities pursued by India in the G20 Trade and Investment Working Group. She indicated that she is looking forward to participating in the upcoming G-20 Trade and Investment Ministerial meeting in India scheduled to take place in August.

Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan arrested from Islamabad High Court premises in Al-Qadir Trust case

MMNN: 9 May 2023
Delhi|Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has been arrested in connection with the Al-Qadir Trust Case from the premises of the Islamabad High Court on Tuesday. Khan was taken into custody by the Pakistani Rangers.
The former Prime Minister, along with his wife Bushra Bibi and other PTI leaders, is facing an inquiry from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) related to a settlement between the PTI government and a property tycoon, which reportedly caused a loss of 50 billion rupees to the national exchequer. They are also accused of getting undue benefit in the form of over 458 kanals of land at Mouza Bakrala, Sohawa, to establish Al Qadir University.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said that Imran had failed to appear before the court despite being issued several notices. He said the arrest has been conducted by the NAB for causing losses to the national treasury.
Meanwhile, the arrest of Imran Khan has resulted in protests and demonstrations across Pakistan. PTI workers are protesting in cities across the country, including Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. In Karachi, demonstrators clashed with the police. Internet has been suspended in several parts of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. And section 144 has been imposed in Peshawar.
The PTI Secretary General Asad Umar has announced that a six-member party committee would soon determine the next course of action.

Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari lays foundation stone for India-Sri Lanka Friendship Auditorium at Sri Lanka Air Force Academy, Trincomalee

MMNN: 5 May 2023
Delhi|Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari laid foundation stone for India-Sri Lanka Friendship Auditorium at Sri Lanka Air Force Academy, Trincomalee yesterday. The auditorium will be built under a grant assistance of 25 crore Lankan rupees. The assistance is a gift from Government of India to the island nation which displays India’s unwavering commitment towards capacity building of Sri Lanka’s Armed Forces.

Air Chief Marshal Chaudhuri also visited the Sri Lanka Air Force Academy and gifted books to the trainees. The Indian Air Force Chief is on a four day visit to Sri Lanka which he will conclude tomorrow. Earlier during the visit, he had met Sri Lankan leadership and commanders of the armed forces of Sri Lanka. The visit facilitated discussions on common security challenges and enhancing capacity and capability building initiatives towards ensuring Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), as propounded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ministry of Tourism showcases Incredible India in Arabian Travel Market 2023 in Dubai, UAE

MMNN: 2 May 2023
Delhi|Ministry of Tourism is showcasing Incredible India in the Arabian Travel Market 2023 in Dubai, UAE. The Arabian Travel Market is one of the leading global events for the travel and tourism industry, attracting visitors and exhibitors from around the world. The India pavilion was inaugurated by the Indian Ambassador to UAE, Sunjay Sudhir yesterday.

The Ministery said, more than 65 entities from State Tourism Departments and UTs, Tour Operators, Travel Agents, Hotel Chains, and Airlines are participating in the four-day event to boost inbound travel to India from the Middle East region. The India Pavilion is showcasing India's rich cultural and natural heritage, including its UNESCO World Heritage Sites, wildlife sanctuaries, and spiritual destinations. India's participation in the Arabian Travel Market is a significant step towards promoting India as a preferred travel destination among the Middle East and North Africa markets.

Labour Day protests and strikes take over France, Italy and Netherlands; Workers and labour unions demand better govt policies to safeguard their rights

MMNN: 1 May 2023
Delhi|Labour Day protests and strikes have taken over France, Italy and the Netherlands, with workers and labour unions demanding better government policies to safeguard their rights and meet their wage demands. French President Emmanuel Macron faced nationwide protests in the country, with demonstrators denouncing his pension reform, which saw the retirement age increasing from 62 to 64 in the country. The legislation also requires people to work 43 years to receive a full pension, among other changes to the system.

In Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni also faced demonstrations from labour unions who called on her government to increase wages and reform the country’s tax policy. Meloni’s government is set to unveil a labour package on Monday amid the protests.

Labour Day protests also took over the Netherlands, which saw unions demanding higher wages.

Due to inflation, employees of the largest labour union in the Netherlands, FNV, had offered its employees a wage increase of 3 to 7 per cent this year, followed by a 5 per cent increase next year and automatic price compensation with a maximum of 5 per cent from 2025 on.

Imperial College London announces scholarships worth GBP 4 lakh for Indian students studying in the college

MMNN: 29 April 2023
Delhi|Imperial College London has announced scholarships worth GBP four lakh for Indian students studying in the college. Out of which 50 per cent of the scholarship will be given to female students from India. Science and Technology Minister Dr Jitendra Singh today visited the Imperial College London in the United Kingdom and interacted with the Indian students of the college. Imperial College London is a public research university. In the last five years, Imperial academics co-authored over one thousand 200 research publications with partners at more than 300 Indian institutions.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Singh highlighted that India has emerged as the third-largest global start-up ecosystem, growing at an annual rate of 12 to 15 per cent. He said, there are lots of opportunities to expand the India-Imperial connection through various programmes to create a global impact.

US President Joe Biden & South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol secures a landmark deal

MMNN: 27 April 2023
Delhi|US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol have secured a landmark deal which includes plans to periodically deploy US nuclear-armed submarines in South Korea. According to media reports, Washington has also agreed to involve Seoul in its planning for the use of nuclear weapons in any conflict with North Korea. In return, South Korea has agreed to not develop its own nuclear weapons.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Mr Yoon in Washington yesterday, US President said, the deal, called the Washington Declaration, will strengthen the allies' co-operation in deterring a North Korean attack.

Meanwhile, the South Korean President said, the Washington Declaration marked an unprecedented step to enhance extended deterrence, a commitment from the US to deter attacks and protect US allies using its military power, including nuclear weapons. The declaration comes amid rising concerns about nuclear threats from North Korea as the country carries out a record number of ballistic missile tests.

India Pavilion at Global Education & Training Exhibition Inaugurated at Dubai

MMNN: 26 April 2023
Delhi|The 'Study in India Pavilion' at the Global Education & Training Exhibition (GETEX) in Dubai has been inaugurated by the Consul General of India in Dubai, Dr. Aman Puri.
Organized by the Services Export Promotion Council with the support of the Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India, the India Pavilion at GETEX 2023 is being held from 26-28 April 2023 at Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai, UAE. The pavilion, spanning over 200 sqm, features more than 30 universities and edtech stakeholders of Indian higher education.
Dr Aman Puri expressed his excitement at the increasing number of Indian institutions expanding their global reach. He also highlighted that India is an ideal destination for students looking to pursue technologies like Data Science and Cybersecurity.
Major exhibitors in the pavilion include Ajeenkya DY Patil University, B. S. Abdur Rahman Crescent Institute of Science & Technology, Birla Institute of Technology, Board of Open Schooling and Skill Education, Brindavan Group of Institutions, Dome Technical Information Pt Ltd, Dr. D. Y Patil Vidyapeeth (Deemed to be University), Dr. Vishwanath Karad MIT World Peace University, EdCIL, Ganpat University, Janikk International, Kumaraguru Institutions, Marwadi Education Foundation, MW Global Academy Pt Ltd, NIRMA University, NITTE Meenakshi Institute of Technology, Pandit Deen Dayal University, Pimpri Chinchwad Education Trust, Sandip University, Sharda University, SRM University, Symbiosis International University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and a few others.
To further support the Indian Pavilion, SEPC has collaborated with EdCIL(India) limited, a public sector undertaking in India under the Ministry of Education. EdCIL offers management and consultancy services in all areas of education and human resource development, both within India and overseas. Through its flagship portal, , EdCIL seeks to endorse India as a prime education hub for international students by inviting them to pursue their higher education in the country. With an attractive set of salient features, the programme is the perfect platform for international students to experience the best of what Indian education has to offer, encouraging them to explore valuable educational opportunities enabled by the top Indian universities.
The Global Education & Training Exhibition (GETEX), a leading education fair in the region for over 30 years, provides an efficient platform for educational institutions to meet their enrollment quotas and admission targets. The exhibition attracts over 25,000 local and expatriate students every year who are actively looking for higher education, professional development, and training options. The India Pavilion at GETEX 2023 serves as an opportunity to engage with the target audience and enhance marketing awareness for the exhibitors. The Chairman of SEPC, Sunil H Talati, Director General SEPC, Dr. Abhay Sinha, and Chairman EdCIL, Manojkumar were present at the inauguration.

Oil prices remain steady in intra-day trade as concerns over rising interest rates for fuel demand were balanced

MMNN: 25 April 2023
Delhi|Oil prices remained steady in intra-day trade today as concerns over rising interest rates, the global economy, and the outlook for fuel demand were balanced by the prospect of tightening supplies.
Brent crude was trading at around 81 dollars 39 cents per barrel. West Texas Intermediate crude was trading at 77 dollars and 69 cents per barrel.

ISRO to launch PSLV-C55 with two Singaporean satellites from Sriharikota

MMNN: 22 April 2023
Delhi|The Indian Space Research Organisation, ISRO, will launch PSLV-C55 with two Singaporean satellites today, April 22 at 2:19 pm from Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota. This is a dedicated commercial mission through NewSpace India Limited which is the commercial arm of ISRO.
The polar satellite launch vehicle will launch 741 kg TeLEOS-2 as the primary satellite and Lumelite-4, as a co-passenger satellite that weighs 16 kilograms. They are intended to be launched into an Eastward low inclination orbit. It is the 57th flight of PSLV and the 16th mission of the PSLV Core Alone (PSLV-CA) variant. This is the lightest version of PSLV.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto To Visit India In May For SCO Meet In Goa

MMNN: 20 April 2023
Delhi| Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will visit India in May for the SCO Summit in Goa. Bhutto will lead the Pakistan delegation that will attend the SCO foreign ministers meeting on May 4 and 5 in Goa, according to Pakistan's foreign ministry. This will be the first visit by any Pakistan leader to India after former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 2014. This will also be the first visit of any Pakistani foreign minister to India since 2011. The last time a Pakistan foreign minister visited India was in 2011 when Hina Rabbani Khar had come to the country. Earlier in January, Pakistan’s foreign ministry confirmed that they received India’s invitation for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting but it is yet to be decided if they will attend the event.

India's invite to Bhutto

India, which took over the rotating presidency of the SCO in 2022-2023, had invited Bilawal Bhutto to attend the SCO meet which is scheduled to be held in Goa in May this year. An official invitation was reportedly sent to Pakistan's foreign minister by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar through the Indian Embassy in Islamabad The SCO which was launched in Shanghai in June 2001 consists of eight full members, including its six founding members, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan joined as full members in 2017.

Indian National Arrested in London on Suspicion of Funding Terrorist Organisation Hizbollah

MMNN: 20 April 2023
Delhi|An Indian citizen has been arrested in London by Scotland Yard on an extradition warrant from the US, as part of a UK-US coordinated action against terrorism financing. Sundar Nagarajan, 66, was arrested by the Metropolitan Police’s National Extradition Unit from an address at Hayes in west London on Tuesday. After being refused bail, Madurai-born Nagarajan is due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London next week wanted by the US authorities for fraud and money laundering offences. He faces charges of helping to launder money to evade US sanctions and fund Hizbollah, reports said. His arrest followed action by the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command to arrest a 50-year-old man in Wales on suspicion of funding terrorism. Officers from the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command also arrested wealthy art collector and diamond dealer Nazem Ahmad for suspected terrorist financing and money laundering. Ahmad is suspected of being a funding source for Hizballah, a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK and US. Sanctions against Ahmad were also announced this week by the UK government alongside the US government sanctions against Ahmad and a number of his suspected associates, including Nagarajan. “Terrorist groups rely on financial support and funding for their activities and the NTFIU works closely with agencies in the UK and around the world to identify and take action against those people who provide and facilitate this funding,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Gareth Rees, of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command. “With our international partners, we will never give up on our mission to disrupt terrorist activity, both in the UK and abroad, in order to keep the public safe,” he said, adding that the arrests were the result of ongoing work and cooperation with American counterparts as a “key milestone in what is a complex investigation into terrorist financing”. The Met Police said that searches at two commercial addresses, both in east London, were carried out by officers this week in connection with the investigation. The NTFIU comprises of specialist financial investigators who investigate suspicious financial activity where they believe it may have links to terrorism.

Nirmala Sitharaman showed the mirror to the world, said - better than Pakistan, Muslims are happy and safe in India

MMNN: 11 April 2023
Delhi|PIIE in Nirmala SitharamanIndia's Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman showed the mirror to him, slamming the 'negative western perception' against India regarding the safety of minorities and mainly Muslims. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in a candid reply to questions about the condition of India's Muslims at an event organized by the American think tank Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) in Washington DC, said that the cries of minorities are from Pakistan. Even better Muslims in India are happy and safe. India has the second largest Muslim population in the world. And this population is rapidly increasing in number. Sitharaman said that it is said in the western media that life of Muslims is made difficult in India with the support of the state, but all this is baseless. The Finance Minister turned to Sitharaman and asked

Muslim population growing rapidly in India

When Peterson Institute for International Economics President Adam S. Posen asked about Western media reporting about violence against India's Muslim minorities, Sitharaman said that, after independence in 1947 Since then, unlike Pakistan, the Muslim population in India is growing rapidly. This is simply because every type of Muslim is doing his business in India, his children are being given education, fellowship is being given.

There is a sense of insecurity in the minds of Pakistani people

showing the mirror about Pakistan, Finance Minister Sitharaman said that the number of every minority in Pakistan is decreasing. Even in spite of declaring itself as an Islamic country, some Muslim sects are also being attacked and wiped out there. Everyone has a feeling of insecurity in the neighboring country.

After China's claim on the places of Arunachal Pradesh, the statement of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, said - 'Always was and will be an important part of India'

MMNN:4 April 2023
In the case of Arunachal Pradesh, China (China) has been He is not deterring from his antics. Recently, once again, China has issued new names of many places in the state while claiming its claim on Arunachal Pradesh. However, India has never been cowed down by such antics of China. In response to this recent act of China, the country's Ministry of External Affairs has expressed its reaction. The Indian Foreign Ministry issued a statement and gave a stern reply to China.

Arunachal Pradesh is an important and integral part of India.

On behalf of the Ministry of External Affairs, Arindam Bagchi has given a statement on China's action, saying, "We have seen the reports. This is not the first time that China has done such an act. We completely reject this attempt of China. Arunachal Pradesh It has always been, is and always will be an integral and integral part of India, and giving new names will never change this fact.

What is the matter?

Recently, China has released a list of new names of 11 places in the state in Chinese, Tibetan and Pyerin characters to show its claim on Arunachal Pradesh. China has described these names as honorary and they are issued by the State Council of China. China has given new names to 2 land areas, 2 residential areas, 5 mountain peaks and 2 rivers of Arunachal Pradesh. Has also been issued on the Chinese side. This map shows parts of Arunachal Pradesh inside the southern Tibetan region.

Hindu population in America doubled in 15 years: temples increased from 435 to 1000 in 20 years, Indians most charitable

MMNN: 4 April 2023
Delhi|The influence of the Hindu community in America is continuously increasing. In the last 15 years, the population of Hindus in America has doubled to about 22.25 lakhs. According to the Hindu American Foundation, by 2025 the population of Hindus will be around 28 lakhs.
According to the Pluralism Project of Harvard University, 20 years ago there were 435 temples in America, whose number has increased to about 1000. The reason for the increase in the number of temples is the increase in the population of Hindus who settled here. Hinduism and Sanskrit have also expanded rapidly in America.
Pandit Ram Sneh Tripathi, the head priest of the Rajdhani Temple in Washington DC, told Dainik Bhaskar that in 5 years the number of children in his schools increased by almost 200%. A record 600 new children enroll in Hindu classes every weekend.

Hindu community is the most educated

Among immigrants in the US, the Hindu community is the most educated with an average of 15.7 years of formal education. On the other are the Jews with an average of 14.7 years of education. Whereas the average American only attends 12.9 years of schooling.
Hindus were 0.4% of the US population in 2007. Today it has become 0.7%. According to the Religious Data Archive, it is the third largest religious community after Christians and Muslims.

Dharma-Karma: 48% donating to Hindu religious institutions, double the number of donors in 10 years. In

view of the increasing trend towards Hindu religion and culture, summer schools have now been started in many cities of America. About 20,000 children attend weekend classes in the schools of 31 ISKCON temples in the US.
Interestingly, about 48% of Hindus in the US make regular donations to religious institutions. According to a Pew Research Center report, Hindus are the largest contributors of donations to religious institutions among immigrants. He donates about 16 thousand rupees on an average annually.
The number of donors has doubled in 10 years. According to the treasurer of Baps Swaminarayan, every temple receives an average of $20 million in donations.
The growing presence of Hindus in America is not limited to demographic changes. The Hindu American Foundation report also states that Hindu Americans are becoming increasingly politically active.
In addition, there has been a huge increase in the popularity of yoga and meditation in recent years. In America, yoga has become a popular form of exercise and stress relief. An estimated 36 million Americans practice yoga and 18 million meditate.

China threatens retaliation if Taiwan President Tsai meets U.S. Speaker McCarthy

MMNN: 29 March 2023
Delhi| Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen framed the trip as a chance to show Taiwan’s commitment to democratic values on the world stage, as she departed the country to begin her 10-day tour of the Americas
China has threatened “resolute countermeasures” over a planned meeting between Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and Speaker of the United States House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during an upcoming visit in Los Angeles by the head of the self-governing island democracy.

Britain's Prince Harry accuses Royal Family of hiding phone hacking

MMNN: 29 March 2023
Britain's Prince Harry has accused Royal Family of hiding phone hacking. Many celebrities, including Harry, have filed a case against the publishers of Daily Mail and Associated Newspapers (ANL) for privacy violation. During the hearing of this case, Harry said that his family was aware of phone tapping. But to avoid the court case, he kept it hidden. According to Harry, this would have exposed the wrongdoings of the administration.
Harry alleged that his own family withheld information about the privacy breach and told him not to get involved with the British newspaper industry. The Royal Family had placed a condition in front of Harry to accept the family's decision. According to Harry, he came to know about this a few years ago when he consulted the second legal team in the case.

Several media groups including Daily Mail, The Mirror sued

Apart from Prince Harry, several celebrities including British-Jamaican campaigner Doreen Lawrence, popstar Elton John, actress Elizabeth Hurley have also filed cases against media groups for privacy violations. These include The Sun's parent company News Group Newspapers, The Mirror, Daily Mail, Associated Newspapers. These media houses have been accused of trespassing on private property, stealing credit card details and medical records and tapping phones several times from 1993 to 2018.

Harry said – journalists misusing power

Harry suddenly reached the London High Court on 27 March to hear the case. He said- I filed this case because if the big newspaper companies of the country can stop justice from being done, then according to me this country is ruined. I love my country very much and am worried about the misuse of power here. The evidence I have presented proves that the journalists of Associated Company are criminals and are misusing their power. It is my duty to bring this truth to the public.

The phone-hacking scam came to light in 2006

Newspaper company ANL dismissed these allegations as absurd. The company said that there is no concrete evidence of the allegations leveled against it. Attempts are being made to drag him into the UK phone-hacking scandal. The UK phone-hacking scandal first came to light in 2006. Then journalists from Rupert Murdoch's company News of the World were accused of tapping the phones of members of the Royal Family, many celebrities and victims in murder cases. After this the company was closed.

Relationship with documentary and book worsened

Relations with Britain's royal family deteriorated as soon as Prince Harry and Megan Merkel left the monarchy in 2020. Then Prince Harry's documentary on Netflix and after that his book 'Spare' increased the dispute between the two sides. In the book and documentary, Prince Harry has criticized the royal family in a number of ways.
Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, who left Britain's royal family and have settled in America, will be invited by King Charles to his coronation despite strong differences. This information has been given by Prince Harry himself. He has issued a statement. It states that he has received a mail to invite him to the coronation of King Charles.

Wrote derogatory things by hoisting the Khalistan flag, broke the statue of Mahatma Gandhi, had been gifted by India in 2012

MMNN: 24 March 2023
The anti-India activities of Khalistanis abroad are continuously increasing. Now supporters of Khalistan vandalized the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Canada and wrote slogans against India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi with spray paint on it. According to reports, the Khalistanis have also written many derogatory things on the statue of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of India.
The incident is being told of Thursday. The Khalistanis also put their flag on the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. This 6 feet tall statue was given to Canada as a gift by the Government of India in the year 2012. Which was installed in the city hall of Hamilton city of Ontario province there.
The matter of vandalizing the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on Thursday has come to the fore when the Canadian government has assured to take strict action against the Khalistanis. In fact, a demonstration was held by the Khalistanis in the Canadian city of Ottawa on Thursday. In this, the protesters had also committed indecency with an Indian journalist.
Due to the protest by the Khalistanis, the Indian ambassador had to cancel the plan to attend a program in British Columbia, Canada. After which the Foreign Ministry of Canada had issued a statement assuring that they would take strict action against the nuisance of Khalistanis.
Khalistan supporters also attacked the Indian Consulate in San Francisco, USA, after the tricolor was insulted at the Indian High Commission in London on Sunday. According to media reports- Khalistan supporters also gathered here on Sunday. These people wrote Amritpal Riha Karo… with spray paints. These people broke the gates of the consulate. Khalistan flags were hoisted there.
At the same time, Khalistani supporter Avtar Singh Khanda, who insulted the tricolor outside the Indian High Commission in London, was arrested in Britain. Khanda is a member of the banned group Babbar Khalsa International (BKI). At the same time, in the ongoing investigation in Punjab, it is also coming to the fore that Khanda is the handler of Amritpal. Khanda is special to Paramjit Singh Pamma, a key BKI member hiding in Pakistan. On Pamma's orders, Khanda prepared Amritpal Singh for the Khalistan mission in Punjab. After this Amritpal was trained in Georgia. Amritpal learned the essentials of Sikhism here. When Amritpal returned to India, he was popularized among the youth through social media accounts.

India Bangladesh Friendship: India will be able to use two major ports of Bangladesh, new initiative started in friendship

MMNN:20 March 2023
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has offered India the use of the country's ports in Chittagong and Sylhet. He said that this would enhance connectivity and people-to-people contact in the region. Chittagong is an important port of Bangladesh which is strategically important due to its proximity to the northeastern states of India. The Dhaka Tribune newspaper quoted Prime Minister Hasina as saying, "If India wants, it can use our Chittagong and Sylhet ports."
met her. Prime Minister Hasina said that this step will enhance regional connectivity and people-to-people contact. Reportedly, in conversation with Madhav, Hasina also sent her greeting message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Madhav appreciated the socio-economic growth of Bangladesh under Hasina's leadership. "Being neighboring countries, Bangladesh and India enjoy great friendship and hope that this relationship will continue in the future as well," he was quoted as saying in the report. Hasina's deputy press secretary KM Shakhawat Moon also briefed the media about this.
Before offering two important ports, Indian PM Narendra Modi along with Sheikh Hasina inaugurated a pipeline in Siliguri, North Bengal on 18 March. The pipeline, located at Parbatipur in Dinajpur province of Bangladesh, is 131.5 km long. It has been named as the India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline (IBFPL). Even at the time of inauguration of the pipeline, Hasina called India a 'true friend' of Bangladesh. had agreed. She said that she wants to take this friendship forward.

India may take military action if China-Pak provokes: US report- Despite talks, tension will remain in relations between China and India

MMNN:09 march 2023
America's Intelligence Community has claimed on Wednesday that the tension in India's relations with China and Pakistan may increase further in the coming times. To which India will respond with military action.
It is written in the report – In comparison to the previous governments, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there has been an increased apprehension that India may deploy its military in response to any provocative act by China and Pakistan.
Claims of the report about Indo-Pak
American intelligence has considered Kashmir as an important reason for increasing tension in Indo-Pak relations. It is written in the report that after the ceasefire agreement on the Line of Control in 2021, both the countries want to maintain peace in relations.
However, Pakistan has a long history of supporting anti-India militants. Under the leadership of PM Modi, India will also give a befitting reply to any provocative act by Pakistan.
Indo-China relations will deteriorate despite talks
Annual Threat Assessment i.e. annual assessment report of external threats was presented in the US Parliament. It has been said in this report that China and India are trying to reduce the ongoing dispute on the border through dialogue. Despite this, there will be tension in the relations between the two countries.
India-China dispute a threat to America
In the intelligence report of America, the conflict between the two countries in the Galvan Valley of Ladakh in 2020 has been described as the most dangerous conflict of the decade. The report claimed that the situation of tension between the two countries is a big threat to America and its people. The report suggested that the US should intervene in the growing dispute between the two countries.

Delhi: Metro will run at a speed of 120 km on the Airport Express Line, trial is going on.

MMNN: 15 Feb 2023
Delhi| The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) plans to speed up the country's fastest urban transportation system, the Airport Express
The distance between New Delhi Railway Station and Terminal 3 of Indira Gandhi International Airport could be covered in less than 15 minutes by the end of the following year. Currently, it takes 20 minutes to travel 19.4 kilometres.
The Airport Express Line trains only travel at a top speed of 80 kmph, even though the current sanctioned rate is 90 kmph.
Instrumentation, monitoring, and certain modifications are being considered to increase the speed to 120kmph, According to Anuj Dayal, the main executive director for corporate communications at DMRC.
The DMRC intends to increase train speeds gradually over the next six months, which should result in faster operation of the Airport Express Line.
As part of DMRC's six-month strategy, the SKL 15HF clamps will be replaced by the SKL 15 tension clamps, which are better suited for high-frequency train movement.
After three weeks of replacement of the tension clamps, units to continuously monitor the track would be put at various locations for six months.
Followed by the repair of the tension clamps, the train's speed would be raised to 100 kmph after a month. After a month, the speed will be increased to 110kmph. The train's speed would be boosted to 120kmph in the last phase.
Anuj Dayal stated that verification measurements would be done in a few portions three months after the 120 kph runs. The metro body will collaborate with an organisation to constantly track the tremors, followed by verification measurements, reports the Times of India.
Although the trains and systems in the corridor are intended to operate at 135 kmph, this is not the actual speed at which they travel.
However, passenger trains won't be allowed to go faster until after the monitoring procedures and subsequent approval by the Commissioner of Metro Railway Safety.

BBC I-T survey: What income tax survey means? How is it different from search or raid?

MMNN:15 Feb 2023
BBC Income Tax Survey Survey of Income Tax Department continued till the night of 14-15 February in BBC's Delhi and Mumbai offices. And according to an agency, the Income Tax survey is going on for the second day on Wednesday in BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai. The United States also expressed its opinion in this matter. On the IT survey, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said, "We are aware of the searches of BBC offices in Delhi by Indian tax authorities. I would say more broadly, we support the importance of a free press around the world. The BBC is accused of irregularities in international tax. In Washington, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in response to a question at the daily press briefing, "I will need to refer you to the Indian authorities for the details of this search." Beyond this action Will continue to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief as human rights that contribute to strengthening democracies around the world. These universal rights are the cornerstone of democracies around the world. "We are aware of the facts of these discoveries, but I am not in a position to pass judgement," Price added.
The confiscated items will be returned after getting the information,
according to sources, during the investigation in the BBC office, the mobile phones of all the employees present in the office were seized. Along with this, the computer kept in the accounts department was also scanned. According to sources, it is being told that after collecting the necessary information, all the things will be handed over to the people.
The Congress has targeted the BJP for the Income Tax department's action on BBC's Delhi and Mumbai offices. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has shared an old video of PM Modi, in which he is praising BBC.

Anti-terrorism court rejects Imran Khan's bail plea, ex-Pak PM may face arrest

MMNN:21 March 2020
An anti-terrorism court in Islamabad on Wednesday rejected PTI chief Imran Khan's bail plea in a case pertaining to protests outside the Election Commission of Pakistan
Troubles mounted for former Pakistan Prime Minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan on Wednesday after an anti-terrorism court (ATC) rejected his bail plea in connection with a case lodged against him for protesting outside the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), as per a report by Geo News.
ATC judge Judge Raja Jawad Abbas Hassan pronounced the verdict against the former Pakistan premier after waiting for him over one and half hours. Reports suggest that after today's order, Imran Khan may face arrest.
Imran Khan was booked in the case last October after several protests erupted in Pakistan in response to the Toshakhana verdict announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Your choice can be the difference between life and death, says WHO on coronavirus COVID-19

MMNN:21 March 2020
With more than 210,000 cases reported worldwide and a death toll of 9,000, each day brings a “new and tragic milestone”, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“Although older people are hardest hit, younger people are not spared. Data from many countries clearly show that people under 50 make up a significant proportion of patients requiring hospitalisation,” Tedros told a virtual press conference.
“Today I have a message for young people: You are not invincible, this virus could put you in hospital for weeks or even kill you. Even if you don’t get sick the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else,” he said.
But for the first time the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the outbreak’s epicentre, reported no new cases on Thursday, “providing hope for the rest of the world that even the most severe situation can be turned around”, Tedros said.
Amid global shortages of protective gear for health workers and diagnostic tests, Chinese producers have agreed to supply the WHO, he said. Arrangements are being finalised and shipments coordinated to restock its Dubai warehouse to ship supplies where they are needed most, he added.
“Air bridges” will be needed to expedite supplies to countries for vital health workers, as many regular flights have been cancelled, according to Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergency expert.
The WHO has distributed 1.5 million lab tests worldwide and it may need potentially 80 times that for the pandemic, he said.
Ryan, asked about Iran - which is celebrating the Persian New Year as it battles the coronavirus which has killed more than 1,400 people and infected nearly 20,000 there - said that such celebrations need to be modified.
Mass gatherings “cannot only amplify the disease but they can disseminate the disease very far away from the centre”, he said. “So they can be very, very, very, very dangerous in terms of epidemic management.”
Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2020.
The WHO has shifted to recommending “physical distance” instead of social distancing to help prevent transmission of the virus, officials said.
“We are changing to say ‘physical distance’ and that’s on purpose because we want people to remain connected,” said Dr. Maria Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist.
“So find ways to do that, find ways through the Internet and through different social media to remain connected because your mental health going through this (pandemic) is just as important as your physical health,” she said.

South Korea reports 147 new coronavirus cases, concerns of cluster outbreaks continue

MMNN:21 March 2020
SEOUL: South Korea reported 147 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, holding to its downward trend in daily infections from a peak in February, but concerns about new outbreaks around small clusters and people coming from abroad persisted.
The daily tally marked the 10th day in a row that the country has posted new infections in the mid-100s or below, although up from 87 recorded the day before, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
The new cases bring the country`s total to 8,799. The cumulative number of deaths from the virus also rose to 102. South Korea has seen a downward trend in new cases from the peak of 909 cases reported on Feb. 29.
Out of the 147 new cases, 109 were from South Korea`s fourth-largest city, Daegu, and the adjoining North Gyeongsang Province, where 86% of all South Korean cases have been so far.
But others saw increases as well, including 15 new cases in Seoul and six detected while returning from abroad.
"You may feel that the current situation has improved a lot compared to the past, but... we continue to see group infection, inflows from foreign countries, mass outbreaks at various workplaces," Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy, said at a briefing.
Yoon said South Korea has not considered extreme forms of travel restrictions that other countries have taken, and asked the public for continued voluntary efforts at social distancing.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Saturday up to 3.8 trillion won ($3.03 billion) in disaster management funds may be used for small businesses and disadvantaged people specifically for coronavirus-related difficulties.

North Korea fires suspected short-range missiles, South Korea says, amid coronavirus covid-19

MMNN:21 March 2020
Seoul: North Korea fired two projectiles that appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off the east coast of the Korean peninsula, South Korea`s military said on Saturday, after what analysts said was a show of confidence during the coronavirus epidemic by announcing an April legislature session.
The launch follows two earlier this month, when North Korea launched short-range missiles and multiple projectiles, according to South Korea`s military, drawing US and Chinese appeals for Pyongyang to return to talks on ending its nuclear and missile programmes.
The suspected missiles were fired from North Pyongan province, South Korea`s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The province is above Pyongyang on the northwest corner of the Korean peninsula, bordering China.
Japan`s coast guard said on Saturday that North Korea appeared to have fired a missile, which landed outside Japan`s exclusive economic zone waters.
Earlier on Saturday, North Korea announced it will hold in April a session of the Supreme People`s Assembly, its rubber-stamp legislature, in Pyongyang, which analysts had said would involve gathering almost 700 of the country`s leaders in one spot as the coronavirus spreads worldwide.
"If it goes ahead, it would be the ultimate show of (North Korea`s) confidence in managing the coronavirus situation," Rachel Minyoung Lee, of the North Korea monitoring website NK News, said on Twitter this week.
North Korea has not reported any confirmed cases of the new coronavirus that was first detected in China late last year, though a top US military official said last week he is "fairly certain" there were infections in North Korea.
State media KCNA also said on Saturday North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guided an artillery fire competition between combined units of the North Korean army on Friday, displaying photos of him watching with high-ranking military officers, all unmasked. It was unclear whether Saturday`s launch was part of the drill.

Sri Lanka to impose national curfew as South Asia accelerates coronavirus battle

MMNN:20 March 2020
Colombo/Lucknow: Mosques in Sri Lanka were shut indefinitely from Friday, and the island is set to impose a countrywide curfew over the weekend, as South Asian countries step up efforts to check the spread of COVID-19 cases.
The densely populated region of some 1.9 billion people has been less badly affected than other parts of the world, but new coronavirus cases in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka are all accelerating, with the total across South Asia now exceeding 750. Seven people have died.
Authorities worry that these countries could be especially at risk, should the virus begin to spread locally, due to poor health facilities and infrastructure in much of the region. The virus has already infected more than 245,000 people worldwide, and led to over 10,000 deaths.
A police curfew is set to be imposed nationwide in Sri Lanka from 6 p.m. local time on Friday until 6 a.m. on Monday, as authorities on the island moved to slow the spread of the virus, which has infected 65 people there.
The religious body that oversees mosques in the nation directed all of them to shut indefinitely. About 10% of the country`s 22 million people are Muslims. Meanwhile, mosques elsewhere in the region screened people for high temperatures using thermometers and urged their faithful to practice greater social distancing during Friday prayers.
In an address to his nation late on Thursday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to citizens to stay home and avoid panic-buying, as India outlined plans to halt all international flights in an effort to stem the number of cases in India, which passed 200 on Friday.
Following Modi`s appeal, a senior district official in the town of Ayodhya in India`s northern state of Uttar Pradesh said he expected the state government to call off the Ram Navami Mela, a major Hindu religious gathering in the temple town.
"We`re expecting an official order in a couple of days and it will be in line with what our prime minister said yesterday in his address," said the senior official.
The annual Ram Navami fair in Ayodhya brings millions of Hindus to the holy city. This year authorities were expecting a surge in numbers, as the foundation-laying ceremony of the grand Ram Temple, was also expected to take place.
Sharad Sharma, the spokesman for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a Hindu nationalist organisation, said it had asked its cadre not to hold any procession on Ram Navami.
"We`re also requesting people pray and celebrate Ram Navami in their homes, in community temples and not to gather in large numbers at any place. We will follow the appeal of our prime minister," he said.

Death toll in US rises to 150; highest one day death recorded, says CDC reports

MMNN:20 March 2020
USAThe US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday reported 10,491 cases of coronavirus, an increase of 3,404 from its previous count, and said the death toll had risen by 53 to 150, the biggest one-day jump so far.
President Donald Trump earlier in the day urged health regulators to expedite potential therapies aimed at treating COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, saying it could lead to a breakthrough while a vaccine is still under development.
Trump pointed to efforts on Gilead Sciences Inc’s experimental antiviral drug Remdesivir and the generic malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.
The CDC reported its tally of COVID-19 cases as of 4 p.m. ET on March 18, compared with its count a day earlier.
Coronavirus cases have been reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The CDC figures do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

Japanese flu drug favipiravir 'clearly effective' in treating coronavirus, claims China

MMNN:19 March 2020
JapanAn official at China's Science and Technology Ministry said on Wednesaday that a Japanese flu drug to treat new strains of influenza has proved 'clearly effective' in treating coronavirus patients.
Japanese media said that Zhang Xinmin has claimed that favipiravir, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm, had produced good encouraging outcomes in clinical trials conducted on 340 patients in Wuhan and Shenzhen, reported Guardian.
“It has a high degree of safety and is clearly effective in treatment,” Zhang told reporters.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported that patients who were given the medicine in Shenzhen turned negative for the virus nearly four days after testing postive for the virus.
The X-rays of these patients also showed improvements in lung condition in about 91% of the patients, while it was 62% on those without the drug.
The drug which is also known as Avigan is developed by uFujifilm Toyama Chemical. The pharma company has preferred not to comment on this matter.
Guardian reported that Avigan is being used by Japanese doctors in clinical studies on coronavirus patients with mild to moderate symptoms.
A Japanese health ministry source, however, said that the drug was not as effective in people with more severe symptoms. “We’ve given Avigan to 70 to 80 people, but it doesn’t seem to work that well when the virus has already multiplied,” the source told the Mainichi Shimbun.
Notably, favipiravir was used by the Japanese government in 2016 as an emergency aid to counter the Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea.
It is learnt that Favipiravir would need approval from Japanese government for full-scale use on Covid-19 patients and the drug could be approved as early as May. “But if the results of clinical research are delayed, approval could also be delayed.”

Will not stop bilateral trade with China despite coronavirus, says Pak FM

MMNN:19 March 2020
Islamabad: Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said that the country`s bilateral trade with China will not stop amid the coronavirus pandemic, it was reported on Thursday. He made the remarks in an interview to China`s state-run Global Times newspaper, reports The Express Tribune.
While speaking about the impact of the pandemic on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Qureshi expressed hope saying that despite a temporary hindrance, the future of the multi-billion dollar project was very bright not only for both the countries but for the entire region as well.
China has shared its experience in combating the deadly coronavirus with Pakistan and has sent teams to assess the situation. Beijing has also provided testing kits in thousands, the top diplomat remarked.
Qureshi along with President Arif Alvi, Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Minister Asad Umar and senior officials reached Beijing on Monday on a two-day visit to convey support and solidarity of Pakistan to the government and the people of China in the efforts to contain the spread.
During the visit, both the sides also signed a number of memorandums of understanding and handing-over certificates of donated vaccine refrigeration equipment, emergency humanitarian materials for epidemic response and emergency materials of epidemic control.
After their return to Pakistan, Alvi, Qureshi and Umar tested negative for the disease.
China, where the virus first emerged in the city of Wuhan last December, has so far reported 80,928 confirmed cases with 3,245 deaths.
Pakistan has confirmed two deaths and more than 300 cases.

Italy reports 475 new coronavirus deaths in 24 hours, total death toll rises to 2,978

MMNN:19 March 2020
ItaliThe Italian government threatened on Wednesday to ban all outdoor exercise as the coronavirus death toll soared to 2,978 and frustration grew over the number of people defying a nationwide lockdown order. The national death toll surged by 475 over the past 24 hours, the largest increase in numerical terms since the outbreak first came to light on February 21. The total number of confirmed cases grew by 4,207 to 35,713.
Italy was the first Western country to impose severe restrictions on movement to contain the illness. But a week after the curbs were imposed, the disease is still spreading and hospitals in the north are at breaking point.
The northern region of Lombardy, on the frontline of the battle against the respiratory pandemic, asked recently retired health workers on Wednesday to return to work and help colleagues overwhelmed by the crisis.
"I make a heartfelt appeal to all the doctors, nurses and medical personnel who have retired in the last two help us in this emergency," regional Governor Attilio Fontana told a news conference.
"I believe that in the coming hours we will have to consider the possibility of a complete ban on outdoor activities," Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora told state broadcaster RAI.
The government lockdown banned all non-essential travel, but allowed people to take solitary daily exercise, if needed. Looking to enforce the restrictions, police have stopped more than one million people over the past week and booked almost 43,000 for violating the rules, the interior ministry said.
"If the call to stay at home is not heeded, we will be forced to impose an absolute ban," he said.
The real number of deaths could be much higher than the official figure, after it emerged that fatalities in nursing homes - where dozens of patients are dying each day - are not being registered as coronavirus-related because none of the sick are being tested.
"There are significant numbers of people who have died but whose death hasn`t been attributed to the coronavirus because...they weren`t swabbed," said Giorgio Gori, mayor of the town of Bergamo, one of the worst hit areas.
While many Italian cities have been largely empty over the past week, photographs have circulated on social media of public transport filling up in the financial capital Milan, suggesting that some people are going back to work.
"Every time you leave your home, you are putting yourself and others at risk," said Fontana.
Lombardy, like many regions, is rushing to build makeshift hospitals to add badly needed intensive-care units. However, the move is being complicated by the fact that doctors, nurses and hospital porters are themselves falling sick. Some have died.
The Gimbe Foundation research group, using data supplied by the national health authority, said that between March 11-17, some 2,529 health workers had been diagnosed with coronavirus - 8.3% of the national total of coronavirus cases.
Officials warned that if the incidence of new cases did not slow in the coming days, they might extend the lockdown already in place, both in terms of the types of restrictions and how long they will continue.
In successive decrees earlier this month, the government ordered restaurants, bars and most shops to close until March 25. In addition, it shut schools and universities and told everyone to stay home unless absolutely essential until April 3.
Since the restrictions were most recently ramped up on March 12, the number of deaths has more than tripled.
"I do not know if the measures will be extended beyond April 3. We will make a decision based on the numbers and events. I cannot rule it out. We will see in the coming days," said Infrastructure Minister Paola De Micheli.

China announces revocation of accreditation of journalists of 3 major US newspapers

MMNN:18 March 2020
Beijing [China]: China has announced that it was revoking press credentials of US journalists working with the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post in what Beijing said was "reciprocal countermeasures" in response to the "oppression" of Chinese media organizations in the US.
"In response to the US slashing the staff size of Chinese media outlets in the US, which is expulsion in all but name, China demands that journalists of US citizenship working with the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post whose press credentials are due to expire before the end of 2020 notify the Department of Information of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs within four calendar days starting from today and hand back their press cards within 10 calendar days," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
"They will not be allowed to continue working as journalists in the People`s Republic of China, including its Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions," it added.
The move comes after US government recently declared several Chinese media outlets - state news agency Xinhua, China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Radio International, China Daily and Hai Tian Development USA - as agencies "controlled" by Beijing.
Further, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said: "In response to the US designation of five Chinese media agencies as `foreign missions`, China demands, in the spirit of reciprocity, that the China-based branches of Voice of America, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Time declare in written form information about their staff, finance, operation and real estate in China.
"Beijing defended the measures as "entirely necessary" and "reciprocal countermeasures" that China is "compelled to take in response to the unreasonable oppression the Chinese media organizations experience in the US".
The Chinese Foreign Ministry alleged that in recent years, the US government has placed "unwarranted restrictions" on Chinese media agencies and personnel in the US and "purposely made things difficult for their normal reporting assignments, and subjected them to growing discrimination and politically-motivated oppression."

Melbourne scientists make major headway to fast-track coronavirus treatments

MMNN:18 March 2020
New Delhi: Amid reports of rising coronavirus cases across the world, Melbourne scientists have discovered how the human body overcomes this deadly virus in a global breakthrough hoped to fast-track treatments, vaccines and even identify those at risk of dying, according to a Herald Sun report.
The report said that the Doherty Institute researchers have shown that healthy people can expect to fight off mild to moderate COVID-19 cases in three days. The Doherty team has reportedly been able to map in detail the way a patient’s immune system responded to COVID-19, revealing the weapons it used to overcome the new killer.
Lead researcher Professor Katherine Kedzierska told Herald Sun that the antibodies released by the human immune system to overcome coronavirus are very similar to those it uses to combat influenza — despite it never having being exposed to the disease.
Prof Kedzierska is quoted as saying “It suggests to us that we can fight the virus and we can drive ­recovery from COVID-19,” adding “We found that although COVID-19 is caused by a new virus, in a previously healthy patient robust immune responses can be elicited and associated with clinical recovery."
“We found in this patient three days after hospital admission we could see the emergence of specific cell populations in the blood,” he added.
According to the reports, when a 47-year-old woman from Wuhan was admitted to a Melbourne hospital as one of Australia’s first coronavirus cases, the Melbourne researchers were already set up to run a detailed analysis of her blood.
Four other Australian COVID-19 patients and their recovery have also been studied to show the same response — that patients recover three days after the antibodies begin to build up, said the report.
“Knowing that patients can mount antibody responses is important for the vaccination development, as the majority of vaccines are based on antibody responses,” Prof Kedzierska told Sun Herald, adding “This information will allow us to evaluate any vaccine candidates. In an ideal world, the vaccine should mimic our bodies.”
The latest work is likely to boost efforts to develop an antibody therapy to beat coronavirus.
Some scientists are reportedly pushing to develop drugs that mimic the weapons used by the immune system to kill the virus, which would be enhanced by the discovery of the antibodies, rather than going for a vaccine.
Notably, the study is likely to provide some reassurance for the 80 per cent of people who can easily fight off COVID-19, it would provide greater benefits for those who are at most risk.

255 Indian students stranded at Kuala Lumpur airport, seek Indian govt help

MMNN:18 March 2020
New DelhiAround 255 Indian students are stuck at Kuala Lumpur Airport due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country. All the students went to the Philippines for their further studies.
According to students, the Indian Authorities told them they can’t go to India. Students said, "If our Indian government won't allow us to enter into our own country, then where should we go?"
Earlier on March 11, an Indian official statement said all existing visas, except diplomatic, official, UN/international organisations, employment, and project visas stand suspended till April 15. This will come into effect from 1200 GMT on March 13 at the port of departure.
Students added, "We are expecting the Indian government to take us back, we are not ready to go back to the Philippines, until the situation gets normal there. They should rescue us since the Malaysian airports are going to lock down from tomorrow."
Advocate Ram Dulal Manna, one of the student's father talked to Zee News and said, "From the last 18 hours about 255 students are stuck at the Kuala Lumpur Airport, all the students have tried their best and tweeted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in New Delhi."
He added, "They wanted to come back and sent mails but the Indian Authorities haven't yet replied to their emails."
Globally, around 1,86,665 people have been tested positive for the coronavirus.

South Korea reports 74 new cases, church cluster outbreak near Seoul

MMNN:16 March 2020
Seoul: South Korea reported 74 new coronavirus infections on Monday, slightly lower than the previous day, health officials said, taking the tally of cases to 8,236, with 75 deaths.
New infections have been on a declining trajectory, with the latest figures well below a Feb. 29 peak of 909, and slightly down from 76 on Sunday, but media said South Korea uncovered the second-largest cluster in the area near its capital. As many as 303 more patients have been released after a full recovery, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, for a total of 1,137 who have gone home.
"For three straight days we have seen more numbers of discharged than newly confirmed, but we should not forget the lessons we’ve learned," Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.
Officials warned that "sporadic outbreaks" continued in the hardest-hit areas, such as the southeastern city of Daegu. The new outbreaks were from unknown sources in other cities, Kim said, adding, "This implies the coronavirus is spreading across the country."
One new cluster surfaced in Seongnam city south of Seoul, the capital, where at least 40 members of a Protestant church tested positive, including the pastor, after services on March 1 and March 8, despite government calls to cancel mass gatherings.
Six more people who came in contact with infected church members also tested positive, said Yonhap news agency, making the cluster the second largest in the Seoul area. Kim urged people to avoid mass gatherings and adopt "social distancing" measures to stifle infections. "We should not let our guard down," he added.
New steps to prevent new infections target visitors arriving from countries with major outbreaks, he said.
This week, South Korea adopted tougher border checks for visitors from Europe, similar to its rules for travellers from China and Iran.
On Sunday, it classified the worst-hit provinces as "special disaster zones", allowing the government to subsidise up to half of restoration expenses and exempt residents from taxes and utility payments.

COVID-19: By the end of May 2020, most world airlines will be bankrupt, says CAPA

MMNN:16 March 2020
New Delhi: CAPA on Monday (March 16, 2020) said in a statement that by the end of May-2020, most airlines in the world will be bankrupt.
CAPA - The Centre for Aviation, part of the Aviation Week Network, is one of the world’s most trusted sources of market intelligence for the aviation and travel industry. It released a statement on its official website and said, "By the end of May-2020, most airlines in the world will be bankrupt. Coordinated government and industry action is needed - now - if catastrophe is to be avoided."
As the impact of the coronavirus and multiple government travel reactions sweep through our world, many airlines have probably already been driven into technical bankruptcy, or are at least substantially in breach of debt covenants.
CAPA said, "Cash reserves are running down quickly as fleets are grounded and what flights there are operate much less than half full."
"Forward bookings are far outweighed by cancellations and each time there is a new government recommendation it is to discourage flying. Demand is drying up in ways that are completely unprecedented. Normality is not yet on the horizon," stated CAPA.
At the same time, while governments are grappling with the health challenges of coronavirus, it is clear that there is little instinct to act cooperatively. Messages are mixed and frequently quite different.
Each nation is adopting the solution that appears best suited to it, right or wrong, without consideration of its neighbours or trading partners.
CAPA said, "When, for example, President Trump peremptorily announced the effective cancellation of airline access to most Europeans, he didn’t even advise his European government counterparts in advance, let alone consult with them. Other governments have performed a little better."
"Failure to coordinate the future will result in protectionism and much less competition," CAPA said in its note.
"In short, the post-coronavirus environment has all the makings of a geopolitical standoff. The last thing the world needs post-coronavirus is a nationalistic aeropolitical confrontation," wrote CAPA.
As of March 12, InterGlobe Aviation, the parent of the country's largest airline IndiGo tumbled 10 per cent to Rs 1,039.35 apiece, a day after it said that quarterly earnings would be hit due to falling in daily bookings amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The SpiceJet dropped over 18 per cent to Rs 49.40 while Jet Airways fell nearly 5 per cent to Rs 18.95.
Earlier on March 10, India temporarily suspended all the visas and e-visas granted on or before March 11 to nationals of three more coronavirus-affected countries -- France, Germany and Spain -- effective immediately, as part of the measure to contain the spread of the deadly virus.
The government had earlier also suspended visas and e-visas for nationals of Italy, Iran, South Korea, Japan and China. The decision was taken during a high-level review meeting chaired by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba with secretaries of the concerned ministries or departments to review the status, actions, preparedness and management of COVID-19 cases in the country.
According to the, the total number of coronavirus cases in the world have reached more than 1,70,000 and there have been around 6,524 deaths until afternoon of March 16, 2020.

Germany accuses US President Donald Trump of trying to buy a company working on coronavirus vaccine

MMNN:16 March 2020
GermanyGerman ministers have expressed anger over reports that a German medical company was offered “large sums of money” by US President Donald Trump for exclusive rights to a vaccine for coronavirus.
“Germany is not for sale,” Guardian quoted economy minister Peter Altmaier as saying. A German newspaper reported that USD 1 billion was offered by President Trump to Tubingen-based biopharmaceutical company CureVac to secure the vaccine “only for the United States”.
It is learnt that German government has also offered financial incentives to the company to ensure that the vaccine stays in the country. “International co-operation is important now, not national self-interest,” said Erwin Rueddel, a conservative lawmaker on the German parliament’s health committee.
Christian Lindner, leader of the liberal FDP party, slammed President Trump and accused him of electioneering. “Obviously Trump will use any means available in an election campaign,” Lindner was quoted as saying by Guardian.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn noted that Berlin will never allow the US to take control of CureVac and the company would only develop vaccine “for the whole world”, and "not for individual countries”.
The total number of coronavirus cases have jumped to more than more than 86,000 across the world and the number of cases in China, which is the epicentre of coronavirus outbreak, is currently at 80,860. Deaths outside China have jumped to over 3,241, while deaths in China is at 3,208.
Addressing a press conference, Germany Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said, "I can only say that I have heard several times today from government officials today that this is the case, and we will be discussing it in the crisis committee tomorrow."

After China, Nepal closes Mount Everest for climbers because of coronavirus fears

MMNN:13 March 2020
Kathmandu: Nepal has closed all of its Himalayan peaks including Mount Everest this climbing season because of fears of the coronavirus outbreak, a government minister said on Friday.
Nepal, home to eight of the world`s 14 highest mountains including Mount Everest, gets more than four million dollars in permit fees for the world`s highest peak and other mountains every year.
Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai said expeditions to all peaks in the March-May spring season had been suspended.
"Climbing this season has been closed,” Bhattarai told Reuters.
"It is as a precaution for that," he added, when asked it its was because of the coronavirus.
Nepal has confirmed just one case of the coronavirus - a student studying in China on a trip home - out of 450 people tested.
The suspension of expeditions in Nepal will affect hundreds of foreign climbers now preparing for the spring season, a window or relatively good weather between the end of the bitterly cold winter and the rainy season, which begins in June.
Everest, the world`s highest mountain at 8,850 metres (29,035 feet), is on the border between Nepal and the Chinese region of Tibet. China announced the closure of its side of the mountain on Thursday.
It is the second time in recent years that the climbing season has been disrupted. Expeditions were suspended in 2015 after a major earthquake struck Nepal on April 25 that year, killing some 9,000 people.
Eighteen people were killed at the Everest base camp when an avalanche triggered by the quake roared down a slope.
"This is disappointing news for both our expedition leaders and our clients who have trained for months for this year’s climb," Lukas Furtenbach, of the California-based guiding company Furtenbach Adventure, said.
Adrian Ballinger of the Alpenglow Expeditions company said he understood the decision .
“While cancelling a climb is never an outcome we want, this time, it’s the responsible thing to do,” Ballinger said in a statement. “A COVID-19 outbreak at base camp would be dangerous and potentially devastating,” he said.
Nepal would also stop issuing visas on arrival until April 30, an official said.

Justin Trudeau in self-isolation after wife Sophie tests positive for coronavirus

MMNN:13 March 2020
Ottawa: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau`s wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau has been tested positive for the novel coronavirus, his office has announced.
Justin Trudeau, who has been self-isolating at home with his wife, will not be tested "at this stage" because he currently has no symptoms, CTV News quoted the Prime Minister`s Office as saying in a statement on Thursday night.
The couple will remain in isolation for a planned period of 14 days, the statement added.
Sophie Gregoire Trudeau is the 158th Canadian to test positive for the virus that was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on Wednesday.
The First Lady said in a statement that she is experiencing "uncomfortable symptoms of the virus" but plans to be back on her feet soon.
"Being in quarantine at home is nothing compared to other Canadian families who might be going through this and for those facing more serious health concerns," Gregoire Trudeau said, adding, "We will get through this situation together. Please share the facts and take your health seriously."
Justin Trudeau will continue to assume his duties as Prime Minister and will address the country on Friday.
Health officials are now reaching out to those who have been in contact with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, CTV News reported.
According to the PMO statement, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau began exhibiting flu-like symptoms after returning from a speaking engagement in the UK. She immediately sought medical advice after developing the symptoms and a low fever late Wednesday.
In a tweet sent Thursday afternoon before she tested positive, the Prime Minister had said his wife was feeling better but echoed the message of caution. Sources told CTV News earlier on Thursday that the couple`s children were not showing symptoms and not being quarantined.

Baloch activists urge United Nations to probe Pakistan govt’s atrocities in Balochistan

MMNN:13 March 2020
New Delhi: In a bid to create greater international awareness about near-extermination of the people of Balochistan, a campaign is being launched by activists under the banner of the Baloch Human Rights Council. A pavilion is also being set up outside the UN Office in Geneva, adjacent to iconic broken chair named “Save the Baloch”.
The council activists demand that the UN must launch an immediate and thorough investigation into the Pakistani government’s actions in Balochistan, and must hold Pakistan accountable for its egregious human rights abuses against the people of Balochistan.
“Save the Baloch” initiative marks an effort to amplify the voices of the people of Balochistan and usher in the restoration of their most basic human rights — social, cultural, political and economic autonomy.
Currently, the Baloch faces an unending saga of humiliation, destruction, and grief. Mass graves have been discovered across Balochistan; death squads kidnap social and political activists and human rights defenders, who are then murdered and thrown into these mass graves. Military oppression is the key tactic Pakistan has employed in order to sustain its unjust rule over the Baloch.
The people of Balochistan were never asked whether they wanted to be part of Pakistan. Also, they never gave their consent to have their territory annexed into the fundamentalist hotbed that is Pakistan. The Pakistani government has denied their right to self-determination.
Pakistan pushes the narrative that the people of Balochistan are happy— that they want to be part of Pakistan. This narrative is baseless and demeaning to the actual lived experiences of the Baloch.
Defending the rights of the people of Balochistan is not an option— it is an obligation. In the words of one of the protestors, “Freedom for Balochistan has been long-delayed, but it cannot and will not be denied.”
Because of these transgressions and the lack of UN counteraction, the UN has failed its own mandate to protect and fight for human rights across the globe. Silence from the UN on this matter is essentially an endorsement of this cultural extermination of genocidal proportions.

Coronavirus spread: Saudi Arabia suspends entry for pilgrims to Mecca

MMNN:27 February 2020
Riyadh: Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended visas for pilgrims wishing to visit Mecca over coronavirus fears, the foreign ministry said. The government is "suspending entry to the Kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet's Mosque temporarily", the foreign ministry said in a statement, referring to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year.
Umrah attracts tens of thousands of devout Muslims from all over the globe each month.
The foreign ministry said it was also suspending visas for tourists visiting from countries where the new virus is a "danger".
Even as the number of fresh cases declines at the epicentre of the disease in China, there has been a sudden increase in parts of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
Iran has emerged as a major hotspot in the region, where 15 people have succumbed to the disease -- officially known as COVID-19.
The Gulf states of Kuwait and Bahrain have also announced additional cases this week.

Coronavirus outbreak: US, South Korea postpone joint military exercises

MMNN:27 February 2020
Seoul: The US and South Korean militaries on Thursday postponed forthcoming joint exercises due to the coronavirus outbreak as the Asian country reported 334 new cases, taking its total to 1,595.
The decision to delay the training was made after Seoul declared its highest "severe" alert level over the virus, Combined Forces Command said, adding the postponement was "until further notice".
The United States has 28,500 troops in South Korea to protect it against the nuclear-armed North, many of them based south of Seoul at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek -- Washington's biggest overseas military facility.
The security allies have previously scaled back their annual joint military exercises significantly to facilitate nuclear talks with Pyongyang -- which condemns such drills as preparations for an invasion -- but a command coordination exercise had been planned for this spring.
South Korea has the highest number of virus cases in the world outside China, where the disease first emerged in December and has since spread to dozens of countries.
Thursday's increase was the biggest reported so far by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which gave a death toll of 12.
More than 80 percent of the South's cases are in Daegu -- South Korea's fourth largest city with a population of 2.5 million -- and the neighbouring province of North Gyeongsang. They centre on the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive entity often accused of being a cult. A 61-year-old female member developed a fever on February 10, but attended at least four church services in Daegu before being diagnosed.
Checks have begun on more than 200,000 Shincheonji members after the organisation handed over a list to authorities, and the number of cases is expected to increase as a result.
South Korea has an advanced medical system, a free press and a strong culture of public accountability, and observers say that its health statistics can be treated with confidence.
Officials have urged the public to exercise extra caution, advising citizens to stay home if they have a fever or respiratory symptoms.
An American soldier stationed at Camp Carroll 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of Daegu was put in self-quarantine at his home Wednesday after testing positive for the virus, the first case among US Forces Korea personnel.
Scores of events have been cancelled or postponed as the outbreak has spread in the world's 12th-largest economy, from K-pop concerts to the start of the K-league football season, while museums and other public venues have closed.
The Bank of Korea on Thursday lowered the country's growth outlook for this year to 2.1 per cent, down 0.2 percentage points, citing a contraction in consumption and slowing exports due to the spread of the virus.
The Catholic Church in South Korea said it would suspend all public masses at more than 1,700 churches across the country in response to the contagion.
A group of Catholics who recently returned from a pilgrimage to Israel had been one of the cluster infections.

Six people dead, including gunman, in Molson Coors brewery shooting in US Milwaukee

MMNN:27 February 2020
Milwaukee: A gunman opened fire at the Molson Coors Beverage Co brewing complex in Milwaukee on Wednesday, killing five employees before he was found dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot, the city`s police chief said.
No other people were injured in the violence, which erupted about 2 p.m. (2000 GMT) at the sprawling campus of more than 20 buildings, where over 1,000 workers are employed by the beer company in Wisconsin`s largest city, the chief said.
"There is no threat at this time, and we will continue to investigate throughout the night," the police chief, Alfonso Morales, told reporters at a news conference hours after the shooting.
Morales said the bloodshed was confined to the Molson Coors complex west of downtown - a facility known to locals as the old Miller brewery - and that "no members of the general public were involved." Miller beer is one of the company`s leading brands.
Hours later, law enforcement officers were still combing through each building in the complex to secure the facility, Morales said, adding the deceased gunman was believed to have acted alone.
The suspect was described only as a 51-year-old Milwaukee man. Details about the circumstances of the shooting, including what may have precipitated the carnage, were not provided by authorities.
President Donald Trump, acknowledging the shooting as he opened a White House news conference about the coronavirus outbreak, referred to the gunman as a "wicked murderer" and called the gun violence "a terrible thing."
Appearing with the police chief in Milwaukee, Mayor Tom Barrett branded the shooting "an unspeakable tragedy."
"There were five individuals who went to work today just like everybody goes to work. They thought they were going to work and return to their families. They didn`t, and tragically they never will."
Governor Tony Evers asked for a brief moment of silence out of respect for the victims "needlessly murdered at Molson Coors this afternoon."
The entire Molson Coors campus was placed under a security lockdown, and the company advised employees in an email that the gunman had been located in or near a second-floor stairwell near a packaging facility, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Video footage from the scene showed streets cordoned off with numerous police and fire department vehicles ringing the area as brewery workers were escorted from buildings.
Local television station WISN, an ABC affiliate, said police appeared to be searching a vehicle on or near the scene. The station later showed part of a residential Milwaukee neighbourhood roped off with police crime-scene tape.
According to the Journal Sentinel, Molson Coors Beverage Co, which operates MillerCoors, announced plans last fall to close a Denver office and relocate some corporate support jobs to Milwaukee. The newspaper said the restructuring was designed to cut costs and resulted in 400 to 500 jobs being eliminated throughout Molson Coors.
It said the company now had 610 jobs at its Milwaukee corporate office, in addition to 750 jobs at two breweries in the city.

Coronavirus scare: South Korea reports 169 new cases, including first US soldier

MMNN:26 February 2020
SEOUL: South Korea reported 169 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, including a US soldier, as health authorities readied an ambitious plan to test more than 200,000 members of a church hit hardest by the country`s outbreak.
The new cases pushed the total tally to 1,146, with the numbers expected to rise as the government widens its testing.
Of the new cases, 134 were from Daegu city, where a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which has been linked to outbreaks, is located, the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (KCDC) said.
The US military reported its first case of the coronavirus on Wednesday, in a 23-year-old soldier based in Camp Carroll, about 20 km (12.4 miles) from Daegu. The camp is also near a disability centre that has had its own outbreak of the virus.
A twelfth death from the virus was reported on Wednesday, according to the Joongang Ilbo newspaper.
Around 80 percent of the country`s cases - including at the disability centre - are linked to the
Daegu church, and to a hospital in nearby Cheongdo County, which some members are believed to have visited.
The church said it had agreed to provide the government with contact details for all of its members and people in trainee programmes, on the understanding that the information would not be made public.
"We have obtained a list of 212,000 number of the Shincheonji believers from the church last night," vice health minister Kim Gang-lip said at a briefing on Wednesday.
"We will pass the list to local governments," he said. "Local governments will check whether the believers have respiratory or fever related symptoms and visit their homes to test them."
The coronavirus is believed to have originated in China before spreading to dozens of other countries and territories.

Egypt's ousted president Hosni Mubarak dead at 91

MMNN:25 February 2020
CAIRO: Egypt`s ousted former President Hosni Mubarak has died at the age of 91, state television said on Tuesday, weeks after undergoing surgery.
Mubarak ruled Egypt for 30 years until he was ousted following mass protests against his rule in 2011. He was jailed for years after the uprising, but was freed in 2017 after being acquitted of most charges.

UK MP Debbie Abrahams, denied entry into India, visited PoK on Pakistan's invitation

MMNN:25 February 2020
Pakistan :British Parliamentary Group headed by MP Debbie Abrahams visited Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK ) on Sunday (February 23, 2020) and met various leaders at an event allegedly organised by Pakistani intelligence body ISI on the Kashmir issue. Zee News had reported earlier that Debbie Abrahams' actual plan was to visit India and from there go to Pakistan and OoK to allegedly demonise Indian security forces deployed in the valley to maintain law and order along with tackling terror activities.
The Indian government had already clarified that her visa was revoked as she had indulged in activities which went against the country's interest.
After being denied entry into India and being sent back to Dubai, Debbie Abrahams reached Pakistan on February 19, 2020. She left from Dubai for Pakistan as she already had a plan to visit the South Asian nation which she had not disclosed earlier, added Indian sources. Her plan also included a visit to PoK but she had kept it a secret when trying to enter India.
As per the sources in intelligence agenciess, she has been active against India at the behest of Pakistan. Her visit to Pakistan and PoK has been sponsored by the Pakistani government.
She was stopped from entering India after her arrival at New Delhi airport on February 17, 2020 and deported to Dubai. The rejection of the e-business visa was already intimated to her on February 14.

Death toll increases to 2,592 in China as deadly coronavirus spreads globally

MMNN:24 February 2020
Beijing: The coronavirus death toll in China increased to 2593 and a total of 77345 cases were confirmed as per health authorities report on Monday (February 24).
Other than China, South Korea is the biggest hotspot of the deadly coronavirus which has lead to worsening health conditions in the country. The Middle East and Europe are also at the front lines in the spread of coronavirus.
South Korea has seen a rapid rise in infections since a cluster sprouted in a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu last week.
More than 200 infections and two more deaths were reported in South Korea on Monday, bringing the total cases to more than 830 - by far the most outside China.
Afghanistan, Bahrain and Kuwait also announced their first cases of the virus, and the death toll in Iran climbed to 12 on Monday.
Here's is the list of country-wise details of death and cases due to coronavirus:
CHINA- 77345 (2593 DEATHS)
JAPAN- 146 (1 DEATH)
IRAN- 47 (12 DEATHS)
U.S- 35
AUS- 22
U.K- 13
UAE- 13
Chinese authorities insist they are making progress in containing the virus, citing slowing infection rates. The World Health Organization (WHO) also lauded China's effort to handle the emergency situation and said, ''China's "incredibly difficult measures" in tackling the coronavirus that emerged late last year has probably prevented hundreds of thousands of cases in the country.''
Coronavirus has led to more than 30 deaths outside of China and about 30 countries have reported infections.
The virus is taking an increasingly heavy toll on the global economy, with many factories in China closed or subdued due to quarantines, and global travel choked.
Earlier this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged that the virus had become the country's "largest public health emergency" since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.

China denies delay in granting permission to special Indian flight to coronavirus hit-Wuhan

MMNN:21 February 2020
Beijing: China on Friday (February 21) denied any delay in allowing a special Indian flight to the coronavirus-hit Wuhan city to deliver medical supplies and evacuate remaining Indians from there, saying the concerned departments of both the countries were in touch to finalise the schedule.
India on February 17 announced that it will send Indian Air Force's largest plane C-17 Globemaster with medical supplies to Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus, and bring back its nationals as well as citizens from all neighbouring countries who were still stuck there on the return flight.
The special flight to Wuhan is reportedly awaiting clearance from China.
India evacuated 647 Indians and seven Maldivians by operating two Special Air India flights to Wuhan earlier this month.
Asked why there is a delay in granting permission to the third Indian flight, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told an online press briefing on Friday that China has assisted India earlier to evacuate a large number of Indians from Wuhan and Hubei province.
The competent departments on the two sides are still in communication on the arrangement for the remaining 80 people that India plans to fly home. There is no such a thing as China delaying giving flight permissions, he said.
Geng said the Chinese government attaches high importance to the lives and health of all foreign nationals in China.
A Chinese official on Thursday said 29 foreign nationals in China were infected with the novel coronavirus and 18 of them have recovered.
We have offered them all the necessary help they need and will continue to do so. At present, China's prevention efforts have been proven to be effective, he said, referring to Chinese health officials' observation that the cases of the virus have started declining.
We hope that relevant countries will respect the reasonable recommendations given by the WHO (World Health Organisation) and avoid overreacting. China will continue to work with the international community to fight against the epidemic and promote the global cause of public health, he said.
Meanwhile, the death toll in the novel coronavirus in China has risen to 2,236 with 118 more casualties reported, mostly from the hard-hit Hubei province, while the overall confirmed infection cases have climbed to 75,465, Chinese health officials said on Friday.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner to accompany Donald and Melania Trump on India trip

MMNN:21 February 2020
The US first family will be coming for their trip to India on February 24 and 25. It has been confirmed that US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania will be accompanied by daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner for the Namaste Trump event in Gujarat's Ahmedabad on Monday.
A high-level delegation including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will also be travelling to India.
The US President was invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to inaugurate the cricket stadium in Motera, also known as Sardar Patel Stadium. With a seating capacity of more than 1,10,000 people it is the world's largest cricket stadium.
An elaborate ceremony has been planned in Ahmedabad for their visit. There will be a roadshow by the two leaders from the Ahmedabad airport to 'Motera Stadium', which is as long as 22 kilometres.
Several tableaus will be lined up on the streets of the city with artists performing folk dances.
The two dignitaries will make a quick stopover at Sabarmati Ashram before making their way to the stadium.
According to sources, a program dubbed as 'Namaste Trump' will be held inside the stadium where both Trump and Modi will address a large gathering estimated around 1.25 lakhs.
Ahead of his visit, Donald Trump on Thursday said the two countries could make a "tremendous" trade deal. "We're going to India, and we may make a tremendous deal there," Trump said in his commencement address at the Hope for Prisoners Graduation Ceremony in Las Vegas.
"Maybe we'll slow down. We'll do it after the election. I think that could happen too. So, we'll see what happens," he said adding, "But we're only making deals if they're good deals because we're putting America first. Whether people like it or not, we're putting America first," Trump said.
President Trump is set to undertake many official engagements in New Delhi and Gujarat and "interact with a wide cross-section of Indian society" on this trip.
Talk's on counter-terror cooperation, deepening engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, augmenting defence and trade ties and India's concerns over H1B visas are expected to figure in talks between Trump and Modi.

South Korea worst hit nation by coronavirus after China, confirmed cases reach 156

MMNN:21 February 2020
Seoul: South Korea confirmed 52 more cases of novel coronavirus on Friday (February 21), taking its overall figure to 156 and making it the worst-infected country outside China.
Altogether 39 of the new cases were linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southern city of Daegu, the Korean Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said.
More than 80 members of Shincheonji have now been infected, starting with a 61-year-old woman who developed a fever on February 10 but attended at least four church services before being diagnosed.
The mayor of Daegu, South Korea's fourth-biggest city, with a population of over 2.5 million - has advised residents to stay indoors, and commanders at a major US base in the area restricted access.
Residents wore masks to go about their daily activities Friday.
Shincheonji is often accused of being a cult and claims its founder, Lee Man-hee, has donned the mantle of Jesus Christ and will take 144,000 people with him to heaven on the day of judgement.
The KCDC said one more case had been confirmed at a hospital in Cheongdo county near Daegu where a total of 16 infections have now been identified, including a long-stay patient who died Wednesday after showing symptoms of pneumonia.

Two passengers from coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan die

MMNN:20 February 2020
TOKYO: Two passengers from a coronavirus-hit cruise ship moored near Tokyo have died and 29 people were in a serious condition, Japanese media reported on Thursday, as a second group of passengers disembarked after two-weeks quarantined onboard.
More than 620 of the passengers on the Diamond Princess liner have been infected on the ship, which has been quarantined since February 3, initially with about 3,700 people on board.
Public broadcaster NHK said the deceased passengers were an 87-year-old Japanese man and an 84-year-old Japanese woman.
Kyodo news agency reported 29 people were in a serious condition, including one who had earlier tested negative for the virus. The health ministry could not immediately confirm the reports.
Japan has well over half the known cases outside China due to the ship infections and the rapid spread of the virus and the quarantine operation has sparked criticism of authorities just months before Tokyo is due to host the Summer Olympics.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended Japan`s efforts. He told a news conference that after measures were put in place to isolate passengers on February 5, the number of new infections was now almost at zero. "In that sense, we believe the isolation was effective," he said.
Japan`s National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) said in a report issued Wednesday that no new cases of the onset of the COVID-19 disease from the cruise ship were reported on February 16-17 and only one crew member case on February 15.
In a move to reassure the public, the health ministry also issued a statement in both English and Japanese that said all passengers had been required to stay in their cabins since February 5 to contain the virus. The day before, as passengers were being screened, ship events continued, including dances, quiz games and an exercise class. Criticism of the government has played out in social media as well as in parliament, where Health Minister Katsunobu Kato was grilled again on Thursday by an opposition lawmaker.
About 500 passengers began disembarking on Thursday while another 100 people were to leave for chartered flights home, a health ministry official said. An initial batch of passengers who had tested negative and shown no symptoms left the vessel on Wednesday.
Those who have shared a room with people testing positive were required to remain in quarantine, as were crew. The ministry could not confirm how many people remained on board, or when disembarkation would be complete.
More than 150 Australian passengers arrived home after a pre-dawn departure from Tokyo`s Haneda airport. They face another 14-day quarantine. Some Hong Kong passengers also went home, while Canadians were due to leave on a charter flight in the early hours of Friday, a Canadian government spokeswoman said. An evacuation flight was also being arranged for British nationals to leave Tokyo on Friday.
Earlier in the week, the United States evacuated more than 300 nationals on two chartered flights. A US State Department official said there were still about 45 U.S. citizens on board the cruise ship as of Thursday.
Americans flown back will have to complete another 14 days quarantine, as will returning Hong Kong residents. Disembarked Japanese passengers, however, face no such restrictions, a decision that has sparked concern.
The NIID said there should be no problem if people had shown no symptoms for 14 days and had tested negative for the virus during the period their health was under surveillance. Besides those on the cruise liner and returnees brought home from the epicentre of the epidemic Wuhan in China, about 70 cases of domestic infections have been confirmed in Japan, including 25 in Tokyo, public broadcaster NHK reported.

US special envoy talk over Taliban deal with Ashraf Ghani

MMNN:20 February 2020
U.S special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday (February 19) discussed a U.S. deal with Taliban militants on a weeklong reduction in violence, meeting the day after Ghani was declared a winner of a disputed presidential poll.
Ghani`s main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who came in second, rejected the result and vowed to form his own government, threatening new political turmoil as the United States strives to seal a U.S. troop withdrawal deal with Taliban militants.
The Afghan presidential palace in a statement quoted President Ghani as telling Khalilzad he had held "effective" meetings with local leaders on how the Afghan government would handle the peace process.
The U.S.-Taliban deal was struck in protracted negotiations in the Qatari capital Doha and was announced on Friday after a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Ghani and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper in Munich.
Khalilzad, who has led talks with the Taliban on a U.S. troop withdrawal agreement, briefed Ghani on the steps that will be taken after the reduction in violence agreement comes into force, the presidential palace statement said.
Afghanistan`s acting interior minister had said on Tuesday that the accord would come into force in the next five days, even as clashes between the Taliban and Afghan security forces continued.
The statement following the Khalilzad-Ghani meeting did not mention the Afghan president`s re-election, which is being disputed by a number of Ghani`s political opponents.
The United States has not yet formally congratulated Ghani on his re-election for five more years as president.
The United Nations on Wednesday said it would “encourage the electoral management bodies to address the candidates’ understandable desire to have clarity on decisions taken related to audits and recounts.”
The European Union said it considered the election process to have reached a conclusion.

Shooting in German city leaves at least 8 people dead: Reports

MMNN:20 February 2020
At least eight people were killed and five more critically injured in a mass shooting incident late on Wednesday in the German city of Hanau, mass-selling Bild newspaper reported, citing prosecutors.
Several people were shot dead after two unknown gunmen attacked shisha bars in the German city of Hanau, Hessenshau reported on Wednesday quoting police sources.
While the police are still working at the scene, the actual number of deaths is unclear so far, but there were reports of at least eight people shot as a result of the incident.
According to media reports, the suspects entered the first bar in the city centre initially and opened fire, and then headed for another one in the Kasselstadt district.
Police in Hanau, east of Frankfurt, could not be reached for comment. The motive for the shooting is not clear.

Shooting in German city leaves at least 8 people dead: Reports

MMNN:20 February 2020
At least eight people were killed and five more critically injured in a mass shooting incident late on Wednesday in the German city of Hanau, mass-selling Bild newspaper reported, citing prosecutors.
Several people were shot dead after two unknown gunmen attacked shisha bars in the German city of Hanau, Hessenshau reported on Wednesday quoting police sources.
While the police are still working at the scene, the actual number of deaths is unclear so far, but there were reports of at least eight people shot as a result of the incident.
According to media reports, the suspects entered the first bar in the city centre initially and opened fire, and then headed for another one in the Kasselstadt district.
Police in Hanau, east of Frankfurt, could not be reached for comment. The motive for the shooting is not clear.

Second Hong Kong coronavirus death as it awaits stranded cruise passengers

MMNN:19 February 2020
Hong Kong: Hong Kong reported its second death from the new coronavirus on Wednesday as authorities drew up plans to fly home hundreds of city residents stranded on a virus-stricken cruise ship in Japan.
The 70-year-old man who died had underlying illnesses and was one of 62 confirmed cases in the Chinese-ruled city, a Princess Margaret Hospital spokeswoman said.
In addition to those cases, 52 Hong Kong residents have tested positive for the coronavirus on the cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan. There are 352 Hong Kong residents on the ship.
The ship has been quarantined in the port of Yokohama since Feb. 3 after a man, who disembarked in Hong Kong before it travelled to Japan, was diagnosed with the virus.
More than 540 people have tested positive for the virus on the liner - the biggest concentration of infected people outside China.
Speaking in Hong Kong`s Legislative Council, Security Secretary John Lee said 200 out of the 352 Hong Kong residents on the ship, which is operated by Carnival Corp, were willing to take free, government charter flights home.
The government was trying to convince the rest to board the flights, he said. Those coming back would be required to undergo 14 days of quarantine upon arrival.
"We`ve urged the Japanese government to prioritise our cases," Lee said.
"We wouldn’t rule out the possibility of sending more charter flights but we`ll try our best to handle all of them in one day."

Two small planes collide in Australia, killing four onboard

MMNN:19 February 2020
Perth: Two small planes collided Wednesday, killing four people and scattering debris across grassland in southeastern Australia.
Police and other emergency services were at the two separate crash scenes in Mangalore, north of the Victoria state capital, Melbourne.
Victoria police said in a statement two occupants in each plane were confirmed dead at the scene and had yet to be identified.
Aerial images taken from local media showed debris from two small planes in grassy areas.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau have been notified.

Air strikes hit hospitals, camps in northwest Syria, Turkey demands pull-back

MMNN:18 February 2020
BEIRUT/GENEVA: Government air strikes have hit hospitals and refugee camps in northwest Syria and killed about 300 civilians as President Bashar al-Assad`s forces press an assault against the last rebel stronghold, the United Nations said on Tuesday. UN officials said relief agencies were overwhelmed by the humanitarian crisis as nearly one million civilians, most of them women and children, had fled towards the Turkish border in bitter winter conditions to escape the onslaught.
"Civilians fleeing the fighting are being squeezed into areas without safe shelter that are shrinking in size by the hour. And still they are bombed. They simply have nowhere to go," UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said. Syrian and Russian warplanes meanwhile kept up raids on the town of Darat Izza in Aleppo province on Tuesday, witnesses said, a day after two hospitals there were badly damaged.
At Al Kinana Hospital, blown-out walls and dust-covered medical cables and supplies were strewn about the hospital after two staff were wounded on Monday, witnesses said. Ankara said talks with Moscow on Idlib were "not satisfactory" and Turkey would deploy more troops to the region.
Turkish and Russian officials held a second day of talks in Moscow with no apparent agreement on Idlib, where the latest push by Russian-backed Syrian government forces has killed several Turkish troops. Russia said both sides restated their commitment to existing agreements aimed at reducing tension in Idlib. A statement did not mention Turkey`s demand for Syrian government forces to pull back.
Turkey says it cannot cope with a new refugee influx in addition to the 3.6 million Syrian refugees already stranded inside its borders. Appearing on national television on Monday, Assad said the rapid military gains presaged the eventual defeat of the nine-year-old insurgency against him although it could still take time. The rebel factions include Turkish-backed rebels and jihadist militants.

British royal family’s website hacked, sending visitors to Chinese porn site

MMNN:18 February 2020
In a major blunder, the visitors to UK Royal Family’s website were accidentally sent to a Chinese porn site instead of sending visitors to Chinese porn site instead of a charity. The site has been hacked and an incorrect link to a charity is taking users to a web page which features click-throughs to porn content, The Sun reported. According to, which is the official site of British royal family the website is the “home of the Royal Family” and features a picture of the Queen with Prince Phillip. The site contains information about the royals and highlights charities they are associated with. The royal website should have a link to the Welsh charity Dolen Cymru’s official website and at first glance nothing appears amiss but there is one more link in the official link which directed users to the pron website. The royal family and Dolen Cymru have been informed about the embarrassing gaffe. Notably, Prince Harry is a patron of the charity which helps communities in Wales and Lesotho. Harry is closely associated with several programmes in the West African nation as he spent his gap year on a placement there in 2004. The 35-year-old Harry has hailed the charity’s work as “quite invaluable”.

Coronavirus death toll in China reaches 1886; WHO doctors begin field inspection

MMNN:18 February 2020
Beijing: The death toll from China's coronavirus epidemic climbed to 1,886 on Tuesday (February 18, 2020) as 98 more people died while the total number of confirmed cases jumped to 72,436, according to Chinese officials. Of the latest deaths, 93 were reported from Hubei Province, the epicentre of the virus, three from Henan, and one each from Hebei and Hunan, the National Health Commission said.
Hubei reported 1,807 new confirmed cases, taking the total number of such cases to 59,989 in the province. Another 1,432 new suspected cases were reported from the rest of China. On Monday, 1,097 patients became seriously ill and 11,741 patients remained in severe condition, the commission said.
Of the 41,957 patients hospitalised in Hubei, 9,117 were still in severe condition and another 1,853 in critical condition, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The province also saw 1,223 patients discharged from hospital after recovery on Monday, bringing the total number of discharged patients in the province to 7,862. A total of 12,552 people had been discharged from hospital after recovery across China so far, it said.
In view of human-to-human transmission of the disease, over 1.41 lakh people who have come in contact with the people who contracted the virus are still under medical observation, it said. By Monday, 60 confirmed cases including one death had been reported in Hong Kong 10 confirmed cases in Macao and 22 in Taiwan including one death.
Top World Health Organisation experts, including from the US, have joined the fight against the the virus, called COVID-19, in China.
China confirmed that the 12-member WHO team includes Americans, as sought by the US.
"The foreign experts on board the China-WHO Joint Mission have arrived in Beijing. They have started relevant activities. We have experts from the US in the mission," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told media.
NHC said China has stepped up efforts to shore up weak spots as the epidemic prevention and control have entered the most crucial stage. "Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, remains the main battlefield," Wang Hesheng, deputy head of NHC, said. "Improving admission and survival rates and reducing infection and fatality rates are still the most urgent tasks."
Nine temporary hospitals with more than 6,960 beds have opened in Hubei. As of February 14, a total of 217 medical teams with 25,633 medical workers had been sent to Hubei, the Xinhua report said.

Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar living in bomb-proof house in Pakistan's Bahawalpur: Intelligence agencies

MMNN:18 February 2020
Indian Intelligence agencies have confirmed that the chief of terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Maulana Masood Azhar, is living inside a bomb-proof house behind Jaish's Bahawalpur headquarters in Pakistan
It is to be noted that Azhar is on top of India’s “most wanted” list and was the architect of February 14, 2019 Pulwama attack, which claimed the lives of 40 CRPF personnel. According to intelligence sources, Masood Azhar has three other known addresses: Kausar Colony, Bahawalpur; Madarassa Bilal Habshi, Bannu, Khyber-Paktunkhwa; and Madrassa Masjid-e-Luqman, Lakki Marwat in Bahawalpur.
The confirmation about Masood Azhar's whereabouts becomes crucial at a time when several reports have claimed that Pakistan may tell the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) plenary meet in Paris that the JeM boss is missing. Notably, Pakistan has sentenced Lashkar-e-Taiba chief and 26/11 Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed to five-and-a-half years in prison for terror funding in order to avoid getting 'blacklisted' by FATF but Islamabad had failed to take any concrete action against Masood Azhar so far.
Meanwhile, ahead of the FATF discussion on Pakistan dossier, the country's intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has held a meeting with JeM commanders in Rawalpindi and assured the JeM and other terrorist groups that it will gradually remove the restrictions against terrorist organizations.
This meeting was attended by Jaish operations commander Mufti Abdul Rauf Asghar and the ISI asked him to carry out terrorist attacks Jammu and Kashmir and other areas of India. The ISI has also asked Rauf to execute the attacks on India in such a manner that Jaish can be saved from international surveillance, according to the intelligence agencies report.
The JeM has also been told to once again intensify its old activities in Madrasas and other related institutes. These institutions have been asked to teach religious bigotry and jihad against India.

UN secretory general urged to take notice of humanitarian crisis in Balochistan

MMNN:17 February 2020
UNITED NATIONSKhalil Baloch, chairman of the Baloch National Movement (BNM) on Sunday urged the visiting United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to take immediate notice of the humanitarian crisis in Balochistan."Pakistan not only snatched our freedom but also exploited our marine and land resources. It also started a systematic genocide of the Baloch people that has further increased in the last two decades.However, the UN`s response over the situation has always been of a silent spectator," Kahlil Baloch said.
Guterres arrived in Islamabad on Monday on a four-day visit to the country. Khalil further added that Pakistan is not only responsible for the occupation of Balochistan but also perpetrating terrorism in the region.
"On the occasion of his visit, we would like to remind the Secretary-General that as an occupied nation, we have a strong hope that you will take notice of ongoing genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Balochistan and would take initiatives to resolve the Baloch national issue," he said. He also noted that the Secretary-General is visiting Pakistan at a time when the forces and agencies of the establishment are committing genocide in Balochistan.
"The ground for Baloch political voices has been narrowed down. The UN Human Rights Council`s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has confirmed requests for thousands of forced disappearances of the Baloch people. These are the cases where families have filed their case with consent and identification through meeting the rules and requirements of this group," the activist added.
He said that such a situation is not only limited to the Baloch people, but Pashtuns and Sindhis too are facing genocide at the hands of the Pakistani establishment. The Pakistani atrocities have mounted manifold when China partnered with Pakistan to layout the multi-billion project of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he stressed.
Khalil said that the CPEC has become a plan for the economic exploitation of his people. "The national resources of Balochistan are being looted under this guise. These projects in the name of so-called development are destroying the environment along with the resources in the region. For example, environmental pollution, which is one of the burning issues has been dangerously ignored," Baloch said.
"No initiative has taken place to protect the indigenous peoples` environmental rights in these projects. Under the CPEC, millions of people from China and Pakistan are planned to have planned settled in Gwadar. This move will further escalate demographic changes in the land," he added.

Reports of Masood Azhar having gone missing raises many questions on Pakistan: Altaf Hussain

MMNN:17 February 2020
New DelhiThe reports of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief and UN-designated terrorist Masood Azhar having gone missing from so-called custody of the Pakistani Army has raised many questions on the state policy of Pakistan towards banned outfits, Muttahida Qaumi Movement`s (MQM) founder Altaf Hussain has said.
In a tweet, Hussain noted that the reports of Azhar and his family having gone missing has come ahead of the beginning of the key plenary session of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Paris.
This week, the Paris-based global terror financing watchdog will evaluate whether Pakistan has taken sufficient steps and implemented its plan of action to fight terror financing or not.
More than 800 representatives from 205 countries and jurisdictions around the world, including the IMF, UN, World Bank, and other organisations, will take part in the meeting.
In a separate tweet, Hussain expressed his concern over the visit of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to Pakistan. The MQM leader went on to ask if the UN chief would visit the provinces of Sindh, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during his four-day visit and listen to their stories of suppression.
The MQM leader is currently under detention in London. He is barred from addressing crowds for fear of instigating them and he is bound to stay at the designated address under curfew conditions from morning to evening.Hussain regularly makes televised addresses or telephonic speeches to his supporters, where he heavily criticises the Pakistan Army and ISI for alleged military oppression of Muhajirs.

Coronavirus death toll climbs to 1,770 in China; total cases climb to over 70,500

MMNN:17 February 2020
Beijing: China reported 105 new deaths due to the new coronavirus on Monday, pushing the overall death toll to 1,770, as officials announced stringent measures such as closing non-essential public venues and traffic restrictions to control the epidemic in the worst-hit Hubei province.
The National Health Commission said 2,048 new cases of the virus have been confirmed, taking the total number of COVID-19 infected cases to 70,548, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Of the new deaths, 100 were from Hubei Province, three in Henan, and two in Guangdong.
Though 10,844 people had been discharged from hospitals after recovery, the commission said in its daily report said that 7,264 people were still suspected to be infected by the deadly virus.
By Sunday, 57 confirmed cases including one death had been reported from Hong Kong, 10 in Macao, and 20 in Taiwan including one death.
Hubei, where 18 cities with over 50 million people are under lockdown since January 23, announced a slew of more stringent measures to control the epidemic, including enforcing province-wide traffic restrictions on all non-emergency vehicles and closing all non-essential public venues.
A circular by the provincial government said the health screening campaign should be strengthened and no one should be missed. Also, companies should not resume production unless allowed by local authorities. Those that have resumed work including public institutions should follow strict prevention measures.
The measures came as the situation remains "grave", the circular added.
However on Sunday, the commission announced a ?significant drop? in new cases, suggesting that epidemic control measures were taking effect.
"In Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic, the proportion of severe cases among the confirmed cases fell from a peak of 32.4 per cent on January 28 to 21.6 per cent on February 15," Mi Feng, a spokesperson with the NHC, said during a media briefing.
Meanwhile, a 12-member team of World Health Organisation experts began assisting their Chinese counterparts to control the virus.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said international experts were now on the ground in China to understand the outbreak and inform the next steps in the global response.
Ghebreyesus also met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Munich Security Conference.
He said "given the misinformation about the novel coronavirus epidemic, WHO has communicated with some companies including Google to ensure that the public will get the authoritative information from the WHO".
He said one of the goals of the joint mission is to rapidly inform the public of the next steps and preparedness activities in China and globally. "Particular attention will be paid to understanding the transmission of the virus, the severity of disease and the impact of ongoing response measures."
In Beijing, the NHC said the joint mission will pay field visits in China's three provincial-level regions to learn the implementation and effectiveness of the epidemic control measures.

Meet Ella: New Zealand police's first Artificial Intelligence officer

MMNN:13 February 2020
New ZealandNew Zealand police on Wednesday (February 12) unveiled its first Artificial Intelligence (AI) officer named Ella at the police national headquarters in Wellington.
Ella will be at the centre of the new digital services of New Zealand police, reported Ella stands for Electronic Lifelike Assistant and this AI officer is part of two new digital kiosks designed by New Zealand police with an aim to reduce queues in police stations. New Zealand police is also hopeful that the introduction of Ella will provide a modern way to connect with the public.
Ella is the brainchild of project manager Erin Greally and this one-of-a-kind AI officer has been designed as a mix of 26 different people. Ella will be stationed at the headquarters building in Molesworth Station and the users will be able to get information or be connected to whom they want to visit.
New Zealand police has said that after the success of the three-month pilot, Ella's friendly, CGI face will be spread across kiosks throughout the country, reported
The other kiosk in the three-month pilot phase is the police connect service, which can be used by the common people to ask for information on several questions or report a crime. The kiosk can also be used to get in touch with someone at the call centre.
During the pilot phase, these kiosks will be stationed at the Wellington, Johnsonville, and Featherston stations, but Commissioner Mike Bush has expressed hope that very soon these kiosks will be set up in stations across New Zealand, as well as non-police locations.
The kiosks will be fitted with CCTV cameras and other alarms. The new services were "a continuation of the modernisation of the New Zealand police force", Bush said.

Coronavirus death toll jumps to 1,310 in China's Hubei province

MMNN:13 February 2020
BEIJING: The Chinese province at the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak reported a record rise in the death toll on Thursday (February 13) under a new method for diagnosing cases, as health experts warned the epidemic could get worse before it gets better.
Health officials in Hubei province said 242 people had died from the flu-like virus on Wednesday, the fastest rise in the daily count since the pathogen was identified in December, and bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 1,310. The previous record rise in the toll was 103 on February 10.
The grim new tally came a day after China had reported its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in two weeks, bolstering a forecast by the country`s senior medical adviser that the epidemic could end by April.
But the 2,015 new confirmed cases reported in mainland China on Wednesday were dwarfed by the 14,840 new cases reported in Hubei alone on Thursday, after provincial officials started using computerised tomography (CT) scans to look for infections.
Hubei had previously only allowed infections to be confirmed by RNA tests, which can take days to process and delay treatment. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, carries genetic information allowing for identification of organisms like viruses.
Using CT scans that reveal lung infections would help patients receive treatment as soon as possible and improve their chances of recovery, the Hubei health commission said.
The new diagnostic procedure also could lead to a spike in the death toll, according to Raina McIntyre, head of biosecurity research at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
"Presumably, there are deaths which occurred in people who did not have a lab diagnosis but did have a CT. It is important that these also be counted," she told Reuters. Under previous, stricter rules for identifying coronavirus cases, patients were often denied access to treatment or went undiagnosed.
The new testing methodology is only being used in Hubei province so far, Chinese officials said.
Asian stock markets wobbled and the safe-havens of the Japanese yen, gold and bonds rose after the new Hubei numbers dashed hopes that the epidemic was stablising and the Chinese economy could bounce back quickly.
Results from Chinese trials testing a combination of antiviral drugs used to treat HIV against the new coronavirus are due in weeks, but experts say a vaccine could still be months away.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned any apparent slowdown in the spread of the epidemic should be viewed with "extreme caution". "This outbreak could still go in any direction," he told a briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.
Hundreds of infections have been reported in more than two dozen other countries and territories, but only two people have died from the virus outside mainland China - one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.
The biggest cluster of cases outside China is on a cruise ship quarantined off the Japanese port of Yokohama, where a further 44 cases were reported on Thursday. So far, 219 of about 3,700 people on board have tested positive.
There was a happy ending for another cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, which docked in Cambodia after being denied docking rights in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Guam and the Philippines over fears one of its 1,455 passengers and 802 crew might have the virus, even though none had tested positive.
"This morning, just seeing land was such a breathtaking moment," Angela Jones, an American tourist on the ship, told Reuters. "I thought: Is this real?" The outbreak is suspected to have originated in the Hubei provincial capital of Wuhan in December. The city of 11 million people remains under virtual lockdown, and other major Chinese cities are facing severe travel restrictions.
United Airlines said it would extend cancellations of all U.S. flights to China through late April, meaning all U.S. passenger carriers flying to China had now cancelled flights into late April.
The move is the latest disruption to international travel that has paralysed businesses and played havoc with major conferences and sporting events. The Mobile World Congress, an annual telecoms industry gathering that draws more than 100,000 visitors to Barcelona, was cancelled on Wednesday after a mass exodus by exhibitors due to coronavirus-related concerns.
Another big event to be cancelled moved or postponed was the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix, originally set for Shanghai on April 19. Singapore`s annual rugby sevens tournament due to take place in the city-state on April 11-12 would be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, a source familiar with the matter said.
Hong Kong extended the suspension of schools till at least March 16 in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the city, where 50 cases have been confirmed.

Two Indian crew members on board cruise ship off Japanese coast test positive for Coronavirus

MMNN:13 February 2020
At least two Indian crew members onboard a cruise ship off the Japanese coast tested positive for the Coronavirus, the Indian Embassy in Japan said on Wednesday as authorities confirmed that a total of 174 people have been infected with the deadly disease.
The cruise ship Diamond Princess with 3,711 people--2,666 guests crew members and 1,045 crew members--on board arrived at the Japanese coast early last week and was quarantined after a passenger who de-boarded in January in Hong Kong was found to be the carrier of the novel virus on the ship.
A total of 138 Indians, including 132 crew and 6 passengers, are on board the ship. "Due to the suspicion of novel Coronavirus (nCoV) infection, the ship has been quarantined by the Japanese authorities till February 19, 2020," the embassy said in a statement.
"As of February 12, 2020, altogether 174 people have been tested positive for nCoV, including two Indian crew members," it said. All the infected people have been taken to hospitals for adequate treatment, including further quarantine, in accordance with the Japanese health protocol, it added.
The Indian Embassy was in constant touch with the Japanese authorities to ensure the welfare of Indian nationals on board the ship as well as the possibility of their early disembarkation, in case they are not found to have tested positive for the virus, it said. Japanese authorities have confirmed that they are following the designated health protocols, it said.
"The Embassy of India in Tokyo has reached out to the Indian nationals through emails and telephone calls and explained to them about the health and safety regulations of Japanese authorities and have requested for cooperation," the statement said.
"None of the Indian nationals has complained of discriminatory treatment meted out to them," it said, adding that the mission has been in constant touch with the ship management company- Princess Cruises (for the crew members) and the employer of six passengers to tie up their travel back to India.
Giving details, it said that those who have not tested positive, irrespective of their nationality, have not been allowed to disembark except the critically ill passengers and crew members who have been allowed to be taken to hospitals for further treatment and quarantine.
According to news agency PTI, those on the ship have been asked to wear masks and allowed limited access to the open decks as they are advised to remain in the cabins most of the times to contain the spread of the virus, according to media reports. The operator of the ship had on February 10 (Monday) vowed to refund all 2,666 passengers due to the on board outbreak of the new coronavirus.
Carnival Japan Inc., the Japanese branch of Princess Cruise Lines Ltd., which operates the ship, said refunds will be offered via travel agencies through which the passengers made their bookings, added PTI.
The company will additionally cover all costs incurred by those quarantined aboard the ship since February 4, when passengers were originally scheduled to disembark at Yokohama.
The death toll in China's novel coronavirus outbreak rose up to 1,113 with 97 new fatalities reported mostly in the worst-affected Hubei province while the confirmed cases of infection jumped to 44,653, health officials said on Wednesday. The coronavirus outbreak originated in central China's Hubei province in December 2019.
The virus was officially named "COVID-19" by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on February 11. Several countries have banned arrivals from China while major airlines have suspended flights to the country.

General Motors Korea to suspend assembly line as virus hits parts supply

MMNN:11 February 2020
Seoul: The biggest US car company General Motors was caught up on Wednesday in the supply chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus in China when its South Korean unit announced a partial suspension of operations next week.
The coronavirus has killed more than 1,100 people and infected over 44,000 across mainland China, spreading to more than two dozen countries in what is now considered a global health emergency.
China is the world's largest exporter of goods and the extended holidays and movement restrictions imposed by Beijing as it seeks to contain the outbreak have disrupted supplies of items including parts for auto manufacturing.
One of the two assembly lines at GM Korea's Bupyeong complex, west of Seoul, which can make over 400,000 vehicles annually, will be closed next Monday and Tuesday due to shortages of parts from China, a company representative told AFP.
GM Korea heavily relies on China for the wiring harnesses that connect vehicles' complex electronics. But operations could quickly "return to normal" after the two-day break, he said, as Chinese were now "returning to work".
Japanese auto giant Nissan said earlier this week it was suspending operations at its Kyushu plant from February 14-17 because of supply shortages from China.
South Korea's Hyundai Motor which with its affiliate Kia ranks as the world's fifth-largest auto manufacturer suspended operations at its five-plant complex in the coastal city of Ulsan last week.
Production would resume "gradually" this week but the situation remained dependent on the supply of parts, Hyundai said in a statement, without giving precise resumption dates.

Thousands bid farewell to Kenya's veteran leader Moi

MMNN:11 February 2020
Nairobi: African leaders in Kenya for the state funeral of Daniel Arap Moi, the country`s longest-ruling president who died last week at 95, hailed his role as a peacekeeper who tried to mediate conflicts including in Uganda and Ethiopia.
Despite his longevity, Moi was a divisive personality who won admirers for keeping Kenya on an even keel for much of his rule but was hated by others for a legacy of corruption that still haunts the East African nation today.
Tens of thousands of people turned out in the capital Nairobi to watch Moi`s coffin, draped in the Kenyan flag, travel on a gun carriage from the State House, the official presidential seat, to an open-air stadium 3 miles (5 km) away.
Personnel from the army, air force and navy accompanied the coffin into the stadium, where choirs sang gospel songs as they awaited the cortege.
"As an avid peacemaker, statesman, Pan Africanist, and champion for a more united and just world, Moi spearheaded a number of initiatives that brought peace within our region and beyond," Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta told mourners.
Tuesday was declared a public holiday, allowing people to mourn Moi`s passing.
"Moi was a humble man. Anybody who knew him, they know he was a humble man. President Moi never bragged in any success, instead he attributed it to God," said long-time friend Silas Yego, a retired bishop of the Africa Inland Church where Moi had worshipped.
Moi came to power in 1978 when he was serving as vice-president after the nation`s first leader President Jomo Kenyatta died.
Makau Mutua, who as a young law student at the University of Nairobi was detained by the Moi regime in 1981 and then exiled for the next 10 years, cautioned against forgetting Moi`s excesses.
"We can`t forget, or forgive. If we do, we will continue to repeat our horrible history," he wrote in his weekly column in the local Sunday Nation newspaper.
During Moi`s rule, thousands of activists, students, and academics were held without charge in underground cells. Prisoners say they were sometimes denied food and water.
Poverty also deepened on his watch and corruption flourished. A 2004 report by corporate investigations firm group Kroll accused Moi and his inner circle of stealing $2 billion of state funds, an accusation the government at the time dismissed.
Moi won elections in 1992 and 1997, defeating a divided opposition. But he was booed and heckled into retirement when term limits forced him to step down in 2002 and he lived quietly on his sprawling estate in the Rift Valley.
He will be buried there on Wednesday.

Dozens of Rohingya refugees missing, 15 confirmed dead after boat capsizes

MMNN:11 February 2020
Dhaka: Dozens of Rohingya refugees were missing and 15 confirmed dead on Tuesday after a ship carrying about 130 people capsized in the Bay of Bengal while trying to reach Malaysia, a Bangladesh coast guard official said.
Rescuers had saved 73 people from the vessel, which had set sail early on Tuesday packed with refugees trying to make their way to Malaysia from camps near the resort town of Cox`s Bazar in Bangladesh, said the official, Hamidul Islam.
"It was inhumane," he said. "The boat was carrying roughly 130 people, while it had a capacity of 50."
Some of the survivors said a second vessel carrying a similar number of passengers had also set off at the same time, Islam said. Coast guards had so far been unable to locate the second vessel.
Two Bangladesh naval vessels and two coast guard ships were involved in joint rescue operations, near Saint Martin`s Island off the southeastern tip of Bangladesh. Those rescued include 46 women, 24 men and three children. The confirmed dead were women and children, Islam said.
In 2017, a crackdown by Myanmar`s military drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar has denied U.N. accusations that its military waged a campaign against Rohingya with "genocidal intent".
In November, Bangladesh`s coast guard rescued 122 Rohingya Muslim refugees from the Bay of Bengal when a vessel they had boarded to travel to Malaysia started sinking because of a mechanical problem.
Malaysia is home to more than 100,000 Rohingya refugees, the second-highest number in the world after Bangladesh.
Lured by traffickers, many people attempt the perilous voyage to Malaysia on overcrowded, rickety vessels during the November-to-March window, when sea conditions in the region are usually calm. Others try to make their way to Malaysia by paying people smugglers for fake travel documents.
Authorities in Bangladesh last year prevented more than 600 Rohingya, including many young girls, from making perilous sea voyages, mostly to Malaysia. Last year at least seven suspected human traffickers, including two Rohingya refugees, were killed in clashes with police in Cox`s Bazar.
"We are continuing our drive to prevent human trafficking," said Iqbal Hossain, the additional police superintendent in Cox`s Bazar.

China virus deaths jump to 902; 2618 additional cases reported

MMNN:10 February 2020
Beijing: The number of deaths from China's new coronavirus epidemic jumped to 902 on Monday after the hardest-hit province of Hubei reported 91 new fatalities. In its daily update, Hubei's health commission also confirmed another 2,618 new cases in the central province, where the outbreak emerged in December.
There are now more than 39,800 confirmed cases across China, based on previously released figures from the government.
The new virus is believed to have emerged last year in a market that sells wild animals in Hubei's capital Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, before spreading across the country.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Saturday that the number of cases being reported daily in China was "stabilising", although the health body warned it was too early to say if the virus had peaked. A WHO 'international expert mission' left late Sunday for China, the agency's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Twitter.
The only confirmed fatalities outside the mainland are a Chinese man in the Philippines and a 39-year-old man in Hong Kong.
The toll has overtaken the global number of deaths caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, which killed 774 people in 2002-03.

Thailand soldier kills 29 in rampage before being shot

MMNN:10 February 2020
Thailand: A soldier angry over a property deal gone sour killed at least 29 people and wounded 57 in a rampage that spanned four locations in and around the northeastern Thai city of Nakhon Ratchasima before he was shot dead early Sunday.
Most of the victims were at the city`s Terminal 21 shopping centre, where the shooter held out against an overnight siege with an assault rifle and ammunition stolen from his army base.
Police named him as 32-year-old soldier Jakrapanth Thomma. He initially posted written messages on Facebook during the attack before his account was shut down by the company. "It was a personal conflict...over a house deal," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters on Sunday from Nakhon Ratchasima after travelling there to meet wounded survivors.
Prayuth added that the conflict was with a relative of the soldier`s commanding officer.
Hundreds of shoppers fled the mall in groups crouching low, and the police and army launched several rescues during the more than 12-hour standoff, with armed forces at one point emerging at a run carrying small children.
"It was frightening because I could hear the occasional gunshot...we waited a long time for the police to come and help us, many hours," said Suvanarat Jirattanasakul, 27, her voice trembling. Another survivor told local Amarin TV that the shooter was "aiming for the heads" and said his colleague died on the scene.
"He was shooting everywhere and his shots were very precise," said the man, identified as "Diaw". At a morgue in Nakhon Ratchasima, the family of 13-year-old Ratchanon Karnchanamethee sobbed as they identified his body.
"He`s my only son. He hasn`t even had dinner," said his father, Natthawut Karnchanamethee. "I allowed him to do anything he wanted to. I never set expectations for him. I only wanted him to be a good person." The province`s governor, Wichien Chantaranochai, on Sunday night said a total of 29 people had been killed and 57 were wounded.
Also known by the historical name Korat, Nakhon Ratchasima has a population of about 250,000. It is close to a national park popular for its wild elephants but the relatively poor northeastern region is one of the less-visited areas for Thailand`s tens of millions of tourists.
CCTV footage from inside the mall posted on social media showed the gunman dressed in black and wearing a mask, his gun slung over his shoulder with no sign of other people around. According to local media, Jakrapanth worked at an army base close to Nakhon Ratchasima, which is about 250 km (155 miles) from the capital Bangkok.
He was a sharpshooter and took many special courses on carrying out attacks, including planning ambushes, army sources said. Thai media reported he often posted photos of weapons on social media.
The killings began at around 3 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Saturday when the soldier opened fire in a house before moving to an army camp and then driving to the mall in a stolen Humvee.
The soldier`s commanding officer was one of the people reported killed before the soldier moved on to the shopping mall and began shooting.
At some point during the day, the soldier raided the army camp`s weapons storage to arm himself, said Lt. General Thanya Kiatsarn, Commander of the Second Area Command. "He attacked the guard to the weapon arsenal, who later died, and he stole an official jeep and an HK33 gun and an amount of ammunition to do what he did," Thanya said.
Hours before he began shooting on Saturday, Jakrapanth had posted on his Facebook account denouncing greedy people. "Rich from cheating. Taking advantage of other people. Do they think they can spend the money in hell?" read one post in Thai. He later posted written updates during the attack.
"Death is inevitable for everyone," he wrote. Later, he complained about his fingers cramping and asked "Should I give up?" before the account was no longer available.
Hours after the mall siege began, Facebook said it had removed the suspect`s account.
"There is no place on Facebook for people who commit this kind of atrocity, nor do we allow people to praise or support this attack," a Facebook representative said in a statement.
Major shootings are rare in the Southeast Asian country other than in the far south, where a decades-old insurgency persists.

Storm Ciara forces cancellation of hundreds of flights in UK

MMNN:10 February 2020
London: Hundreds of flights have been cancelled, while roads and bridges have been closed as the worst storm in seven years barrelled towards the UK, a media report said on Sunday. Storm Ciara is expected to make landfall on Sunday evening, bringing with it 80mph winds and heavy rain, the Metro newspaper said in the report.
London`s Heathrow airport announced that it had taken a joint decision with its airline partners to "consolidate" Sunday`s flight schedule, in a bid to minimise the number of journeys cancelled.
Flag carrier British Airways said it was offering flexible rebooking options for all customers on domestic and European flights flying to and from Heathrow, Gatwick and London City on Sunday, amid widespread cancellations.
As well as grounding short-haul flights, long-haul services to the US, Dubai and Canada will not operate.
Other airlines have also reduced services coming in and out of Glasgow, Liverpool John Lennon and Manchester airports, with thousands of passengers expected to be affected.
Virgin Atlantic have warned of similar disruptions, with people being urged to check their flight status online before heading to the airport.
Trains and ferries have also been cancelled and drivers have been urged to avoid the roads unless it was absolutely necessary.
Forecasters have warned the impacts of Ciara "will be felt across the whole of the UK" when it reaches England and Wales tomorrow, with a month`s worth of rain expected to fall in one day, the Metro newspaper reported.
The aggressive weather conditions have triggered the most widespread amber warning since records began.
The Met Office say there is a risk of danger to life from towering waves, flying debris and treacherous road conditions.
The severity of the storm has seen major events cancelled, including the London Winter Run which was due to be attended by 25,000 people.
London`s eight Royal Parks, which include Hyde Park and Regent`s Park, will also close on Sunday.

Pakistan Air Force jet crashes during routine training mission

MMNN:7 February 2020
PAKISTAN A Mirage aircraft of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) crashed on Friday during a routine operational training mission near Shorkot city in Punjab province, Pakistani media Dawn reported quoting the PAF.
The PAF spokesperson in a statement said that the pilot safely ejected. Dawn reported that there was no loss of life or property due to this incident.
According to Dawn, the Air Headquarters has ordered a board of inquiry to know the cause of the accident.
In January 2020, a PAF aircraft crashed while on a routine operational training mission crashed near Mianwali, Dawn reported. The pilots, Squadron Leader Haris bin Khalid and Flying Officer Ibaadur Rehman, aboard the PAF FT-7 aircraft died in the crash.

Australia celebrates as heavy rains dampen huge bush fires

MMNN:7 February 2020
AustraliaMuch of Australia`s wildfire-ravaged east coast was drenched on Friday by the biggest rainfall in almost 20 years, dousing some of the most dangerous blazes and providing welcome relief to farmers battling an extended drought.
The downpour came with its own risks - officials warned of flash floods and landslides across New South Wales (NSW), Australia`s most populous state - but was generally greeted jubilantly after months of devastating bushfires.
"There's lots of smiles around the place," NSW Rural Fire Services (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, who has been more accustomed in recent weeks to delivering fire evacuation orders, told reporters in Sydney.
"It is breaking the back of this fire season, no doubt," Fitzsimmons said. "The rain is good for business and farms as well as being really good for quenching some of these fires we`ve been dealing with for many, many months."
The deluge had the effect of calming the number of active fires in NSW by 20 in a single day, a success rate that NSW RFS said it was "over the moon" about.
By afternoon, there were 40 active fires in NSW, less than half the number of blazes at the peak of the crisis, with all burning at the lowest level danger warning of "advice" only. Neighbouring Victoria state had 21 active fires, also at the lowest level.
Around 11.7 million hectares of Australian wilderness have been razed by a series of huge wildfires since September that has also killed 33 people and more than a billion animals and destroyed thousands of homes. The horrific extended bushfire season has followed a three-year drought across the country.
The heavy rainfall across NSW and Victoria state on Friday was something of a welcome surprise after the Bureau of Meteorology`s three-month forecast issued in January forecast continued high temperatures and little rainfall.
Sydney alone was expected to receive as much as 130 millimeters of rain in the 24 hours to Saturday morning, the biggest one-day rainfall since Feb. 5, 2002, data on the bureau`s website showed on Friday.
"What we are broadly expecting over the next couple of days is this coastal trough to hang around, to keep delivering this widespread, prolonged, steady rainfall," BOM forecaster Jane Golding said.
Fitzsimmons said he was optimistic the continued rainfall over the coming days would help firefighters in NSW get the 17 blazes that are still categorized as "uncontained" under control.
"We expect rainfall to continue to fall across a lot of these fire grounds and that will result in a number of those being declared contained and hopefully we will be confident we won`t see new ignitions from anywhere in those fire grounds," he said.
Some 3,500 kilometers (2174.8 miles) to the northwest, a tropical cyclone was barreling toward the coast of Western Australia where it is expected to make landfall near Port Hedland, the world`s largest iron ore port, on Saturday.
Destructive wind gusts of up to 150 kilometers per hour could develop overnight Friday night as the cyclone approaches the coast, and very destructive gusts of up to 230 kilometers per hour were expected when Cyclone Damien hits on Saturday, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
Authorities said Port Hedland would be cleared ahead of the cyclone and the Dampier Port also closed.
Miners Rio Tinto and BHP Group said they were monitoring the situation and making preparations.
The wet weather prompted some light-hearted remarks at a visit by British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to the Sydney office of pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca PLC.
"We are all very, very happy that you are here today, but also importantly that you`re bringing this fine British rain with you," AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot told guests. "We really have brought the rain," replied Raab.

China announces probe into whistle blower doc Li Wenliang's death amid grief

MMNN:7 February 2020
ChinaChina's anti-graft watchdog on Friday launched a probe into the death of a whistleblower doctor who was reprimanded by police for spreading "rumors" about the coronavirus outbreak in China that has claimed over 630 lives, amid an outpouring of global grief and anger over his demise.
China's ruling Communist Party has sent a high-level investigation team to the epidemic-hit Wuhan city in central Hubei province to probe Li Wenliang's death on Thursday.
Li, 34, was among eight Wuhan residents who were reprimanded by local police in early January for spreading "rumors" about the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the province.
The doctor died due to the very virus he desperately tried to highlight in December last year through social media and has become a national icon with millions of netizens expressing their grief and anger over the way he was treated.
His death is widely reported by the state-run media which had earlier shunned him.
A special team will head to Wuhan to investigate issues regarding Li, state-run People's Daily quoted China's top anti-corruption agency as saying on Friday.
The action has been approved by the central government and the team will have a comprehensive investigation into matters related to the deceased doctor, China's National Supervisory Commission said in a statement.
Li's death has been mourned by the National Health Commission.
The police reaction in stifling his warning of coronavirus which now has become a national and international disaster has evoked public resentment.
As of Thursday, 636 people have died due to the virus outbreak with the total number of confirmed cases jumping to 3,143, Chinese officials announced on Friday.
"After emergency treatment, Li Wenliang passed away. We deeply regret and mourn Li's death," the Central Hospital of Wuhan announced on Thursday.
The doctor's death triggered an outpouring of millions of comments on China's social media sites as well as concerns from the international community.
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Li Wenliang. We all need to celebrate work that he did on 2019nCoV," the World Health Organization (WHO) tweeted.
According to his post on Weibo on December 30, Li, an ophthalmologist at the Central Hospital of Wuhan, warned in the online chat group WeChat that he had seen a report that showed positive test results of SARS for seven patients.
On January 3, Li and the seven others were summoned by Wuhan police for "spreading fake information on the internet", state-run China Daily reported.
They were reprimanded but not fined or detained, it quoted police as saying. Li continued his normal work at the Wuhan hospital until January 10 when he came down with cough and fever, symptoms of the coronavirus.
"I was finally confirmed as being infected by the novel coronavirus," Li wrote on February 1 on Weibo, adding a dog emoji.
The post got more than 1.6 million thumbs-ups and over 400,000 netizens expressed their best wishes for him.
On Thursday evening, several Weibo posts said Li had died from the novel coronavirus and the updates went viral on social media, sparking immense sorrow and outrage among netizens.
Significantly, during midnight the Central Hospital of Wuhan denied Li had died, saying he was critical and under emergency treatment.
The post soon attracted millions of netizens to pray for the doctor.
"I won't sleep tonight!!! Wait for a miracle online!" said one comment that received 350,000 thumbs-up.
Comments that received tens of thousands of thumbs-up included: "Please! Save him!" and "I am waiting for a miracle for medicine, for emergency treatment and for a hero!"
A top epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) told state-run Global Times that "we should highly praise the eight Wuhan residents".
"They were wise before the outbreak," Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the CCDC, said, adding that any judgment, though, needs to be backed by scientific evidence.

China coronavirus death toll climbs to 9, number of cases rise to 440

MMNN:22 January 2020
ChinaChina's National Health Commission said on Wednesday 440 people in 13 Chinese provinces were confirmed to be infected with a new coronavirus as of Tuesday, with nine deaths, and that there was evidence of respiratory transmission from patient to patient.
The number of cases compares with the total of over 300 reported earlier as of Tuesday. Li Bin, vice minister of the commission, also told a media briefing that live animals were not allowed to enter Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the outbreak originated.
A Chinese physician who was investigating the outbreak of the new coronavirus in central China says he has himself been infected. Wang Guangfa, who heads the Department of Pulmonary Medicine at Beijing`s Peking University First Hospital, was part of a team of experts that earlier this month visited Wuhan, where the virus emerged.
"I was diagnosed and my condition is fine," Wang told Kong`s Cable TV on Tuesday, thanking people for their concern. Wang, who conducted research on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, said he was receiving treatment and would receive an injection soon. He did not give details on how he may have been infected.
"I don`t want everyone to put too much attention on my condition," he told the channel. Wang told state media on January 10 that the outbreak appeared to be under control, with most patients showing mild symptoms and some having been discharged. He could not be reached by Reuters on Tuesday.

Australian bushfires hit coal output, hazardous conditions to return

MMNN:21 January 2020
SYDNEY: Mining giant BHP Group said on Tuesday that poor air quality caused by smoke from Australia`s bushfires is hurting coal production, as authorities cautioned a reprieve from hazardous fire conditions could end within days.
The warning from the world`s biggest miner showed how an unusually long bushfire season that has scorched an area one-third the size of Germany is damaging the world`s No. 14 economy. Australia`s tourism and insurance industries have already foreshadowed they face a A$1 billion ($687 million) hit each from the fires.
Scores of fires were still burning on the country`s east coast on Tuesday despite thunderstorms and rain in recent days.
Officials in New South Wales issued a high fire danger rating on the state`s south coast, while temperatures were forecast to rise in inland parts of Victoria state and neighbouring South Australia on Wednesday.
Combined with strong winds, the hotter temperatures will potentially fan existing bushfires and spark new ones into life, leading officials to declare "extreme fire danger" in some areas.
"Not all the fires received the heavy rain over the past few days, so local fire crews will definitely be keeping a close eye on those firefronts," Bureau of Meteorology meteorologist Philip Landvogt said by telephone.
BHP said smoke and dust from bushfires had reduced air quality at its energy coal plants in New South Wales state, where hundreds of fires have raged, affecting production in December.
"If air quality continues to deteriorate then operations could be constrained further in the second half of the year," it added in a scheduled production update.
The fierce bushfires in Australia`s east have killed 29 people and millions of animals, destroyed more than 2,500 homes and razed 11 million hectares (27 million acres) of wilderness since September. The crisis follows three years of drought that experts have linked to climate change.
The disruption has extended to the capital, Canberra, and its two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, all of which have been repeatedly blanketed in thick smoke that has earned them air quality ratings among the worst in the world.
A survey by Deloitte of 2,000 executives published on Tuesday showed 89% of Australian business executives viewed climate change and environmental sustainability as the "societal issue of greatest focus," compared to 54% world-wide.
Here are key events in the bushfire crisis:
- Early on Tuesday, 86 fires were burning across New South Wales, none above the lowest warning level. There were 27 emergency warnings in Victoria, including one flash flood warning.
- The Bureau of Meteorology warned the East Gippsland region to expect strong winds after thunderstorms rolled through a day earlier. Earlier this month, people in East Gippsland were evacuated by Navy ships as bushfires destroyed whole towns.
- The NSW state government, meanwhile, said it was increasing a grant for primary producers affected by the fires to A$75,000, from A$15,000 previously.
- The Australian Open tennis tournament continues in Melbourne. The city`s air quality was rated as "good", according to the Air Quality Index, having been "hazardous" less than a week earlier, when a player collapsed in the preliminary rounds.
- The tennis community has raised more than A$50 million for bushfire relief, according to Tennis Australia.

Three rockets hit near US embassy in Baghdad's high-security Green Zone: Sources

MMNN:21 January 2020
IRANAmid the ongoing standoff between the US and Iran, three rockets hit near the US embassy in high-security Green Zone of Iraqi capital city of Baghdad, security sources said adding that there were no reports of casualties so far.
Sources said that sirens started blaring across the Green Zone after the rockets made impact. It is to be noted that Iran-backed paramilitary groups has been blamed by the US for their alleged involvement in similar attacks in recent months on the Green Zone, but no group has claim responsibility so far.
The tension between the US and Iran touched a new high after the killing of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by a Pentagon-ordered drone attack in Baghdad on January 3.
Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite al-Quds force was killed when a US drone fired missiles on his convoy at Baghdad airport. Iran retaliated by launching over a dozen ballistic missiles targeting at least two bases where US military and coalition forces' are stationed in Iraq.
Iran had claimed that at least 80 "American terrorists" were killed in the missile attacks, adding that none of the missiles was intercepted. According to a Reuters report, Iranian State TV, citing a senior Revolutionary Guards source, also said that Iran had 100 other targets in the region in its sights if Washington took any retaliatory measures. The report said that US helicopters and military equipment were "severely damaged" in the missile attacks launched by Iran against the US-led forces in Iraq on January 8.

Police arrest organiser of Hong Kong protest after rally turns violent

MMNN:20 January 2020
HONG KONG: A prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist was arrested by police, his organisation said on Monday, after a protest he helped organise in the financial district a day earlier turned violent with officers firing tear gas to disperse the crowds.
Ventus Lau was arrested on Sunday evening on charges of "obstruction of police administration" and violating terms set when permission was granted for the protest, the Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team said in a statement.
The organisers initially applied for a permit - known as a letter of no objection - for a march, but the police only agreed to a static rally in a park in the city`s Central district. But as the crowds swelled and spilled onto surrounding streets, some protesters briefly barricaded roads with umbrellas, traffic cones and other street furniture and dug up bricks from the pavement.
Police then ordered a halt to the protest and began dispersing the crowd. "It was primarily rioters` violent acts which led to the suspension of the gathering," Senior Superintendent Ng Lok-chun told reporters.
"The organiser has violated the agreements set in the no objection letter, failed to assist in maintaining the order in the public gathering event, that is why we have arrested Mr. Lau."
Police said two community liaison officers were attacked with wooden sticks and sustained head injuries. They also said some protesters threw water bottles at officers conducting a `stop and search` operation.
In a statement late on Sunday, the government said it "strongly condemns" the attack on the police officers. The "Universal Siege Against Communism" demonstration was the latest in a relentless series of anti-government protests since June, when Hong Kongers took to the streets to voice their anger over a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
Organisers said 150,000 attended the demonstration, while police estimated a crowd of 11,680 at its peak.

Despite shake-up, Putin rejects idea of Soviet-style leaders for life

MMNN:20 January 2020
MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday he did not want Russia to return to the late Soviet-era practice of having lifelong rulers who died in office without a proper succession strategy.
His comments, made to World War Two veterans in St Petersburg, came days after he unveiled a sweeping shake-up of the political system which led to the resignation of Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister along with his government.
Putin, in a surprise move, picked Mikhail Mishustin, the low-profile head of the country`s tax service, as the country`s next prime minister. Russians are now waiting to hear which ministers will keep their jobs in a new government.
Putin`s changes, which would amend the constitution to create new centres of power outside the presidency, were widely seen as giving the 67-year-old scope to extend his grip on power once he leaves the presidency in 2024. He has dominated Russian politics, as president or as prime minister, for two decades.
Critics accuse Putin, a former KGB officer, of plotting to stay on in some capacity after his term ends. They suspect he wants to continue to wield power over the world`s largest nation, which is also one of its two leading nuclear powers.
In his comments on Saturday, Putin, who has already said he wants to limit future presidents to two terms in power despite currently serving out his fourth term himself, rejected the idea of Russian presidents for life.
Asked by a war veteran on the occasion of the 77th anniversary of the lifting of the siege of Leningrad if it was time to abolish term limits for presidents altogether, Putin said: "As regards (presidential) terms for staying in power I understand ... that (concern over this) is linked for many people with worries about societal, state and domestic and external stability.
"But it would be very worrying to return to the situation we had in the mid-1980s when state leaders stayed in power, one by one, until the end of their days and left office without ensuring the necessary conditions for a transition of power. So thanks, but I think it would be better not to return to that situation."
The late Soviet period was characterised by a series of elderly leaders such as Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko who all died in office, sparking a scramble by others to grab power.
Putin`s comments are likely to be seen as reinforcing the idea that he plans to exit the presidency in 2024 as per the current constitution, but are unlikely to appease critics who think he`ll find a way to continue wielding influence behind the scenes in a different enhanced role.

Australian government to aid tourism industry as bushfires recede

MMNN:20 January 2020
MELBOURNE: The Australian government said on Sunday it will channel AUD 76 million (USD 52 million) to the tourism industry as recent heavy rains have dampened many of the monthslong bushfires, allowing the country to look to recovery.
The number of fires burning across Australia`s east and south coast has gone under 100 over the weekend for the first time in weeks, bringing relief from a disaster that has scorched an area roughly a third the size of Germany since September.
"Our federal response to these devastating bushfires is comprehensive and unprecedented," Prime Minister Scott Morrison was cited in a statement announcing the aid. Some 29 people and millions of animals have been killed so far in the burning bush in Australia - a country famous for its pristine beaches, abundant wildlife and open-air sporting events.
Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC), told Reuters earlier that damages to the tourism industry have approached A$1 billion.
The Australian Tourism Export Council, another peak tourism body, told the Australian Financial Review that the losses may go above AUD 4.5 billion by the end of the year. Asked on ABC News television on Sunday whether A$76 million is sufficient, Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said it was an initial package.
"There may need to be additional support and funding as we work through this recovery," Birmingham said, according to a transcript of the interview. Tourism has been an increasingly vital part of Australia`s economy, accounting for more than 3 percent of annual economic output.
Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, three of the states that are popular tourist destinations but which have been hit hard by the fires, are now dealing with rain bucketing down in some areas, causing floods and landslides.
Meteorologists expect more rain in Australia`s east and south on Sunday and Monday, which should further help firefighters. As of Sunday, there were 69 bushfires in New South Wales, a third of them still yet to be contained.
Storms are expected to lash parts of Victoria, but there were still 14 fires burning on Sunday, with some big blazes in the state`s mountain region known for hiking. Fears of smoke from the fires disrupting the Australian Open tennis tournament receded in Melbourne, where the main tournament was due to start on Monday.

Pakistan Supreme Court refuses to hear Musharraf's plea against treason verdict

MMNN:18 January 2020
Islamabad: The Pakistan Supreme Court office has refused to hear an appeal, moved on behalf of former President Pervez Musharraf against his conviction in the high treason case.
An informed source told Dawn news on Friday that the court office returned the appeal on the grounds that unless the petitioner surrenders himself, his plea cannot be entertained.
The counsel representing Musharraf is expected to file an appeal soon against the registrar`s decision to return the petition.
On Thursday, Musharraf had moved the apex court, seeking to overturn the Islamabad-based special court`s December 17, 2019, verdict, which sentenced him to death in the high treason case.
Moved by Barrister Salman Safdar, the petition had pleaded that the verdict should be set aside since the trial was conducted and completed in sheer violation of the Constitution.
The appeal also sought the right of audience before the Supreme Court in his physical absence as well as the suspension of the judgment in the interest of justice and fair play.
The December verdict was the first time in Pakistan`s history that a military chief was declared guilty of high treason and handed a death sentence, Dawn news reported.
Musharraf was sentenced to death six years after the trial started. The case was filed by the then PML-N government for suspending the Constitution on November 3, 2007, when the former leader imposed emergency in the country.
The former military chief is currently in Dubai. He was hospitalised following the deterioration of his health last month.

Australia's bushfire-stricken east welcomes drenching rain

MMNN:17 January 2020
MELBOURNE: Intense thunderstorms with heavy rains dampened bushfires on Australia`s east coast on Friday to the relief of exhausted firefighters, and farmers battling years of drought. Australia, famous for its pristine beaches and wildlife, has been fighting bushfires since September, with fires killing 29 people and millions of animals, and destroying more than 2,500 homes while razing an area roughly a third the size of Germany.
Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, three of the most affected states by drought and bushfires welcomed the drenching rain this week, with fire services saying the falls will not extinguish all the blazes but will aid greatly containment. "Our fingers are crossed that this continues over the coming days," New South Wales fire services said on Twitter on Friday.
Severe storms are forecast to continue in many fire-stricken regions of New South Wales and Queensland, including areas that have not seen heavy falls for years, Bureau of Meteorology in NSW said, easing slightly the state`s three-year drought. "The recent rain has just been absolutely fantastic," said cattle farmer Sam White near the town of Guyra in northern NSW. "It`s producing significant amounts of runoff, which is what we need, and it`s getting into our dams.
While the wet weather brings relief to firefighters and drought-hit farmers, it also comes with dangers, such as flash flooding and falling trees, many structurally destroyed by the intense bushfires. One wildlife park had to rescue koalas from floodwaters and beat back crocodiles with brooms. The heavy downpours have helped to clean smoky air in Australia, but Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne remained on Friday in the world`s top 100 polluted cities, according to AirVisual`s pollution ranking for major global cities.
Melbourne, sheathed by a tick smoke earlier in the week that disrupted the Australian Open qualifying matches and other sporting competitions, is forecast to again be blanketed by unhealthy air over the weekend when the grand slam begins. The smoke haze that has plagued Australia`s major cities for weeks has been tracked by NASA circumnavigating the globe and the space agency satellites showed on Thursday there is also a large concentration of lower smoke over the Pacific Ocean.
Following are some highlights of what is happening in the bushfire crisis:
- There were 82 fires burning across New South Wales early Friday, 30 uncontained, and several fires in Victoria, according to fire authorities.
- An emergency evacuation order issued for parts of Victoria`s northeast with an out-of-control bushfire threatening the Buffalo River Valley.
- Firefighters, family and the local community of Holbrook in New South Wales farewelled on Friday Samuel McPaul, a 28-year-old volunteer who died in December while fighting a massive and fast-moving blaze.
- Australia will have to wait until March for rains heavy enough to bring sustained relief from dry weather that has fuelled deadly bushfires, the country`s weather bureau said on Thursday.
- Australia`s peak tourism body estimated the country`s bushfire crisis has so far cost the industry almost A$1 billion ($690 million). [L4N29L069]
- Qualifying rounds of Australian Open in Melbourne, the first tennis Grand Slam of the year, blighted by complaints from players about the pollution.

Eleven US troops injured in January 8 Iran missile attack in Iraq

MMNN:17 January 2020
WASHINGTON: The United States treated 11 of its troops for symptoms of concussion after an Iranian missile attack on an Iraqi base where US forces were stationed, the US military said on Thursday, after initially saying no service members were hurt. The attack was retaliation for a US drone strike in Baghdad on January 3 that killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Quds Force of Iran`s Revolutionary Guard.
President Donald Trump and the US military had said there were no casualties after the strike on the Ain al-Asad airbase in western Iraq and a facility in its northern Kurdish region. "While no US service members were killed in the January 8 Iranian attacks on Al Asad airbase, several were treated for concussion symptoms from the blast and are still being assessed," Captain Bill Urban, spokesman for US Central Command, said in a statement.
As a measure of caution, some service members were taken to US facilities in Germany or Kuwait for "follow-on screening," he added. "When deemed fit for duty, the service members are expected to return to Iraq." As many as 1,500 Americans were deployed at the vast base deep in Iraq`s Anbar desert.

Donald Trump impeachment trial opens as watchdog faults White House on Ukraine

MMNN:17 January 2020
WASHINGTON: The Senate impeachment trial on whether to remove US President Donald Trump from office formally began on Thursday even as a congressional watchdog found that the White House broke the law by withholding security aid for Ukraine approved by Congress. The assessment from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) was a setback for Trump, but it was unclear if it would figure in his trial in the Republican-led Senate given that key questions such as whether witnesses will testify or new evidence will be considered remain unanswered.
Democrat Adam Schiff, who heads a team of seven House of Representatives members who will serve as prosecutors, appeared on the Senate floor to read the two charges passed by the House on Dec. 18 that accused Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress arising from his dealings with Ukraine. U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, wearing his black judicial robe, took an oath to preside over the trial and then swore in the assembled senators who will serve as jurors, asking if they would "do impartial justice."
The 99 senators present signed their assent one by one. One senator - Republican Jim Inhofe - was in his home state of Oklahoma to be with a family member facing a medical issue, according to his office, but was due to sign next week. The Senate is expected to acquit Trump, as none of its 53 Republicans has voiced support for removing him, a step that requires a two-thirds majority. Trump has denied wrongdoing and has called the impeachment process a sham. Opening statements were due to start on Tuesday.
The abuse of power cited in the House articles of impeachment included Trump`s withholding of $391 million in security aid for Ukraine, a move Democrats have said was aimed at pressuring Kiev into investigating political rival Joe Biden, the president`s possible Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 election. Congress had approved the funds to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists. The money was ultimately provided in September after the controversy spilt into public view.
The GAO said the U.S. Constitution does not grant a president authority to unilaterally withhold funds, as Trump did. Instead, a president can only withhold spending in limited circumstances spelt out by law, its report said. "Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law," the GAO said on Thursday. The GAO`s findings are not legally binding, but its reports are seen by lawmakers as objective, reliable and generally uncontested. It has no prosecutorial power.
Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, who sought the GAO investigation, said the findings undercut Republican arguments that there was nothing wrong with Trump`s action. "We now have a clear, lucid finding that the Trump administration violated the law and we know that the president ordered the administration to commit an illegal act," he told Reuters.
Republican Senator John Cornyn said that while there may have been a civil violation of the law, it was not a criminal matter and certainly not an impeachable act. "The Constitution says you impeach presidents for treason, bribery, and high crimes and misdemeanours. And it`s none of those things," said Cornyn, a former judge.
It is only the third impeachment trial in U.S. history and no president has been removed as a direct result of the process. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before the full House could vote to impeach him. The House impeached Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, but the Senate did not convict them.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the GAO report bolstered Democrats` argument that the Senate trial should include new evidence and hear from witnesses. Schiff indicated that the House prosecutors may call Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump`s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani if the Senate permits testimony in the trial.
Documents released this week indicated Parnas, a Ukraine-born U.S. citizen, helped Giuliani investigate Biden and his son Hunter, and was also involved in monitoring the movements of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch before Trump removed her in May. In an interview with Reuters, Giuliani said he pushed Trump to fire Yovanovitch but did not know if Parnas put her under surveillance. Giuliani said he was disappointed with Parnas` decision to cooperate with impeachment investigators.
"I considered him a friend and I considered him to be a man who had character and now I consider him to be a man who will say whatever his phoney lawyer wants him to say," Giuliani said. Parnas told MSNBC on Wednesday that Trump knew "exactly what was going on," and his lawyer has released several photos of Parnas with the president. Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump repeated his assertion that he did not know Parnas. He called the whole thing a "big hoax."

Two rockets fell in Baghdad`s heavily fortified Green Zone, no casualties: Iraqi military

MMNN:9 January 2020
WASHINGTON/BAGHDAD/DUBAI: Two rockets fell in Baghdad`s heavily fortified Green Zone, causing no casualties, the Iraqi military said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility of the incident that took place on Wednesday. US President Donald Trump on Wednesday tempered days of angry rhetoric and suggested Iran was "standing down" after it fired missiles at US forces in Iraq, as both sides looked to defuse a crisis over the US killing of an Iranian general.
Trump said the United States did not necessarily have to hit back after Iran`s attack on military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq, itself an act of retaliation for the Jan. 3 U.S. strike that killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani. Trump said no Americans were hurt in the overnight attacks. The Pentagon said Iran had launched 16 short-range ballistic missiles, at least 11 of which hit Iraq`s al-Asad airbase and one that hit a facility in Erbil but caused no major damage.
"The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent," Trump said. "Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world," he said.
Trump said the United States "will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime" in response to what he called "Iranian aggression." He offered no specifics.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, addressing a gathering of Iranians chanting "Death to America," said the missile attacks were a "slap on the face" of the United States and said U.S. troops should leave the region. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had said the strikes "concluded" Tehran`s response to the killing of Soleimani, who built up Iran`s network of proxy armies across the Middle East. He was buried in his hometown, Kerman, after days of national mourning.
"We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression," Zarif wrote on Twitter. Influential Iraqi Shi`ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who casts himself as a nationalist rejecting both U.S. and Iranian interference in Iraq, also said the crisis Iraq was experiencing was over and he urged militia groups not to carry out attacks. "I call on the Iraqi factions to be deliberate, patient, and not to start military actions,," said Sadr, whom Washington has long regarded as an Iranian ally.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told CBS News in an interview the United States was receiving "encouraging intelligence that Iran is sending messages" to its allied militias not to attack U.S. targets. But Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he and others in the military "fully expect" Shi`ite militia groups in Iraq, backed by Iran, to carry out attacks against U.S.-led forces in Iraq and Syria.
In a letter to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said the killing of Soleimani was self-defense and vowed to take additional action "as necessary" in the Middle East to protect U.S. personnel and interests. The United States also stood "ready to engage without preconditions in serious negotiations with Iran," to maintain peace and security, she said.
U.S. Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans said administration officials had not provided evidence in classified briefings to back up Trump`s assertion that Soleimani had posed an "imminent" threat to the United States. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Democratic-led chamber would vote on a resolution intended to limit his military actions against Iran.
Trump`s address contrasted with his recent harsh rhetoric. The Republican, who was impeached in December and faces an election in November, had vowed to respond "disproportionately" if Iran retaliated strongly against Soleimani`s killing. On Wednesday, Trump again vowed he would not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon and urged world powers to quit a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that Washington abandoned in 2018 and work for a new deal, an issue at the heart of rising tensions between Washington and Tehran. Iran has rejected new talks.
There was no immediate reaction from Iranian officials to Trump`s comments. The semi-official Fars news agency described the U.S. president`s remarks as a "big retreat from threats." Soon after Wednesday`s attacks, Trump had said on Twitter that "All is well!" and Washington was assessing damage.
That tweet and the comment by Iran`s foreign minister eased some concerns about a wider war and calmed jittery financial markets. U.S. stock prices hit record highs before paring their gains, while world oil prices, after an early spike, fell about 4%. U.S. and European government sources said they believed Iran had deliberately sought to avoid U.S. military casualties in its missile strikes to prevent an escalation.
But an Iranian army spokesman denied "foreign media reports" suggesting there was some kind of coordination between Iran and the United States before the attack to evacuate bases.
Iranian television reported an official in the supreme leader`s office as saying the attacks were the "weakest" of several retaliation scenarios. It quoted another source saying Iran had lined up 100 other potential targets. After the Iranian missile attack, state television showed footage of the Soleimani burial, with hundreds of people chanting: "God is greatest" when the strikes were announced over loudspeakers. "His revenge was taken and now he can rest in peace," Iranian television said.
Hours after the Iranian missile strike, a Ukrainian airliner crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board. A Canadian security source said Western intelligence agencies` initial assessment was that the plane was not brought down by a missile.

Iran's missile attack 'slap on face' of US, its troops should leave region: Iranian leader Ali Khamenei

MMNN:8 January 2020
BAGHDAD: Iranian leader Ali Khamenei on Wednesday asserted the missile attack on US troops in Iraq was a "slap on the face" of the US and that the country's troops should leave the region. He was addressing a gathering of Iranians who chanted "Death to America". Iran launched missiles at US-led forces in Iraq early retaliating for the US drone strike on an Iranian commander whose killing last week stoked fears of a new Middle East war.
Iranian state television said Iran had fired 15 missiles at US targets. The US military said at least two Iraqi facilities hosting US-led coalition personnel were targeted at about 1:30 am Iraq time (2230 GMT on Tuesday). Iraq said 22 missiles were fired. Iranian officials said Tehran did not want a war and its strikes "concluded" its response to Friday`s killing of Qassem Soleimani, a powerful general whose burial after days of mourning was completed around the time of the missile launches. Iranian television showed mourners celebrating the attack.
The US President Donald Trump said an assessment of casualties and damage from the strikes was underway and that he would make a statement on Wednesday morning. "All is well!," Trump said Twitter. He visited one of the targeted sites in Iraq, Ain al-Asad airbase, in December 2018, said on Twitter. One source said early indications were of no US casualties, while other US officials declined to comment.
Iranian state television said 80 "American terrorists" had been killed and US helicopters and military equipment damaged. It did not provide evidence of how it obtained that information. Germany, Denmark, Norway and Poland said none of their troops in Iraq was hurt. Britain, which also has personnel in Iraq, condemned the Iranian action. Iraq said its forces did not suffer casualties.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said the bases targeted were al-Asad airbase and another facility in Erbil, Iraq. "As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend US personnel, partners, and allies in the region," Hoffman said.
More than 5,000 US troops remain in Iraq along with other foreign forces in the coalition that has trained and backed Iraqi forces against the threat of Islamic State militants. Iran, which has long said US forces should leave the Middle East, told Washington after the attacks to withdraw its troops to prevent more deaths and warned US allies including Israel not to allow attacks from their territories. Soleimani, a pivotal figure in orchestrating Iran`s campaign to drive US forces out of Iraq, was responsible for building up Iran`s network of proxy armies across the Middle East.
Iranian television reported an official in the supreme leader`s office as saying the missile attacks were the "weakest" of several retaliation scenarios. It quoted another source saying Iran had lined up 100 other potential targets. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was expected to speak later on Wednesday, state television reported.
Hours before the Iranian strikes, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said the United States should anticipate a response from Iran for the killing of Soleimani, commander of Iran`s elite Quds Force, a unit of the Revolutionary Guards. "I think we should expect that they will retaliate in some way, shape or form," he told a briefing at the Pentagon. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran "took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defence under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter". "We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression," he wrote in a post on Twitter.

80 'American terrorists' killed in missile strikes, claims Iranian state TV

MMNN:8 January 2020
New Delhi: At least 80 "American terrorists" were killed in attacks involving 15 missiles Tehran launched on US targets in Iraq, claimed Iranian state television on Wednesday. The report also added that none of the missiles were intercepted.
According to a Reuters report, Iranian State TV, citing a senior Revolutionary Guards source, also said that Iran had 100 other targets in the region in its sights if Washington took any retaliatory measures.
The report said that US helicopters and military equipment were "severely damaged" in the missile attacks launched by Iran against the US-led forces in Iraq in the early hours of Wednesday.
The attack was in retaliation to the US drone strike on an Iranian commander whose killing has raised fears of a wider war in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Iran`s army renewed a demand for US troops to be withdrawn from the Middle East. Iran's state TV reported on Wednesday.
"Now that they have understood our power, it is time for the United States to withdraw its troops from the Middle East," Iran`s armed forces chief of staff General Mohammad Baqeri said in a statement, according to state television.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian airliner carrying at least 170 passengers crashed on Wednesday due to technical problems soon after taking off from Tehran`s Imam Khomeini airport, and all aboard were killed, Iran`s state television and a Ukrainian official said.
The Boeing 737 belonging to Ukraine International Airlines crashed near the airport and burst into flames. A Ukrainian foreign ministry official in Kiev said all crew and passengers aboard were killed, citing information from the airline.
There was no official word from Ukraine International Airlines.
"The fire is so heavy that we cannot (do) any rescue... we have 22 ambulances, four bus ambulances and a helicopter at the site," Pirhossein Koulivand, head of Iran`s emergency services, told Iranian state television.

Iraqi parliament passes resolution to end foreign troop presence

MMNN:6 January 2020
Baghdad: The Iraqi parliament called on the government on Sunday to work to end all foreign troop presence as a backlash grew after the killing of a top Iranian military commander and an Iraqi militia leader in a US strike in Baghdad.
A resolution passed by a special session of parliament said the government should cancel its request for assistance from a US-led coalition. Parliament resolutions, unlike laws, are non-binding to the government. But this one is likely to be heeded: Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi had earlier called on parliament to end foreign troop presence as soon as possible.
"Despite the internal and external difficulties that we might face, it remains best for Iraq on principle and practically," Abdul Mahdi said. The special session was called after a U.S. drone strike on Friday on a convoy at Baghdad airport that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Since the killings, rival Shi`ite political leaders have called for US troops to be expelled from Iraq in an unusual show of unity among factions that have squabbled for months.
"There is no need for the presence of American forces after defeating Daesh (Islamic State)," said Ammar al-Shibli, a Shi`ite lawmaker and member of the parliamentary legal committee, before the parliamentary meeting."We have our own armed forces which are capable of protecting the country," he told Reuters.
Despite decades of enmity between Iran and the United States, Iran-backed militia and US troops fought side by side during Iraq`s 2014-2017 war against Islamic State militants. Around 5,000 US troops remain in Iraq, most of them in an advisory capacity.
Abdul Mahdi, who holds the post in a caretaker role after resigning in November amid street protests, called on Friday for parliament to convene the extraordinary session to take legislative steps to protect Iraq`s sovereignty.
Hadi al-Amiri, the top candidate to succeed Muhandis, repeated his call for US troops to leave Iraq on Saturday during a funeral procession for those killed in the attack.
Many Iraqis, including opponents of Soleimani, have expressed anger at Washington for killing him and Muhandis on Iraqi soil and potentially dragging their country into another conflict.

Jakarta flood death toll rises to 60; over 92,000 homeless

MMNN:6 January 2020
Jakarta: The death toll due to the floods in the Jakarta metropolitan area has increased to 60, Indonesian authorities said on Sunday, adding that many areas in the capital remain inundated.
The majority of the deaths - 51 - occurred in Jakarta and its satellite cities, the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management (BNBP) said in its latest statement.
It added that at least two other people were missing, reports Efe news.
The places with highest number of fatalities were Jakarta (16) and Bogor (17), while the rest were distributed between Bekasi (10), Tangerang (five) and Depok (three), in addition to nine others in Lebak, situated just outside the metropolitan area but in the same area in the west of Java island.
More than 92,000 people remain evacuated in temporary shelters in Jakarta`s metropolitan area, where some 30 million people live and which still has many areas waterlogged, according to BNPB.
More than half of the victims died as they were dragged away by floodwaters or buried in landslides due to heavy rain last week that led to the overflow of waterways that cross the capital.
Indonesia`s meteorological agency BMKG issued a warning that heavy rain was expected in the coming week across the country, including Jakarta where cloud seeding has been employed in efforts to keep the rain away from the affected areas.
Floods and landslides affect Indonesia yearly during the rainy season, which peaks between December and February.

Australia bushfire toll increases to 21; over 1,500 homes destroyed

MMNN:4 January 2020
Sydney: Hundreds of bushfires continued to rage in Australia on Saturday amid "catastrophic" conditions in the south of the country where two more deaths have been confirmed, taking the total toll to 21.
The two deaths occurred on Kangaroo Island, some 112 km from Adelaide, South Australia, where more than 100,000 hectares have been razed, mostly in Flinders Chase National Park, which is home to 60,000 kangaroos and 50,000 koala bears, reports Efe news.
"This is taking a very heavy toll," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters, adding that more than 1,500 homes lost to fires across the country since September.
"Our condolences to those who continue to suffer and many of those who are left in absolutely disastrous situations as we speak," he said, and announced the deployment of 3,000 defence force reservists and the HMAS Adelaide navy ship to aid in the evacuation of those affected.
The Prime Minister added that in "the next 24 to 48 hours are going to be incredibly difficult for bushfire conditions", with temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius and strong winds in the south and southeastern regions of the country, particularly in Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) states.
Around 1,000 people were evacuated from Mallacoota, Victoria - where a state of disaster has been declared - aboard the HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore.
Meanwhile, thousands of others have tried in recent days to flee by road from the Victorian coast, and that of NSW to avoid becoming trapped by the flames.
Both Victoria and NSW have suffered fires that have this week killed 10 people, burned 500 homes and left thousands of people trapped.
On Thursday and Friday, the authorities created firebreaks, evaluated damages and carried out evacuation orders in Victoria where over 50 fires continue to rage and emergency alerts remain active in several areas.
In NSW, at least 60 fires are uncontrolled, one of which is near Sydney and a state of emergency for fires has been declared for the third time since September.
The Prime Minister said that AU$20 million had been allocated to lease four DC-10 water bomber planes, among other aerial measures, and will open military bases to temporarily accommodate those affected.
Morrison`s announcement came after weeks of criticism - some refused to shake hands with him as he visited a fire affected area - over his lack of response on the fires and climate change.

Nawaz Sharif to undergo cardiac procedure

MMNN:4 January 2020
Islamabad: Ailing former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be hospitalised soon for a cardiac procedure, it was reported.
A source at the Royal Brompton Hospital, London told The News International that cardiologists have informed Sharif that he must be admitted for the procedure.
The source added that the former leader has been advised that it would be determined within a week whether he would need a heart operation, bypass or a heart stent.
Sharif has been in London for the duration of about two months as the issue of his blood platelets remains unresolved and they still remain unstable.
Two weeks ago, the former premier`s personal physician Adnan Khan had said that doctors were going through Sharif`s whole medical history.
The exact cause of the low platelet count was still not determined.

Qassam Soleimani responsible for terrorist plots in Delhi, London: Donald Trump

MMNN:4 January 2020
Los Angeles: United States President Donald Trump has accused the slain Iranian military leader Qassam Soleimani of contributing to terror plots in as far away as London and New Delhi. Trump addressed the media on Friday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida's Palm Beach, after the killing of the Iranian military leader, where he announced that Soleimani's 'reign of terror' is over.
"Soleimani made the death of innocent people his sick passion, contributing to terrorist plots as far away as New Delhi and London," Trump said on Friday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Flordia.
Speaking about the missile strike he ordered to kill Soleimani, he said, "Today we remember and honour the victims of Soleimani`s many atrocities and we take comfort in knowing that his reign of terror is over." While Trump did not specify the plots in India, he may have been referring to a 2012 bombing of the car of the wife of the Israeli defence attache to India.
Tal Yehoshua Koren was injured and underwent surgery to remove shrapnel and her driver and two bystanders were also hurt in the attack on February 13, 2012, using a bomb that was attached to the vehicle with a magnet. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Iran was behind that attack and another attempted attack using a similar technique in Georgia.
The New Delhi case not been resolved so far and a conclusive link to Iran has not been made by India.
News reports at that time said that the attack was carried out by Iran in retaliation for the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan in Teheran using a bomb with a magnet attached to his car, allegedly by Israelis.
An Indian journalist, Syed Mohammad Ahmad Kazmi, was arrested on March 6 that year and accused of being a part of a conspiracy to carry out the attack and held under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. He was released on bail by the Supreme Court in October on the condition that he does not go abroad. According to news reports at that time, Delhi police alleged that he had carried out reconnaissance for the Iranians who carried out the attack.
The five persons who carried out the attacks were Iranian members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard who had visited Delhi, police were quoted as saying. They were not arrested although police identified them.
An Iranian major general, Soleimani was the leader of the Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. But his name did not figure in the reports at that time on the Indian attack.

Iran denies role in US embassy violence, warns against retaliation

MMNN:1 January 2020
DUBAI: Iran denied it was behind violent protests at the US embassy in Iraq on Tuesday and warned against any retaliation, after President Donald Trump blamed Tehran for an attack on the mission and said it would be held responsible.
"American officials have the astounding audacity of attributing to Iran the protests of the Iraqi people against (Washington`s) savage killing of at least 25 Iraqis ...," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a statement carried on a ministry website.
Protesters led by Iranian-backed militias voiced their anger over US air strikes on militia bases in Iraq and Syria, hurled stones and torched a security post at the US Embassy in Baghdad. "Mousavi denied the American officials` charges against our country, cautioned against any ill-advised reaction or miscalculation by U.S. officials, and called on the White House to reconsider its destructive policies in the region," the statement said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Trump said in a Twitter post: "Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the US Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible."
Later Trump tweeted: "Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat."

I think North Korea's Kim is a 'man of his word': US President Donald Trump

MMNN:1 January 2020
USA :US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had signed a contract about denuclearisation and that he thought the North Korean leader was a "man of his word."
Hours after Kim said his country would continue developing nuclear programs and introduce a "new strategic weapon" in the near future, Trump said he got along with Kim and "we have to do what we have to do."
"But he did sign a contract, he did sign an agreement talking about denuclearisation. ... That was done in Singapore, and I think he`s a man of his word, so we`re going to find out," Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
North Korea`s leader plans to further develop nuclear programmes and to introduce a "new strategic weapon" in the near future, state media said on Wednesday, but he left room for dialogue with the United States after it ignored a year-end deadline he had set for talks.
Kim Jong Un presided over a four-day meeting of top Workers` Party officials this week amid rising tensions with the United States, which has not responded to his repeated calls for concessions to reopen negotiations. Washington has dismissed the deadline as artificial.
Kim said there were no grounds for North Korea to be bound any longer by a self-declared moratorium on testing nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), according to a statement on the results of the policy meeting carried by the official KCNA news agency.

US President Donald Trump says trade deal with China will be signed on January 15

MMNN:31 December 2019
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Phase 1 of trade deal with China would be signed on Jan. 15 at the White House, though considerable confusion remains about the details of the agreement. The president wrote in a tweet that he would sign the deal with "high level representatives of China" and that he would later travel to Beijing to begin talks on the next phase. Last week, Trump said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping would host a signing ceremony to ink the Phase 1 deal. The Phase 1 deal, struck earlier this month, is expected to reduce tariffs and boost Chinese purchases of American farm, energy and manufactured goods while addressing some disputes over intellectual property. However, no version of the text has been made public, and Chinese officials have yet to publicly commit to key planks, such as increasing imports of U.S. goods to $200 billion, nearly doubling U.S. exports to China. The United States launched a trade war against Beijing a year and half ago over allegations of unfair trade practices, such as theft of U.S. intellectual property and subsidies that unfairly benefit Chinese state-owned companies. The United States Trade Representative said the Phase 1 deal includes stronger Chinese legal protections for patents, trademarks, copyrights, including improved criminal and civil procedures to combat online infringement, pirated and counterfeit goods. Issues such as industrial subsidies would be addressed in a later deal, U.S. authorities said. The escalating tit-for-tat tariffs, which began in July, 2018, have roiled markets and crimped economic growth worldwide.

Somalia: 25 killed, several injured in suicide blast in Mogadishu

MMNN:28 December 2019
Mogadishu: At least 25 people were killed and several others injured in a suicide blast that hit at a security checkpoint near a busy crossing on the outskirts of the Somalian capital of Mogadishu, an official said.
Government spokesman Ismael Mukhtar Omar told Xinhua news agency that a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb at the checkpoint on Afgoye road. "I can confirm more than 25 people were killed in the attack," Omar said, adding that among the dead were several students. A police officer at the scene said the blast was targeted at a tax office on the road. "As officials were checking cars passing the road, a car suddenly exploded, causing casualties and damage."
There is no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast.
Mogadishu has witnessed repeated attacks from Al Shabab, a militant organization that pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2012 and controls parts of central and southern Somalia, said Efe news.
It fights for establishing an Islamic state following the `Wahabi` (an ultra-conservative) ideology of Islamic puritanism.

Russia deploys Avangard, world's first hypersonic nuclear missile

MMNN:28 December 2019
Moscow: Russias intercontinental hypersonic missile, the Avangard strategic system, became operational on Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin described the missile unit as 'the weapon of the future' and said it puts the country ahead of the US in developing weaponry, Efe news reported.
"It`s a weapon of the future, capable of penetrating both existing and prospective missile defence systems," he said earlier this week.
The Russian leader was informed by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on Friday that the weapon had been deployed near the Urals, a mountain range that forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia.
The Avangard, which can reach US territory in 15 minutes, is one of the "super-weapons" presented by Putin during his speech on the state of the nation in March 2018, which led many to talk about a new arms race.

Islamic State says it beheaded Christian captives in Nigeria

MMNN:28 December 2019
MAIDUGURI/CAIRO: Islamic State released a video purporting to show its militants beheading 10 Christian men in Nigeria, saying it was part of a campaign to avenge the deaths of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and its spokesman. The militant group posted the footage on its online Telegram news channel on Thursday, the day after Christmas, with Arabic captions but no audio.
The video showed men in beige uniforms and black masks lining up behind blindfolded captives then beheading 10 of them and shooting the 11th man. An earlier video seen by Reuters said the captives had been taken from Maiduguri and Damaturu in Nigeria`s northeastern state of Borno, where militants have been fighting for years to set up a separate Islamist state. In that video, the captives pleaded for the Christian Association of Nigeria and President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene to save them.
Reuters could not verify the authenticity of either video. Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) split from the militant group Boko Haram in 2016 and has become the region`s dominant jihadist group. Islamist insurgents have killed about 30,000 people in northern Nigeria in the past decade. Islamic State leader Baghdadi died during a U.S. military raid in Syria and Muhajir in a separate military operation, both over the same weekend in late October.

Michael Bloomberg spent $120mn on ads in presidential race

MMNN:26 December 2019
New York: Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York, has already spent about $120 million in digital and television advertising since he joined the crowded Democratic presidential race last month. Bloomberg is spending in all the 50 US states but was especially targeting the big, delegate-rich Super Tuesday states that can make or break his campaign, such as California, Texas and Florida, Xinhua news agency reported citing Politico as saying in a report on Wednesday. The Politico report said that the former Mayor`s spending on ads in the roughly three weeks since late November was more than double the combined ad spending of every single non-billionaire candidate in the Democratic field this entire year. "We`ve never seen spending like this in a presidential race," Jim McLaughlin, a Republican political strategist who worked as a consultant for Bloomberg`s mayoral bids in New York, was quoted as saying. "He has a limitless budget." But some analysts were sceptical whether the big spending on ads would help improve Bloomberg`s standing in the poll. "After you see the same TV ad 10 times, it`s not going to have as big an impact," Christian Heiens, a political marketer with Saber Communications, was quoted as saying. "And that`s not just in politics, that`s in anything in marketing." In the Democratic primary race, former Vice President Joe Biden leads the field with 30 per cent of the vote among Democratic voters and independent voters who lean towards the party, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released last week. Biden is followed by Senator Elizabeth Warren with 17 per cent of the vote, while Bloomberg is in the fifth place with only 7 per cent of the vote, the poll showed.

'We're all family now': Protesters gather for free Christmas dinner in Hong Kong

MMNN:26 December 2019
Hong Kong: Hundreds of anti-government protesters and their supporters gathered outside a tiny restaurant in Hong Kong for an unconventional Christmas dinner, sharing paper plates piled high with food under neon street signs.
"Hong Kongers are more united this Christmas (than) in previous years," said Glory, the 31-year-old owner of Kwong Wing Catering, as he dished out noodles, fried chicken, and pasta from silver trays.
"Actually there is no Christmas atmosphere (this year), but there is a strong sense of unity," he said. All of the food on offer on Wednesday was free and prepared by the restaurant or donated by several sponsors.
Outside the eatery, hundreds of customers, many of them off-duty protesters, waited in line as tourists and other shoppers crowded the popular Tsim Sha Tsui area.
Jeanette, a 22-year-old university student, slurped bubble tea and pudding with her friend Yoyo as they discussed their holiday plans.
They would normally spend Christmas with their families, but felt this year had to be different. Both women said they had been involved in peaceful protests since the summer.
"We`re all family now," said Jeanette, looking around at all of the other supporters eating around her.
"We`re here because we want to support this shop, which has supported so many teenagers and protesters on the front line," said Yoyo between mouthfuls of pudding.
Kwong Wing Catering is one of many businesses that are part of the so-called "yellow economy" across Hong Kong that are known for their support of the pro-democracy campaign. Colorful post-it notes with words of support from customers decorated the restaurant`s windows.
One of the chefs scheduled to cook at the eatery became a sort of folk hero after cooking for besieged student protesters at Polytechnic University in November.
He was supposed to cook for his supporters on Wednesday, but was arrested by police earlier in the week, according to the restaurant`s Facebook page. It was not immediately clear why the chef had been arrested.
Hong Kong has been embroiled in anti-government protests since June which show no signs of abating.
Black-clad protesters marched through Christmas-decorated shopping malls across Hong Kong on Wednesday as police fired tear gas and pepper spray to disperse crowds.
The protesters are angry about what they see as an encroachment by China on the wide ranging autonomy Hong Kong was guaranteed under a "one country, two systems" framework which governs the former British colony.
China rejects such complaints.
Ivan, a 20-year-old university student, said he waited for an hour and a half to receive his hot meal.
"I feel very comforted that someone is willing to cook a meal for us," he said, adding that Hong Kong still had a "festive" atmosphere despite the protests and clashes with police.
"I just got tear-gassed yesterday so I think it`s very special."

US ready to deal with any North Korean 'Christmas gift': President Donald Trump

MMNN:25 December 2019
Burkina FasoAn armed attack in northern Burkina Faso has killed 35 civilians, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore announced on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, violence erupted in the town of Arbinda in Sahel region near the country`s border with Mali, and lasted for several hours, killing seven members of the security forces who responded to the attack, the army said in a statement cited by Xinhua news agency.
During the clashes with local security forces, 80 terrorists were also killed, the statement released on Tuesday evening said. Burkina Faso, bordering Mali and Niger, has seen a regular target of attacks, which have left hundreds dead since the start of 2015 when the violence began to spread across the Sahel region.
"A large group of terrorists simultaneously attacked the military base and the civilian population in Arbinda," the army chief of staff said in a statement.

Don't let Church failings distance you from God, Pope Francis says on Christmas Eve

MMNN:25 December 2019
VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis led the world`s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics into Christmas on Tuesday, urging them not to let the Church`s failings lead them away from accepting God`s love. Francis celebrated a solemn Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter`s Basilica for thousands of people as hundreds of others watched on large screens outside. As is customary on Christmas Eve, the 83-year-old pope weaved his sermon around the spiritual and personal significance of the night that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. "Christmas reminds us that God continues to love us all, even the worst of us," Francis, presiding at the seventh Christmas season of his pontificate, said in his sermon. "You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you. How often do we think that God is good if we are good and punishes us if we are bad. Yet that is not how he is." Without mentioning them specifically, Francis also referred to recent Church troubles, including its attempts to come to grips with continuing sexual abuse scandals around the world and financial irregularities closer to home at the Vatican. "Let us contemplate the Child and let ourselves be caught up in his tender love. Then we have no further excuse for not letting ourselves be loved by him," Francis said. "Whatever goes wrong in our lives, whatever doesn`t work in the Church, whatever problems there are in the world, will no longer serve as an excuse. It will become secondary, for faced with Jesus` extravagant love, a love of utter meekness and closeness, we have no excuse," he said. In his latest attempt to confront a sexual abuse scandal, Francis last week announced sweeping changes to the way the Church deals with them, abolishing the rule of "pontifical secrecy" that previously covered them. Advocates for the victims of a scandal that has rocked the Church for nearly two decades applauded the move. On Wednesday, Francis will deliver his twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message and blessing from the central balcony of St. Peter`s Basilica to thousands of people in the square below. Unlike that on Christmas Eve, the Christmas day message is typically more about the significance of the Christmas message amidst the wars and conflicts of contemporary society.

South Korea, Japan, China leaders to promote North Korea-US dialogue

MMNN:24 December 2019
CHENGDU: China, Japan and South Korea have agreed to work together to promote dialogue between the United States and North Korea, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday following a summit between the three countries in China.
North Korea has set a year-end deadline for the United States to change what it says is a policy of hostility amid a stalemate in efforts to make progress on their pledge to end the North`s nuclear programme and establish lasting peace.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump have met three times since June 2018, but there has been no substantive progress in dialogue while the North demanded crushing international sanctions be lifted first.
Speaking in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu following a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Moon said the three countries agreed on the need for close communication.
"South Korea, China, Japan, the three countries, agreed to continue close communication and cooperation towards denuclearisation and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula," Moon said at a joint news conference.
"We shared a view that peace on the Korean Peninsula is in the common interest of the three countries, and decided to work together to ensure that denuclearisation and peace continue through prompt North Korea-U.S. dialogue," he added.
Li said that the three leaders reaffirmed the need to seek a resolution to the North Korean issue via dialogue and for the three to cooperate in this regard. China is North Korea`s most important economic and diplomatic backer, though Beijing has been angered by Pyongyang`s repeated missile and nuclear tests.
US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun met with two senior Chinese diplomats during his two-day visit to Beijing last week, following similar meetings in South Korea and Japan days earlier, as diplomats make last-ditch attempts to prevent new confrontation.
Beijing, together with Russia, proposed last week that the United Nations Security Council lift some sanctions in what it calls an attempt to break the current deadlock and seek to build support.
But it is unclear whether Beijing can convince Seoul and Tokyo to break ranks with Washington, which has made its opposition clear and can veto any resolution.

Saudi Arabia sentences five to death, three to jail over killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi

MMNN:23 December 2019
RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia`s public prosecutor said on Monday five people had been sentenced to death and three more to jail terms totalling 24 years over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018. Khashoggi was a US resident and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom`s de facto ruler. He was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding. His body was reportedly dismembered and removed from the building, and his remains have not been found. The killing caused a global uproar, tarnishing the crown prince`s image. The CIA and some Western governments have said they believe Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, but Saudi officials say he had no role. Eleven Saudi suspects were put on trial over his death in secretive proceedings in Riyadh. Saudi Public Prosecutor Shalaan al-Shalaan, reading out the preliminary verdict in the trial, also said Saud al-Qahtani, a former high-profile Saudi royal adviser, had been investigated but was not charged and was released.

Syrian air defenses intercept Israeli missile attack

MMNN:23 December 2019
Damascus: The Syrian air defenses on Sunday night intercepted missiles fired from inside Israel, the state TV reported.
People in the capital Damascus heard the sound of powerful explosions as a result of the firing of air defenses triggered by the missile attack.
State news agency SANA said the air defenses intercepted "hostile targets" fired from inside the "occupied territories".
One of the missiles fell in the town of Akraba in Damascus countryside, Xinhua reported citing SANA.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said three explosions were heard in the capital as a result of the air defenses triggered by an Israeli missile attack that targeted positions of the Syrian army and Iran-backed militia in the surrounding of the capital.
Throughout the Syrian crisis, Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against Iranian targets and convoys transporting weapons to Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Lebanese militia.
In 2019 alone, more than 17 Israeli attacks targeted Syria, the latest of which occurred on November 20 when several Israeli missiles attacked sites on the southern and southwestern outskirts of Damascus.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey not to take more Syrian refugees alone

MMNN:23 December 2019
Istanbul: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey will not take the burden of accepting a new flow of refugees from the Syrian town of Idlib alone.
"Our more than 80,000 Idlib brothers started to migrate toward the border of our country," Erdogan said on Sunday at an award ceremony in Istanbul, Xinhua news agency reported.
"In such a case, Turkey will not bear all alone the burden of this migration," he stated.
Turkey is making all-out efforts to stop attacks in Idlib and will send a delegation to Moscow on Monday to discuss the matter with the Russian authorities, said the Turkish leader.
"We will determine the steps we will take according to the results," he added.
Syrian and Russian forces have been carrying out air attacks against rebels in Idlib, triggering a new influx of refugees toward the Turkish border.
Turkey hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees and has spent as much as $40 billion on them, according to official figures.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says 50,000 Syrians fleeing Idlib to Turkey

MMNN:19 December 2019
ANKARA: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that 50,000 people were fleeing Syria`s northwestern region of Idlib to Turkey, and slammed Muslim nations for not supporting his plans to resettle refugees in other parts of north Syria.
Turkey currently hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees, the largest refugee population in the world, and fears another influx from the Idlib region, where up to 3 million Syrians live in the last significant insurgent-held swathe of territory.
Syrian and Russian forces carry out regular air strikes against targets in Idlib, which President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to recapture, pushing more people towards the Turkish border.
"Look, 50,000 people are once again coming from Idlib to our lands," Erdogan told a meeting of Muslim leaders in Malaysia. "We already have 4 million people, and now another 50,000 are coming and this may increase."
He gave no details and did not say whether the Syrians had actually crossed into Turkey, which has built a wall along its 911 km (570 mile) southern border since the outbreak of Syria`s eight-year conflict.
Erdogan is seeking international support for plans to settle 1 million Syrians in part of northeast Syria which Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies seized from the Kurdish YPG militia in a cross-border incursion in October.
Ankara has received little public backing for its plans and Erdogan said that world powers, including Muslim nations, were more concerned about sending arms to Syria than supporting a Turkish "safe zone".
"Is the Muslim world that poor? Why don`t they support this?" he said. "Even if they just gave their alms, there would no poverty here, no have-nots," he said.
"They provide no support when we call on them to form a safe zone, but when it comes to weapons, the arms come," he said.
In its third offensive into northern Syria in three years, Turkey seized a 120 km (75 mile) stretch of border territory two months ago from the YPG, which had spearheaded the fight against Islamic State in Syria with U.S. support.
Washington`s backing for the YPG has infuriated Turkey, which considers it a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters who have waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey in which thousands of people have been killed.

Iran calls for transport insurance for Muslim nations

MMNN:19 December 2019
KUALA LUMPUR: Hit by US sanctions that make it difficult to get Western insurers from covering Iranian exports, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday proposed setting up a transport insurance mechanism exclusively for Muslim nations.
Iran`s oil-reliant economy has been hit badly since President Donald Trump last year pulled the United States out of a 2015 multinational nuclear deal with Tehran and reimposed sanctions. At an Islamic summit in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, Rouhani said it was time for the Muslim world to look inwards, including in insurance.
"We understand that today, many of our economic transactions and activities are dependent on foreign insurance, the insurance coming from big countries," he said in a speech that was translated into English.
"This is why we, as Muslim countries, (if) we are able to cooperate in order to set up an insurance, particularly and exclusively for Muslim states, particularly in transport and transit, it will save us from dependence on foreigners."
Ships need various forms of insurance, including annual war-risk cover as well as an additional `breach` premium when entering high-risk areas.
In the banking sector, Rouhani said Muslim countries should transact in their own currencies, a view that was supported by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
"We have to free bilateral trade from foreign exchange pressure," Erdogan said at the summit. "Instead of doing trade with foreign currency we would like to do foreign trade with our national currencies."

Hong Kong protesters march to consulates to call for support on rights

MMNN:19 December 2019
HONG KONG: Hong Kong protesters rallied outside diplomatic missions on Thursday to urge foreign governments to follow the United States in passing human rights bills to raise pressure on Beijing and support their pro-democracy campaign. Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump signed congressional legislation requiring the State Department to certify, at least once a year, that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy from Beijing to justify favourable U.S. trading terms.
About 1,000 people, most of them dressed in black and wearing face masks, marched on a route that took them by the consulates of Australia, Britain, the European Union, the United States, Japan and Canada, to drop off a petition. "What happens in Hong Kong is not just a local issue, it is about human rights and democracy. Foreign governments should understand how this city is being suppressed," said Suki Chan, who participated in the protest. "We need to continue to seek international attention and let them know this movement is not losing momentum."
The marchers` petition called on governments to "stand with Hong Kong" by passing legislation to introduce visa sanctions and freeze assets of Chinese and Hong Kong government officials. Anti-government protests have roiled the financial hub for more than six months, with protesters angry over what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Beijing has blamed the unrest on "foreign forces" and said attempts to interfere in the Chinese-ruled city were doomed to fail. The U.S. legislation, which also threatens sanctions for human rights violations, came after similar "citizen diplomacy" petitions in Hong Kong this year to the U.S. consulate and has been cheered by protesters waving the stars and stripes flag. Beijing denounced the U.S. legislation and Hong Kong`s government said it sent the wrong signal to the demonstrators and increased economic uncertainty.
At the U.S. consulate, protesters are calling for the passage of the "Be Water Act", championed by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and named after a protest slogan borrowed from martial arts legend Bruce Lee. The bill would freeze assets of Chinese nationals and state-owned enterprises believed to have contributed to suppressing freedom of speech in Hong Kong. Thursday marks the 35th anniversary of a treaty between China and Britain on Hong Kong`s future, that set the stage for its 1997 handover.
British Foreign secretary Dominic Raab urged China in a statement to open dialogue with the protesters and respect the commitments in the treaty. In 2017, China`s foreign ministry said the 1984 joint declaration, signed by then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, was a historical document that no longer had any practical significance. Beijing denies interfering in Hong Kong and says it is committed to the "one country, two systems" formula put in place as a result of the 1984 treaty that guarantees a high degree of autonomy.
Hong Kong`s special status, which helped it grow into a global financial centre and avoid U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, is also important to Beijing, which uses the city as its main gateway to global capital. But worries in Hong Kong about what many residents see as the erosion by Beijing of freedoms, and the months of protests partly fuelled by such worries, have raised questions about how the city should be run.
"The framework of `one country, two systems` obviously is flawed," said protester Ivan Fung, a 30-year-old social worker. "We have to let the international community know so that they can also help us."

Death sentence to Pervez Musharraf: Timeline of the treason case

MMNN:17 December 2019
PakistanPakistan's former president Pervez Musharraf was sentenced to death by a three-member bench of the Peshawar High Court in a case of high treason on Tuesday, reported a Pakistani media, the Dawn. The case was registered against him for clamping a state of emergency on November 3, 2007, which was eventually lifted on December 15, 2007.
The former military leader was booked in December 2013 for the case and was indicted in March 2014. The detailed verdict in the case will be released in the next two days. Several litigations at appellate forums led to delays in the trial of the case which allowed him to leave the country.
Here is a brief timeline of what transpired:
November 3, 2007: President Musharraf issues a state of emergency and suspends the Constitution citing that the members of the judiciary were working at "cross purposes with the executive and legislature in the fight against terrorism". His decision rendered more than 60 judges of the superior judiciary as dysfunctional.
November 28, 2007: Musharraf retires from the military handing over the Army charge to Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. On November 29, Musharraf takes oath as a civilian president.
December 15, 2007: The emergency is lifted and the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) is revoked and seeks constitutional amendments to validate the actions taken during the 42-day-long emergency period.
August 18, 2008: President Musharraf resigns from office after nine years in power.
July 2009: The SC calls the former military ruler to defend his actions taken on November 3, 2007. The top court rules that Musharraf's decision to impose an emergency as well as his PCO as illegal and unconstitutional.
August 6, 2009: Musharraf defies the court, refuses to answer the charges against him and leaves for the United Kingdom.
March 2013: Musharraf returns to contest general elections. A senior counsel refers to SC's ruling on Musharraf's actions during the imposition of emergency arguing that in overthrowing the constitution, Musharraf had committed the offence of high treason.
April 2013: SC agrees to hear a petition seeking to prosecute Musharraf under sections 2 and 3 of the High Treason (Punishment) Act 1973. On April 8, the top court issues summons to the former military ruler while also instructing the interior ministry to add Musharraf's name to the Exit Control List (ECL). Musharraf flees from the premises of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) after the cancellation of his bail application. Peshawar High Court bars Musharraf from contesting in National Assembly or Senate elections.
June 2013: The government hurriedly files a petition to try Musharraf for treason under Article 6 of the constitution. It further sets up a special investigation team to probe the charges against the former president.
November 2013: Pakistan’s Supreme Court orders the formation of a three-judge special court to prosecute former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.
December 2013: Musharraf is booked in the high treason case.
March 2014: The special court indicts the former military chief.
September 2014: The probe team finds Musharraf guilty of suspending the constitution.
November 2015: The IHC orders the special court to re-investigate the case and record anew the statements of Musharraf, the former prime minister Shaukat Aziz, former law minister Zahid
March 2016: Musharraf is allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment, he never returned to his home country since.
May 2016: The court declares Musharraf a proclaimed offender and orders for his properties to be confiscated.
February 2016: The Supreme Court rules that Musharraf alone will be tried in the treason case, and not the others named, as the special court does not have the jurisdiction.
May 2017: Musharraf sends an application to the court agreeing to face the high treason charges against him but only under the military’s protection, and under the assurance that he would be given a safe passage to return to Dubai.
February 2018: The special court begins to hear the case against Musharraf.
November 2019: Special court reserves its verdict. The judgment was to be announced on November 28. Meanwhile, the PTI-led government files an application in the IHC seeking for the verdict to be postponed until a new prosecution team is appointed.
December 2019: In its hearing on December 5 the special court had said it will announce the verdict on December 17 even if arguments of both sides were not completed by then.
On December 17, the three-member special bench sentenced the former military ruler to death.

Hong Kong needs to do more to stop violence, resolve problems, says government

MMNN:17 December 2019
HONG KONG: Hong Kong`s chief secretary, Matthew Cheung, said on Tuesday he was disappointed with recent protest violence after a period of relative calm, as the Asian financial hub geared up for more anti-government demonstrations in coming days. Cheung, speaking at a weekly press briefing, was referring to a protest on Sunday during when police fired tear gas in late-night street clashes - the first time tear gas had been used in nearly two weeks.
"The work of stopping the violence has not yet been completed, we need to keep working on it. At the same time, we need to put effort on resolving deep-rooted problems," Cheung said. His comments came after the city`s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday. Xi offered Lam his support and praised her courage in governing the city during the "most difficult times" of often violent anti-government protests.
Lam, who is due back in Hong Kong on Tuesday, also met Premier Li Keqiang during her regular duty visit to Beijing. "Hong Kong right now has not stepped out of its dilemma," Li said, according to remarks broadcast by Cable TV, as he urged Lam`s administration to end the violence. "The ... government should make continuous efforts to bring the violence and chaos to an end in accordance with the law and restore order". He also urged the government to address "deep-rooted issues in the economic and social development of Hong Kong" to ensure stability and prosperity in the region.
The financial hub has been embroiled in more than six months of anti-government protests which show no sign of abating. Protests are scheduled across the city on Tuesday as well as through the rest of the week and into Christmas. Protesters are angry about what they see as an encroachment by China on wide-ranging autonomy Hong Kong was guaranteed under a "one country, two systems" framework which governs the former British colony and the neighbouring casino hub of Macau. China has rejected the complaints and blamed other countries, including the United States, for inciting the protests. Xi is due to begin a three-day visit to Macau on Wednesday and security has been tightened. There have been no protests in the former Portuguese colony.
While the number of protests and the violence has eased in Hong Kong in recent weeks, the pro-democracy movement retains broad public backing, with families and older people coming out to recent demonstrations. They are calling on the government to listen to their demands which include an independent investigation into police behaviour and the implementation of full universal suffrage.
The trigger for the protests was a proposed extradition law, that would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to be prosecuted in mainland courts. The bill, which the city later dropped, raised a concern about what many Hong Kong people see as the undermining by Beijing of their freedoms.
The recent arrest by mainland security officials of a Hong Kong resident at a checkpoint on a newly-opened bridge linking Hong Kong with Macau and the mainland city of Zhuhai has stirred new concerns.
Media reported the 53-year-old suspect was detained on Friday while travelling to Macau on a bus. Cheung, asked about the arrest, said the matter was beyond the city`s control and related to security matters on the mainland. "It`s perfectly justified for them to exercise jurisdiction within their own territory, it`s entirely legal and justified," he said.
Mainland police said the person detained was part of a mobile phone smuggling syndicate. Hong Kong residents have been on heightened alert to citizens disappearing over the border into mainland China since five city booksellers went missing in 2015. All later appeared in detention in China, with some showing up in video footage making what appeared to be forced confessions. A former British consulate employee in Hong Kong said in November that Chinese secret police beat him in an attempt to force him to give information about activists leading pro-democracy protests.

Donald Trump on track to become third US president to face impeachment

MMNN:17 December 2019
WASHINGTON: Republican Donald Trump is this week likely to become the third US president to be impeached when the Democratic-led House of Representatives votes on charges stemming from his effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden.
Trump faces one charge of abusing his power by asking Ukraine to investigate Biden, a leading Democratic contender to oppose him in the 2020 US presidential election, and one of obstructing Congress` investigation into the matter.
The president has denied wrongdoing and accused Democrats of a baseless and politically-motivated bid to oust him from power.
The House is likely to take up impeachment on Wednesday, setting the stage for a vote this week on whether to approve the charges and send the matter to the Republican-led Senate to hold a trial on whether to remove Trump from office. Democrats, who enjoy a 36-seat majority in the House, are expected to win an impeachment vote, which requires a simple majority.
Republicans hold 53 of the 100 seats in the Senate, where they appear likely to prevail in any trial against Trump, which would require a two-thirds majority of those present to remove him from office.
Seeking to shape any trial, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called on Sunday for testimony from White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, former national security adviser John Bolton, Mulvaney aide Robert Blair and budget official Michael Duffey.
Schumer made his appeal in a letter to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said last week he was coordinating with the White House and has raised the prospect of a short impeachment trial in which no witnesses would be called.
"I hope we can come to an agreement about a fair trial," Schumer told MSNBC in an interview on Monday.
House Democrats also sought testimony from the four men in their inquiry, but they did not appear. The House Judiciary Committee voted 23-17 on Friday along party lines to approve the two charges against Trump and to send the matter to the full chamber. Late on Sunday, the panel issued its full report detailing the case against him.
In a tweet on Monday, White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said Schumer`s comments seeking fairness were "laughable" after the release of the 658-page report "in the middle of the night. Thankfully the people of this country continue to see the partisan sham that this is."
A McConnell spokesman did not directly address Schumer`s requests, but said the Senate majority leader "plans to meet with Leader Schumer to discuss the contours of a trial soon."
No U.S. president has been removed as a direct result of impeachment. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before he could be removed, while Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the House, respectively in 1868 and 1998, but not convicted by the Senate.
Senior House Democrats expect to win any impeachment vote, albeit with the possibility of some defections from moderates facing tough re-elections next year in Trump-leaning districts.
Representative Jeff Van Drew, a conservative Democrat from New Jersey who opposed impeachment, is planning to become a Republican, media reported over the weekend. The news prompted a mass resignation of staffers in his office.
In congressional hearings, Democrats have accused Trump of endangering the U.S. Constitution, jeopardizing national security and undermining the integrity of next year`s US presidential election by asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July phone call to investigate Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
Democrats argue impeachment is an urgent necessity because Trump has continued his alleged misconduct, endangering the integrity of the 2020 election.
Republicans have defended Trump and accused Democrats of a partisan effort aimed at overturning his upset 2016 victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump has branded the entire impeachment drive a sham.
"READ THE TRANSCRIPTS! The Impeachment Hoax is the greatest con job in the history of American politics!" he said in a tweet on Monday.
Trump has alleged the Bidens were involved in corruption in Ukraine and should be investigated there, but has offered no evidence. Biden, a former US vice president, has denied wrongdoing.

New Zealand divers search for volcano victims; death toll rises to 15

MMNN:14 December 2019
WELLINGTON: New Zealand divers searched contaminated waters near the volcanic White Island for two remaining bodies on Saturday, as the death toll from an eruption rose to 15 people, the police said. Waters around the island were contaminated by the massive eruption of rocks, lava and chemicals on Monday, reducing visibility. "Divers have reported seeing a number of dead fish and eels washed ashore and floating in the water," police said in a statement. "Each time they surface, the divers are decontaminated using freshwater." The remains of six people were successfully recovered on Friday after a military team in gas masks and hazmat suits landed on the uninhabited island and removed the bodies in a high-risk operation. Police said they could not retrieve the remains of two more people, but spotted at least one body in the waters not too far from the island shoreline. Nine police dive squad members resumed their search at 7.00 a.m. local time (1800 GMT Friday) and the operation would be boosted by a navy dive team later in the day. The police said in an earlier statement they will not return to the island for a land-based search on Saturday but will return in the future. "Today`s planning will allow us to return to the island to conduct further land-based searches for the remaining deceased, as the environment on and around the island allows," police said. "There will be no return to the island today." In a statement released on Saturday, geological agency GeoNet said there was a 35% to 50% risk of an eruption that would impact beyond the volcano’s vent area in the next 24 hours. A decrease from the 50% and 60% risk announced on Friday. The volcano, a popular tourist destination for day-trippers, erupted on Monday, spewing ash, steam and gases over the island. Among the 47 people on the island at the time were Australian, U.S., German, Chinese, British and Malaysian tourists. The death toll rose to 15 on Saturday as one more person died in the hospital. The toll may rise further as more than two dozen people are still hospitalised across New Zealand and Australia, most with severe burn injuries. There has been criticism that tourists were allowed on the island at all, given signs of increasing tremor activity in the days before the eruption. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Saturday that a minute’s silence will be observed at 2.11 p.m. local time (0111GMT) on December 16, exactly one week from when the fatal eruption occurred. “Wherever you are in New Zealand, or around the world, this is a moment we can stand alongside those who have lost loved ones in this extraordinary tragedy,” Ardern said in the statement.

North Korea says it conducted another crucial test at satellite launch site

MMNN:14 December 2019
SEOUL: North Korea said it had conducted another test at a satellite launch site on Friday to bolster its strategic nuclear deterrence, North Korean state media outlet KCNA reported on Saturday.
The test was conducted at the Sohae satellite launch site, KCNA said, citing a spokesman for North Korea`s Academy of Defence Science, without specifying what sort of testing occurred. It was the second such test at the facility in a week.
KCNA on Sunday said that North Korea had carried out a "very important" test on Dec. 7 at the Sohae satellite launch site, a rocket-testing facility that U.S. officials once said North Korea had promised to close.
That KCNA report called the Dec. 7 event a "successful test of great significance." South Korea`s defence minister Jeong Keong-doo said it was an engine test. The reported tests come ahead of a year-end deadline North Korea has put forth for the United States to drop its insistence on unilateral denuclearisation.
Pyongyang has warned it could take a "new path" amid the stalled talks with the United States. The top U.S envoy for North Korea is set to arrive in Seoul on Sunday for meetings with South Korean officials.
Analysts said such tests could help North Korea build more reliable intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
"The point seems to be to remind the United States that North Korea still has space to qualitatively advance its program," said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Federation of American Scientists.
"We had a good hint that whatever they were doing at Sohae was military in nature when the Academy of Defence Science took charge of the announcement, as opposed to NADA, their space agency," Panda added.
Tension has been rising in recent weeks as Pyongyang has conducted weapons tests and waged a war of words with U.S. President Donald Trump, stoking fears that tensions between the two countries could return.
Stephen Biegun, U.S. special envoy for North Korea, will arrive in South Korea on Sunday, Seoul and Washington said on Friday.

British PM Boris Johnson heads for big Brexit election win

MMNN:13 December 2019
LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on course to win Thursday`s election comfortably, giving him the numbers in parliament needed to pass his Brexit divorce deal next month, according to an exit poll on Thursday.
Below is early reaction:
"I hope you enjoy a celebration tonight," he said in an email to party members. "You powered this campaign. We couldn’t have done it without you."
"We`ll see the results in the morning and then decision will be made."
Asked if it was now over for him and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, McDonnell said: "Let`s see the results themselves, as I say the appropriate decisions will be made."
"It`s unquestionable that Labour`s policies are popular. Every poll shows it, and there is absolutely no appetite to go back to the centrist policies of old. But in this election we were squeezed by Brexit and it was the defining issue."
"Does it get Brexit done? No. I think we`re going to head into three years of pretty agonising negotiations."
"It`s a lovely and toxic combination of the fact that the message in Stoke-on-Trent that`s been heard by the voters is that the Labour Party tried to stop Brexit."
"It would be remiss of me not to mention that Jeremy Corbyn has come up on the doorstep: some people really like him, some people really dislike him, and that has been a turn off."
Asked if it was time for Corbyn and his finance chief John McDonnell to go, Snell replied: "Yes".
"It means the UK is likely to leave the EU smoothly at the end of January. More importantly, it will give the prime minister the breathing space to extend the transition period."
"People who under-owned UK assets for years are going to look at sterling and say now it’s time to get involved."
"That would be a phenomenal victory for the Conservative Party and Boris Johnson will feel completely vindicated with the gamble that he took. That would be an absolutely dramatic victory."
"If that is the case then obviously it`s a devastating result for us."
"Getting Brexit done is the priority. The deal is there. It is good to go. We need to move forward. We are not waiting. We want to end this paralysis.
"Let’s be clear: a majority for Boris Johnson tonight would engulf the UK in a fresh crisis. There is no Brexit deal, only an agreement to talk about a deal in the future."

Brazil president Bolsonaro says he has a possible skin cancer

MMNN:12 December 2019
BrazilBrazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Wednesday that he has possible skin cancer, after a medical visit where he had a mole removed from his ear.
The presidential office, however, said there is no sign that Bolsonaro has cancer, adding that the president had been to a hospital in Brasilia in the afternoon. "The president is in good health, without any indication of skin cancer and is keeping his appointments for this week," said the statement.
Earlier, Bolsonaro also said he had been advised to cancel a trip to Salvador, in the state of Bahia, due to suffering from exhaustion.

US welcomes Hafiz Saeed's indictment on terror funding, urges Pakistan for expeditious trial

MMNN:12 December 2019
Washington DC: The United States on Wednesday welcomed the indictment of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, founder of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and mastermind of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and urged Pakistan to ensure an expeditious trial in tandem with its obligations to counter the menace.
"We welcome the indictment of Hafiz Saeed and his associates. We call for #Pakistan to ensure a full prosecution and expeditious trial in line with its intl obligations to counter terrorist financing and bring the perpetrators of terrorist attacks like 26/11 to justice," Alice G Wells, US Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia said in a tweet.
An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Pakistan on Wednesday indicted Saeed, chief of Jammat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a front group of the LeT and four other leaders of the proscribed outfit on offences of terror financing.
During the proceedings, Saeed`s counsel had presented arguments against the indictment in the court. After the charges were filed, the court summoned the prosecution`s witnesses, The Dawn reported. ATC Judge Malik Arshad Bhutta, who heard the case, adjourned the proceedings until Thursday.
Earlier on Saturday, the court had delayed the indictment due to the unavailability of one of the accused in a case filed by the Punjab Counterterrorism Department (CTD) on charges of terror financing.
In July this year, the top 13 members of the JuD, including Saeed, were booked in nearly two dozen cases for terror financing and money laundering under Pakistan`s Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997.
The CTD, which registered the cases in five cities of Punjab province, had said that JuD was financing terror from massive funds collected through non-profit organisations and trusts. These organisations were subsequently banned in April after the CTD had found that they had links with the JuD and its top leadership.
Subsequently, Saeed was arrested from Gujranwala on charges of terror financing by the Punjab CTD. He is currently lodged at Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore. The indictment comes ahead of a meeting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) next year which will decide whether Pakistan will be blacklisted over its failure to curb terror funding.
The global taskforce kept the country on its grey list for an extended period up to February 2020 and warned that Islamabad would be blacklisted if it did not comply with the remaining 22 out of 27 points related to anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing.

Israel to hold election in March, its third in less than a year

MMNN:12 December 2019
JERUSALEM: Israel will hold an election on March 2, its third in less than a year, parliament decided on Thursday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival failed to parlay the previous two ballots into a new coalition government.
By a vote of 94 in favour to none opposed, lawmakers approved a motion dissolving parliament and setting the new election date. It came hours after a final deadline passed to form a government following the last election in September.
In that ballot, and in the one prior in April, Netanyahu's conservative Likud party deadlocked with ex-general Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White. Neither managed to muster enough support in the 120-seat Knesset for a stable coalition.
The next election, however, will be held in the shadow of a corruption indictment handed down against Netanyahu last month.
Denying any wrongdoing, Netanyahu, 70, has accused legal authorities of attempting a "coup" aimed at ousting a popular four-term leader. Critics alleged that Netanyahu was trying to undermine the rule of law and set an election campaign theme portraying himself as the victim of "deep state" conspiracy.
As prime minister, Netanyahu is under no legal obligation to resign as a result of the indictment, and while in office he can ask the legislature to grant him immunity from prosecution.
As caretaker premier, Netanyahu would remain in the post until a new government is formed - a process that could stretch months past the March election if what is likely to be a tortuous new round of coalition-building is taken into account.

New Zealand launches investigation into deadly volcanic eruption that killed five

MMNN:10 December 2019
WHAKATANE: New Zealand police launched an investigation on Tuesday after a volcanic eruption on an island popular with tourists killed five people, injured more than 30 and left eight people missing, who are presumed dead.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said reconnaissance flights showed no signs of life on White Island, as eyewitnesses detailed the horrific burns suffered by those caught up in Monday`s eruption.
"The scale of this tragedy is devastating," Ardern said in parliament. "To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your grief and sorrow and we are devastated."
Police said 47 people were on the uninhabited island at the time of the eruption - 24 from Australia, nine from the United States, five from New Zealand, four from Germany, two each from China and the UK and one from Malaysia.
"I would strongly suggest that there is no one that has survived on the island," police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said of the eight people still missing. Of the 31 injured, at least 27 suffered greater than 71% body surface burns, and some could succumb to their wounds, said Peter Watson, the government`s chief medical officer.
Burns units across the South Pacific nation of 4.5 million are full to capacity, he added. Police said an investigation into the deaths on White Island had been launched but clarified it was not a criminal investigation.
New Zealand`s geological hazards agency GeoNet raised the alert level for the volcano in November because of an increase in volcanic activity. The volcano`s last fatal eruption was in 1914, when it killed 12 sulphur miners.
Yet, daily tours bring more than 10,000 visitors to the privately owned island every year, marketed as "the world`s most accessible active marine volcano". "I have to say that I`m very surprised to hear there were visitors there today, because scientists seem to have been well aware that White Island was entering a phase of heightened activity," said Drexel University volcanologist Loÿc Vanderkluysen.
"I`ve been to White Island before, but I don`t think I would have been comfortable being there today."
A crater rim camera owned and operated by GeoNet showed one group of people walking away from the rim inside the crater just a minute before the explosion.
"It`s now clear that there were two groups on the island - those who were able to be evacuated and those who were close to the eruption," Ardern said at a morning news conference in Whakatane, a town on the mainland`s east coast, about 50 km (30 miles) from White Island.
Later, in parliament, she paid tribute to the pilots of four helicopters that landed on White Island in the aftermath of the eruption. "In their immediate efforts to get people off the island, those pilots made an incredibly brave decision under extremely dangerous circumstances," Ardern said.
Since then, rescuers have been unable to access the island, which is covered in grey ash. GNS Science, New Zealand`s geoscience agency, warned there was a 50/50 chance of another eruption in the coming 24 hours, as the volcano vent continued to emit "steam and mud jetting".
The Buttle family have owned the island for over 80 years, and a spokesman said they were devastated by the tragic event. “We wish to thank everyone involved in the rescue effort, including the first responders, medical personnel and the locals who helped evacuate people from the island," Peter Buttle said. "Their efforts have been both courageous and extraordinary.
Royal Caribbean confirmed several passengers on its 16-deck cruise liner, Ovation of the Seas, were on a day trip to the island but did not provide further information.
Janet Urey, 61, a nurse from Richmond, Virginia, said her son Matthew, 36, and his wife, Janet, 32, were cruise passengers injured in the eruption while on their honeymoon.
"The phone rang at midnight. Then I heard a voicemail come on. It was my son. He said, `Mom ... this is not a joke. A volcano erupted while we were on the island. We`re at the hospital with severe burns.`"
Urey said she was frustrated by the lack of information from the cruise ship he was on and from authorities. "I have not heard a word from the cruise people," she said.
A New Zealand man, Geoff Hopkins, whose tour group was just leaving the island at the time of the eruption, said he helped pull critically injured survivors into a boat. Hopkins, 50, who was given the tour as a birthday gift, said many of the survivors had run into the sea to escape the eruption.
"People were in shorts and T-shirts so there was a lot of exposed skin that was massively burnt," he told the NZ Herald newspaper. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said three Australians were feared to be among the confirmed fatalities, with 13 among the injured.
Malaysia`s high commission in New Zealand said one Malaysian was among the dead, while Britain`s high commissioner to New Zealand confirmed two British women were among the injured.
Russell Clark, an intensive care paramedic with a helicopter team, said the early scenes were overwhelming. "Everything was just blanketed in ash," he told Reuters. "It was quite an overwhelming feeling."
`Whakaari`, as it is known in the Maori language, is New Zealand`s most-active cone volcano, built up by continuous volcanic activity over the past 150,000 years, according to GeoNet.

North Korea resumes insults of 'erratic old man' Donald Trump

MMNN:10 December 2019
SEOUL: Satellite imagery indicated on Monday that North Korea had tested a rocket engine, and a senior Pyongyang official called Donald Trump a "heedless and erratic old man", resuming insults of the U.S. president that had been set aside during a thaw.
The statement carried in state media KCNA by Kim Yong Chol, a ruling party vice chairman who was instrumental in arranging a failed second summit in February, was the strongest salvo yet in a war of words that has rekindled in recent days.
He described Trump as impatient, rebuked him over his own rhetoric and repeated a threat from last week that Pyongyang would dust off its previous insult "dotard" for the U.S. leader. Tensions have been rising in recent weeks as a year-end deadline approaches set by North Korea for Washington to soften its stance in negotiations. Pyongyang has conducted a series of weapons tests and issued strongly-worded statements.
Though Trump regularly exchanged insults with North Korea in the first years of his term, both sides had abandoned personal attacks after Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in 2018.
The North Korean official said the country`s leader may change his views towards Trump if the president continues uttering "inappropriate, highly risky words and expressions". He pointed to remarks by Trump on Sunday that Kim had "far too much to lose" and did not want to interfere with an upcoming U.S. presidential election.
Those comments indicate Trump is "an old man bereft of patience," the North Korean official said. "As he is such a heedless and erratic old man, the time when we cannot but call him a `dotard` again may come."
"We have nothing more to lose." North Korea had lauded a "special relationship" between the leaders even as it criticised other U.S. officials and their "gangster-like" demands during deadlocked talks.
However, Pyongyang bristled last week after Trump again referred to Kim as "Rocket Man", a nickname Trump used early in his term.
On Sunday, North Korea carried out what it called a "very important" test at its Sohae satellite launching station, a rocket-testing ground that U.S. and South Korean officials once said Pyongyang had promised to shut down.
Commercial satellite images taken on Saturday by Planet Labs showed vehicles and equipment likely to be used in a rocket engine experiment, said Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia
Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California.
"They are mostly gone on Dec. 8, but the ground appears to have been disturbed by the exhaust from the test," Lewis said, citing photos captured on Sunday. Asked on Monday if it had been an engine test, a spokeswoman for South Korea`s defence ministry said site monitoring and detailed analysis were under way with U.S. intelligence authorities.
Kim Jong Un has warned he may take a "new path" if the United States fails to address his demands. Observers have said that path might include the launch of a space satellite, which would help North
Korea demonstrates progress in its rocket capabilities without returning to overt military provocations, such as firing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Kim Yong Chol, the North Korean official, said Trump should try to "stop the second-hand" of a clock ticking towards conflict, instead of sticking to "bluffing and hypocrisy that sound rather abnormal and unrealistic".
"We have no intention to reconsider what we should do in the future, and will not feel worried about our future action," he said in the English-language dispatch on KCNA. Some South Korean experts said North Korea may have tested a solid fuel rocket engine, which could allow it to field ICBMs that are easier to hide and faster to deploy.
"They may well have tried to see the thrust and duration of a solid-propellant rocket engine for ICBMs," a diplomatic source in Seoul told Reuters. "That`s effectively what they can do on the ground at this point without firing anything into the air."
North Korea appears to have used Soviet-era liquid propellants in all its ICBM or satellite launches in recent years, while developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) based on solid fuel, officials and analysts say.
In March 2016, Kim oversaw a "successful" test of a high-power solid-fuel rocket engine. While inspecting a new missile modelled upon SLBMs in February 2017, he said the country`s rocket industry had "firmly transitioned" to solid fuel from liquid propellants.
"It could be solid fuel or they might have developed a new engine," said Jeong Han-beom, director of the Graduate School of National Security at Korea National Defense University.
"In any case, it`s meant to improve their capabilities for ICBMs, which need to be tested several times, while sending a message to Washington that we might go back to those old days of military confrontation if negotiations fail."

Finland's Sanna Marin becomes world's youngest serving Prime Minister at 34

MMNN:10 December 2019
HELSINKI: Finland`s transportation minister Sanna Marin was selected by her Social Democratic party on Sunday to become the country`s youngest prime minister ever, taking over after the resignation of Antti Rinne.
The 34-year-old Marin, whose party is the largest in a five-member governing coalition, will be the world`s youngest serving prime minister when she takes office in the coming days.
Rinne resigned on Tuesday after a party in the coalition, the Centre Party, said it had lost confidence in him following his handling of a postal strike. "We have a lot of work ahead to rebuild trust," Marin told reporters after winning a narrow vote among the party leadership. Antti Lindtman, head of the party`s parliamentary group, was runner up.
Marin has had a swift rise in Finnish politics since becoming head of the city council of her industrial hometown of Tampere at the age of 27. She will take over in the middle of a 3-day wave of strikes, which will halt production at some of Finland`s largest companies from Monday. The Confederation of Finnish Industries estimates the strikes will cost the companies a combined 500 million euros ($550 million) in lost revenue.
The centre-left coalition, which took office just six months ago, has agreed to continue with its political programme stressing a shift to carbon neutrality, after Rinne announced he was stepping down at the demand of the Centre Party.
"We have a joint government programme which glues the coalition together," Marin said.
The timing of the change in leadership is awkward for Finland, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union until the end of the year, playing a central role in efforts to hammer out a new budget for the bloc.

One killed as Typhoon Kammuri hits the Philippines, hundreds of flights halted

MMNN:3 December 2019
MANILA: A typhoon struck the Philippines on Tuesday, killing one man and bringing heavy rains that prompted the suspension of air travel and government offices in the capital, and warnings of floods, storm surges and landslides. Local governments evacuated some 225,000 people ahead of the arrival overnight of Typhoon Kammuri, known locally as Tisoy, which weakened slightly and picked up speed as it moved across central parts of the archipelago. Kammuri, the 20th typhoon to hit the country in 2019, brought winds of 150 kph (93 mph) and gusts of up to 205 kph (127 mph), damaging some homes and structures and felling trees and signage in urban areas. A 33-year-old man died after being electrocuted while attempting to fix his roof, a civil defence official in the Bicol region told local radio. Some 499 flights were postponed and 100,000 people impacted by a rare precautionary closure of all four terminals at Manila`s main airport for 12 hours until 11:00 p.m. Tuesday (1500 GMT). Air travel continued in unaffected areas of the country. Pictures posted by social media users showed waves crashing against bulwarks, panels flying off roofs, trees on roads or being battered by strong winds. Disaster agency spokesman Mark Timbal said good preparation had minimised the human impact so far. "We`ve seen a great improvement in local government management of preparations for disasters," he told news channel ANC. "The pre-positioning of supplies was executed well before the arrival of the storm." Authorities warned of storm surges of up to three metres and floods and landslides from heavy winds and rain. Government offices and schools were closed in Metropolitan Manila and affected areas and utility firms appealed for patience ahead of anticipated power outages. The coastguard halted commercial sea travel in affected areas. Worst hit was the airport in Legazpi City, where television footage showed structural damage and cables, lighting and panels hanging from the ceiling over departure areas. Provincial governor Al Francis Bichara said it was important that a mandatory evacuation of tens of thousands of families had taken place. "The wind was so terrible," he said. "Some of their houses were badly damaged." The Philippines is hosting the Southeast Asian Games until Dec. 11 and organisers postponed several events until later in the competition, among them surfing, kayak, windsurfing, polo, sailing, skateboarding and canoeing.

Suspected grenade blast near Indonesia's presidential palace hurts two

MMNN:3 December 2019
JAKARTA: An explosion of a suspected smoke grenade on Tuesday at a park near Indonesia`s presidential palace in the heart of the capital injured at least two military personnel, Jakarta`s police chief said. However, President Joko Widodo was not at the palace at the time, a presidential spokesman said. It was not immediately clear if the blast was the result of a sectarian attack, but Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, has suffered a resurgence in homegrown militancy in recent years. The explosion, at 7:15 a.m.(0015 GMT) on the north side of the park, was thought to have been caused by a smoke grenade, Jakarta police chief Gatot Eddy Pramono told a televised news conference. It injured two military personnel who were there for exercise, Jakarta military chief Eko Margiyono said, adding that they were taken to hospital and were conscious. "A smoke grenade was found and we`re looking into why it was there," Margiyono said, in comments aimed at reassuring the public that described the incident "as not so extraordinary". Asked if the blast was the result of an attack, Pramono responded, "We haven`t concluded so, because we`re still investigating." Within three hours, authorities had reopened the park area where the blast took place, across the street from the headquarters of Indonesia`s home ministry. Last month, six people were wounded after a 24-year-old university student blew himself up outside police headquarters in the Indonesian city of Medan. The attack was linked to the Islamic State-inspired Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), responsible for a series of attacks across the country. In October, a suspected Islamist stabbed and wounded former security minister Wiranto at a function to open a university building. Wiranto, who uses just one name, like many Indonesians, had to have surgery, but has since left hospital.

Former Pakistan president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf admitted to hospital in Dubai

MMNN:3 December 2019
Islamabad: Former Pakistan president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf was on Monday admitted to a hospital in Dubai due to serious health issues. As per medical reports, Musharraf is suffering from the cardiac problem and having blood pressure issue, Pakistan Today reported.
Since 2016, Musharraf has been living in a self-imposed exile in Dubai for "seeking medical treatment" and has not returned to the country since. He is wanted by authorities in connection to the high treason case filed against him.
In November 2019, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) stopped the special court from announcing the verdict in the matter. The order came before a special court was scheduled to announce the verdict on the basis of the available record. The IHC was hearing a petition filed by the Pakistan government seeking an adjournment of the verdict`s announcement.
A similar petition was also filed by Musharraf in the Lahore High Court. The court has also directed the government to notify a new prosecutor or a team of prosecution in the treason case by December 5. It has also asked the special court to fix a date "for affording a reasonable opportunity of hearing" to the notified prosecutor or prosecution team as well as the counsel appointed for Musharraf.
The special court on November 19 concluded the trial proceedings in the high treason case against Musharraf for declaring a state emergency on November 3, 2007. The trial of the former leader has been pending since December 2013 when he was booked in the case. Musharraf was indicted on March 31, 2014, and the prosecution had tabled the entire evidence before the special court in September the same year. However, due to litigation at appellate forums, the trial of the former president lingered on and he left Pakistan in March 2016 "to seek medical treatment. "The retired general was that year declared an absconder as he failed to appear before the court despite repeated summons and court directives issued to the Federal Investigation Agency to arrest him.

8 killed, over 40 injured in Morocco bus crash

MMNN:2 November 2019
Rabat: At least eight people have been killed and 42 others injured after a bus overturned near Morocco`s town of Bab Marzouka, 300 km east of the capital Rabat. The incident happened on Sunday. The injured have been rushed to a hospital in the city of Taza, Xinhua reported.
An investigation is underway to determine the cause of this accident, local authorities said.
Deadly road accidents are common in Morocco, often caused by high speed, bad condition of roads and reckless driving.
A total of 1,357 people were killed in road accidents in Morocco in the first four months of 2019, up 10 per cent year on year, according to official statistics.

22 tourists killed, 21 injured in Tunisia bus accident

MMNN:2 November 2019
Tunis: At least 22 Tunisian tourists were killed on Sunday when a bus in which they were travelling on, plunged into a ravine in the northern part of the country.
According to the Tunisian interior ministry, as many as 21 people suffered injuries in the mishap, Anadolu News Agency reported.
The accident took place when the bus was travelling from the capital Tunis to the Ain Snoussi region, the ministry said.

19 people killed in gunfight in Mexico

MMNN:2 November 2019
Mexico City: A bloody gunfight between suspected drug cartel members and security forces near the Texas border in northeastern Mexico left 19 people dead, the state government of Coahuila said on Sunday.
Earlier, authorities had said that 14 people were killed. Giving out details of the gunfight, four police officers, two civilians, and 13 suspected druglords were among the deceased, Coahuila Governor Miguel Angel Riquelme Solis was quoted by CNN as saying while adding that another six people were wounded in the incident.
The Governor said that the shootout, lasted for an hour, and broke out between the security forces and suspected members of the cartel of the Northeast in Villa Union town, situated around 64 kilometres south of the US border town of Eagle Pass in Texas.
"Authorities apprehended 14 vehicles with powerful weaponry," Solis said, adding that criminal groups have been long attempting to enter Coahuila state."Organized crime, specifically the Cartel del Noreste, tries to get into Coahuila every day at some point, in one of its areas. Today they got in by force and with a contingent that is not like anything we have seen in a long time," the Governor said.
"But we won`t allow organised crime to come to the area," he added. The gunfight took place days after US President Donald Trump said that he would designate Mexican cartels as foreign terror outfits. However, the Mexican government had declined the offer.
Trump offered Mexico the US` help in launching a war against drug cartels, following the killing of nine American Mormons in northern Mexico last month.

London attacker named, was previously convicted of terrorism offences

MMNN:30 November 2019
LONDON: British police named the man who stabbed two people to death in London on Friday in what the authorities called a terrorist attack as 28-year-old Usman Khan, who had been convicted of terrorism offences and was released from prison last year.
"This individual was known to authorities, having been convicted in 2012 for terrorism offences," Britain`s top counter-terrorism police officer, Neil Basu, said in a statement.
"He was released from prison in December 2018 on licence and clearly, a key line of enquiry now is to establish how he came to carry out this attack," Basu said.
A person who is released on licence is subject to conditions for the duration of their sentence after leaving prison. The Times newspaper reported that Khan had agreed to wear an electronic tag.
The attacker went on the rampage just before 2 p.m., targeting people at Fishmongers` Hall near London Bridge in the heart of the city`s financial district - the scene of a deadly attack by Islamist militants two years ago.
In addition to the man and the woman who were killed, a man and two women were injured and remain in hospital, Basu said.
Just before the news broke of the suspect`s previous conviction, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is seeking re-election on Dec. 12, said criminals must be made to serve their sentences.
"It is a mistake to allow serious and violent criminals to come out of prison early, and it is very important that we get out of that habit and that we enforce the appropriate sentences for dangerous criminals, especially for terrorists," he said.
Johnson leads opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, according to opinion polls.
During the 2017 election campaign, London Bridge was the scene of an attack when three militants drove a van into pedestrians and then attacked people in the surrounding area, killing eight and injuring at least 48. The attack focused attention on cuts to policing since the governing Conservatives took power in 2010.
"We owe a deep debt of gratitude to our police and emergency services, and the brave members of the public who put themselves in harm’s way to protect others," Corbyn said late on Friday.

UK PM Boris Johnson replaced by ice block in TV debate after he skips climate change debate

MMNN:30 November 2019
British broadcaster Channel 4 represented Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a block of melting ice in a prime-time election debate on the environment on Thursday, prompting his Conservative Party to complain this broke impartiality rules. The commercially funded public-service broadcaster invited leaders of all Britain's main political parties to take part in the debate before December 12's election, but both Johnson and the leader of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage, declined to attend. The Conservative Party offered former environment minister Michael Gove as a substitute, but the broadcaster said the debate was only intended for party leaders, and that the other political parties would not agree to change the terms. "This effectively seeks to deprive the Conservative Party of any representation and attendance," the Conservatives wrote in a letter of complaint to broadcast regulator Ofcom. British television broadcasters are required to be politically impartial and face extra balance requirements during election periods. Ofcom can fine broadcasters that do not comply, and as a last resort can cancel a broadcaster's licence. The Conservatives said Thursday's disagreement was "part of a wider pattern of bias by Channel 4 in recent months". The broadcaster's head of news and current affairs, Dorothy Byrne, described Johnson as "a known liar" in a major industry speech in August. On Thursday, the editor of Channel 4's main news programme, Ben de Pear, likened the Conservatives' approach to the media to that of US President Donald Trump. Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly said Britain`s election was parliamentary, not presidential, making it unreasonable for Channel 4 to require Johnson`s appearance as a condition of the Conservatives taking part in the debate. "Put your leader Boris Johnson alongside the other leaders and stop playing games. Don`t refuse and then threaten our license - it`s a slippery slope," de Pear said in reply. News website Buzzfeed quoted an unnamed Conservative Party source as saying the party would call for a review into Channel 4`s operating license, which is due for renewal in 2024, if Johnson returns to power after December 12`s election. Channel 4 is not the only broadcaster to struggle to book Johnson, whose Conservative Party is leading the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls and keen to avoid any gaffes. Johnson has so far declined to take part in a half-hour sit-down with BBC interviewer Andrew Neil, who gave tough scrutiny to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday.

Plane crashes in Canada, seven people killed

MMNN:30 November 2019
Kingston: Seven people were killed in a plane crash in the north of Kingston, Canada`s authorities said on Thursday.
The fatal accident took place on Wednesday evening. It is not clear what caused a plane to crash. The wreckage of the plane was found in a heavily wooded area more than three miles north of Kingston, which is between Toronto and Montreal and near the border with America, The New York Times reported.
Canada's Transportation Safety Board which is investigating the crash said that plane "collided with terrain" during a flight from Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport to Quebec City.
"We will obtain detailed weather information as the investigation proceeds," Ken Webster, an investigator with the board who is leading the inquiry into the crash, said at a news conference on Thursday.

Pakistan Supreme Court reserves verdict in Army Chief General Bajwa extension case

MMNN:28 November 2019
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Supreme Court on Thursday (November 28) has reserved its verdict in Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa extension case, saying that the verdict would be announced later on Thursday.
The top court, however, asked the federal government to furnish a fresh summary of Bajwa's extension of services before the announcement of the verdict.
The court requires that the summary to:
- not mention the Supreme Court
- exclude the mention of a three-year tenure of extension
- not include details regarding the army chief’s salary and incentives
The SC also said that the government must give an undertaking mentioning that it would legislate on the matter within six months.
The plea challenging General Bajwa's extension was heard by a three-member bench of the Pakistan Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa and comprising Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel and Justice Mansoor Ali Shah.
During the hearing, the chief justice of Pakistan SC asked the Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan to present the notifications of extension granted to former army chief general (retd) Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and General Raheel Sharif. "We were told yesterday that generals never retire," remarked CJP Khosa.
The attorney general responded saying that General Bajwa has been reappointed under Article 243, to which the Chief Justice of Pakistan said that you have to convince us this is legal.
The court heard the arguments made by the attorney general and General Bajwa's counsel Farogh Naseem and said that the verdict in this case will be announced later on Thursday.

China summons US ambassador, says Hong Kong rights law is 'strong interference'

MMNN:28 November 2019
BEIJING: China summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad on Thursday to demand that the United States immediately stop interfering in its internal affairs and stop causing further damage to bilateral relations, its foreign ministry said.
Vice foreign minister Le Yucheng summoned Branstad a day after U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law congressional legislation which supported anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, despite angry objections from Beijing.

Muttiah Muralitharan to be Governor of Sri Lanka's Northern province

MMNN:28 November 2019
Colombo: Sri Lankan cricket legend Muttiah Muralitharan is tipped to be appointed as Governor of Sri Lanka's Northern Province by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
He is among three new Governors set to be appointed by the new government of Lankan President, who took over earlier this month.
President Rajapaksa had personally invited Muralitharan to accept the post of the Governor of the Northern Province, the Daily Mirror said quoting sources.
Presidential Secretariat sources told the daily that the former ace spinner would be appointed the Governor of the Northern Province, while Anuradha Yahampath would be appointed the Governor of the Eastern Province and Tissa Vitharana would take charge as Governor of the North Central Province.
Anuradha Yahampath is Chairperson of the Nationalist Entrepreneurs Association and a Director of a reputed garment export company.
Tissa Vitharana is a former Minister and the leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party. He had held the post of Chairman of the Medical Research Institute over a long period and is also a specialist doctor on viral diseases.

Bangladesh court gives death to 7, acquits 1 in 2016 Holey Artisan Cafe terror attack case

MMNN:27 November 2019
A special anti-terrorism court in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Wednesday sentenced to death seven people and acquited one in the 2016 deadly terrorist attack on Holey Artisan Cafe. According to Bangladeshi media, BdNews24, Judge Md Mojibur Rahman delivered the verdict.
Twenty-two civilians, including 17 foreign nationals, were killed after five gunmen carried out the attack in Dhaka`s upscale Gulshan diplomatic enclave on July 1, 2016. Two police officers also died in the encounter before the army commandos killed the terrorists on the following day to end the siege and release the guests whom the terrorists took hostages inside the eatery.
The convicts are--Jahangir Hossain alias Rajib Gandhi, Rakibul Hasan Regan, Aslam Hossain alias Rashedul Islam alias Rash, Abdus Sabur Khan alias Soheil Mahfuz, Hadisur Rahman Sagar, Shariful Islam Khaled alias Khalid and Mamunur Rashid Ripon, according to BdNews24. The other suspect in the case, Mizanur Rahman alias Boro Mizan, has been acquitted.
Earlier in the day, security was beefed up ahead of the verdict. Judge Rahman of Dhaka Anti-terrorism Special Tribunal had set the date for pronouncing the verdict after the arguments in the case ended. The prosecution lawyers had hoped for maximum punishment for all the eight accused in the trial that was initiated on November 26, 2018.
One of the defence lawyers, Md Delwar Hossain, had said, "The prosecution failed to prove the charges against our clients in the case, so they should be acquitted." According to the chargesheet submitted by the investigating agency - the Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crimes (CTTC) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police - the eight accused are members of the banned militant outfit Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
The cafe was shut down after the attack and later moved to a different location. The original building was locked down by the owners, only open to mourners on the anniversary of the attack who came to pay their respects. The incident is considered to be one of the deadliest terror attacks in Bangladesh`s history.

Hong Kong authorities appeal for calm as major highway reopens

MMNN:27 November 2019
HONG KONG: One of Hong Kong`s main highway links, the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, reopened early on Wednesday as a lockdown of the nearby Polytechnic University appeared to be drawing to a close with teams still combing the campus for remaining protesters.
Hong Kong authorities hope that a lull in clashes over the weekend during local elections, where pro-democracy candidates grabbed a landslide victory, can translate into more calm after nearly six months of turmoil.
Chinese authorities reiterated a need "to stop the violence and restore order" after the election. Reuters also reported that China`s leaders had set up a crisis command centre in the Chinese tech hub of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, to deal with protests that have become the biggest populist challenge since China`s leader Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
Despite the euphoria among protesters over the electoral victory, in which democracy advocates swept around 86 percent of the 452 district council seats, fresh protests are planned for the weekend, including a "no teargas to children march".
The city-wide elections drew a record turnout and were seen as a vote of no-confidence against Beijing-backed Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam over her handling of the financial hub`s worst crisis in decades.
The restoration of vehicular traffic through the Cross-Harbour Tunnel in the early hours of Wednesday came after anti-government protesters barricaded themselves in the Polytechnic University and blocked the tunnel mouth almost two weeks ago.
Toll booths were smashed, fires lit and bricks concreted onto the highway, severely disrupting traffic between Hong Kong island and the Kowloon peninsula.
Hong Kong television showed a steady flow of vehicles surging into the tunnel when it reopened.
Police still guarded the perimeter of the Polytechnic University as a security team prepared to scour the campus for a second day, seeking protesters who may still be hiding in the maze of buildings.
The red-brick university was turned into a battleground in mid-November when nearly a thousand protesters barricaded themselves inside and clashed with riot police in a hail of petrol bombs, water cannon and tear gas.
Police later formed a security cordon around the campus to trap those inside, eventually making hundreds of arrests. A small number are still believed to be inside.
One Hong Kong newspaper, Sing Pao, published a front-page spread for the second successive day calling for Lam`s resignation. "Hong Kong people had enough, Carrie Lam quit," it read.
Demonstrators are angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. China denies interfering and says it is committed to the "one country, two systems" formula put in place at that time.

Greenhouse emissions hit new record, could bring 'destructive' effects: UN

MMNN:27 November 2019
GENEVA: Greenhouse gas emissions surged to a record level last year and world temperatures could rise more than twice the globally agreed warming limit if nothing is done, a UN report showed on Tuesday. The "Emissions Gap Report" is one of several studies released ahead of UN climate talks in Madrid next week aimed at spurring world leaders to limit climate change.
It measures the amount of emissions cuts needed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as agreed in the key 2015 Paris Agreement. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change last year warned of huge global changes if that target is not met, such as the loss of nearly all coral reefs and most Arctic sea ice.
"As things stand, temperatures can be expected to rise by 3.2C this century, bringing wide-ranging and destructive climate impacts," according to the report summary by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP). He said the safest temperature threshold set in Paris of 1.5C was still possible but would require emissions cuts of 7.6% a year between 2020-2030. For 2C, it would mean annual cuts of 2.7%.
"It`s going to be really, really challenging," Christensen said. "The longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes." The report showed that emissions, including those from land-use change such as deforestation, have not yet peaked and rose to a record 55.3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2018.
Countries face a 2020 deadline to set more ambitious emissions cut pledges. The report named the United States as one of several large emitters alongside Brazil and Japan falling short of its own targets, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). This month, the Trump administration filed paperwork to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in the first step of a formal withdrawal process.
Christensen said some of those that met their targets comfortably, such as Turkey and Russia, should tighten them significantly.

Pak needs to implement FATF recommendations to counter terror funding: US envoy

MMNN:23 November 2019
It is important for Pakistan to fully implement the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to counter terror financing, a top American diplomat has said.
The implementation of the FATF recommendations, besides taking action against terrorist networks, would help the US revise its travel advisory against Pakistan, the diplomat said in response to a question.
“We want to see improvements in Pakistan’s security situation so that we can reflect that in a travel advisory,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Well said at an event at the Wilson Center think tank on Thursday.
“Some of the steps that, I think, are very important are Pakistan’s implementation, full implementation of the Financial Action Task Force requirement to counter terrorism financing, to prosecute and seize the assets of members of terrorist organisations,” Wells said.
In its last travel advisory issued on April 9 this year, the US State Department urged American citizens to reconsider their travel to Pakistan. It also advised US citizens against travelling to Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in view of terrorism and kidnapping.
The travel advisory is revised every six months.
Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Pakistan, said the advisory.
Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting transportation hubs, markets, shopping malls, military installations, airports, universities, tourist locations, schools, hospitals, places of worship, and government facilities.
Terrorists have targeted US diplomats and diplomatic facilities in the past, and information suggests they continue to do so, it said.

Air strikes declined sharply in Yemen: UN envoy

MMNN:23 November 2019
Air strikes in Yemen have sharply declined in number over the past two weeks, UN envoy Martin Griffiths said Friday, pointing to the trend as a possible prelude to a general cease-fire in the country.
Griffiths said the rate of air strikes fell by 80 percent during that period, which he said was “perhaps an even more important sign that something is changing in Yemen.”
“In recent weeks, there have been entire 48-hour periods without air strikes for the first time since the conflict began,” he said via a video link to the UN headquarters.
“We call this de-escalation, a reduction in the tempo of the war, and perhaps a move towards an overall ceasefire in Yemen,” he said.
In Riyadh, the Yemeni government and separatists agreed to end their conflict in the southern part of the country.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said that agreement could lead to broader peace talks aimed at ending the conflict in Yemen.
The Saudis intervened in Yemen in 2015 at the head of a military coalition against Iranian-backed Huthi rebels, who seized control of the capital Sanaa.
Since then, tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, most of them civilians, according to humanitarian organizations.
The United Nations, which ranks Yemen as currently the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, coordinates relief from more than 250 humanitarian organizations for more than 13 million Yemenis.

Hong Kong court reinstates mask ban ahead of local elections

MMNN:23 November 2019
A Hong Kong court on Friday suspended its decision to strike down a government ban on wearing face masks at protests, allowing police to enforce the decree for another week around keenly contested local elections in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
The court had ruled Monday that the ban, imposed in October under rarely used emergency powers to prevent anti-government protesters from hiding their identity, infringed on fundamental rights more than was reasonably necessary.
The government had appealed for a freeze on the ruling while it appeals to higher courts.
The High Court agreed Friday to grant a one-week suspension in view of the “highly exceptional circumstances that Hong Kong is currently facing,” local broadcaster RTHK reported. China’s rubber-stamp parliament rebuked the court ruling this week, in what some interpreted as an indication it might overrule the verdict.
Many Hong Kong protesters have defied the ban, and during lunchtime rallies Friday, some chanted “We have the right to wear masks.”
The city’s new police commissioner, Tang Ping-keung, told reporters police would be out in force at polling stations Sunday to respond to any outbreak of violence “without hesitation.”
Six masked protesters surrendered before dawn Friday, bringing to about 30 the number that have come out in the past day from a university campus surrounded by police.
The group emerged from a campus entrance and held hands as they walked toward a checkpoint around 3 a.m. Five wore the black clothing favored by the protest movement and the other was in a blue checked shirt.
Most of the protesters who took over Hong Kong Polytechnic University last week have left, but an unknown number have remained inside for days, hoping somehow to avoid arrest.
Tang Chun-Keung, head of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said the holdouts include minors, numbering less than 10, and they are emotionally unstable. Tang entered the campus Friday with some others but failed to find them.
“We have lawyers and social workers ready to provide assistance and we hope to persuade them to leave the campus. We are worried our work is getting more and more difficult because students are refusing to meet us,” he told reporters.
Police chief Tang reiterated that those under 18 can leave, although they may face charges later, and pledged impartial treatment for all adults facing arrest.
“The condition is deteriorating and dangerous, there are many explosives and petrol bombs inside ... we hope to end the matter peacefully,” he said, adding police didn’t set any deadline to end the siege.
The anti-government protesters battled with police and blocked the nearby approach to a major road tunnel, which remains closed. It was the latest bout in more than five months of unrest. Protesters are demanding fully democratic elections and an investigation into alleged police brutality in suppressing the demonstrations.
Anti-government rallies were held sporadically in the past two days. Riot police broke up minor scuffles between protesters and pro-Beijing supporters at a downtown bridge Friday, but there were no major clashes ahead of Sunday’s district council elections.
City leaders have said they want to go ahead with the vote, seen as a bellwether of public support for the protests, but warned violence could make it impossible to hold a fair and safe election.
Asked if the police presence would make voters feel uncomfortable, police chief Tang said it will make citizens “feel safe to go out and vote.”

PM Johnson to tell business chiefs he will end uncertainty

MMNN:18 November 2019
LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell business leaders on Monday that his pledge to take Britain out of the EU swiftly will end uncertainty and boost the economy, seeking to win over industrialists who have mainly opposed Brexit.
Johnson called a Dec. 12 election in a bid to end three years of political crisis since the 2016 52%-48% vote to leave the EU that has shaken investors` faith in the United Kingdom -- once considered one of the pillars of Western stability.
Speaking at the annual conference of Britain`s main business lobby, the CBI, Johnson will say that while big businesses made clear they were not in favour of Brexit in the 2016 referendum, they were also now clear they wanted certainty.
"Britain stuck in gridlock and our economy stuck in first gear. Extension to extension. Marching business up to the top of the hill, only to march them down again," Johnson will say, according to advance extracts.
Johnson, 55, hopes to win a majority to push through the last-minute Brexit deal he struck last month with the European Union. His main opponent, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, is pitching a government which would nationalise a swathe of British industries and hold another EU referendum.
"With a Conservative majority government you can be sure we will Get Brexit Done and leave with the new deal that is already agreed – ending the uncertainty and confusion that has paralysed our economy," Johnson will say.
Opinion polls, which have been wrong on a host of recent electoral events in Britain, show Johnson`s Conservatives are far ahead of Corbyn`s Labour. A Survation poll on Monday put support for the Conservatives on 42% and Labour on 28%.
If no party wins conclusively, the future of Brexit could be thrown up in the air again.
The election pitches two of the most unconventional British politicians of recent years against each other. Both have been repeatedly written off by opponents and both offer starkly different visions for the British economy.
Corbyn, a 70-year-old campaigner who won the Labour leadership in 2015 against the odds, proposes nationalising utilities and railroads and raising taxes on high earners. He says he will seek a new Brexit deal with closer ties to Europe, and let voter decide whether to accept it, or to stay in the EU.
Making his pitch to the business at the same conference, Corbyn will set out his plans to create a climate apprenticeship programme to boost the number of specialists in areas such as renewable energy and transport, sustainable construction, low carbon industries, and sustainable agriculture and forestry.
The Conservative Party has made several pledges to business ahead of the election, including cutting tax on business properties, reducing an employment tax, boosting tax relief on construction and cutting tax on research and development.
Johnson`s private life has come under focus in the campaign. A U.S. businesswoman who received thousands of pounds in public funds and travelled on trade trips with Johnson while he was mayor of London, said on Monday she had had "a very special relationship" with him.
The Greater London Authority (GLA) has referred Johnson to Britain`s police watchdog for potential investigation over allegations of misconduct involving his relationship with the businesswoman, Jennifer Arcuri. He has denied any impropriety.
When asked by ITV if she had an affair with Johnson, she said: "I`m not going to answer that question but as you can tell there was a very special relationship there."

North Korea says will not offer anything to US President Donald Trump without receiving in return: Report

MMNN:18 November 2019
SEOUL: North Korea will not offer anything for US President Donald Trump to brag about without receiving anything in return, a statement on its state news agency KCNA said on Monday.
North Korea was not interested in a summit that was "useless to itself", said the statement, under the name of Foreign Ministry adviser Kim Kye Gwan, referring to Trump`s message on Sunday to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Twitter. "If the U.S. does not really want to let go of its dialogue with us, it should make a decision to withdraw its hostile policy of viewing us as an enemy," the KCNA statement said.

Gunman opens fire at California backyard party, four dead

MMNN:18 November 2019
Police in the California city of Fresno were investigating a mass shooting at a football game party on Sunday in which at least nine people were shot, killing several, with others left in critical condition, a police spokesman said.
Four people died and six more were hospitalized, multiple media including ABC News and CNN reported but Reuters has not independently confirmed those numbers late Sunday.
"This is a mass casualty shooting, we`re not releasing the number of the dead," police spokesman Lt. Bill Dooley said earlier at a press conference. "We do have deceased."
A gunman started shooting after entering the backyard of a south Fresno home where a gathering of family and friends was watching a football game after 6 p.m., said Dooley, and neighbors flooded 911 dispatchers with calls for help.
The suspect fled the scene and police were combing the neighborhood for witnesses and possible security camera footage, he said.
Police did not release further information about the shooting in the city about 200 miles (322 km) north of Los Angeles.
Others of the wounded at the party may have driven themselves to hospital, police said, adding that some victims were taken to a nearby community medical center with gunshot wounds.
A police spokesman was not immediately available to Reuters for further comment.

Imran Khan says ‘no grudge’ against Nawaz Sharif

MMNN:16 November 2019
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that he holds no grudge against Nawaz Sharif and that the ailing former premier’s health is more important than politics.
Khan’s remark, on Friday, came a day after PML-N chief Shehbaz Sharif warned that he would hold the former responsible in case anything happened to his brother as his administration was “dilly-dallying on the removal of Nawaz’s name from the no-fly list”, Express Tribune reported.
Presiding over a meeting of the PTI core committee, the prime minister said that his government had facilitated Sharif at every forum on humanitarian grounds and had also come up with a legal option to strike his name off the Exit Control List (ECL).
He also said that the government had no issues if the Sharif family opted to approach the court instead of furnishing an indemnity bond for the removal of the former prime minister’s name from the ECL.
Pakistan’s Interior Ministry on Wednesday had decided to grant Sharif a “one-time” permission to travel abroad for medical treatment for four weeks provided that he submits an indemnity bond of Rs7 billion. The decision, however, was snubbed by the PML-N and challenged in the Lahore High Court on Friday.
On the same day, the High Court admitted a plea seeking the removal of Sharif’s name from the no-fly list unconditionally.
Khan, however, regretted that the Sharif family was “playing politics” on the 69-year-old politician’s health. He said that Sharif’s health was deteriorating and his family’s first priority should be to take him abroad for treatment instead of wrangling over the issue of the indemnity bond.
Sharif was expected to leave Pakistan on Sunday. However, his ticket was cancelled as the authorities did not remove his name from the ECL list.

‘I have the right to speak,’ says Donald Trump amid impeachment hearings

MMNN:16 November 2019
Amid the ongoing impeachment hearings against him by a Democrats-dominated Congressional panel, US President Donald Trump has asserted that he has the right to speak and the freedom of speech.
The president made the assertion while accusing the opposition Democratic party of denying the Republicans the due process in the House-initiated impeachment proceedings against him.
“In the history of our country, there has never been a disgrace like what’s going on right now. So, you know what, I have the right to speak. I have the freedom of speech just as other people do have. But they (Democrats) have taken away the Republicans rights (to ask questions),” Trump told reporters in a media interaction at the White House.
The US president said he watched the second-day public hearing on impeachment against him by the Congressional Committee.
“I watched today as certain very talented (Republican) people wanted to ask questions. They weren’t even allowed to ask questions. Republicans weren’t allowed to ask questions, it’s a very sad thing,” said the US President.
Trump was referring to the ongoing deposition by former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which on Thursday held its second public impeachment hearing against him.
“I just want to have a total... I want freedom of speech. That’s a political process. The Republicans have been treated very badly. I watched a little bit of it today. I wasn’t able to yesterday because we had the President of Turkey here and I wasn’t able to watch much. I watched some of it this morning,” he said.
“I thought it was a disgrace. When, we have great Republican representatives elected by the people. They are not allowed to even ask a question. They’re not allowed to make a statement. We’re not allowed to have witnesses. We’re not allowed to have legal counsel White House Counsel. It’s a disgrace, an embarrassment to our nation,” Trump said.
Trump reiterated that he had a perfect call with his Ukrainian counterpart, which has become the basis of the initiation of impeachment proceedings against him. He also slammed the mainstream press for allegedly siding with Democrats in the impeachment is proceeding.
“The press is unbelievable. That was a major statement put out last night by the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, and also by the President of Ukraine. And you don’t even report it. It’s a disgrace, because it said there was absolutely no linkage. We had a perfect conversation,” Trump told the pool of White House reporters.
“If we had an honest press in this country, we would be so well served,” he said. “You know what, when I look at your approval numbers in the worst they’ve ever been in the history of our country, the media, the approval numbers. They are horrible,” he said.
“You want to get yourself back and you want to put yourself back in a position where people respect the media, again. I know some great journalists I know some great people in the media. But there aren’t enough of this... a lot of dishonesty, and many of you, I just consider, members of the democrats and it’s a shame,” said the US president.

Israel says it has completed Gaza strikes after rocket fire

MMNN:16 November 2019
Israel said early Friday it has completed a series of airstrikes on targets linked to the Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza after overnight rocket fire that rattled a day-old truce. The Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers, who kept to the sidelines of this week’s fighting, cancelled the weekly protests they organize along the perimeter fence without explanation — apparently in an effort to preserve the calm. Israel reiterated that it was willing to abide by the cease-fire if there are no additional rocket attacks. The army said in a statement that it struck a military compound, a rocket-manufacturing site and a militant headquarters in the town of Khan Younis overnight. The airstrikes came after a barrage of rockets late Thursday. There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side. The situation was calm on Friday. The unofficial cease-fire that began early Thursday ended a two-day escalation triggered by Israel’s targeted killing of an Islamic Jihad commander. The fighting killed 34 Palestinians, including 16 civilians. Palestinian militants fired more than 450 rockets toward Israel, paralyzing much of southern Israel without causing any deaths or serious injuries. An Israeli airstrike overnight Thursday struck a home in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah, killing eight people, including two women and five children under the age of 13. The airstrike apparently targeted the home of an Islamic Jihad commander who was not there at the time. Neighbors said the airstrike killed his brother, who was not involved in militant activity. The military said Friday that it struck “Islamic Jihad military infrastructure” in Deir al-Balah and did not intend to harm civilians. “According to the information available to the IDF at the time of the strike, no civilians were expected to be harmed as a result of the strike,” the Israeli Defense Forces said in a statement. It said an investigation is underway. Hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed in previous rounds fighting in Gaza, drawing heavy international criticism, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague has opened a preliminary investigation into Israel’s battlefield tactics. Israel rejects the criticism, saying it takes numerous precautions to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties. It also accuses Palestinian militants of using civilians as human shields and firing rockets from residential areas. It says militant commanders often have weapons or command centers inside their homes, making them legitimate targets. Islamic Jihad announced the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire early Thursday, claiming it had extracted several concessions from Israel. Israel does not generally comment on informal understandings with militant groups and said only that it would halt fire as long as the militants did the same. The truce angered many Islamic Jihad supporters, who held protests across Gaza. The barrage of rockets fired into Israel late Thursday, which Israel said were intercepted by its missile defenses, may have been an expression of discontent with the militant group’s leadership. Unlike in previous rounds of violence, the more powerful Hamas stayed on the sidelines, adhering to understandings reached through Egyptian mediators after previous rounds of fighting with Israel. Both militant groups are committed to Israel’s destruction, but Islamic Jihad is seen as more radical and has closer ties to Iran. Hamas has held weekly demonstrations along the frontier for more than a year to call for the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on Gaza when the group seized power from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007. The protests often turn violent, with demonstrators hurling rocks and firebombs and Israeli forces responding with tear gas and live ammunition. Hamas has tamped down the protests in recent weeks, apparently as part of the understandings with Egypt. In return, Israel has loosened the blockade and allowed Qatar to deliver millions of dollars in cash so that Hamas can pay its civil servants. Hamas has held weekly demonstrations along the frontier for more than a year to call for the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on Gaza when the group seized power from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007. The protests often turn violent, with demonstrators hurling rocks and firebombs and Israeli forces responding with tear gas and live ammunition. Hamas has tamped down the protests in recent weeks, apparently as part of the understandings with Egypt. In return, Israel has loosened the blockade and allowed Qatar to deliver millions of dollars in cash so that Hamas can pay its civil servants.

Venezuela ex-intel chief goes missing in Spain ahead of US extradition: Police

MMNN:13 November 2019
Venezuela’s former military intelligence chief has gone missing in Spain just days after a court approved a request for his extradition to the United States on drug trafficking charges, police said Wednesday.
“They are currently looking for him,” said a spokeswoman for Spain’s national police, referring to General Hugo Armando Carvajal. Judicial sources said police had gone to his house in Madrid after Friday’s court decision but could not find him.

New FBI data shows major spike in anti-Sikh hate crimes

MMNN:13 November 2019
Although the number of reported incidents of hate crimes went down slightly in the United States from 2017 to 2018, according to an FBI announcement on Tuesday, the total of those against Sikhs went up by 200%, which, say community leaders, reflected only a small percentage of the actual crimes.
The number of hate crime incidents against Sikhs went up to 60 in 2018 from 20 in 2017, according to the FBI’s annual hate-crimes report. Hate crimes against Sikh were the third highest, at 4.3%, after those against Jews and Muslims, who were first and second largest with 56.9% and 14.6%.
Over the same period, the total number of reported hate crimes went down slightly — from 7.175 to 7,120.
Hate crimes against Sikhs have been rising, partly because they are mistaken for West Asians on account of their turban. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh American, became the first victim of the backlash that followed after the September 11 terrorists attacks in 2001. He was shot by a man on September 11 who wanted to kill “towel-heads” in retaliation. In 2013, a white supremacist killed six people at a Wisconsin gurdwara.
American Sikhs have reported widespread discrimination and targeting of members of the community, which is estimated to be around 500,000. And they believe the actual number of hate crimes against Sikhs is far higher.
“At the end of the day, this data simply isn’t giving us the accurate information we need to effectively counteract hate against targeted communities,” said Sim J. Singh of Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group.
The group cited an incident from 2017 that was not included in the data as proof of the under-reporting. “In 2017, a man shot more than a dozen rounds into a van of five Sikh men in Carson City, Nevada, wounding Harmandeep Singh Shergill. The attacker was convicted on four counts with a hate crime enhancement and sentenced to 34 years in prison; nonetheless, the assault does not appear in the FBI’s 2017 data as a hate crime,” it said in a statement.

Record cold follows early snowstorm over much of eastern US

MMNN:13 November 2019
Snow and cold records fell as an arctic air mass that started in Siberia spilled over a big chunk of the eastern half of the U.S., including the normally mild South, on Tuesday.
The mid-autumn taste of winter brought record single-digit temperatures to Chicago and environs; set snowfall records in Buffalo and Detroit; dusted cars with snow in Memphis, Tennessee; and froze lakes in Minnesota weeks earlier than usual.
Wisconsin farmer Bob Grove still has soybeans in the field, 20 miles south of Milwaukee, but said he can’t harvest them because the snow will clog the machinery.
“Normally, you don’t see this kind of weather to well into December,” Grove said. “It’s caught us off guard, as far as getting crops harvested. Doing what we can in between snow, rain, mud.”
The roughly 10 inches of snow in Buffalo and Detroit by Tuesday morning was a record depth for the time of year, weather service records show. Areas of Vermont and Maine saw similar totals as a wintry mix also closed or delayed hundreds of schools in northern New England.
“This is an air mass that’s more typical for the middle of January than mid-November,” National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Birk said in Chicago, where Tuesday morning’s low of 7 degrees (minus 13 Celsius) broke the previous record of 8 (minus 13 Celsius), set in 1986. “It is pretty much about the coldest we can be this time of year (and) it could break records all over the region.”

Imran Khan takes note of 'mishandling' Pakistan Citizen Portal app

MMNN:11 November 2019
Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan took notice of the mishandling, non-resolution or delayed response on the complaints registered on the Pakistan Citizen Portal, and directed all the ministries to form a dedicated committee to evaluate the performance of the concerned officers.
According to a letter issued to all ministries and divisions by the Prime Minister`s Office (PMO), a performance evaluation of few officers` dashboards was made which showed that the complaints were neither handled according to the instructions nor were they decided at an appropriate level, Geo News reported on Monday.
"It was evident from the quality of response to the citizens that the system was left in the hands of subordinates and majority of the decisions were made by them," it stated.
The dedicated committee will comprise of a joint secretary who will also be the chairman, administrative focal person of the ministry or division, technical focal person, focal person of attached departments and any co-opted member.
The committee will conduct a performance evaluation of the assigned or selected officers` dashboards, and identify the loopholes in the sample complaints handled, resolved, or dropped so far.
The body will identify the officers responsible for poor performance and also those doing the best.
Besides taking corrective measures in complaints identified with improper handling or resolution, the committee will also point out the success stories of the portal.
The ministries and divisions have been given 30 days to furnish the evaluation report.
The PMO pointed out that despite the stress on provision of proof to the citizens regarding the resolution, many resolved complaints were found devoid of it.
The complaints were dropped on wrong pleas and many others were decided at irrelevant or unauthorised level.
In the evaluation, it was also found that a citizen was told that he had been granted relief or partial relief but factual position was different besides the misleading statements made regarding the resolution.

'Leave now': Australians urged to evacuate as 'catastrophic' fires loom

MMNN:11 November 2019
SYDNEY: Authorities declared a state of emergency across a broad swath of Australia`s east coast on Monday, urging residents in high-risk areas to evacuate ahead of looming "catastrophic" fire conditions. Bushfires burning across New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland states have already killed three people and destroyed more than 150 homes. Officials expect adverse heat and wind conditions to peak at unprecedented levels on Tuesday.
Bushfires are a common and deadly threat in Australia’s hot, dry summers but the current severe outbreak, well before the summer peak, has caught many by surprise. "Everybody has to be on alert no matter where you are and everybody has to assume the worst and we cannot allow complacency to creep in," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
The country`s most populous city has been designated at "catastrophic fire danger" for Tuesday when temperatures as high as 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) are forecast to combine with powerful winds for potentially deadly conditions. It is the first time Sydney has been rated at that level since new fire danger ratings were introduced in 2009. Home to more than 5 million people, Sydney is ringed by large areas of bushland, much of which remains tinder-dry following little rain across the country`s east coast in recent months.
"Tomorrow is about protecting life, protecting property and ensuring everybody is safe as possible," Berejiklian said.
Lawmakers said the statewide state of emergency - giving firefighters broad powers to control government resources, force evacuations, closed roads and shut down utilities - would remain in place for seven days.
On Monday afternoon, the fire service authorised the use of the Standard Emergency Warning Signal, an alarm and verbal warning that will be played on radio and television stations every hour. NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons urged people to evacuate before conditions worsened, warning that new fires can begin up to 20km (12 miles) ahead of established fires.
"Relocate while things are calm without the pressure or anxiety of fires bearing down the back door," he said. Authorities stressed that even fireproofed homes will not be able to withstand catastrophic conditions, which Fitzsimmons described as "when lives are lost, it`s where people die".
More than 100 schools will be closed on Tuesday. On Monday afternoon, rescue services were moving large animals from high-risk areas, while health officials warned that air quality across NSW will worsen as winds blow smoke from the current mid-north coast bushfires south. The fires have already had a devastating impact on Australia`s wildlife, with about 350 koalas feared dead in a major habitat.
Australia`s worst bushfires on record destroyed thousands of homes in Victoria in February 2009, killing 173 people and injuring 414 on a day the media dubbed "Black Saturday". The current fires, however, come weeks ahead of the southern hemisphere summer, sharpening attention on the policies of Australia`s conservative government to address climate change. Environmental activists and opposition lawmakers have used the fires to call on Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a supporter of the coal industry, to strengthen the country`s emissions targets.
Morrison declined to answer questions about whether the fires were linked to climate change when he visited fire-hit areas in the north of NSW over the weekend. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack on Monday accused climate activists of politicising a tragedy at the expense of people in the danger zones. "What we are doing is taking real and meaningful action to reduce global emissions without shutting down all our industries," McCormack told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
"They don`t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time when they`re trying to save their homes."

Bolivia's President Evo Morales resigns after protests, lashes out at 'coup'

MMNN:11 November 2019
LA PAZ: Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Sunday he would resign to ease violence that has gripped the South American nation since a disputed election last month, but he stoked fears of further unrest by saying he was the victim of a "coup" and faced arrest. Video footage showed clashes on the streets of La Paz and some buildings on fire Sunday night after the military had called on Morales to step down and allies had deserted him following weeks of protests since the Oct. 20 election.
Morales, in power for nearly 14 years, said in televised comments earlier that he would submit his resignation letter to help restore stability, though he aimed barbs at what he called a "civic coup" and later said police planned to arrest him. "I am resigning, sending my letter of resignation to the Legislative Assembly," Morales said, adding that it was his "obligation as indigenous president and president of all Bolivians to seek peace." However, underscoring the ongoing tensions, Morales later said on Twitter that the police had an "illegal" warrant for his arrest and that "violent groups" had attacked his home.
The commander of Bolivia`s police force said in a television interview that there was no warrant for Morales` arrest. The departure of Morales, a leftist icon and the last survivor of Latin America`s "pink tide" of two decades ago, is likely to send shockwaves across the region at a time when left-leaning leaders have returned to power in Mexico and Argentina. Vice President Álvaro García Linera also resigned.
Some of Morales` leftist allies in Latin America decried the turn of events as a "coup," including Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Argentine President-elect Alberto Fernandez. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said his country would offer Morales asylum if he sought it. Bolivia under Morales had one of the region`s strongest economic growth rates and its poverty rate was cut in half, though his determination to cling to power and seek a fourth term alienated many allies, even among indigenous communities.
Pressure had been ramping up on Morales since he was declared the winner of the Oct. 20 election. General Williams Kaliman, the head of Bolivia`s armed forces, on Sunday said the military had asked Morales to step down to help restore peace and stability after weeks of protests over the vote. Kaliman added that the military was calling on the Bolivian people to refrain from violence and disorder.
Earlier on Sunday, Morales had agreed to hold new elections after a report from the Organization of American States (OAS), which conducted an audit of the Oct. 20 vote, revealed serious irregularities. The OAS report said that election should be annulled after it had found "clear manipulations" of the voting system that called into question Morales` win, with a lead of just over 10 points over main rival Carlos Mesa.
The resignations of Morales and his vice president meant it was not initially clear who would take the helm of the country pending the results of new elections. According to Bolivian law, in the absence of the president and vice president, the head of the Senate would normally take over provisionally. However, Senate President Adriana Salvatierra also stepped down late on Sunday.
Legislators were expected to meet to agree on an interim commission or legislator who would have temporary administrative control of the country, according to a constitutional lawyer who spoke to Reuters. Morales, speaking at an earlier news conference, had tried to placate critics with a pledge to replace the electoral tribunal for the new vote, though his opponents - already angry that he ran in defiance of term limits - were not assuaged.
The election standoff has dented the image of Morales - who has helmed Bolivia through a period of relative stability and economic growth - and hit the landlocked nation`s economy. His "legacy will be compromised and the region will suffer another impact with consequences well beyond Bolivia," said Juan Cruz Diaz, managing director of risk advisory Cefeidas Group, referring to Argentina, Chile, Peru, Paraguay and Brazil.
Luis Fernando Camacho, a civic leader from the eastern city of Santa Cruz who has become a symbol of the opposition, said the OAS report on Sunday clearly demonstrated election fraud. He had reiterated his call for Morales to resign. "Today we won a battle," Camacho told a crowd of cheering supporters in the capital before Morales` resignation, though he added more time was needed to repair the constitutional order and democracy. "Only when we can be sure that democracy is solid, then will we go back home." U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had also welcomed the call for a new vote to "ensure free and fair elections."
As the fall-out from the audit report swept across Bolivia, Morales` support crumbled on Sunday. Several of his allies resigned, including Mining Minister Cesar Navarro and Chamber of Deputies President Victor Borda, who belongs to Morales` party. They both cited fear for the safety of their families as the reason for stepping down.
Juan Carlos Huarachi, leader of the Bolivian Workers` Center, a powerful pro-government union, said Morales should stand down if that would help end recent violence. In recent days police forces were also seen joining anti-government protests, while the military said it would not "confront the people" over the issue.
The attorney general`s office also announced it had ordered an investigation with the aim of prosecuting the members of the electoral body and others responsible for the irregularities. Mesa had also said Morales and his vice president should not preside over the electoral process or be candidates. Morales, who came to power in 2006 as Bolivia`s first indigenous leader, had defended his election win but said he would adhere to the findings of the OAS audit.
"The manipulations to the computer systems are of such magnitude that they must be deeply investigated by the Bolivian State to get to the bottom of and assign responsibility in this serious case," the preliminary OAS report had said. Voting in a new election should take place as soon as conditions are in place to guarantee it being able to go ahead, including a newly composed electoral body, the OAS said. The OAS added that it was statistically unlikely that Morales had secured the 10-percentage-point margin of victory needed to win outright.

Paris climate accord ‘irreversible’, China, France jointly declare in Beijing

MMNN:6 November 2019
The Paris climate accord is “irreversible” President Xi Jinping and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron said in Beijing on Wednesday soon after Washington announced it was withdrawing from the deal.
Xi and Macron’s decision to put up a united front came in the backdrop of several leading powers expressing concern over President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the accord amid growing international concern on the worsening climate situation.
Xi and Macron reaffirmed “their firm support for the Paris accord which they consider as an irreversible process and a compass for strong action on climate,” in a joint statement.
Speaking at the Great Hall of the People, Macron said he “deplores the choices made by others” without naming any country or leader.
“But I want to look at them as marginal choices,” Macron said.
With the European Union, China, and Russia backing the pact, Macron was quoted as saying that “the isolated choice of one or another is not enough to change the course of the world. It only leads to marginalisation.”
Xi urged the international community to “jointly protect our homeland planet earth”, saying “we are against the attempt to place national interests above the common interests of humanity”.
China and France jointly issued a document titled “Beijing Call for Biodiversity Conservation and Climate Change” during the meeting.
It reaffirmed their “…strong commitments to enhance international cooperation on climate change to ensure full and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement…”
The document includes a commitment to restoring almost a third of degraded land as well as eliminating fossil fuel subsidies in the medium term.
Macron capped his second visit to China, which started in Shanghai on Monday, with a slew of deals and discussions on trade and the Iranian nuclear issue, with the French leader saying he also raised human rights issues with the Chinese president, the AFP news agency reported.
“The deals include an agreement to protect 200 European and Chinese agricultural products -- whose names are tied to their regions - against counterfeiting, from Champagne to Feta cheese and Panjin rice,” the report added.
Separately, Xi made a veiled reference to the US, which launched a trade war with China last year and has angered Beijing on various diplomatic issues.
“We advocate for mutual respect and equal treatment, and are opposed to the law of the jungle and acts of intimidation,” Xi said.
“We advocate for openness, inclusion and for mutually beneficial cooperation, and are opposed to protectionism and a zero-sum game,” Xi added.

Over 11,000 scientists around the world declare climate emergency

MMNN:6 November 2019
Forty years ago, scientists from 50 nations converged on Geneva to discuss what was then called the “CO2-climate problem.” At the time, with reliance on fossil fuels having helped trigger the 1979 oil crisis, they predicted global warming would eventually become a major environmental challenge.
The scientists got to work, setting forth proposals on how to attack the problem, setting the stage for the eventual creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s preeminent body of climate scientists. Their goal was to get ahead of the problem before it was too late. But after a fast start, the fossil fuel industry, politics and the prioritization of economic growth over planetary health slowed them down. Now, four decades later, a larger group of scientists is sounding another, much more urgent alarm.
More than 11,000 experts from around the world are calling for a critical addition to the main strategy of dumping fossil fuels for renewable energy: there needs to be far fewer humans on the planet.
“We declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories frown around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” the scientists wrote in a stark warning published Tuesday in the journal BioScience.
While warnings about the consequences of unchecked climate change have become so commonplace as to inure the average news consumer, this latest communique is exceptionally significant given the data that accompanies it.
When absorbed in sequence, the charts lay out a devastating trend for planetary health. From meat consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and ice loss to sea-level rise and extreme weather events, they lay out a grim portrait of 40 years of squandered opportunities.
The scientists make specific calls for policymakers to quickly implement systemic change to energy, food, and economic policies. But they go one step further, into the politically fraught territory of population control. It “must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity,” they write.
The problem is enormous, yet the signatories still manage to strike an upbeat tone. For all the lost chances, progress is being made, they contend.
“We are encouraged by a recent surge of concern,” the letter states. “Governmental bodies are making climate emergency declarations. Schoolchildren are striking. Ecocide lawsuits are proceeding in the courts. Grassroots citizen movements are demanding change, and many countries, states and provinces, cities, and businesses are responding.”
The report, however, comes one day after U.S. President Donald Trump began the formal procedure of withdrawing America from the Paris climate accord.

Trump Jr releases provocative book defending father

MMNN:6 November 2019
Donald Trump Jr. released a provocative book Tuesday that rails against his father’s opponents, as he admitted he had caught the political bug and may consider running for office in the future.
In “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence US,” the president’s eldest son lets rip at the usual suspects: Hillary Clinton, special counsel Robert Mueller and the mainstream media.
“This is the book that the leftist elites don’t want you to read!” screams a blurb on Amazon.
“If you love America and red meat, and you don’t care for political correctness... you’ve come to the right place,” adds the inside cover.
Trump Jr dedicates the 300-page part memoir, part polemic to “deplorables” -- a clear dig at Clinton who infamously used the term to describe Trump supporters during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The book, which details a heavy drinking youth, quickly rose to third on Amazon’s list of bestselling books after the president encouraged his 66.5 million Twitter followers to order a copy.
“A great new book that I highly recommend for ALL to read,” Trump tweeted on Monday.
Trump Jr regularly goes after the president’s enemies on social media and deploys predictably combative language in the book.
He calls Mueller, who investigated Russian meddling in the 2016 election, an “old over-the-hill puppet” and refers to “morons” in the House of Representatives and Senate.
Trump Jr, who manages the family’s business interests with his brother Eric in New York, also says he was “vaccinated” against socialism during visits to see his grandparents in the former Czechoslovakia.
He slams Bernie Sanders, a favorite of the left, and fellow Democratic 2020 candidate Joe Biden, who he says would be the “easiest candidate for my father to take apart.”
Trump Jr titles a chapter about the press “The Enemy of the People?”.
He also talks about partying too hard and giving up alcohol because he couldn’t drink in moderation.
“I began to realize that with my personality, drinking alcohol was a recipe for disaster,” he writes.
Trump Jr, 41, writes that he is addicted to Twitter and Facebook but accuses social networks of trying to censor him and other conservatives.
“This ‘shadow banning’ amounts to a complete suppression of freedom of speech. It can’t be allowed to continue,” he writes.
While Ivanka Trump was thought to be the most political of the president’s four adult children owing to her role as a White House advisor, Trump Jr hints that he may be tempted to run one day.
“Until my father announced that he was running for president, the idea of entering politics was about as remote as my becoming a vegan,” he writes.
While promoting the book on CBS Tuesday, Trump Jr. said he enjoyed campaigning.
“I’m interested in winning 2020 for my father right now. We’ll worry about everything else later, adding: “I don’t rule anything out.”
“Triggered” is published by Center Street, a known publisher of conservative books.
The president has published several books, most famously “Trump: The Art of the Deal” in 1987 which became a New York Times bestseller.

Maryam Nawaz gets bail in Chaudhry Sugar Mills case

MMNN:1 November 2019
Lahore: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday granted bail to PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz, who was arrested on August 8 in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills (CSM) case.
According to a Dawn report, a two-member bench of the high court, comprising Justice Ali Baqar Najafi and Justice Sardar Ahmad Naeem, announced the verdict. The legal representatives of Maryam and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) were present in the court.
The PML-N leader has been ordered to furnish two surety bonds, each worth Rs 10 million, and deposit an additional Rs 70 million and surrender her passport to secure her release, said the report.
"Since the prosecution has shown the bank statement of the [...] petitioner in which on 28.11.2011 [...] Rs 7 crore were withdrawn and the prosecution has apprehension of fleeing away of the petitioner, therefore, to satisfy our judicial conscience we would pass a conditional order," said the court`s written order, granting Maryam bail under under Article 199 of the Constitution.
PML-N supporters gathered outside the court celebrated the bench`s order while party President Shehbaz Sharif, welcomed the decision via a statement. He also appealed to supporters to not indulge in celebrations or distribute sweets and instead, pray for former premier Nawaz Sharif`s health.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman also welcomed the court`s verdict, adding, "Hope that the PPP leadership, including President Zardari who is in custody for questioning, will also be released soon. Keeping political opponents in jail with no wrong proven is bad news."

McDonald's ousts CEO Steve Easterbrook over consensual relationship with employee

MMNN:1 November 2019
McDonald`s Corp dismissed Chief Executive Steve Easterbrook over a recent consensual relationship with an employee, which the board determined violated company policy, the fast-food giant said on Sunday. The board found that Easterbrook, 52, who had led McDonald`s since 2015, had "demonstrated poor judgement" involving the relationship, McDonald`s said in a news release. Easterbrook relinquished his seat on the company`s board as well.
"This was a mistake," Easterbrook said of the relationship in an email to employees on Sunday released by the company. "Given the values of the company, I agree with the board that it is time for me to move on."
His departure was among the most significant in corporate America in the past several years over relationships deemed inappropriate.
Scrutiny of executives and their treatment of employees has intensified amid the #MeToo social media movement, which highlighted instances of sexual harassment in the workplace. In June 2018, Intel Corp CEO Brian Krzanich resigned after an investigation found he had a consensual relationship with an employee that breached company policy.
Chris Kempczinski, 51, most recently president of McDonald`s USA, was named the company`s new CEO, effective immediately. He also joined the McDonald`s board.
In his own message to employees, Kempczinski thanked Easterbrook for recruiting him to McDonald`s and said he expected the company to continue its customer-focused growth plan. McDonald`s Chairman Enrique Hernandez Jr. called Kempczinski "instrumental" in developing the company`s strategic plan.
Chicago-based McDonald`s, one of the world`s most recognizable brands, recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of its Happy Meal for children and is known for its family-friendly reputation.
The company did not provide further details on the circumstances surrounding Easterbrook`s departure. McDonald`s is expected to disclose financial information related to Easterbrook`s dismissal in a securities filing as soon as Monday, the company said.
The company named Joe Erlinger, who has been president of international operated markets, as president of McDonald`s USA, succeeding Kempczinski.
"While clearly a loss, McDonald`s maintains one of the deepest and longest-tenured management teams, which should help provide some stability through this unexpected transition," Raymond James analyst Brian Vaccaro said in a research note about Easterbrook`s exit.
McDonald`s shares roughly doubled during Easterbrook`s tenure. But the chain in October missed Wall Street profit estimates for the first time in two years as it spent money remodeling US restaurants and speeding up service to address declining customer visits.
Rival fast-food chains in the United States have challenged McDonald`s dominance with value meals and new menu items, including plant-based burgers and meat substitutes launched by rivals including Restaurant Brands International Inc’s Burger King and Yum Brands Inc’s KFC. McDonald’s is seen late in reintroducing chicken sandwiches and rival Wendys Co has started serving breakfast.
The remodeling of the company`s 14,000 US restaurants includes introducing digital ordering kiosks, mobile ordering and pay-and-pickup services, while partnering with app-based delivery services GrubHub Inc, Uber Eats and DoorDash.
Easterbrook turned around McDonald’s operations in the UK, where he was born, by refocusing on burgers and burnishing the brand with an ad campaign that sought to debunk unflattering rumours about its food.
A cricket enthusiast who earned a reputation among former UK colleagues for being funny, fair and a lover of simplicity, Easterbrook was also the rare McDonald’s CEO with experience running other restaurant chains.
Following the disclosure of Easterbrook`s ouster, a labour movement advocating for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and union rights on behalf of fast-food workers, alleged McDonald`s had failed to address a sexual harassment problem at the company.
"McDonald’s needs to sit down with worker-survivors and put them at the centre of any solution," the group, the Fight for $15 and a Union, said in a statement. "And the company needs to be completely transparent about Easterbrook`s firing and any other executive departures related to these issues.”
McDonald`s had no immediate comment on the group`s statement.
McDonald`s has faced allegations in the past year of condoning sexual harassment in the workplace and retaliating against employees who spoke up about it.
In September, scores of local government officials from 31 U.S. states pressured McDonald’s to do a better job of protecting workers from groping, obscene comments and other forms of sexual harassment, adding their voices to an employee-led campaign that has seen walkouts at several stores.
McDonald`s pointed then to an August announcement of a new training programme for safe workplaces supported by more than 2,000 franchisees. Kempczinski said at the time the company and franchisees "have a responsibility to take action on this issue and are committed to promoting positive change."

Hong Kong braces for protests as two critical after weekend clashes

MMNN:1 November 2019
HONG KONG: Two people were in critical condition in Hong Kong on Monday, police said, after a weekend of chaotic clashes with anti-government protesters, as China called for a "tougher" stance to end months of unrest that have roiled the Asian financial hub.
Riot police stormed several shopping malls on Sunday, including Cityplaza, packed with families and children in the eastern suburb of Taikoo Shing.
Protesters there had initially formed a human chain before facing off with police in skirmishes up and down escalators and spraying graffiti on a restaurant.
A man with a knife slashed several people and apparently bit off part of the ear of a politician. The wounded included a man believed to be the knife-wielder, whom protesters had beaten with sticks. Police gave no details of the two left in critical condition.
The pro-democracy protesters are campaigning against what they see as Chinese meddling with Hong Kong`s promised freedoms. China denies doing so and has blamed Western countries for stirring up trouble in the former British colony.
More demonstrations are planned this week as the protesters keep up pressure for demands such as an independent inquiry into police behaviour and for universal suffrage.
Protesters have circulated plans on social media to mark Guy Fawkes Day on Nov. 5 by putting on now banned face masks in areas around Hong Kong.
Many people taking to the streets in recent weeks have worn the white smiling Guy Fawkes masks, made popular by anti-establishment hackers and by the film "V for Vendetta".
The masks have also become common at protests globally including in Britain and across the United States.
Hong Kong`s embattled leader Carrie Lam last month invoked colonial era emergency powers for the first time in more than 50 years, banning face masks in a move to quell the protests.
Protesters have largely ignored the ruling and worn masks. The protests have divided society in Hong Kong, and undermined its economy, with the police coming in for particular scrutiny.
"Civil servants are ashamed of the crimes committed by the Hong Kong police force and the dictatorship of the Hong Kong government," said the Citizens` Press Conference, a pro-democracy group that plans a Monday night discussion on the clashes.
Chinese state media called for a "tougher line" against the protesters who vandalised state-run Xinhua news agency and other buildings, saying the violence damaged the city`s rule of law.
Protesters smashed up and torched Xinhua`s office on Saturday in some of the worst violence in weeks, setting fire to metro stations and vandalising buildings, including an outlet of US coffee chain Starbucks.
Mainland businesses, including banks or companies seen as supportive of China`s ruling Communist Party, have been targeted by protesters angered by China`s perceived undermining of Hong Kong`s freedoms since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Police condemned the "rioters` violent and vandalistic acts" and vowed measures to uphold public safety. Tear gas accidentally aimed at a fireman on Saturday had been intended to disperse rioters, the police said.
"There was misunderstanding in the verbal communication between both sides," they said on Monday, adding, "The matter was tackled and resolved at the scene."

Criticism over Uighurs not 'helpful' for trade talks: China warns US

MMNN:30 October 2019
UNITED NATIONS: The United States and 22 other countries at the United Nations pushed China on Tuesday to stop detaining ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims, prompting China`s UN envoy to warn it was not "helpful" for trade talks between Beijing and Washington.
China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in remote Xinjiang that it describes as "vocational training centers" to stamp out extremism and give people new skills. The United Nations says at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained.
"It`s hard to imagine that on the one hand you are trying to seek to have a trade deal, on the other hand you are making use of any issues, especially human rights issues, to blame the others," China`s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters.
He said there was "progress" in the trade talks. But he said of the US criticism of China at the United Nations: "I do not think its helpful for having a good solution to the issue of trade talks."
US and Chinese negotiators are working to complete the text of an interim trade agreement for U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to sign at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Chile on November 16-17.
A US administration official said on Tuesday it might not be completed in time for signing in Chile, but that does not mean the accord is falling apart.
When asked if the statement criticizing China could affect trade talks, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said: "I would be standing here regardless if it was China or wherever it is, wherever there are human rights abuses we would be here in defense of those that are suffering."
Britain`s UN Ambassador Karen Pierce delivered a joint statement to the 193-member U.N. General Assembly`s human rights committee on behalf of 23 states including the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.
"We call on the Chinese government to uphold its national laws and international obligations and commitments to respect human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, in Xinjiang and across China," Pierce said.
The group of states pushed China to urgently implement recommendations by independent UN experts on the situation in Xinjiang, "including by refraining from the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and members of other Muslim communities." They also called on countries not to send refugees or asylum seekers back if they could face persecution, Pierce said.
Zhang described the accusations against Beijing as baseless and a "gross interference in China`s internal affairs and deliberate provocation." Separately, Belarus U.N. Ambassador Valentin Rybakov addressed the General Assembly rights committee on behalf of 54 countries, including China, Pakistan, Russia, Egypt, Bolivia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Serbia.
He praised Beijing`s respect and protection of rights while dealing with counterterrorism and deradicalization in Xinjiang and its commitment to openness and transparency by inviting diplomats, journalists and officials to the region.
"Now safety and security have returned to Xinjiang and fundamental human rights of people of all ethnic groups there are safeguarded," Rybakov said. "We commend China`s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights."
The statements follow a similar move at the U.N. Human Rights Council in July when 22 states - including the United States and Britain - wrote a letter calling on China to halt its mass detentions. In response, Saudi Arabia, Russia and more than 30 other countries wrote a rival letter that commended China`s rights record.
Asked by Reuters last month if U.S. criticism of China`s policies on Xinjiang and Hong Kong political protests could affect trade talks, China`s state councillor and foreign minister, Wang Yi, said: "We hope trade talks can have a loose and good foreign environment."
China dislikes public criticism and met some foreign envoys before the latest session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, which began last month. Chinese human rights academics also defended Beijing`s policies in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong during a briefing with reporters at China`s U.N. mission in New York last week.
The United States led more than 30 countries at an event on the sidelines of the annual U.N. gathering of world leaders last month in condemning what it called China`s "horrific campaign of repression" against Muslims in Xinjiang. China denounced the event.

Pakistan's Azadi March to reach Islamabad on October 31, over one lakh people to join

MMNN:30 October 2019
Islamabad: Azadi March, the massive country-wide protest by Pakistan's opposition parties against Prime Minister Imran Khan, will reach the country's capital Islamabad on Thursday. According to a Geo news report, Azadi March will be attended by around 1 lakh protestors along with the opposition party leaders in Islamabad.
Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League (N), Awami National Party (ANP) and other smaller opposition parties are sup[porting the march started by Maulana Fazlur-Rehman, the leader of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).
According to the report, JUI-F core committee members have been asked to bring in at least 3,000 workers each from their respective cities to the capital to make it a major mass movement.
More than three dozen JUI-F Members of Parliament (provincial/national assembly/senate) have been assigned by the party's top leadership to mobilise sizable crowds from their constituencies for the Azadi March in Islamabad.
The Azadi March which began on October 27 from Karachi is likely to be one of the biggest protest surpassing the numbers of '2014 dharna' held against the then Pakistani government.
The Dawn newspaper reported that the Pakistan government was considering calling in the Army in Islamabad to stop the protest march. However, the government and the Opposition on Saturday settled the terms and conditions for the protest.
The protestors are seeking Imran Khan's resignation on the ground that the countries' economy has declined since the time he took over as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman also called him 'fake' in his address.
The Azadi March protestors reached Lahore on Wednesday where they were welcomed in the main camp set up at Thokar Niaz Baig.

Hong Kong braces for Halloween havoc as protesters target party district

MMNN:30 October 2019
HONG KONG: Hong Kong is bracing for a rowdy and possibly hugely dangerous Halloween on Thursday, when thousands of pro-democracy protesters, many wearing banned face masks, plan to combine with fancy-dress clubbers in the party district of Lan Kwai Fong. The protesters say they will march, without police permission, from a park in the Causeway Bay shopping district through the heaving bar streets of Wan Chai to the steep, narrow foothills of the Peak above Central.
Every weekend, the bars in Lan Kwai Fong spill on to the streets office goers, clubbers and expatriate families, even without the activists who have thrown petrol bombs at police, set fires and trashed buildings during five months of unrest. A stampede at midnight on New Year`s Eve in 1992, when thousands had gathered, killed at least 20 and wounded scores.
This month Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam banned protesters from wearing face masks under a resuscitated British colonial-era emergency law, but few have taken any notice. And Halloween masks have not been banned, which will make it difficult for police to identify protesters.
"Based on past experience, such unauthorised assembly will impose serious threat to public order and public safety," police said in a statement. "Members of the public should avoid travelling to the concerned area when public disorder occurs." Protesters are angry at what they see as Beijing`s increasing interference in Hong Kong, which returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula intended to guarantee freedoms not seen on the mainland. Some are increasingly focusing their fury on mainland Chinese in the city.
China denies meddling and has accused foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, of stirring up trouble. Lam said she expected negative economic growth in the Asian financial hub this year, in part as a result of the unrest. "The increasingly violent reality since June is hurting Hong Kong`s economy," Lam said in a speech on Wednesday. "...what started off as peaceful protests, a hallmark of Hong Kong`s rights and freedoms, have turned into violent acts by rioters."
With visitors deterred by months of violence, many small firms across the city have already closed or are struggling to turn a profit. Lam`s gloomy forecast came two days after Financial Secretary Paul Chan said Hong Kong had slipped into a technical recession, meaning two successive quarters of contraction. That is expected to be confirmed by Thursday`s third-quarter GDP data. The protests, which started over a now-withdrawn extradition bill, have plunged the city into its biggest crisis in decades and also pose the biggest populist challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

Brazil says it will no longer require visas from Chinese, Indian citizens

MMNN:25 October 2019
SAO PAULO: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Thursday the South American nation will drop its requirement that visiting Chinese and Indian tourists or businesspeople obtain visas.
Bolsonaro, a far-right politician, came to power at the beginning of the year and has made it a policy to reduce visa requirements from a number of developed countries. But the announcement, made during an official visit to China, is the first he has made expanding that policy to the developing world.
Earlier this year, the Brazilian government ended visa requirements for tourists and business people from the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia. Those countries, however, have not in return dropped their visa requirements for Brazilian citizens.

Postmortems to begin on 39 victims found in truck near London

MMNN:25 October 2019
GRAYS, England: British police were questioning the driver of a truck in which 39 people, believed to be Chinese nationals, were found dead this week as post-mortem examinations of some of the victims began on Friday.
The 25-year-old driver from Northern Ireland was arrested on suspicion of murder after the grim discovery of the bodies in the back of his refrigerated truck on an industrial estate near London in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
He has not been formally identified but a source familiar with the investigation said he was Mo Robinson from the Portadown area of the British province. Detectives will decide later whether to charge him with an offence, release him or ask a court for more time to quiz him.
Late on Thursday, British authorities moved 11 of the victims - 31 men and eight women - to a hospital mortuary from a secure location at docks near to the industrial estate in Grays about 20 miles (30 km) east of London where the bodies were found.
Police have said the process of identifying those who died would take some time while autopsies were carried out to determine how exactly they died.
"This is the largest investigation of its kind Essex Police has ever had to conduct and it is likely to take some considerable time to come to a conclusion," Essex Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington said.
His force has said their priority was ensuring respect and compassion for the victims. The Chinese Embassy in London said it had sent a team to Essex to meet with local police.
The focus of the police investigation is on the movement of the trailer prior to its arrival at Purfleet docks near Grays little more than an hour before the bodies were found and who was behind the suspected human trafficking.
Irish company Global Trailer Rentals said it owned the trailer and had rented it out on October 15. The firm said it was unaware of what it was to be used for.
The refrigeration unit had travelled to Britain from Zeebrugge in Belgium and the town`s chairman, Dirk de Fauw, said he believed the victims died in the trailer before it arrived there.
"We have a safe system with safety guards, we have cameras everywhere, we have policemen in the streets of Zeebrugge, in the dunes with horses," de Fauw, who is also mayor of the nearby city of Bruges, told Reuters Television.
The Times newspaper reported that GPS data showed the container had arrived at the Belgian port at 2.49 pm. local time on Tuesday before later making the 10-hour trip to Britain.
Police said the cab unit of the truck was driven over from Dublin on Sunday, entering Britain in North Wales. It picked up the trailer in Purfleet shortly after midnight on Wednesday.
For years, illegal immigrants have attempted to reach Britain stowed away in trucks, often from the European mainland. In 2000, 58 Chinese were found dead in a tomato truck at the port of Dover. They had travelled to Britain from Zeebrugge.
The National Crime Agency, which targets serious and organised crime, said it was helping the investigation and working urgently to identify any gangs involved.
The head of the Road Haulage Association said traffickers were "upping their game" and closer cooperation with European nations was needed, although that may be complicated by Britain`s potential exit from the European Union.

Donald Trump lifts sanctions on Turkey, says ceasefire in northern Syria now permanent

MMNN:25 October 2019
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday a ceasefire in northern Syria is now permanent and lifted sanctions on Turkey as a result, rejecting criticism of his decision to pull out US troops that allowed Kurdish allies to come under attack.
In a White House speech, Trump described the truce as a "major breakthrough" negotiated by a team led by Vice President Mike Pence. Trump said he instructed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to rescind sanctions imposed on Turkey after it attacked the Kurds "unless something happens that we are not happy with".
"Countless lives are now being saved as a result of our negotiation with Turkey, an outcome reached without spilling one drop of American blood: no injuries, nobody shot, nobody killed," Trump said. He said he may meet Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan soon.
The speech failed to blunt attacks from U.S. lawmakers over Trump`s abrupt decision early this month to withdraw troops out of northeastern Syria to clear the way for the Turkish incursion. Congress was still working on a sanctions package of its own to punish Turkey for its cross-border offensive.
Kurdish allies who helped the United States in its war against Islamic State militants felt abandoned by Trump, whose policy created an opening that Russia has capitalized on by moving forces into the area. The fate of Islamic State militants in Syrian Kurdish prisons also remained up in the air.
A senior Trump administration official, briefing reporters on a conference call, said while most ISIS (Islamic State) fighters remained under lock and key, it appeared that a small number had escaped from prisons. Turkey was responsible for rounding them up, he said. "We`re keeping a very close eye on the situation with the ISIS fighters," the official said.
The official also expressed wariness about Russia`s movement of forces into the area as part of an agreement with Turkey. There is no indication that Turkish forces have attacked local populations as feared by critics, the official said.
The controversy over Trump`s Syria pullout has contributed to a climate of chaos in Washington, where Democrats are seeking to remove Trump from office through impeachment over his attempts to get Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer took to the Senate floor to excoriate Trump.
"Three weeks after first announcing the troop withdrawal, the president does not seem to have a clear strategy for securing the enduring defeat of ISIS and fixing the mess he’s created in Syria," said Schumer.
Trump continued his drumbeat of criticism of past US efforts to keep American forces in the Middle East. The United States will "let someone else fight over this long, bloodstained sand," he said.

Hong Kong extradition bill withdrawn, but protests unlikely to end

MMNN:23 October 2019
Hong Kong Hong Kong’s legislature on Wednesday formally withdrew planned legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but the move was unlikely to end months of unrest as it met just one of five demands of pro-democracy protesters.
The rallying cry of the protesters, who have trashed public buildings in the Chinese-ruled city, set street fires and thrown petrol bombs at police, has been “five demands, not one less”, meaning the withdrawal of the bill make no difference.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had said many times the bill was as good as dead and said that other demands, including universal suffrage and an amnesty for all those charged with rioting, were beyond her control.
Protesters are also calling for her to stand down and for an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality during a long hot summer of running battles on the streets.
“There aren’t any big differences between suspension and withdrawal (of the extradition bill)... It’s too little, too late,” said 27-year-old protester Connie, hours before the bill was withdrawn. “There are still other demands the government needs to meet, especially the problem of police brutality.”
Police have responded to the violence with water cannon, tear gas, rubber bullets and several live rounds.
Protesters are angry at what they see as Beijing encroaching on the former British colony’s “one country, two systems” formula enshrined during the handover in 1997, which permits the city wide-ranging freedoms not available on the mainland such as an independent judiciary.
The extradition bill would have allowed defendants charged with serious crimes to be sent for trial abroad, including to Communist Party-controlled courts in China.
The bill was seen as the latest move by Beijing to erode those freedoms. China has denied these claims and accuses foreign countries of fomenting trouble.
A murder suspect whose case Lam had originally held up as showing the need for the extradition bill walked free on Wednesday as the city’s government squabbled with Taiwan over how to handle his potential voluntary surrender to authorities.
Chan Tong-kai, a Hong Kong citizen, was accused of murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan last year before fleeing back to the financial hub. Chan was arrested by Hong Kong police in March 2018 and authorities there were only able to find evidence against him for money laundering, for which he was sentenced to 29 months in prison.
Chan has offered to voluntarily surrender himself to Taiwan, but both Hong Kong and Taiwan have clashed over the next steps.
“There’s no such thing as surrender,” Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen told reporters. “There’s only arrest... We will continue to ask for legal assistance from the Hong Kong government, including providing related evidence and to ask the Hong Kong government not to evade the matter.”
Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee said Taiwan, which China claims as its own, was obstructing the case.
Speculation about Lam “wrong”
China, which views Taiwan as a renegade province, has offered the “one country, two systems” formula for it to unite with the mainland. Fiercely democratic Taiwan has rejected the offer with Tsai saying this month such an arrangement had set Hong Kong “on the edge of disorder”.
China, which has many times expressed confidence in Lam and her government to end the unrest, was drawing up a plan to replace her with an “interim” chief executive, the Financial Times reported, citing people briefed on the deliberations.
Lam has become a lightning rod for protests and another of the protesters’ demands has been for her to stand down.
The leading candidates to succeed Lam include Norman Chan, the former head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and Henry Tang, who has also served as the territory’s financial secretary and chief secretary for administration, the report said.
A spokesman said Tang did not comment on speculation and that he supported Lam as chief executive.
A senior official in Beijing said the FT story was wrong and none of the suggested candidates listed in the story could possibly take over from Lam based on the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution which came into force in 1997.
The law says that if the chief executive is unable to discharge his or her duties, such duties will be temporarily assumed by the Administrative Secretary, Financial Secretary or Secretary of Justice in that order, the official said. A new chief executive would be selected within six months, the law says.
But Beijing had prepared all kinds of contingency plans for different scenarios in Hong Kong, including Lam’s administration losing total control of the situation, the official said.
Over recent months, Beijing has set up a special team working from Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, to gather information and it acted as the major communication channel between Hong Kong and Beijing, according to two people familiar with the situation.
Lam’s office was authorised to talk to the team directly without going through Beijing’s Liaison Office, one of the people said.
The Liaison Office, the symbol of Chinese rule, was attacked and daubed with anti-China graffiti in July.
In September, in response to a Reuters report about a recording of Lam saying she would step down if she could, she said she had never asked the Chinese government to let her resign.

British police find 39 bodies in a truck container

MMNN:23 October 2019
LONDON: British police said they had arrested a man on suspicion of murder after the bodies of 39 people were found on Wednesday in a truck container at an industrial estate to the east of London.
Police said the truck was believed to have come from Bulgaria and to have entered Britain at Holyhead in Wales on Saturday. The driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, had been arrested, they said.
"We are in the process of identifying the victims, however, I anticipate that this could be a lengthy process," said Chief Superintendent Andrew Mariner.

157 dead in Iraq’s anti-government protests due to military’s excessive force: Reports

MMNN:23 October 2019
Baghdad : The death toll from week-long anti-government protests that erupted in the Iraqi capital and other cities at the start of the month totalled 157, an official inquiry found on Tuesday. Baghdad accounted for 111 of the dead, nearly all of whom were protesters, the inquiry found. Around 70 percent of the deaths were caused by bullet wounds “to the head or chest”, according to the findings, published as Iraq braces for fresh protests on Friday. The official toll included 149 civilians and eight members of the security forces killed between October 1 and 6, during protests in Baghdad and across southern provinces. Four security personnel were killed in Baghdad, where clashes initially centred around the iconic Tahrir Square after protesters rallied to demand jobs, services and an end to corruption. Later unrest in the capital culminated in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, which faced a bloody night of violence. Authorities formed a high commission of inquiry to investigate, after initially only acknowledging security forces used excessive force in just a few instances. In its report, the inquiry blamed some deaths on security forces, but also mentioned other “shooters”, without identifying them. From the start, authorities accused “unidentified snipers” posted on rooftops overlooking protesters and security forces for deaths. The inquiry also announced the dismissal of commanders across the security forces, including from the army, police, anti-terror, anti-riot, anti-crime, intelligence and national security units. The commanders were stationed in Baghdad and provinces south of the capital including Diwaniyah, Misan, Babylon, Wasit, Najaf and Dhi Qar. Their dismissal must be confirmed by Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, who faces public pressure ahead of the first anniversary of his cabinet on Friday, when fresh protests are expected. Human rights groups and Iraqis able to post on social media -- inaccessible without a virtual private network (VPN) application -- accuse security forces of responsibility for protester deaths: either by firing themselves or by failing to protect demonstrators from snipers.

Brexit day of reckoning: parliament to vote on Johnson's deal

MMNN:19 October 2019
LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson puts his last-minute Brexit deal to a vote in an extraordinary sitting of the British parliament on Saturday, a day of reckoning that could decide the course of the United Kingdom`s departure from the European Union.
More than three years since the United Kingdom voted 52-48 to be the first sovereign country to leave the European project, Johnson will try to win parliament`s approval for the divorce treaty he struck in Brussels on Thursday.
In a day of Brexit high drama, lawmakers convene for the first Saturday sitting since the 1982 Argentine invasion of the Falklands, while hundreds of thousands of people are due to march to parliament demanding another referendum.
Johnson depicted the vote in parliament as the last chance to secure an orderly Brexit. Though he is obliged by law to seek a Brexit delay if his deal falls, Johnson said the United Kingdom would still leave on Oct. 31. He didn`t explain how.
"There have been any number of false dawns. Deadlines for our departure have come and gone," Johnson, the face of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU, wrote in Britain`s best-selling newspaper, The Sun. "Today can be the day we get Brexit done."
The so-called "Super Saturday" Brexit extravaganza tops a frenetic week which saw Johnson confound his opponents by clinching a new Brexit deal only to find his Northern Irish allies oppose the deal he struck.
In a divided parliament where he has no majority and opponents are plotting maximum political damage ahead of an imminent election, Johnson must now win the support of 320 lawmakers to pass his deal through a booby-trapped legislature.
If he wins the vote, Johnson will go down in history as the leader who delivered a Brexit - for good or bad - that pulls the United Kingdom far out of the EU`s orbit. Should he fail, Johnson will face the humiliation of Brexit unravelling after repeatedly promising that he would get it done - "do or die" - by Oct. 31.
Parliament will sit from 0830 GMT on Saturday. Johnson will make a statement to lawmakers, after which there will be a debate and then votes on amendments and finally - if all goes according to the government`s plan - his deal.
Johnson won the top job by staking his career on getting Brexit done by the latest deadline of Oct. 31 after his predecessor, Theresa May, was forced to delay the departure date. Parliament rejected her deal three times, by margins of between 58 and 230 votes earlier this year.
He said Saturday`s vote was the last chance to get Brexit done with lawmakers facing the option of either approving the deal or propelling the United Kingdom to a disorderly no-deal exit that could divide the West, hurt global growth and trigger violence in Northern Ireland.
"Today we MPs (Members of Parliament) have the chance to free you from the never-ending Brexit saga and move this country forward," Johnson wrote. "In less than two weeks, on October 31, we would be out of the EU."
To win the vote, though, Johnson must persuade enough Brexit-supporting rebels in both his own Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party to back his deal. His Northern Irish allies and the three main opposition parties oppose it.
In a boost for Johnson, some influential hardline Brexit supporters such as Mark Francois and Iain Duncan Smith said they would support the deal. Yet Johnson must navigate a legislative jungle that his opponents are trying to booby trap with amendments that could wreck his path to Brexit.
One expelled Conservative lawmaker, Oliver Letwin, has proposed that the decision on whether to back a deal be deferred until all the legislation needed to implement the terms of the deal has been passed through parliament.
This proposal, which has cross-party support and even Johnson`s Northern Irish allies said they might back it, will be put to a vote at the end of Saturday`s debate if selected by Speaker John Bercow. If the amendment is approved by parliament, Johnson`s deal would not then be put to a vote on Saturday.
That would be a major setback that would leave Brexit, yet again, up in the air as hundreds of thousands of protesters rally outside the 800-year-old parliament in central London to demand another referendum.
The Letwin move, aimed at preventing the United Kingdom from somehow dropping out of the EU without a deal, would in effect force Johnson to delay Brexit until all the laws needed to leave have passed through parliament`s multi-stage approval process.
Even though Johnson believes this can be achieved by Oct. 31, others think it would need a short `technical` delay. A law passed by Johnson`s opponents obliges him to ask the EU for a Brexit delay until Jan. 31 2020 unless he has secured approval for his deal by the end of Saturday.
"My aim is to ensure that Boris’s deal succeeds," Letwin said. "But that we have an insurance policy which prevents the UK from crashing out on 31 October by mistake if something goes wrong during the passage of the implementing legislation. If Johnson`s deal is rejected, there may also be a vote on whether to leave without a deal and also whether to hold another referendum.

12 people killed in dam collapse in Russia's Krasnoyarsk

MMNN:19 October 2019
Moscow: At least 12 people were killed after a dam collapsed in Russia's Krasnoyarsk Territory, the country's Emergencies Ministry said on Saturday.
"Deaths of 12 people have been confirmed," the ministry said.
Earlier in the day, the regional branch of the Emergencies Ministry said that at 02:00 a. m. on Saturday (23:00 GMT on Friday), a dam on a water reservoir belonging to a gold-mining company collapsed near the settlement of Shchetinkino in the Kuraginsky district.
The incident resulted in two temporary employee dormitories being flooded.

Afghan special forces killed 16 Taliban, ISIS terrorists in operations

MMNN:19 October 2019
Kabul: The Afghan special forces have neutralised 16 Taliban and Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists in operations conducted in three provinces of Afghanistan in the past 24 hours, officials said on Saturday.
According to Khamma Press, the Special Forces also arrested eight Taliban terrorists during the operations.The forces launched separate operations in Nangarhar province, Wardak province and Kandahar province.
The cache of weapons was also destroyed during these offensives.The largest number of terrorists were killed in Achin district of Nangarhar province. The forces claimed to have killed 10 ISIS terrorists.
Meanwhile, in Wardak province, the Special Forces killed two Taliban terrorists, arrested six others in Jaghatu district.
Furthermore, Special Forces have killed four Taliban terrorists and arrested two others during an operation in Maiwand district.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson agrees 'great' new Brexit deal with EU

MMNN:17 October 2019
BRUSSELS: Britain clinched a last-minute Brexit deal with the European Union on Thursday, but still faced a challenge in getting it approved by parliament. "Where there is a will there is a deal - we have one. It`s a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is a testament to our commitment to find solutions," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a tweet a few hours before an EU summit in Brussels. He said he would recommend that leaders of the other 27 member states approve the deal.
"I believe it is high time to complete the divorce process and move on, as swiftly as possible, to the negotiation on the European Union`s future partnership with the United Kingdom," Juncker said in an attached letter.
Separately, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said "we have a great new Brexit deal". Johnson is hoping to get approval for the agreement in a vote at an extraordinary session of the British parliament on Saturday, to pave the way for an orderly departure on October 31. However, the Northern Irish party that Johnson needs to help ratify any agreement has refused to support the deal that was hammered out over weeks of negotiations.
The head of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said in Brussels he was "unhappy" with the deal and would vote against it. Lawmakers in his party said they had been told to vote for another referendum on Saturday.
Nevertheless, sterling surged more than 1% and British share prices rallied after the announcement that an agreement had been reached. Negotiators worked frantically this week to agree a draft compromise on the question of the Irish border, the most difficult part of Brexit, haggling over everything from customs checks to the thorny issue of consent from the Northern Irish administration.
The conundrum was how to prevent the frontier becoming a backdoor into the EU`s single market without erecting checkpoints that could undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement - which ended decades of conflict in the province.
The agreement reached will keep Northern Ireland in the UK customs area but tariffs will apply on goods crossing from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland if they are deemed to be headed further, to Ireland and the bloc`s single market.
However, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which supports Johnson`s government, said the text was not acceptable - a step that could spur hardline Brexiteers in his own Conservative party also to oppose ratification unless he secures additional changes.
"As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues, and there is a lack of clarity on VAT (value-added tax)," DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds said in a statement.
"We will continue to work with the Government to try and get a sensible deal that works for Northern Ireland and protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom." Johnson has no majority in the 650-seat parliament, and in practice needs 320 votes to get a deal ratified this Saturday - in what will be the first Saturday session since the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982. The DUP have 10 votes.
The British parliament defeated similar deals struck by Johnson`s predecessor, Theresa May, three times. "The ball again is in the British parliament`s court ... I hope it goes through this time," Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne said in Brussels. "I hope we are now at the end of this process. But there are still many doubts - for instance, inside the British parliament."
Johnson won the top job by pledging to renegotiate May`s agreement, though he is reviving the bulk of it now, with changes to the protocol on how to treat the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.
The uncertainty over parliament`s approval means that, two weeks before the latest date for the United Kingdom`s departure from the world`s largest trading bloc, the possible outcomes still range from an orderly departure to a chaotic exit or even another referendum that could reverse the entire endeavour.
It is unclear what Brexit will ultimately mean for the United Kingdom and the European project - built on the ruins of World War Two as a way to integrate economic power and thus end centuries of European bloodshed.
Johnson, who was the face of the campaign to leave the EU in Britain`s 2016 referendum, has repeatedly said he will not ask for a delay - even though parliament has passed a law to oblige him to do just that if it has not agreed and ratified a deal by Saturday.

1 Indian among 35 dead in Saudi Arabia bus crash

MMNN:17 October 2019
New Delhi: At least 10 Indians were travelling on the bus which crashed into a heavy vehicle near Medina in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. Thirty-five people - Arabs and Asian pilgrims - were killed in the accident, including one Indian.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said it has asked its mission in Jeddah to ascertain details of any Indians involved in the bus crash.
The mission spoke to the deceased's wife who is injured and is admitted to a hospital near Medina. Latest reports said that four people were left seriously wounded.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences to the families of those who were killed in the bus accident. "Anguished by the news of a bus crash near Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. Praying for a quick recovery of the injured," he tweeted.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar also expressed grief on the loss of lives. "Deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the tragic bus crash in Saudi Arabia earlier today," he said.
The accident happened after the private chartered bus collided with a heavy vehicle. Medina Police and local Saudi authorities were at the spot to take stock of the situation.
An investigation to find out how the accident happened has been launched.

Barack Obama tweets support for Canadian PM Justin Trudeau in re-election campaign

MMNN:17 October 2019
Former US President Barack Obama voiced his support on Wednesday for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who faces a tough battle for re-election next week.
"I was proud to work with Justin Trudeau as President," Obama said in a tweet. "He`s a hard-working, effective leader who takes on big issues like climate change. The world needs his progressive leadership now, and I hope our neighbours to the north support him for another term."
The two progressive leaders formed a close friendship that has remained a popular topic on social media since Obama, a Democrat, left the White House in January 2017. They were spotted having dinner together at an Ottawa restaurant earlier this year.
"Thanks my friend," Trudeau responded on Twitter. "We`re working hard to keep our progress going."
Trudeau was the first Canadian prime minister the United States honoured with a state dinner in almost two decades when Obama invited him and his wife to Washington in March 2016 after Trudeau won power the previous October.
Trudeau has had a rockier relationship with Obama`s Republican successor, Donald Trump.
Opinion polls strongly suggest Trudeau will lose his parliamentary majority in Monday`s election.
It is not the first time Obama has endorsed a foreign leader. He tweeted his support for Emmanuel Macron ahead of France`s 2017 presidential election.
The US Embassy in Ottawa declined to comment on the endorsement on the grounds that Obama is a private citizen.
The Conservatives and left-leaning New Democrats - the two main opposition parties contesting the election - did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Elections Canada, the country`s nonpartisan elections administrator, said Obama`s tweet did not contravene regulations on foreign interference.
"It`s free speech. The only issue would be if Mr Obama started to spend money on Mr. Trudeau`s campaign," spokesman Pierre Cadieux said by phone.
"A foreign citizen tweeting, or speaking at an event organised in Canada, does not by itself constitute an instance of undue foreign influence," he later clarified by email. "Whether expenses were incurred, who incurred them and for what reason would be among the factors that need to be considered before determining if undue foreign influence has taken place."

US President Donald Trump suspends entry of immigrants who cannot pay for healthcare

MMNN:5 October 2019
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Friday signed a proclamation suspending entry of immigrants who will not be covered by health insurance within 30 days of entering the United States or do not have the means to pay for their healthcare costs themselves.
The proclamation, issued by the White House, said it would not affect any individual`s eligibility for asylum or refugee status. The measure will take effect on Nov. 3, it said.
Trump has made cutting legal and illegal immigration a centerpiece of his presidency. The Trump administration said last month that it planned to allow only 18,000 refugees to resettle in the United States in the 2020 fiscal year, the lowest number in the history of the modern refugee program.
"While our healthcare system grapples with the challenges caused by uncompensated care, the United States Government is making the problem worse by admitting thousands of aliens who have not demonstrated any ability to pay for their healthcare costs," Trump said in the proclamation.
He said the suspension applied only to people seeking to enter the United States with an immigrant visa. The document listed the types of insurance considered approved, such as employer-sponsored plans and the Medicare program for the elderly.
But it said for people over the age of 18, coverage under the Medicaid program for the poor is not approved.

Hundreds return to Hong Kong streets as metro, shops shut after violence

MMNN:5 October 2019
HONG KONG: Hong Kong's metro system stayed shut on Saturday, paralysing transport in the Asian financial hub after a night of chaos in which police shot a teenage boy and pro-democracy protesters torched businesses and metro stations.
Friday`s protests across the Chinese-ruled city erupted hours after its embattled leader, Carrie Lam, invoked colonial-era emergency powers for the first time in more than 50 years to ban the face masks demonstrators use to hide their identities. The night`s "extreme violence" justified the use of the emergency law, Beijing-backed Lam said in a television address on Saturday.
"The radical behavior of rioters took Hong Kong through a very dark night, leaving society today half-paralyzed," she said in pre-recorded remarks.
"The extreme violence clearly illustrated that Hong Kong`s public safety is widely endangered. That`s the concrete reason that we had to invoke emergency law yesterday to introduce the anti-mask law."
But undeterred by the ban and transport shutdown, several hundred protesters, many wearing masks, took to the streets on Saturday, marching through the bustling central district of Causeway Bay, with more protests planned through the weekend.
"We’re not sure what is going to happen later, but we felt we had to get out and show our basic right to wear a mask," said one protester, Sue, 22, who wore a black mask and dark glasses.
"The government needs to learn it can’t squeeze Hong Kong people like this."The increasingly violent demonstrations that have roiled the city for four months began in opposition to a bill introduced in April that would have allowed extradition to mainland China, but they have since spiralled into a broader pro-democracy movement.
The unrest has plunged Hong Kong into its biggest political crisis since its handover from Britain to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that granted it autonomy and broad freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.
China`s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said on Friday the protests were evolving into a revolution backed by foreign forces and could not continue indefinitely.
MTR Corp said its network, which carries about 5 million passengers each day, would remain suspended, while shopping malls and supermarkets also closed, in a new blow for retailers and restaurants in a city on the edge of recession.
"As we are no longer in a position to provide safe and reliable service to passengers in the circumstances, the corporation had no choice but to make the decision to suspend the service of its entire network," it said in a statement.
Protesters had set fires at stations, as well as to an empty train, and injured two staff, added MTR, which is known for operating one of the world`s most efficient rail networks.
All stations closed late on Friday, stranding passengers and forcing many to walk home, a situation set to worsen during a holiday weekend in the city.
The airport express, one of the most popular routes to the airport, re-opened with restricted service on Saturday, MTR said.
More than a dozen shopping malls, supermarkets, and branches of Bank of China (Hong Kong), Bank of East Asia, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which have been targeted by protesters, said they would not open on Saturday.
The 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores said outlets would close at 5 pm.
The ban on face masks, which took effect on Saturday, was ordered under emergency laws allowing authorities to "make any regulations whatsoever" in what they deem to be the public interest.
But the move enraged protesters, who took to the streets to vent their anger, many wearing masks in defiance of the ban.
There were no immediate reports of arrests over the masks.
Demonstrators set fires, hurled petrol bombs at police and burned the Chinese national flag, in a direct challenge to authorities in Beijing.
Police said an officer in Yuen Long, a district in the outlying New Territories that saw fierce clashes in July, had fired a shot in self-defence after a protester threw a petrol bomb at him, setting him on fire.
Media said a 14-year-old boy was shot and the city’s Hospital Authority said his condition was now stable, but gave no details.
About 100 demonstrators besieged a branch of the Bank of China (Hong Kong) in the high-end shopping district of Causeway Bay, while across the harbour in the district of Kowloon, protesters smashed the glass store front of a China Life branch. Police fired volleys of tear gas to disperse protesters in flashpoint districts such as Causeway Bay, Sha Tin and Wong Tai Sin, underscoring the challenges they face as protests show no sign of letting up.
Hospital authorities said 31 people were hurt in Friday`s protests, two of them seriously.

Afghanistan slams Pakistan for hosting Taliban for talks, India says monitoring developments closely

MMNN:5 October 2019
New Delhi: Just last week, the world saw pictures of camaraderie and bonhomie between Taliban & Pakistan. However, Afghanistan has come hard on Islamabad for hosting the group.
Speaking to WION, President Ashraf Ghani's Spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi slammed Pakistan and said, "We don't know why these Taliban-Pakistan talks are happening!"
Explaining further, Sediq said, "The key to sustainable peace is in Afghanistan. This kind of hosting of the Taliban by Pakistan only emboldens them to continue and hold to their violence against the Afghan government."
Meanwhile, India is also "closely monitoring" the developments from Islamabad on the talks.
Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, in his weekly presser on Friday, said, "All sections of the Afghan government, including legitimately-elected government, should be part of the peace process."
He also added that "all processes should respect the constitutional legacy and political mandate," clearly highlighting the exclusion of government in Kabul will not be accepted by India in any Afghan peace process.
New Delhi also said, no "ungoverned spaces were terrorist and their proxies can operate and where they can create bases to target India" should form as the outcome of any talks.
India did not have ties with Afghanistan when it was under Taliban control in the late 1990s. Pakistan was among the very few countries to have ties with Taliban controlled Afghanistan of the 1990s. India saw its plane being hijacked - Indian Airlines Flight 814 and taken to Kandahar in 1999 by Pakistan-based terrorist.
New Delhi is engaging with the United States and Afghanistan both on the recent developments in the south Asian country.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met with the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad last week on the sidelines of United Nations General assembly (UNGA) in New York, the first meet since US President Donald Trump cancelled talks with Taliban.

Hong Kong police expect 'violent attack' on sensitive Chinese anniversary

MMNN:1 October 2019
HONG KONG - Police expect more violence on Hong Kong`s streets on Tuesday, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People`s Republic of China, after a chaotic weekend in which they fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters who set fires and threw petrol bombs.There will be a "very serious violent attack" on Tuesday, a superintendent of the police`s public relations branch, Tse Chun-chung, told a news conference on Monday.
Police said they arrested a total of 157 people, including 67 students, over the weekend and estimated nearly 100 petrol bombs were thrown. They said eight police officers were injured.
The Chinese territory is on edge on the eve of the anniversary, with authorities eager to avoid scenes that could embarrass the central government in Beijing. A huge clean-up was under way on Monday after roads, shops and buildings across the financial centre were daubed in graffiti, windows in government buildings smashed and parts of pavements uprooted by protesters during the weekend`s unrest.
Some underground stations were vandalised and streets strewn with debris from roadblocks and the charred remains of fires. Two prominent democracy activists, actor Gregory Wong and Ventus Lau, were arrested for their involvement in protests on Monday, according to a representative for the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the organiser of previous mass protests.
Hong Kong police did not immediately confirm the arrests.
CHRF said on Monday authorities had rejected a permit for a march planned for Tuesday from Victoria Park in the bustling tourist district of Causeway Bay to Chater Road, next to government headquarters, based on security concerns. Protestors are expected to proceed with demonstrations across Hong Kong regardless.
The city`s leader, Carrie Lam, the focus of the unrest, made a last-minute decision to mark the People`s Republic anniversary in Beijing. The embattled leader had sent out invitations "requesting the pleasure of your company" at a flag-raising ceremony and reception in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
Security was tight around the Convention Centre where the ceremony is due to take place, with roads closed and riot police on guard. A series of strikes are planned on Monday and multiple demonstrations are scheduled on Tuesday.
It was not clear whether Lam was summoned to Beijing due to the escalation in the violence on the weekend. The government said Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung would stand in for her at the anniversary ceremony. The unrest over the weekend saw some of the worst and most widespread violence in more than three months of anti-government demonstrations in the Asian financial hub.
The weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the start of the "Umbrella" protests - a series of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 that failed to wrestle concessions from Beijing. The latest clashes began in mid-afternoon on Sunday and continued late into the night, as thousands of masked protesters roamed the streets, facing off against riot police amid plumes of tear gas and raging fires.
Protesters are angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city`s affairs despite a promise of autonomy when British rule ended in 1997. The trigger for the protests was planned legislation, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, despite Hong Kong having its own much-respected independent judiciary. The protests have since broadened into calls for universal suffrage.
Police said an officer fired a warning shot after they were "surrounded and attacked by a large group of violent protesters" on Sunday. By early morning on Monday, all MTR metro stations on the city`s main island were open, but staff could be seen repairing damage and clearing debris from in and around the stations.
Workers at a Starbucks store targeted by protesters were shovelling broken glass into garbage bags and peeling anti-China posters off the walls. Starbucks stores in Hong Kong are run by the Maxim`s Group, which has drawn the ire of protesters after Annie Wu, the daughter of the founder, criticised the protests during an appearance at the United Nations earlier this month.
An Indonesian journalist was hit in the eye by a rubber bullet on Sunday and was hospitalised. The Indonesian Consulate confirmed that one of its citizens had been injured.

US House impeachment probe intensifies as Donald Trump rages about inquiry

MMNN:1 October 2019
WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives' impeachment probe into President Donald Trump intensified on Monday, as Trump raged about the inquiry and news reports suggested he had used additional diplomatic channels to go after his adversaries.
Three House committees said a subpoena for documents had been sent to Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The former New York mayor had said on television he asked the government of Ukraine to "target" former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Trump in the 2020 election.
Giuliani said in a tweet the subpoena raised legal issues including attorney-client privilege. "It will be given appropriate consideration," he added.
The Democratic-led House initiated an impeachment inquiry against Trump last week after a whistleblower report raised concerns that Trump tried to leverage nearly $400 million in US aid in exchange for investigating Biden from Ukraine`s leader in July.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took part in the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which the matter was discussed, the Wall Street Journal reported, something likely to draw the attention of House investigators.
The New York Times reported that Trump had sought the help of another world leader, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, with a US Justice Department probe into the origins of what became Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In a recent telephone call, Trump asked Morrison to assist Attorney General William Barr with the probe, which Trump hopes will discredit Mueller`s now-closed investigation, the Times reported.
"The Democrats clearly don`t want the truth to come out anymore as it might hurt them politically, but this call relates to a DOJ inquiry publicly announced months ago to uncover exactly what happened," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in response to the Times story.
An Australian government spokesperson said in an email: "The Australian Government has always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation. The PM confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the President."
Barr has held private meetings overseas with foreign intelligence officials in Britain and Italy to seek their assistance as well with that investigation, the Washington Post reported.
In the Giuliani document request, the chairmen of three House committees said he had "stated more recently that you are in possession of evidence - in the form of text messages, phone records, and other communications - indicating that you were not acting alone and that other Trump Administration officials may have been involved in this scheme."
He was given until October 15 to respond.

A September 26-30 Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll found that 45% of American adults believed Trump "should be impeached," compared with 37% in a similar poll that ran last week. Forty-one percent said Trump should not be impeached and 15% said they "don`t know."
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared on Monday to put to rest speculation he would use his position to derail any impeachment effort by the Democratic-led House by avoiding a trial at all. The Republicans control the Senate and have been largely muted about the allegations and inquiries into fellow-Republican Trump.
If the House approves bringing charges, known as "articles of impeachment," against a president, the process moves to the Senate, where there would be a trial.
"I would have no choice but to take it up," McConnell told CNBC. "Under the Senate rules, we are required to take it up if the House does go down that path. "The Senate impeachment rules are very clear."
Trump spent much of the day directing his ire at the Democrat leading the House inquiry, suggesting on Twitter that US Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, should be arrested for "treason."
Later, speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump accused Schiff of distorting his conversation with Zelenskiy at a House hearing last week.
"Adam Schiff made up a phone call and he read it to Congress and he read it to the people of the United States and it`s a disgrace," Trump said.
In those comments, Schiff said the call to Zelenskiy "reads like a classic organised crime shakedown" and parodied the president`s remarks.
A spokesman for Schiff did not respond to a request for comment on Trump`s remarks.
A US intelligence official filed a whistleblower complaint citing the July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
The whistleblower has not been publicly identified, but Trump said on Monday that "we`re trying to find out about a whistleblower. We have a whistleblower who reports things that were incorrect."
Trump has also accused the whistleblower and White House officials who gave the whistleblower information of being spies and suggested they may be guilty of treason.
"The Intel Community Whistleblower is entitled to anonymity," Andrew Bakaj, an attorney for the whistleblower, said on Twitter shortly after the president`s remarks. "Law and policy support this and the individual is not to be retaliated against. Doing so is a violation of federal law."
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday called on the committee`s Republican chairman, Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump, to convene hearings to investigate the administration`s handling of the whistleblower`s complaint, and said the panel should act to "protect witnesses from intimidation."
"This Committee should not sit idly by as the President threatens potential witnesses, whose testimony may be crucial to congressional investigations into credible allegations against him," the Democrats wrote in a letter to Graham.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants to move "expeditiously" on the impeachment inquiry, perhaps paving the way for an impeachment vote on the House floor early next year.
While McConnell said on Monday that he would be forced to hold a trial, he did not commit to letting it run its full course.
"How long you`re on it is a whole different matter," McConnell told CNBC.
According to a Senate Republican leadership aide, any senator could attempt to have the articles dismissed in the early stages of the trial, which would trigger a vote with a majority of the Senate needing to be in favour for it to succeed.
Democrats accuse Trump of pressuring a vulnerable US ally to get dirt on a rival for personal political gain. The phone call with Zelenskiy came after Trump froze nearly $400 million in aid intended to help Ukraine deal with an insurgency by Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country. The aid was later provided.
Schiff said on Sunday he expected the whistleblower to appear before the panel very soon.
The US Congress is on a two-week recess but members of the Intelligence Committee will return to Washington this week to carry out an investigation likely to produce new subpoenas for documents and other material.
The committee is scheduled to hold a closed-door hearing on Friday with the intelligence community`s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, who has concluded that the whistleblower complaint was of urgent concern and appeared credible.
House investigators are set to take the first witness testimony from two people mentioned in the whistleblower`s complaint.
On Wednesday, three House committees - Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight - are due to get a deposition from former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump labelled "bad news" during his call with Zelenskiy.
On Thursday, the committees are set to get a deposition from Kurt Volker, who resigned last week as Trump`s special representative for Ukraine after the whistleblower complaint named him as one of two US diplomats who followed up with Ukrainian officials a day after Trump`s call to Zelenskiy.

Pakistan envoy to UN Maleeha Lodhi replaced a day after Imran Khan ends New York visit

MMNN:1 October 2019
Delhi: A day after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan left New York following a week-long visit to the United Nation General Assembly (UNGA), Islamabad has announced that it has replaced its envoy to United Nations, Maleeha Lodhi. Munir Akram will replace Lodhi.
A statement from Pakistani foreign ministry said, "The Prime Minister has been pleased to make the following appointments.. Ambassador Munir Akram has been appointed as Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York, in place of Dr Maleeha Lodhi."
Imran Khan, who was supposed to leave New York on Friday, left the city on Saturday after the plane gifted by Saudis returned back due to technical issues.
In a tweet, Lodhi said, "It has been an honour to serve the country & am grateful for the opportunity to do so for over four years. Representing Pakistan at the world’s most important multilateral forum was a great privilege. I had planned to move on after UNGA following a successful visit by the PM."
Her tenure saw Maleeha using a picture to lead an attack on India at the United Nations which turned out to be fake news. In 2017, Lodhi showed a picture of a girl which she claimed was proof of actions against Kashmiris but it turned out to be an image of a Palestinian girl taken in Gaza by award-winning photographer Heidi Levine in 2014.
Earlier last week she tweeted a picture of bilateral meet between Khan and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson but called Johnson as "foreign minister". Earlier in 2019, she was heckled in New York for an event for not being able to deliver for Pakistan at UN.
She also tried to raise Kashmir at the United Nations security council after August 5 decision of New Delhi to remove a special status for Jammu and Kashmir but the attempt failed. She later addressed the media saying the voice of Kashmiris has been raised in the highest "diplomatic forum" but took no questions. Indian envoy Syed Akbaruddin not only took question but also responded to questions by Pakistani media.
He successor, Munir Akram, was Pakistani envoy to UN from 2002-2008 but was dismissed over disagreements with the then president of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari. In 2002 he was involved in violence against his partner Marijana Mihic but was not charged with the crime by Manhattan police due to his diplomatic immunity.
Fallouts have also been seen in Houston, Texas which saw the biggest diaspora event of Indian Americans-Howdy Modi last week in which 50,000 people participated. The event saw Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump sharing the stage and lauding contributions made by Indian Americans to the American society.
Abrar Hussain Hashmi has been appointed as the new Pakistani consul general in Houston, Texas. Aisha Farooqui the Pakistani consul general was removed by the Pakistani government when it was announced that the city will be hosting the biggest Indian diaspora event. Pakistan had dispatched federal minister Ali Amin Chandrapur to spearhead the protest while howdy Modi was underway.

Turkey's Erdogan says some of Khashoggi's killers enjoy 'impunity'

MMNN:30 September 2019
ISTANBUL: President Tayyip Erdogan insisted on Monday that Turkey will keep pushing for the truth behind the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year, saying some of his killers appeared to be evading justice.
A year after Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents sent from Riyadh, Erdogan said Turkey still wanted to know where his body was and who had authorised the operation - suggesting it was carried by agents of a "shadow state" in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia`s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an interview with US broadcaster CBS he had "absolutely not" ordered Khashoggi`s killing, although he bore responsibility as leader of his country.
Eleven Saudi suspects have been put on trial in secretive proceedings but only a few hearings have been held. A U.N. report has called for Prince Mohammed and other senior Saudi officials to be investigated. The CIA and some Western governments have said they believe the prince ordered the operation, an assertion Saudi officials have repeatedly denied.
Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, had become a prominent critic of the crown prince`s policies. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding. His body was dismembered and removed from the building, according to Turkish officials, and his remains have not been found.
In an article for the Post, Erdogan said the fact that the killers travelled on diplomatic passports and "turned a diplomatic building into a crime scene" set a dangerous precedent. "Perhaps more dangerous is the impunity that some of the killers seem to enjoy back in the kingdom," he wrote, adding that there was a near-complete lack of transparency on the court proceedings.
Erdogan said Turkey continued to see Saudi Arabia as a friend and ally, but that did not mean Ankara would remain silent. "The 15-member assassination squad that murdered Khashoggi inside Saudi Arabia`s consulate in Istanbul and chopped his body into pieces served the interests of a shadow state within the kingdom`s government," Erdogan said, without elaborating.

Saudi prince warns of 'unimaginable' oil prices if world fails to deter Iran

MMNN:30 September 2019
Washington: Saudi Arabia's crown prince warned in an interview broadcast on Sunday that oil prices could spike to "unimaginably high numbers" if the world does not come together to deter Iran, but said he would prefer a political solution to a military one.
Speaking to the CBS program "60 Minutes," Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom`s de facto ruler, also denied that he ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives nearly a year ago, but said he ultimately bears "full responsibility" as the leader of his country.
While Khashoggi's death sparked a global uproar and tarnished the crown prince`s reputation, the Trump administration`s tense standoff with Iran, Saudi Arabia`s arch-foe, has more recently dominated U.S. policy toward Riyadh, especially after the Sept. 14 attacks on the heartland of the Saudi oil industry.
"If the world does not take a strong and firm action to deter Iran, we will see further escalations that will threaten world interests," the crown prince said. "Oil supplies will be disrupted and oil prices will jump to unimaginably high numbers that we haven’t seen in our lifetimes."
The crown prince, in an interview conducted on Tuesday in Saudi Arabia, said he agreed with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the September 14 attacks, which damaged the world's biggest petroleum-processing facility and knocked out more than 5% of global oil supply, were an act of war by Iran.
But he said he preferred a peaceful resolution because a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran would collapse the global economy.
The United States, European powers and Saudi Arabia have blamed the attacks on Iran. Tehran has denied any involvement. Instead, the Iran-aligned Yemeni Houthi rebel group claimed responsibility.
"The political and peaceful solution is much better than the military one," he said.
The crown prince also said US President Donald Trump should meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to craft a new deal on Tehran`s nuclear program and influence across the Middle East.
Efforts to bring the two together last week at the United Nations General Assembly failed. Tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated over the U.S. withdrawal from an Iranian nuclear deal and its reinstatement of sanctions against Tehran.
Days before the anniversary of the killing of Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey, the crown prince said: "Absolutely not," when asked if he ordered the murder.
But he said he took full responsibility for the killing, "since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government."
"This was a mistake. And I must take all actions to avoid such a thing in the future," the crown prince said of the killing, which he called "heinous."
The CIA and some Western governments have said they believe he ordered it, but Saudi officials have repeatedly said he had no role.
After initial denials, the official Saudi narrative blamed the murder on rogue operatives. The public prosecutor said the then-deputy intelligence chief ordered the repatriation of Khashoggi, a royal insider who became an outspoken critic, but the lead negotiator ordered him killed after discussions for his return failed.
Asked how the killing could have happened without him knowing about it," the crown prince said: "Some think that I should know what 3 million people working for the Saudi government do daily? It`s impossible that the 3 million would send their daily reports to the leader or the second highest person in the Saudi government."
He insisted that "the investigations are being carried out, and once charges are proven against someone, regardless of their rank, it will be taken to court, no exception made." Eleven Saudi suspects have been put on trial in secretive proceedings but only a few hearings have been held. A U.N. report has called for Prince Mohammed and other senior Saudi officials to be investigated.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding. His body was dismembered and removed from the building, according to reports, and his remains have not been found.
Asked about criticism of the Saudis in the U.S. Congress over the Khashoggi killing and the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, which has taken a huge civilian toll, the crown prince said: "The (U.S.-Saudi) relationship is much larger than that."
Trump has resisted congressional efforts to block U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The crown prince also repeated a Saudi call for Iran to halt its support for Houthi forces in Yemen and said he was open to "all initiatives for a political solution" to end the war there.

Factory fire claims 19 lives in east China

MMNN:30 September 2019
Zhejiang: As many as 19 people were killed and three were injured in a fire which took place at a production facility in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang on Sunday.
The fire broke out at the consumer goods factory in Ninghai County under the administration of Ningbo district after 1 pm (local time), reported Sputnik.
Despite quick response of local emergency crews, the rescuers failed to avoid a big death toll, the local authorities added.The authorities have confirmed the death of at least 19 persons by Sunday night, adding that three more people were injured. Of the three, two suffered critical injuries, officials said.

The fresh force in China’s naval arsenal is an amphibious warship

MMNN:26 September 2019
China has launched its first amphibious assault ship capable of carrying helicopters. Experts described it as a new era for the rapidly evolving fighting capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
It was launched at PLA Navy’s military dockyard in Shanghai, days ahead of the October 1 military parade to be held in Beijing to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Reports said the new warship has an estimated displacement of 40,000 tonnes and a length of 250 metres.
Analysts told state media that this new type of warship – called the Type 075 – is a “vital tool if the Chinese mainland ever had to reunify the island of Taiwan by force”.
Taiwan is a self-government island-country to the south of the Chinese mainland, which Beijing considers a breakaway region.
“With a strong capacity in amphibious operations and performing a variety of tasks, the ship is independently developed by China. The ship will next undergo equipment debugging, mooring and navigational trials as planned,” the official news agency, Xinhua reported.
“The Type 075 will become an indispensable and fresh force in China’s modern naval warfare, especially for landing missions,” an unnamed military expert told the nationalistic tabloid, Global Times.
“It is the second complex warship built by China, after its aircraft carrier. The immense design, construction, and cost allow only a few countries, including France and Japan, to develop such a warship,” the expert added.
Many analysts see the Type 075 as a vital tool if the Chinese mainland ever had to reunify the island of Taiwan by force.
“If Taiwan secessionists cross the red line, the Type 075 could serve as a stern warning to them and foreign opposition forces,” an expert added.
President Xi Jinping’s sweeping plans to overhaul the PLA includes the rapid modernisation of the navy.
The PLA Navy has one aircraft carrier as of now but the second domestically built one is currently undergoing trials. Last November, official news agency Xinhua said China had launched work on the third carrier.
And, in April, state television showed pictures of the new destroyer Nanchang – part of a new fleet of the same—at the international fleet review held in Qingdao to celebrate the 70th year of the PLA Navy.

Fury as Boris Johnson goads MPs with language of war

MMNN:26 September 2019
Terming the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on Tuesday against the Boris Johnson government’s prorogation of parliament as “wrong”, UK prime minister Boris Johnson sparked fury on Wednesday night after he appeared to be goading opposition MPs with words and terms associated with conflict and war.
House of Commons speaker John Bercow joined calls for lowering the temperature and moderating language after Johnson took on opposition MPs seeking apology and humility in the face of the court’s ruling that his advice to Queen Elizabeth to prorogue parliament is “unlawful”. Johnson, instead, went on the offensive.
Using words such as “surrender”, “capitulation” and “humiliation” to describe the cross-party bill that became law to rule out a no-deal Brexit on October 31, Johnson faced accusations of encouraging a climate in which several MPs and family members on both sides of the Brexit argument have faced death threats.
Bercow said while opening the session on Thursday: “There is a widespread sense across the house, and beyond, that yesterday the house did itself no credit. There was an atmosphere in the chamber worse than any I’ve known in my 22 years in the house. On both sides passions were inflamed, angry words were uttered. The culture was toxic”.
Johnson prompted fury by appearing unrepentant and describing criticism of his language as “humbug”. Labour MP Paula Sheriff accused him of inciting hatred towards MPs: “People are really frightened and for him to treat it almost like a joke, was absolutely horrific and demeans the office of prime minister”.
She recalled the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016 by a far-right activist, adding that she feared that another MP could be killed and insisted she was not scaremongering: “We all need to reflect on our language and our behaviour. The bad behaviour is not exclusive to Conservative MPs.”
Conservative MP Simon Hoare added: “There needs to a change in the mood music emanating from Number 10 because as a Tory party we obey the rule of law and the fact that is in question in this place should bring shame on all of us”.
During angry exchanges, Johnson challenged the opposition to support a motion for another election or table a no-confidence motion in his government. Labour and other opposition parties insist the election should be called only after the Johnson government seeks an extension to the Brexit date beyond October 31 and the UK does not leave the EU without an agreement—economically considered the worst-case scenario.
Headlines in the British press reflected Wednesday’s uproar: ‘Johnson hits new low: Man with no shame’ (Daily Mirror), ‘Commons hits boiling point’ (The Times), ‘MPs’ fury as Johnson claims to speak for Britain on Brexit’ (The Guardian), ‘Defiant Johnson lays the ground for people v parliament election’ (Financial Times).

What’s next now that Nancy Pelosi has launched impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump

MMNN:26 September 2019
Now that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has launched an official impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, what’s next?
In some ways, the investigations of the Trump administration won’t look too different from those underway in the House, but now they’ll have a focus on the Ukraine situation and an urgency to act.
Pelosi embarked on the impeachment inquiry she had long resisted after an uproar from Democrats in Congress. It stemmed from a whistleblower’s complaint of Trump seeking help from the Ukraine president in digging up dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
The Ukraine probe will take on a central focus, in part because House Democrats see it as a glaring example of wrongdoing and because they worry the allegation could foreshadow potential election interference in 2020 that echoes the Russian meddling of 2016.
Here’s a look at the next steps:
Who’s in charge
Pelosi has assembled the six House committees that were investigating the Trump administration for months under a new impeachment umbrella. The House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is key because that panel would take the lead on drafting and considering any articles of impeachment that would be sent to the full House for a vote.
But the probe will also involve the work of other committees — Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, Intelligence, Oversight and Ways and Means — that have been looking into a range of Trump’s activities stemming from the president’s business dealings and administration, including former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference in 2016.
While the committee chairmen have great independence over their workflow, Pelosi also keeps a close watch on operations. On Wednesday, she called them a “Steering Committee,” and she’s expected to check in with them regularly at her second-floor office in the Capitol.
How long will this take?
The timeline remains a work in progress, but Pelosi told her colleagues she wants the House to “strike while the iron is hot.” She expects the inquiry to happen “expeditiously.”
That’s partly because Democrats believe, after months of trudging through the investigations of Trump, they have finally captured the public’s attention with the Ukraine case.
Some lawmakers say they expect votes on impeachment by year’s end, mindful of the coming 2020 elections. The first primary votes are scheduled in early February.
At the same time, lawmakers are set to leave town Friday for a two-week recess for the Jewish holy days, but some of the committees may continue to work even though Congress is not in session.
How does impeachment work?
Impeachment is a multistep process, different but not entirely set apart from the way a bill becomes a law.
It largely starts with the Judiciary Committee drafting articles of impeachment, which would be debated and voted on by the panel and recommended to the full House.
The House would then consider the issue before voting on whether to send it to the Senate for a trial. With the Senate in Republican control, it’s highly doubtful any action there would conclude with a conviction.
For many House Democrats who came to support launching the inquiry in light of the Ukraine situation, the final outcome is not nearly as important as simply taking on their oversight role. They want to put Congress on record at a time when the president is testing the system of checks and balances.
Before any of that gets underway, there will almost certainly be more hearings, subpoenas and lawsuits as the committees call witnesses to testify and seek documents and information from the administration and others involved.
The White House has largely stonewalled Congress for the first half of this year, since Democrats took control of the House, declining to turn over documents and refusing to allow administration employees to testify in many of the investigations.
That may be changing now that the impeachment inquiry has started. The White House on Wednesday publicly released a rough transcript of the president’s call with Ukraine’s president and sent to the House and Senate intelligence committees a classified copy of the whistleblower’s complaint.
What’s the issue here?
Democrats have been investigating Trump for months, but the Ukraine situation sparked new and deeper concerns about potential wrongdoing from the White House.
Trump has acknowledged he spoke with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, on July 25, the day after Mueller testified before Congress, bringing his two-year probe to an end.
The call started as a congratulatory note to the new president of the Eastern European ally but quickly turned to Trump’s desire for the Ukraine government to investigate Biden.
Trump has sought to implicate the former Democratic vice president and his son Hunter Biden in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Although the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.
In a rough transcript of the call released Wednesday by the administration, Trump tells Zelenskiy he would like the new president to “do us a favor.”
Trump has said he has done nothing wrong, characterizing the call as both “beautiful” and also “nothing.” Zelenskiy, standing alongside Trump at a press conference Wednesday at the United Nations, also suggested he didn’t want to get involved in U.S. politics, and “nobody pushed me.”
Pelosi and other Democrats in Congress say the transcript reads like a “shakedown” of a foreign leader by the American president.
A nod to history
Trump would join a rare group if the House moves forward toward impeachment. Only two presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Both won acquittal in the Senate.
Richard Nixon, who faced impeachment proceedings, resigned from office in 1974.

Canberra becomes Australia's first city to legalize recreational cannabis

MMNN:25 September 2019
Canberra: The possession and cultivation of marijuana for recreational purposes will be legal in the Australian Capital Territory, whose parliament on Wednesday became the country's first to pass a law to regulate its consumption and possession.
Residents over 18 will now be able to possess 50 grams of dry cannabis or 150 grams of wet cannabis under this law, proposed by Labor lawmaker Michael Petterson, reports Efe news. Each individual is also allowed to grow two plants, while every house can have a maximum of four plants. Cultivating cannabis plants hydroponically will remain prohibited.
Under the law - which was approved with 10 votes in favour and seven against - supplying or sharing cannabis will remain an offense, as will driving with detectable levels. The territory`s health minister is yet to sign off on the bill, which will not take effect until January 31, 2020 and be reviewed within every three years.
Legal experts warn that the legislation may clash with the country`s federal laws. The Law Society of the capital territory said earlier this week that police would still be able to charge someone with cannabis possession under federal law.
Australia`s federal government does not support legalizing the use of marijuana for recreational use although, in 2016, Canberra`s parliament approved the cultivation of cannabis for medical and scientific use. That same year, Victoria state legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, followed by New South Wales as well as other jurisdictions, with the exception of the Northern Territory and South Australia.
In neighbouring New Zealand, where the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes is allowed, a binding referendum will be held in 2020 on the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Major embarrassment for Congress as Pakistan PM Imran Khan quotes party on Kashmir

MMNN:25 September 2019
New Delhi: In a major embarrassment for Congress, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday quoted the grand old party while launching an attack at the Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre over the Kashmir issue.
"Even the Congress party in India has said that people have been shut inside for 50 days. No one knows what's happening to them (Kashmiris). God knows what is going to happen. The world community will be responsible," Imran said at a press conference in New York on the sidelines of the 74th United Nations General Assembly session.
Soon after Imran's statement made headlines, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel hit out at the Pakistan PM and said, "Inside the country, we'll strongly oppose Narendra Modi ji. But for matters outside the country, whatever decision the government takes, Congress will always support it and stand with the country," reported news agency ANI.
This is not the first time that Congress has been left red-faced with Pakistan's actions over Kashmir.
In August, Pakistan, in a written statement to the United Nations (UN), referred to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's remarks on Kashmir, falsely harping on "people dying" in Jammu & Kashmir.
Shireen Mazari, Minister for Human Rights in the Imran Khan cabinet, shared the letter with multiple UN officials, listing Pakistan's complaints since the abrogation of Article 370 about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan had also made reference to remarks made by former J&K chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

Police bus hit by bomb in Turkey, injuries reported

MMNN:25 September 2019
Instanbul: A bomb attack hit a bus carrying police in the southern Turkish province of Adana on Wednesday morning and some people were wounded, security sources said.
CNN Turk broadcast video of a badly damaged bus surrounded by debris and other damaged vehicles under a pedestrian overpass in the area of Yuregir in Adana. The sources said ambulances took the wounded to hospitals in the area.
Armed police sealed off the area and were examining the scene. It was not clear who might be behind the attack. Adana Governor Mahmut Demirtas was cited by state-owned Anadolu news agency as saying initial information indicated the wounded were not seriously hurt.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg meets Donald Trump, seeks to mend fences in Washington

MMNN:20 September 2019
WASHINGTON: Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg met with President Donald Trump on Thursday during a fence-mending visit to Washington where the chief executive faced aggressive questioning from lawmakers about the social network's failures to protect consumer privacy.
Trump posted a photo with Zuckerberg on Twitter and called their session a "nice meeting" in the Oval Office. Facebook said the tech executive "had a good, constructive meeting with President Trump at the White House today." Neither side disclosed specifics of their discussion.
Trump has castigated Facebook repeatedly, accusing it of being biased in favour of Democrats. The company has faced a barrage of other criticism over privacy lapses, election-related activity and its dominance in online advertising, giving rise to calls for more regulation and anti-trust investigations.
Wearing a suit and tie rather than his usual hoodie, Zuckerberg met on Thursday, the second day of the three-day visit, with Senators Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton and Mike Lee. He also had dinner with lawmakers, including Senator Richard Blumenthal, on Wednesday evening.
Zuckerberg took no questions from reporters as he moved from office to office on Capitol Hill. He will meet with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, on Friday and will meet with several high-ranking House Democrats.
After his meeting with the Facebook founder, Hawley, a tough critic, said that discussions had been "frank," often a euphemism for contentious. He urged Zuckerberg to sell Facebook's Instagram and WhatsApp units, which would limit how much information it could compile about an individual from different sources.
"I said to him, 'Prove that you're serious about data. Sell WhatsApp. And sell Instagram,'" Hawley told reporters. "Safe to say he was not receptive to those suggestions."
Hawley has accused Facebook of suppressing conservative speech including when it found this month that statements on the anti-abortion group Live Action's Facebook page were false and temporarily restricted access to it.
Hawley expressed exasperation with the CEO's acknowledgment that restricting access to the page had been an error. Urging Facebook to submit its content moderation process to an independent third-party audit, he said, "The company talks a lot. I'd like to see some action."
Despite the harsh words, Zuckerberg's trip appeared aimed at building bridges with Congress. While some lawmakers like Hawley were quick to upbraid the CEO, several senators praised Zuckerberg for taking extensive time to meet.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner told Fox Business Network, "Facebook leadership realizes that failure to have federal legislation (on internet issues) is actually going to hurt them and the whole platform industry in the long run."
Facebook has spent the last several years under fire for a string of lapses including inappropriately sharing information belonging to 87 million users with a now-defunct British political consultancy, triggering a $5 billion fine.
The company, which is an advertising powerhouse, faces antitrust investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and a number of state attorneys general, as well as numerous legislative proposals that seek to restrict how it operates.
It may also face an antitrust probe by the US Justice Department. Senator Lee was critical of what he saw as duplication in federal investigations in a hearing on Tuesday.

Tropical Storm Imelda rains kill 2, flood homes, snarl travel around Houston

MMNN:20 September 2019
HOUSTON: Tropical Storm Imelda dumped torrential rains over the Houston-area, killing at least two people, while rescuers in boats pulled hundreds from flooded cars, the airport temporarily halted flights and tens of thousands of people lost power.
Heavy rains had abated by Thursday evening, although flash flood watches remained in effect through Friday morning and rescuers were still working to reach stranded motorists and those trapped in homes late into the night as floodwaters were slow to drain off.
The National Hurricane Center said in a late Thursday bulletin that up to 45 inches of rain will have fallen in some areas by the time the storm blows off on Friday afternoon.
Ed Gonzalez, sheriff for Harris County, which includes Houston, confirmed the second death from the storm.
He tweeted on Thursday that he was at the scene where first-responders tried to save a man who had driven his white van headlong into deep waters.
"The water level was about 8` (8 feet) high," Gonzalez wrote, describing the incident. "The driver paused briefly, then accelerated into it the water, causing his van to go under."

'Storm' Area 51: Alien enthusiasts descend on Nevada desert near secretive US base

MMNN:20 September 2019
RACHEL, Nevada: UFO enthusiasts began descending on rural Nevada on Thursday near the secret US military installation known as Area 51, long rumoured to house government secrets about alien life, with local authorities hoping the visitors were coming in peace.
Some residents of Rachel, a remote desert town of 50 people a short distance from the military base, worried their community might be overwhelmed by unruly crowds turning out in response to a recent, viral social-media invitation to "storm" Area 51. The town, about 150 miles (240 km) north of Las Vegas, lacks a grocery store or even a gasoline station.
Dozens of visitors began arriving outside Rachel's only business - an extraterrestrial-themed motel and restaurant called the Little A'Le'Inn - parking themselves in cars, tents and campers. A fire truck was stationed nearby.`
One couple, Nicholas Bohen and Cayla McVey, both sporting UFO tattoos, travelled to Rachel from the Los Angeles suburb of Fullerton with enough food to last for a week of car-camping.
"It's evolved into a peaceful gathering, a sharing of life stories," McVey told Reuters, sizing up the crowd. "I think you are going to get a group of people that are prepared, respectful and they know what they getting themselves into."
Area 51 was shrouded in secrecy for decades, stoking conspiracy theories that it housed the remnants of a flying saucer and the bodies of its alien crew from the crash of an unidentified flying object in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. The US government did not confirm the base existed until 2013, when it released CIA archives saying the site was used to test top-secret spy planes.
The documents, however, did not end suspicion about space aliens there.
Rachel and its surroundings have long celebrated their place in UFO lore as a tourist draw. A 98-mile (158-km) road running through the area is dubbed the Extraterrestrial Highway, a purported hotbed of UFO sightings.
In June, California college student Matty Roberts posted a facetious Facebook invitation exhorting the public at large to run into Area 51 on foot to "see them aliens."
When more than 1 million people expressed interest, the U.S. Air Force admonished curiosity seekers not to breach the gates at the military base, which it said is still used to test combat aircraft and train personnel.
Roberts then teamed up with Connie West, co-owner of the Little A'Le'Inn, to plan a music festival in Rachel dubbed "Alienstock" to entertain the expected crowds.
In early September, however, Roberts disassociated himself from the Rachel event, saying it was poorly organised and he feared it could devolve into a public safety crisis. Instead, he helped stage an alternative Alienstock set to take place Thursday night in Las Vegas. Beer brand Bud Light signed on as a sponsor and designed limited-edition, green beer cans featuring alien heads.
West said the event in Rachel would go on as planned.
"It's happening. There was no stopping it," she said on Thursday, adding that some visitors had come from as far away as Australia and New Zealand. "I hope they just enjoy the party we are throwing."
About 40 miles (64 km) east of Rachel, the small town of Hiko planned an event called "Storm Area 51 Basecamp" at a gift shop dubbed the Alien Research Center. Organizers promised musicians, artists and "prominent ufologists," and by Thursday had sold 3,200 tickets, according to Linda Looney, manager of the shop.
"This whole thing has been a shock to this little community," she said, adding that organizers had hired 15 security guards and a private ambulance and ordered 80 portable toilets. "It's going to be really cool. I'm excited."
The influx of alien hunters prompted Lincoln County, which encompasses Rachel and Hiko, to draft an emergency declaration that could be invoked if needed to call in help from the state.
The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office said visitors should expect "a large presence of law enforcement." Authorities urged everyone to bring ample supplies of food, water and fuel.
Five sheriff's patrol cars were posted just outside the Area 51 gate, where a handful of people had come to take photos.
Despite a festive, peaceful mood back in town, the official Rachel website was decidedly unwelcoming.
"If any event still happens it is going to be a pretty sad affair with no bands, no food, very little infrastructure and a lot of unhappy campers," it said.

Suicide bomb in southern Afghanistan, kills at least 20

MMNN:19 September 2019
A powerful early morning suicide truck bomb devastated a hospital in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 90 others, an official said.
The Taliban took responsibility for the attack, which destroyed part of the hospital in Qalat, the capital of southern Zabul province, and left a fleet of ambulances broken and battered.
Residents, many of whom had come to see their sick family members, used shawls and blankets to carry the wounded inside the destroyed building, while authorities scrambled to take the worst of the wounded to hospitals in nearby Kandahar.
In the early hours after the explosion there were contradictory figures of the dead and wounded. The provincial governor’s spokesman Gul Islam Seyal put the death toll at 12 but said authorities were on the scene sifting through the debris. Atta Jan Haqbayan, head of the provincial council, put the death toll at 20.
The Taliban, who have been carrying out nearly daily attacks since peace talks with the United States collapsed earlier this month, said the target was a nearby government intelligence department building was the target.
Haqbayan said the wall of the National Security Department (NDS) building was damaged. He couldn’t say whether any personnel were among the casualties.

Donald Trump is biggest risk to world economy, says Philippine central bank governor’

MMNN:19 September 2019
What’s the biggest risk to the world economy today? It’s the US president, Philippine central bank governor Benjamin Diokno told a panel discussion in Singapore, with the audience bursting into laughter at his candid answer.
A former economics professor who took the helm of the central bank in March, Diokno said the US economy is growing due to the tax cut enacted under President Donald Trump, but the policy will exacerbate debt in the long run.
The Filipino central banker may have a reason for his quip: When the US sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold, as the saying goes. The US -China trade war -- with Trump objecting to many of the policies that have driven China’s rapid rise to become the world’s second-largest economy -- has rippled through emerging Asia and threatens to start a global recession.
“Whatever Trump does is really driving the markets. It affects everyone else,” said Michael Ricafort, an economist at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. in Manila.
Trumpian Tweet
Trump, who wants to see stronger US economic growth ahead of his re-election bid next year, has been outspoken in favoring more aggressive monetary-policy easing.
Last week he tweeted that the US Federal Reserve should cut rates to zero or less. On Wednesday, after the Fed lowered its benchmark interest rate for a second meeting in a row, cutting by a quarter-point to 1.75%-2%, Trump was unimpressed: “No ‘guts,’ no sense, no vision!” he tweeted.
Fed chief Jerome Powell has stressed the need for the US central bank to remain independent from government pressure. Analysts have described Wednesday’s move as a “hawkish cut,” emphasizing that the Fed essentially sees these moves as insurance for an economy that remains basically healthy. Three Fed members dissented from the decision to cut, suggesting an unusual amount of discord on the policy board.
Speaking on a panel at the Milken Institute Asia Summit in Singapore, Diokno said Trump’s pressure on Powell is “unfair” and governments should respect central bank independence.

Netanyahu fails to secure majority in tense election

MMNN:19 September 2019
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to win a ruling majority in an election that produced a virtual tie between his right-wing bloc and a centre-left grouping that would be led by former military chief Benny Gantz.
The outcome, according to almost complete results published on Wednesday, dealt a new blow to Israel’s longest-serving leader who was already weakened by the inability to put together an administration after an inconclusive election in April.
But with coalition-building again key to forming a government, it could be days or even weeks before it becomes clear whether the wily politician hailed by supporters as “King Bibi” has been dethroned after a decade in power.
With Israeli media reporting more than 90 percent of votes counted in Tuesday’s election, the bloc led by Netanyahu’s Likud party was more or less even with a likely grouping headed by Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party.
A Likud-led bloc looked poised to control 55 of parliament’s 120 seats, with 56 going to a centre-left alliance, numbers falling short of a majority government of 61 lawmakers.
A Likud spokesman said the leaders of right-wing factions met Netanyahu at the prime minister’s office on Wednesday and pledged to work with him to form the next government.
The ballot’s wildcard, former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, emerged as a likely kingmaker as head of the secular-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, projected to capture nine seats.
Lieberman has been pushing for a unity government comprised of the biggest parties. He declined to back Netanyahu’s bid to form a narrow right-wing and religious coalition after the April election, bringing about Tuesday’s unprecedented repeat vote.
Netanyahu, who made his close relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump a main selling point in his campaign, has made no claim of victory or concession of defeat, and he planned to address Likud party legislators later in the day.
Some of the party’s leaders issued nearly identical statements expressing their allegiance to Netanyahu.
“He remains party chairman and its candidate to continue as prime minister,” said Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz of Likud.
Netanyahu, 69, appeared fatigued and hoarse in a 3 a.m. election night speech to party faithful earlier on Wednesday in which he said he intended to form a “Zionist government”, without Arab parties that could lend support to Gantz.
Once the last votes are tallied, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will consult with leaders of parties that won parliamentary representation about whom to tap to try to form a government. The nominee would then have up to 42 days to do so.
Gantz has not ruled out a unity administration with Likud but has said Blue and White would not join such a government if it included Netanyahu, citing looming corruption charges against the prime minister, who has denied any wrongdoing.
In a further complication, Lieberman has rejected any alliance that includes ultra-Orthodox parties - Netanyahu’s traditional partners.
Lieberman, a Jewish settler and immigrant from the former Soviet Union, had focused his campaign on weakening the power rabbis and religious politicians have on everyday life in Israel, such as ultra-Orthodox control of the administration of marriage and divorce.
Campaigns run by Likud and Blue and White pointed to only narrow differences on many important issues: the regional struggle against Iran, the Palestinian conflict, relations with the United States and the economy.
An end to the Netanyahu era would be unlikely to bring about a significant change in policy on hotly disputed issues in the peace process with the Palestinians that collapsed five years ago.
Three corruption investigations and the Israeli attorney general’s announced intention to charge him with fraud and bribery have also chipped away at Netanyahu’s seeming invincibility.
Netanyahu can argue at a pre-trial hearing in October against indictment. But an election loss could leave him more at risk of prosecution in the graft cases, without the shield of parliamentary immunity that his current political allies had promised to seek for him.

Iran blames US, Saudi Arabia for conflict in region

MMNN:17 September 2019
DUBAI - President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday Iran did not want conflict in the region while Defence Minister Amir Hatami said Tehran had no involvement in the attacks on Saudi Arabia`s Aramco oil installations, media said.
Rouhani accused the United States and a Saudi-led military coalition of starting the four-year war in Yemen, according to Iranian news agencies. "We don`t want conflict in the region... Who started the conflict? Not the Yemenis. It was Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, America, certain European countries and the Zionist regime (Israel) which started the war in this region," Rouhani said in a video carried by Iran`s media.
Rouhani says Iran-aligned Houthis attacked Saudi oil facilities at the weekend as a "warning", after attacks on hospitals, schools and markets in Yemen which have been blamed on the Saudi-led coalition. "Rejecting comments about Iran`s role in the operation, (Hatami) said the issue is very clear: there has been a conflict between two countries (Yemen and Saudi Arabia)," the semi-official Tasnim news agency said.
Saudi Arabia said it would show evidence on Wednesday linking Tehran to the unprecedented attack on its oil industry that Washington believes originated from Iran. Yemen`s Houthi group, an ally of Iran, has claimed responsibility and said they used drones to assault state oil company Aramco`s sites. A US official told Reuters the strikes originated in southwestern Iran. Three officials said they involved cruise missiles and drones, indicating a higher degree of complexity and sophistication than initially thought.

Russia's Sukhoi Su-27s, Tupolev Tu-160s intercepted by Belgian, Danish, Polish F-16s, Finnish F/A-18C Hornet, Swedish JAS 39 Gripen over Baltic Sea

MMNN:17 September 2019
A large fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons (Vipers), F/A-18C Hornet and JAS 39 Gripen fighters were scrambled on Tuesday by the Belgian, Danish, Polish, Finnish and Swedish air forces to track and intercept two Russian Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack nuclear bombers and two Sukhoi Su-27 aircraft flying over the Baltic Sea. While the air forces of Belgium, Denmark and Poland sent their F-16s, Finland and Sweden called in their F/A-18C Hornet and JAS 39 Gripen for the mission.
The F-16s of the Belgian Air Force took off from Lithuania's Siauliai Air Base where they are currently based as part of NATO Baltic Air Patrol mission. It was the first time that Belgium had sent in its F-16s to intercept Russian military and combat aircraft ever since it started its Baltic Air Patrol mission on September 3, 2019, by basing four Fight Falcons which are also known as Vipers. Before Belgium, its was the turn of Hungary, Spain and the United Kingdom to provide their combat aircraft for NATO Baltic Air Patrol mission.
The Belgian Air Force also tweeted photos of its F-16s escorting the Russian Tu-160s. " #F16 of #NATO's #BAP mission intercepted two Russian #TU160 Blackjack and two Russian #SU27 Flanker above the Baltic Sea. It was the first scramble for the Belgian detachment which is safeguarding the Baltic airspace since the 3th of september. #WeareNATO," the first tweet read.
In the second tweet, the air force gave some information about the Tu-160s. "#DYK The Tupolev #TU160 Blackjack is a nuclear capable supersonic strategic bomber. It has a range of 12300 km and a maximum speed of twice the speed of sound. #NATO #BAP."
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Tupolev Tu-160s were on a routine patrol flight performing over the Baltic Sea when the fighter jets of above-mentioned five countries intercepted them at different locations. But the Tu-160s accompanied by two Su-27 fighters continued to perform their scheduled seven-hour flight over what Russia claimed was neutral water of the Baltic Sea.
United Kingdom's Royal Air Force, too, had been kept busy by the Russian combat aircraft while the former had deployed its Eurofighter Typhoon fighters as part of Operation AZOTIZE in Estonia in support of Baltic Air Policing. The Eurofighter Typhoons were launched at least 17 times during their deployment period to track and escort Russian bombers and fighters.

Israel elections: Netanyahu makes no victory claim; rival says he may have lost

MMNN:17 September 2019
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no victory claim or concession of defeat in a speech to his Likud party on Wednesday after exit polls showed no clear winner in an election race that was too close to call.
Netanyahu said he would await official results and said he would work toward establishing "a strong Zionist government" that would reflect the views of "many of the nation`s people."
Netanyahu`s main election challenger, centrist party chief Benny Gantz, said on Wednesday it appeared from exit polls that the Israeli leader was defeated but that only official results would tell.
Gantz, a former general, stopped short of an outright claim of victory. But beaming confidence, he told a rally of his Blue and White Party that it appeared "we fulfilled our mission", and he pledged to work towards formation of a national unity government.
Netanyahu, he said, apparently "did not succeed in his mission" to win a fifth term in a do-over election that followed an inconclusive national ballot in April. "We will await the actual results," Gantz said.
The prime minister, head of the right-wing Likud and Israel`s longest-serving leader, was due to deliver a "brief but important" address at its election headquarters at around 3 a.m. (0000 GMT).
Revised surveys, several hours after polls closed, by Israeli TV stations gave Likud 30 to 33 of parliament`s 120 seats, a slight drop from earlier forecasts, versus 32 to 34 for Blue and White.
Neither had enough support, at first glance, for a governing coalition of 61 legislators, and Netanyahu`s ally-turned-rival, former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, emerged as a likely kingmaker as head of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party.
"Netanyahu has lost, but Gantz hasn`t won," said Udi Segal, a prominent Israeli television news anchor.
The revised polls showed that without Yisrael Beitenu`s projected eight to nine seats, stalemate could ensue: Likud would have the support of only up to 55 legislators, down from 57 in the earlier exit polls, for a right-wing coalition. Blue and White could enlist the backing of no more than 59 for a centre-left government.
"We have only one option - a national, liberal, broad government comprising Israel Beitenu, Likud and Blue and White," said Lieberman, whose projected tally was double the result in April.
Coalition-building could be complicated: Lieberman has said he would not join an alliance that included ultra-Orthodox parties - Netanyahu`s traditional partners.
Gantz has ruled out participating in an administration with Netanyahu, if the Israeli leader is indicted on looming corruption charges.
Dubbed "King Bibi" by his supporters, Netanyahu, 69, had already been stung by his failure to form a government after the April poll.
Looming corruption charges - he has denied any wrongdoing - have also chipped away at Netanyahu`s seeming invincibility, 10 years into consecutive terms as prime minister marked by a sharp focus on security that resonated with voters.
"Unless that miraculous turnabout between the exit polls and the actual results happens - the Netanyahu magic has been broken," Anshel Pfeffer, author of a Netanyahu biography, wrote in the left-wing Haaretz daily.
Addressing supporters after the exit polls, Lieberman appealed to President Reuven Rivlin to invite Netanyahu and Gantz to meet as early as Friday, even before final results are in, to explore the formation of a national unity government.
The two main parties` campaigns pointed to only narrow differences on many important issues: the regional struggle against Iran, the Palestinian conflict, relations with the United States and the economy.
An end to the Netanyahu era would be unlikely to bring about a significant change in policy on hotly disputed issues in the peace process with the Palestinians that collapsed five years ago.
Netanyahu has announced his intention to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinians seek statehood.
But Blue and White has also said it would strengthen Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank, with the Jordan Valley as Israel`s "eastern security border".
As in the election five months ago, Netanyahu`s opponents, including Gantz, focussed on bribery and fraud allegations against the prime minister in three corruption cases.
Netanyahu is due to face a pre-trial hearing in October to argue against the charges being filed.
An election loss could leave him more at risk of prosecution, without the shield of parliamentary immunity that his political allies had promised to seek for him. There is no certainty they would stand by a weakened leader without an obvious public mandate in any coalition-building.
Netanyahu portrays Gantz, 60, as inexperienced and incapable of commanding respect from world leaders such as US President Donald Trump.
Before the last election, Trump gave Netanyahu a lift with US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. This time, the White House seems more preoccupied with Iran.
The Trump administration plans soon to release an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that may prove a dead letter: The Palestinians have rejected it in advance as biased. Netanyahu`s open door in Washington and other world capitals, at a combustible time on Israel`s borders with Syria, Gaza and Lebanon, remains a big draw domestically.
In the final hours of campaigning, Netanyahu strained every sinew, urging voters to support him to avert what he described as the "disaster" of a left-wing government.
His voice hoarse, the veteran leader took to the streets and social media, at one point using a megaphone in Jerusalem`s bus station, to appeal to voters to extend his unbroken decade in power.
In Gaza, Palestinians awaited the results of the vote.
"This election affects many things in our life," said Mohamad Abdul Hay Hasaneen, a janitor in the city of Khan Younis. "There might be limited escalations after the election, but I don’t think this would result in a full war."

Iran signs $440 million deal to develop gas field in tense Gulf

MMNN:14 September 2019
Two Iranian companies signed a $440 million agreement Saturday to develop a gas field in the sensitive Gulf, with the oil ministry saying it showed arch-foe the United States could not stop the country with sanctions.
Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said the deal reached between two government-owned firms, Pars Oil and Gas Company and PetroPars, to develop the Balal field would be the first of many.
Tensions have soared in the Gulf since last year when the US began reimposing sanctions on Iran after unilaterally withdrawing from a 2015 deal that put curbs on its nuclear programme.
“Signing this contract is ... the beginning of a process,” Zanganeh said, quoted by the oil ministry’s Shana website.
“This is a sign that we are still functioning with sanctions at their peak ... We are alive, we are active and working for Iran’s oil industry,” the Iranian minister said.
The sanctions, he added, “have not been able to stop the progress of Iranian oil industry and its development.”
“We don’t want to boast, but the United States cannot stop Iranian oil exports.”
The Balal gas field is located 90 kilometres south of Lavan island in the Gulf.
The deal aims to reach a production rate of 500 million cubic feet of gas per day over a 34-month period.

World’s largest oil processing facility in Saudi hit by drone strikes, Yemen rebels claim attacks

MMNN:14 September 2019
Drones claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked the world’s largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and a major oilfield operated by Saudi Aramco early Saturday, sparking a huge fire at a processor crucial to global energy supplies.
It wasn’t clear if there were any injuries in the attacks in Buqyaq and the Khurais oil field, nor what effect it would have on oil production in the kingdom. The attack also likely will heighten tensions further across the wider Persian Gulf amid a confrontation between the US and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers. The Houthis are backed by Tehran amid a years long Saudi-led war against them in Yemen.
Online videos apparently shot in Buqyaq included the sound of gunfire in the background. Smoke rose over the skyline and glowing flames could be seen a distance away at the Abqaiq oil processing facility. The Saudi-owned satellite news channel Al-Arabiya later aired a segment with a correspondent there as smoke from the blazes clearly rose behind.
The fires began after the sites were “targeted by drones,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. It said an investigation into the attack was underway.
In a short address aired by the Houthi’s Al-Masirah satellite news channel, military spokesman Yahia Sarie said the rebels launched 10 drones in their coordinated attack on the sites. He warned attacks by the rebels would only get worse if the war continues.
“The only option for the Saudi government is to stop attacking us,” Sarie said.
Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant, did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press. The kingdom hopes soon to offer a sliver of the company in an initial public offering.
Saudi Aramco describes its Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq as “the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world.”
The facility processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, then later transports onto transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Estimates suggest it can process up to 7 million barrels of crude oil a day.
The plant has been targeted in the past by militants. Al-Qaida-claimed suicide bombers tried but failed to attack the oil complex in February 2006.
The Khurais oil field is believed to produce over 1 million barrels of crude oil a day. It has estimated reserves of over 20 billion barrels of oil, according to Aramco.
There was no immediate impact on global oil prices as markets were closed for the weekend across the world. Benchmark Brent crude had been trading at just above $60 a barrel.
Buqyaq is some 330 kilometers (205 miles) northeast of the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
The Saudi-led coalition has been battling the rebels since March 2015. The Iranian-backed Houthis hold Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and other territory in the Arab world’s poorest country.
The war has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The violence has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine and killed more than 90,000 people since 2015, according to the US-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, which tracks the conflict.
Since the start of the Saudi-led war, Houthi rebels have been using drones in combat. The first appeared to be off-the-shelf, hobby-kit-style drones. Later, versions nearly identical to Iranian models turned up. Iran denies supplying the Houthis with weapons, although the UN, the West and Gulf Arab nations say Tehran does.
The rebels have flown drones into the radar arrays of Saudi Arabia’s Patriot missile batteries, according to Conflict Armament Research, disabling them and allowing the Houthis to fire ballistic missiles into the kingdom unchallenged. The Houthis launched drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia’s crucial East-West Pipeline in May as tensions heightened between Iran and the U.S. In August, Houthi drones struck Saudi Arabia’s Shaybah oil field, which produces some 1 million barrels of crude oil a day near its border with the United Arab Emirates.
UN investigators said the Houthis’ new UAV-X drone, found in recent months during the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, likely has a range of up to 1,500 kilometers (930 miles).
That puts the far reaches of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE in range.

Explosion at Indonesian police warehouse holding World War II ammunitions

MMNN:14 September 2019
An explosion went off on Saturday in an Indonesian police evidence warehouse containing munitions dating from World War Two, injuring one officer and prompting the evacuation of nearby residents, police said.
The warehouse is in the Mobile Police Brigade headquarters in Srondol, close to the city of Semarang in Central Java province.
The explosion happened at 7 a.m. (0000 GMT), provincial police chief A. Dahniel told Kompas TV, adding that the explosives stored in the warehouse had been found by residents.
The cause of the blast was being investigated and firefighters had been deployed to tackle a blaze that it triggered.
Japan occupied Indonesia, which was at the time the Dutch East Indies, from 1942 until 1945 during World War Two.

Hong Kong leader warns against interference, escalation of violence

MMNN:10 September 2019
Hong Kong: Interference by foreign parliaments in Hong Kong's affairs is deeply regrettable, the leader of the Chinese-ruled city said on Tuesday, adding that an escalation of violence cannot solve social issues in the Asian financial hub. The city's Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, was speaking after another weekend of sometimes violent clashes in the former British colony, with police firing tear gas in cat-and-mouse skirmishes with protesters who at times smashed windows and started fires in the streets.
"It's extremely inappropriate for foreign parliaments to interfere in HKSAR internal affairs in any way, and (we) will not allow (the United States) to become a stakeholder in HKSAR matters," Lam said, referring to Hong Kong by its status as a special administrative region of China.

During a rally at the US consulate on Sunday, thousands of demonstrators, some waving the American flag, called for help in bringing democracy to Hong Kong.
The protesters called for the US Congress to pass legislation that would require Washington to make an annual assessment of whether Hong Kong was sufficiently autonomous from mainland China to retain special US trade and economic benefits.
Hong Kong returned to Beijing in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.
But many Hong Kong residents fear Beijing is steadily eroding that autonomy.
China denies meddling in the city and Chinese officials have accused foreign forces of trying to hurt Beijing by creating chaos in Hong Kong. They have also warned outsiders to keep out of what they call an internal affair.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked about the protests in front of the US Consulate and Lam's call for foreign parliaments not to interfere, said Beijing was resolutely opposed to any foreign government interfering in China's affairs.
"We hope they can withdraw their black hands in Hong Kong as soon as possible," she said.
The initially peaceful protests have degenerated into encounters between baton-wielding riot police and activists, leading to scores of injuries and about 1,300 arrests.
The demonstrations have taken a toll on Hong Kong's economy, which is on the verge of its first recession in a decade. Hong Kong visitor arrivals plunged nearly 40% in August from a year earlier as tourists steered clear of the city.
Stephen Schwarz, head of sovereign ratings for the Asia-Pacific region at Fitch Ratings, said the agency's downgrade of Hong Kong last week reflected damage to the city's reputation as a place to do business.
"The downgrade reflects months of ongoing conflict environment which are testing the 'one country, two systems' framework and which have inflicted damage to the international perception of the quality and effectiveness of Hong Kong's governance and rule of law as well as the stability of its business environment," Schwarz said.
China expressed anger on Tuesday after German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met prominent Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, reiterating that no foreign country had a right to interfere in its internal affairs.
On Monday, former US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the anti-government protests were not an internal Chinese matter and the United States should offer at least moral support to the demonstrators.
After three months of unrest, Lam last week withdrew a controversial extradition bill that had triggered the unrest, but the gesture failed to appease many demonstrators.
Anger over the now-shelved extradition bill has triggered opposition to Beijing that had waned after 2014, when authorities faced down 79 days of pro-democracy protests in the central business district.
Now, three months of protests have evolved into a broader backlash against the government with demands for democracy re-emerging as a rallying cry. Lam called for dialogue.
"Escalation and continuation of violence cannot solve the issues faced by our society now," she told a news conference. "It will only deepen the conflict, contradiction, splits, and even hatred in society."
The protests, beamed live to the world since June, have prompted some of the city's powerful tycoons to appeal for calm.
In his first speech mentioning the unrest, billionaire Li Ka-shing urged political leaders to offer young people an olive branch, calling them "masters of our future", according to an online video of remarks to a small crowd during a monastery visit on Sunday.
Lam said her administration's actions, including the bill's formal withdrawal, were "not directly to stop these protests and violence".
"It is really to express my sincerity to start a dialogue with the people," she said.

Airstrikes hit Syria ceasefire zone: Monitor

MMNN:10 September 2019
Beirut: Airstrikes hit a part of northwest Syria for the first time since a ceasefire was declared 10 days ago, a war monitor and rebel group spokesman said on Tuesday.
Syrian government forces and their Russian allies unilaterally agreed on a truce on August 31 in opposition-controlled Idlib, where a "de-escalation zone" was brokered two years ago.
Since August 31 the intense airstrikes by Russian and Syrian warplanes that had accompanied a Syrian government push to re-take the area have stopped, although there has been ground fighting and shelling.
The United States said its forces had carried out strikes against an al-Qaeda facility in Idlib on the day the ceasefire came into effect.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, based in Britain, said planes had carried out two raids on in the strategic Jabal al-Akrad mountain range near the western Latakia coast.
It is not clear if these raids signal a return to the Russian and Syrian campaign of heavy airstrikes.
Mohammad Rashid, the spokesman for the Jaish al-Nasr rebel faction, said the two raids, which he said had been carried out by Russian planes, were the first since the ceasefire began.
The truce was the second declared in August in Idlib, the only major swathe of the country still in rebel hands after more than eight years of war. A ceasefire in early August collapsed three days in, after which the Russian-backed army pressed its offensive and gained ground.
Idlib province houses millions of people who have fled war elsewhere in Syria. Hundreds of civilians have been killed since an offensive to take the area began in April.
The dominant force in Idlib is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance formerly known as the Nusra Front, which cut ties to al Qaeda in 2016. However, a wide array of factions, including Turkey-backed rebels, also have a presence.

Typhoon Faxai: 17,000 stranded at Tokyo airport

MMNN:10 September 2019
Tokyo: About 17,000 passengers were left stranded at Tokyo`s Narita International Airport on Tuesday due to transit disruptions caused by the typhoon Faxai that hit the Japanese archipelago.
Faxai made landfall on Monday and wreaked havoc in the Chiba prefecture with a provisional toll of three dead and dozens of injured, as well as causing serious disruptions to public transportation, reports Efe news.
Narita, which is located in Chiba and is one of the two international airports serving Tokyo - along with Haneda - was particularly affected, as the main train and bus links to the city were suspended due to the effects of the typhoon.
Although more than a 100 flights had to be cancelled on Monday because of the typhoon, operations in Narita resumed gradually over the course of the day. However, upon arrival at the airport, thousands of passengers remained stuck there due to the lack of transportation to Tokyo.
One traveller told Efe news that his flight arrived on Monday in Narita at around 5.30 p.m. and after 12 hours of waiting at the airport, he was able to reach the Tokyo metropolitan area early on Tuesday.
According to data from the airport operator, there were still some 9,300 people stranded in Terminal 2, another 3,300 in Terminal 1 and close to 700 in Terminal 3.
Trains from Narita to Tokyo have resumed their operations in recent hours, allowing many passengers to travel to the city.
The terminal operator said the JR, Sky Access and collective bus lines were now operating normally and apologized for the inconvenience to the public.
The other international airport serving Tokyo, Haneda - located in the south of the greater metropolitan area - was not affected as much as Narita by the 15th typhoon of the season.

US cannot deceive anyone with its lies about Xinjiang, says China

MMNN:9 September 2019
China on Monday said US “lies” about the situation in remote Xinjiang will not deceive anyone after secretary of state Mike Pompeo said last week that Washington will “call out” Beijing at next week’s UN general assembly (UNGA) over how it is treating the minority Uyghur Muslims.
At least a million Muslims, mostly from the Uyghur community, are interred in camps across the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), the UN has said.
Beijing says the “camps” are vocational training institutes where inmates are taught livelihood skills and deradicalised; the government hasn’t said how many people were in the camps.
Beijing and Washington have engaged in a war of words over Xinjiang for months in the backdrop of escalating trade tensions and levying tit-for-tat trade tariffs.
On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying lashed out at Pompeo for his statement on the Uyghurs.
“We are strongly dissatisfied with and resolutely opposed to this U.S. officials’ neglecting of the facts, making irresponsible comments about China’s Xinjiang policy and seriously interfering in China’s internal affairs,” Hua said at the regular press conference.
She added that in essence there is no difference between what China is doing in Xinjiang and what many other countries have done in the name of fighting extremism and terrorism.
“The lies of U.S. politicians can’t deceive anyone,” she said.
Hua was responding to Pompeo’s statement last week that the US will “…do a number of gatherings, where our efforts will be to get other countries to sign up to help us call out this activity,” at the upcoming UNGA.
“We want freedom for those folks. We have lots of challenges with China, but this is about their fundamental unalienable rights for those particular individuals,” Pompeo was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Beijing is carrying out a sustained media campaign to deny reports that the Uyghurs were forced into the camps, separated from their families and denied fundamental rights.
“In order to effectively contain and systematically remedy the dissemination of religious extremism and frequent terrorist incidents, Xinjiang has set up vocational education and training centers in some prefectures and counties,” a government policy paper said in August.
“These centres are education and training institutions in nature. To meet the needs of fighting terrorism and extremism, these centers deliver a curriculum that includes standard spoken and written Chinese, understanding of the law, vocational skills, and deradicalisation,” the paper said.
No terror strikes were reported in Xinjiang since the camps were set up three years ago, the paper added.

US, Taliban keep open door to talks after summit scrapped

MMNN:9 September 2019
The United States and Afghanistan’s Taliban on Sunday both left the door open to fresh talks after President Donald Trump abruptly cancelled a secret summit, but the insurgents threatened to inflict greater costs.
Washington also said it would not relent in fighting the militants after Trump blamed the scuttling of the unprecedented meeting on a Taliban attack that killed a US soldier.
Trump said he had invited Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for talks Sunday at the Camp David presidential retreat on a draft deal that would see the United States withdraw thousands of troops and wind down its longest-ever war.
In a series of television interviews, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not rule out a return to talks but said the United States needed a “significant commitment” from the Taliban.
“I’m not pessimistic,” Pompeo told NBC. “I’ve watched the Taliban do things and say things they’ve not been permitted to do before.” “I hope it’s the case the Taliban will change their behaviour, will recommit to the things that we’ve been talking to them about for months,” he said on ABC.
“In the end, this will be resolved through a series of conversations,” he added, urging the Taliban to drop their long-running refusal to negotiate with Ghani’s internationally recognized government.
He said that Trump had not decided whether to go ahead with a withdrawal, which under the draft deal would pull 5,000 of the roughly 13,000 US troops from Afghanistan next year.
But Pompeo warned that the United States was “not going to reduce the pressure” on the Taliban, saying US forces had killed more than 1,000 insurgents in the past 10 days alone.
Veteran US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad had spent a year meeting with the Taliban, who said that Trump showed “neither experience nor patience.” “Americans will be harmed more than any other” by Trump’s decision, warned a statement by the group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
But he added that the Taliban still believed “that the American side will come back to this position” of talks that seek “the complete end of the occupation.” The office of Ghani, whose government is rejected by the Taliban as illegitimate, cautiously saluted the “sincere efforts of its allies” after Trump called off the summit.
The Afghan presidency in a statement also insisted that “real peace can only be achieved if the Taliban stop killing Afghans and accept a ceasefire, and face-to-face talks with the Afghan government.” Trump’s dramatic about-face came weeks ahead of Afghanistan’s presidential elections, raising fears that the Taliban will step up their campaign of violence to disrupt voting.
Trump relishes dramatic gestures, such as meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but the idea of inviting Taliban leaders to US soil still stunned Washington.
The would-be talks angered even some allies of Trump, who noted that the Taliban would be visiting three days before the 18th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which triggered the US invasion of Afghanistan.
“Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after Al-Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11. No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever,” tweeted Liz Cheney, a Republican congresswoman and daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney.
Considering Trump’s penchant for bombast, some questioned if the summit was even set to take place.
“I’m still looking for confirmation an actual, physical trip to Camp David was planned,” Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro told CNN, adding: “It’s very odd to invite a terrorist organization like that to Camp David.” Islamabad, meanwhile, urged both sides to “re-engage to find (a) negotiated peace from the ongoing political settlement process.” “Pakistan looks for optimized engagement following (the) earliest resumption of talks,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Afghanistan’s neighbour Iran -- which historically has opposed the Taliban and has tense relations with the United States -- said it was “gravely concerned.” Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, tweeted: “Defeated foreigners must leave and fratricide must end, especially as foreigners can exploit the situation, bringing renewed bloodshed.”

French President Macron apologizes to Albania on wrong anthem at soccer game

MMNN:9 September 2019
Albania’s prime minister says French President Emmanuel Macron has apologized to him after the wrong national anthem was played ahead of a European Championship qualifier between the two countries on Saturday.
Edi Rama tweeted Sunday that Macron expressed “his sincere apology for the scandalous gaffe of the French Football Federation with our National Flag anthem!” France won the Group H game in Paris 4-1.
Albanian players looked bemused — and fans angry — when Andorra’s anthem was played instead of Albania’s. Andorra is in the same qualifying group as France and Albania.
The start of the match was delayed for about 10 minutes, and the right anthem then played.
Another incident occurred when the stadium announcer mixed up Armenia — which is not in the same group — with Albania.

UK PM Boris Johnson’s brother quits amid Brexit row in parliament

MMNN:5 September 2019
Jo Johnson, brother of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and a minister, on Thursday resigned from his role as well as a Conservative MP because he is “torn between family loyalty and the national interest”, suggesting that he is opposed to his older brother’s Brexit policy.
Like his better known brother, Johnson, 47, is also a former journalist: he was posted in New Delhi as the Financial Times bureau chief from 2005 to 2008. He was the minister of state for universities, science research and innovation.
Johnson tweeted: “It’s been an honour to represent Orpington for 9 years & to serve as a minister under three PMs. In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest—it’s an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP & Minister”.
Prime Minister Johnson faced a bruising Thursday morning as the British press went to town with the theme that he has been ‘cornered’ after being defeated in several voting rounds in the House of Commons on Wednesday, losing control of the parliamentary agenda with a minority in the House.
He, however, pressed on with his challenge to the opposition to support his motion to trigger a mid-term election on October 15. But Labour has strategically held out on the ground that it would support it only after the bill prohibiting a no-deal Brexit is passed and gets royal assent.
The bill has been passed by the House of Commons and is now in the House of Lords, where it is likely to make it through on Monday and sent to Buckingham Palace for royal assent. Meanwhile, courts are hearing challenges to Johnson’s prorogation of parliament.

Scrapping bill ‘first step’ to easing unrest, says Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam

MMNN:5 September 2019
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her decision to scrap extradition legislation was only the “first step” to addressing the city’s unrest, but resisted protesters’ calls to immediately meet the rest of their demands.
Lam told a news conference Thursday that her decision to formally withdraw the controversial bill allowing extraditions to China and other moves would only be the “first step to break the deadlock in society.” The legislation sparked almost three months of historic protests and its withdrawal has been a key demand of demonstrators through increasingly violent clashes with police.
“It’s obvious to many of us the discontentment in society extends far beyond the bill,” Lam said, citing political, economic and social issues including housing and land supply. “We can discuss all these deep-seated issues in our dialogue platform to be established.”
Lam said the decision to scrap the bill was hers and not made in Beijing, although she added that Chinese authorities backed the move. “They supported me all the way,” she said.
Although withdrawal is the most significant concession Lam’s embattled administration has made, it’s unlikely to end the turmoil that has engulfed the Asian financial hub for months. The protests have since expanded well beyond the bill, and previous attempts by Lam to placate protesters have been met with suspicion and anger.
Pro-democracy activists and lawmakers dismissed Lam’s concession as “too little, too late” and still want their remaining major demands met, including an independent inquiry into aggressive police tactics and a push to nominate and elect their own leaders -- a proposal Beijing has ruled out. They predicted that protests would continue, with another “stress test” planned for transportation networks around the city’s airport planned for Saturday.
While investors reacted positively Wednesday, giving the local benchmark Hang Seng Index its biggest gain in 10 months, many analysts saw the jump as a temporary bounce for a market that has been battered in recent months. The MSCI Hong Kong Index slipped 0.7% as of midday Thursday in local trading.
Lam’s concession Wednesday came days after one of the worst weekends of violence Hong Kong has seen since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, as protesters hurled around 100 Molotov cocktails and set a massive roadblock on fire in the city center. Police responded by deploying water cannons, firing numerous volleys of tear gas and pursuing protesters onto subway cars, swinging batons and making numerous arrests.
Lam disputed that the bill’s withdrawal represented a “change of mind,” noting that she had already declared the legislation “dead.” Withdrawing it “doesn’t make a difference in substance,” she said.
Increasingly aggressive police tactics, supported by both Lam and Beijing’s top body overseeing Hong Kong, have helped fuel more rallies and marches, including some that have disrupted the city’s subway network and shut down its busy international airport.
Protesters’ next moves will telegraph whether Lam and her backers on the mainland bet correctly that conceding on the bill’s withdrawal will calm the movement after three months of outcry over Beijing’s increasing grip over the city. Students and other groups staged small peaceful protests Thursday morning to express disappointment with Lam’s speech.
“The content of her speech announcing what she did announce is just too unacceptable,” lawmaker Claudia Mo, who has been an active presence in the protest movement, told Bloomberg TV before Lam’s briefing. “She kept blaming the young in Hong Kong for conducting what she called violence. But she wouldn’t talk about, she wouldn’t even mention police brutality, which has been so abundant and so transparent and obvious.”

US offered millions in cash to Indian captain in bid to seize Iranian tanker

MMNN:5 September 2019
A senior US official personally offered several million dollars to the Indian captain of an Iranian oil tanker suspected of heading to Syria, the State Department confirmed Wednesday.
The Financial Times reported that Brian Hook, the State Department pointman on Iran, sent emails to captain Akhilesh Kumar in which he offered “good news” of millions in US cash to live comfortably if he steered the Adrian Darya 1 to a country where it could be seized.
“We have seen the Financial Times article and can confirm that the details are accurate,” a State Department spokeswoman said.
“We have conducted extensive outreach to several ship captains as well as shipping companies warning them of the consequences of providing support to a foreign terrorist organization,” she said, referring to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
The Adrian Darya 1 was held for six weeks by the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on suspicion that it was set to deliver oil from Iran to its main Arab ally Syria -- a violation of European Union sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad’s iron-fisted regime.
Gibraltar released the ship, formerly called the Grace 1, on August 18 over US protests after receiving written assurances that the vessel would not head to countries sanctioned by the European Union.
US authorities said that Kumar, 43, took over as captain in Gibraltar. After he apparently did not respond to the US offer, the Treasury Department on Friday imposed sanctions both on the ship and on Kumar himself, freezing any assets he may have in the United States and criminalizing any US financial transactions with him.
“Any US or foreign persons that engage in certain transactions with designated persons or entities may themselves be exposed to sanctions,” the State Department spokeswoman said.
The Adrian Daya 1 has been elusive since sailing off from Gibraltar, with monitors reporting that it has been moving in the eastern Mediterranean near Lebanon.
The United States also announced Wednesday that the United States was imposing sanctions on a shipping network alleged to be tied to the Revolutionary Guards -- and offering up to $15 million for information that could disrupt the unit’s finances.
The shipping network sold more than $500 million this spring, mostly in Syria, according to the Treasury Department.
The United States has unilaterally threatened sanctions aimed at ending all oil sales by Iran in a bid to diminish the clerical regime’s regional influence.

Iran oil tanker pursued by US turns off tracker near Syria

MMNN:3 September 2019
An Iranian oil tanker pursued by the US turned off its tracking beacon, leading to renewed speculation on Tuesday that it will head to Syria.
The disappearance of the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1, follows a pattern of Iranian oil tankers turning off their Automatic Identification System to try and mask where they deliver their cargo amid US sanctions targeting Iran’s energy industry.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reiterated on Tuesday that Tehran will not enter into direct talks with the US unless Washington rejoins the 2015 nuclear deal that President Donald Trump withdrew America from over a year ago.
Trump’s withdrawal and the imposition of heavy economic sanctions on Iran have blocked it from selling its crude oil abroad, a crucial source of government funding for the Islamic Republic. Meanwhile, tensions have spiked across the Persian Gulf over mysterious tanker explosions, the shooting down of a US military surveillance drone by Iran and America deploying more troops and warplanes to the region.
The Adrian Darya, which carries 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude worth some $130 million, switched off its AIS beacon just before 1600 GMT Monday, according to the ship-tracking website The ship was some 45 nautical miles (83 kilometers) off the coast of Lebanon and Syria, heading north at its last report.
Earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had alleged the US had intelligence that the Adrian Darya would head to the Syrian port of Tartus, just a short distance from its last reported position.
The actions of the Adrian Darya follow a pattern of other Iranian ships turning off their trackers once they reach near Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea, said Ranjith Raja, a lead analyst at the data firm Refinitiv.
Based on the fact Turkey has stopped taking Iranian crude oil and Syria historically has taken around 1 million barrels of crude oil a month from Iran, Raja said it was likely the ship would be offloading its cargo in Syria. That could see it transfer crude oil on smaller vessels, allowing it to be taken to port, he said.
“The Iranian oil going to Syria is not something new,” Raja said. “This is a known fact.”
The oil shipment website Tanker Trackers similarly believes the Adrian Darya to be off Syria.
“It is now safe to assume she is in Syria’s territorial waters,” Tanker Trackers wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
Iranian officials haven’t identified who bought the Adrian Darya’s cargo, only that it has been sold.
The US, which has sought to seize the tanker, alleged in federal court that the ship is owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organization answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The US recently declared the Guard a terrorist organization, giving it greater power to pursue seizing its assets.
US officials since have warned countries not to aid the Adrian Darya, which previously said it would be heading to Greece and Turkey before turning off its tracker Monday. Authorities in Gibraltar alleged the ship was bound for a refinery in Baniyas, Syria, when they seized it in early July.They ultimately let it go after holding it for weeks.
Meanwhile, Rouhani addressed Iran’s parliament on Tuesday and touched on ongoing negotiations aimed at saving the country’s unraveling nuclear deal. Under the landmark 2015 agreement, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed last week that Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium still exceeds the amount allowed by the deal. The U.N. agency also said Iran continues to enrich uranium up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% allowed under the deal but still far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran has warned it will take additional steps away from the accord on Friday if it doesn’t get help from Europe to sell its oil abroad, calling it their “third step” away from the deal. An Iranian lawmaker has suggested France is proposing a $15 billion credit line for Tehran if it returns to the deal.
Rouhani told lawmakers that Iran wouldn’t negotiate directly with the US unless it returned to the deal. That’s after speculation grew of a possible meeting between Trump and Iranian officials following an appearance by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the Group of Seven meeting in August.
“Unfortunately after America’s violation (of the deal) and treachery and its getting out of its commitments, the Europeans too either failed to carry out their duties, or couldn’t do so, or both,” Rouhani told parliament.
Rouhani added: “If (the Europeans) don’t do anything significant, we surely will take the third step in the coming days.”

Brexit endgame is on with urgent motion, poll talk

MMNN:3 September 2019
Britain’s parliament re-opened on Tuesday after the summer recess in the charged context of Brexit-related action on various fronts, with MPs seeking an emergency debate and courts hearing challenges to House prorogation amid intense talk of a mid-term election.
Action in parliament focussed on securing the debate and passing legislation to ensure that the Boris Johnson government is prohibited from leaving the EU on October 31 without an agreement. Voting is expected on Tuesday evening (the government has a majority of one).
The Conservative party has been rocked with former chancellor Philip Hammond and others reacting with fury suggestions that Johnson as leader of the party would de-select them as candidates in the election if they voted with the opposition in parliament.
The Court of Session in Scotland began a substantive hearing of the challenge to prorogation, while the high court of England permitted former Conservative Prime Minister John Major to join a similar challenge brought by Indian-origin activist Gina Miller.
Officials briefed journalists that if the opposition bill seeking to stop a no-deal Brexit were to be passed, the government would quickly move a motion to hold a mid-term election. Such a motion would need Labour’s support since a two-thirds majority is needed to trigger the election.
October 14 is the date mentioned as the most likely for the mid-term election, which would be the third in the last five years, after the general election in 2015 and the mid-term election in 2017. However, much manoeuvring inside and outside parliament is needed before the election is agreed and announced.
In an interview seen as ‘extraordinary’, Hammond on Tuesday came down heavily on his party leader Johnson for claims that MPs concerned with the debilitating impact of a no-deal Brexit and who vote with the opposition would be de-selected as candidates.
He told BBC: “There’s a group of Conservative who feel very strongly that now is the time where we have to put the national interest ahead of any threats to us personally and our careers. I think there will be enough people for us to get this over the line.”
Hammond described claims by Johnson that negotiations were ongoing with Brussels on a possible agreement as “nonsense”, adding that de-selections would be “rank hypocrisy” given that eight serving cabinet ministers had defied the whip on Brexit votes in the past year.
“I don’t believe (they can stop me standing in the election). There would certainly be the fight of a lifetime if they tried to…I am going to defend my party against incomers, entryists, who are trying to turn it from a broad church to a narrow faction,” Hammond said.
There was already talk of the possibility of another hung parliament if the mid-term election were held, since both the major parties – Conservative, Labour – have been haemorrhaging in recent elections, with parties with a clear Brexit position gaining substantially due to public ennui over endless debates and non-delivery of the 2016 referendum verdict.
The biggest gainers have been the Liberal Democrats with a clear pro-EU, anti-Brexit stance and the new Nigel Farage-led Brexit Party with a clear anti-EU, pro-Brexit position.

Man recently released from jail stabs 8 primary school children to death in China

MMNN:3 September 2019
Eight students of a primary school in central China were killed and two others injured in a brutal knife attack carried out by a man, released recently from jail, state-run media reported on Tuesday.The incident happened at around 8:00 am on Monday at Chaoyangpo grade school in the town of Baiyangping at Enshi county at Hubei province, on the first day of the new academic year, according to the Global Times. Eight children were stabbed to death, while two other students suffered injuries in the attack, it said.
The suspect, a 40-year-old local resident, was arrested immediately after the incident.
The man was an ex-convict who had spent over eight years in jail for attempting to gouge out his girlfriend’s eye, the report said. He was released from jail in May. The incident sparked public outrage as Monday marked the start of classes for school students. Many citizens have urged the schools to strengthen security, the report said.
Knife and axe attacks on school children by disgruntled people have become a common occurrence in China in recent years, with the perpetrators often saying they are motivated by a desire to take revenge on society. In April, a knife-wielding man attacked primary schoolchildren in China’s Hunan province, killing two students.
In January, a man was detained in Beijing over a hammer attack in which 20 students were injured.In April last year, nine students were killed and over a dozen others injured outside a middle school in northwestern Shaanxi province by an attacker who allegedly was a former pupil seeking revenge for having been bullied.

'A Big Deal': Florida Braces for 'Menace-looking' Hurricane Dorian

MMNN:30 August 2019
Miami: Florida residents picked the shelves clean of bottled water and lined up at gas stations Thursday as an increasingly menacing-looking Hurricane Dorian threatened to broadside the state over Labor Day weekend.
Leaving lighter-than-expected damage in its wake in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the second hurricane of the 2019 season swirled toward the U.S., with forecasters warning it will draw energy from the warm, open waters as it closes in.
The National Hurricane Center said the Category 1 storm is expected to strengthen into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 with winds of 130 mph (209 kph) and slam into the U.S. on Monday somewhere between the Florida Keys and southern Georgia — a 500-mile (805-kilometer) stretch that reflected the high degree of uncertainty this far out.
"If it makes landfall as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, that's a big deal," said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. "A lot of people are going to be affected. A lot of insurance claims."
President Donald Trump canceled his weekend trip to Poland and warned Florida residents to be prepared.
"All indications are it's going to hit very hard and it's going to be very big," Trump said in a video he tweeted Thursday evening, comparing Dorian to Hurricane Andrew, which devastated South Florida in 1992.
With the storm's track still unclear, no immediate mass evacuations were ordered.
Along Florida's east coast, local governments began distributing sandbags, shoppers rushed to stock up on food, plywood and other emergency supplies at supermarkets and hardware stores, and motorists topped off their tanks and filled gasoline cans. Some fuel shortages were reported in the Cape Canaveral area.
Josefine Larrauri, a retired translator, went to a Publix supermarket in Miami only to find empty shelves in the water section and store employees unsure of when more cases would arrive.
"I feel helpless because the whole coast is threatened," she said. "What's the use of going all the way to Georgia if it can land there?"
Tiffany Miranda of Miami Springs waited well over 30 minutes in line at BJ's Wholesale Club in Hialeah to buy hurricane supplies. Some 50 vehicles were bumper-to-bumper, waiting to fill up at the store's 12 gas pumps.
"You never know with these hurricanes. It could be good, it could be bad. You just have to be prepared," she said.
As of Thursday evening, Dorian was centered about 330 miles (531 kilometers) east of the Bahamas, its winds blowing at 85 mph (137 kph) as it moved northwest at 13 mph (21 kph).
It is expected to pick up steam as it pushes out into warm waters with favorable winds, the University of Miami's McNoldy said, adding: "Starting tomorrow, it really has no obstacles left in its way."
The National Hurricane Center's projected track had the storm blowing ashore midway along the Florida peninsula, southeast of Orlando and well north of Miami or Fort Lauderdale. But because of the difficulty of predicting its course this far ahead, the "cone of uncertainty" covered nearly the entire state.
Forecasters said coastal areas of the Southeast could get 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimeters) of rain, with 15 inches (38 centimeters) in some places, triggering life-threatening flash floods.
Also imperiled were the Bahamas, with Dorian's expected track running just to the north of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.
Jeff Byard, an associate administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned that Dorian is likely to "create a lot of havoc with infrastructure, power and roads," but gave assurances FEMA is prepared to handle it, even though the Trump administration is shifting hundreds of millions of dollars from FEMA and other agencies to deal with immigration at the Mexican border.
"This is going to be a big storm. We're prepared for a big response," Byard said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency, clearing the way to bring in more fuel and call out the National Guard if necessary, and Georgia's governor followed suit.
Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian began rerouting their cruise ships. Major airlines began allowing travelers to change their reservations without a fee.
At the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, NASA decided to move indoors the mobile launch platform for its new mega rocket under development.
A Rolling Stones concert Saturday at the Hard Rock Stadium near Miami was moved up to Friday night.
The hurricane season typically peaks between mid-August and late October. One of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S. was on Labor Day 1935. The unnamed Category 5 hurricane crashed ashore along Florida's Gulf Coast on Sept. 2. It was blamed for over 400 deaths.
Dorian rolled through the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday.
The initial blow did not appear to be as bad as expected in Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria two years ago. Blue tarps cover some 30,000 homes, and the electrical grid is in fragile condition.
But the tail end of the storm unleashed heavy flooding along the eastern and southern coasts of Puerto Rico. Cars, homes and gravestones in the coastal town of Humacao became halfway submerged after a river burst its banks.
Police said an 80-year-old man in the town of Bayamón died after he fell trying to climb to his roof to clear it of debris ahead of the storm.
Dorian caused an island-wide blackout in St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and scattered outages in St. Croix, government spokesman Richard Motta said.
No serious damage was reported in the British Virgin Islands, where Gov. Augustus Jaspert said crews were already clearing roads and inspecting infrastructure by late Wednesday afternoon.
Back in Florida, Mark and Gisa Emeterio enjoyed a peaceful afternoon sunbathing and wading in the ocean at Vero Beach. The newly retired couple from Sacramento, California, wanted to relax after spending the morning shuttering their home.
Mark, a retired pipe layer, and Gina, a retired state employee, planned to wait it out the storm with local friends more experienced with hurricanes. "We got each other," Mark Emeterio said. "So we're good."
"I told him, 'Whatever happens, hold my hand,'" his wife joked.

Hong Kong Police Round Up Activists Even as Protesters Heed Police Ban Order, Call Off Mass Rally

MMNN:30 August 2019
Hong Kong: Prominent democracy activists were arrested on Friday in a dragnet across Hong Kong - a move described by rights groups as a well-worn tactic deployed by China to suffocate dissent ahead of key political events.
The sweep comes after a major rally planned by a civil rights group on Saturday was banned by police on security grounds.
Hong Kong has been locked in three months of political crisis, with increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters that have prompted an escalating public relations campaign from China.
Protesters had planned yet another mass rally on Saturday — the fifth anniversary of Beijing's rejection of a call for universal suffrage in the semi-autonomous city.
It was a pivotal moment, sparking the 79-day Umbrella Movement in 2014, which seeded the ground for today's protests. But organisers on Friday afternoon said they would not march, complying with the police banning order.
Earlier, two of the Umbrella Movement's leaders, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow — both still well-regarded among the city's youth — were arrested in dawn swoops both accused of "inciting others to take part in unauthorised assembly" among other charges. The pair were charged in court on Friday afternoon. The main charge carries up to five years in jail.
Hours before another vocal independence campaigner Andy Chan was detained at Hong Kong's airport.
The arrests are a sign of the "spread of 'white terror' towards Hong Kong protesters", said Issac Cheng of Demosisto party, co-founded by Wong, deploying a commonly-used term for China's efforts to fragment and harass the protest movement.
More than 850 people have been arrested in connection with protests since June. But that has failed to snuff out the leaderless protest movement.
Chan's small independence party was outlawed last year on the grounds it posed a national security threat, the first such ban since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
A fourth pro-democracy campaigner, Rick Hui a councillor for the working-class Sha Tin district, was also detained by police on Friday, according to a post on his Facebook page, without detailing why.
Former student leader Althea Suen was also arrested for entering parliament building during a July break-in by protesters.
Amnesty International decried the "the ludicrous dawn swoops", condemning the arrest of Wong and Chow as an "outrageous assault on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly" and as "scare tactics straight out of Beijing's playbook".
The arrests come as Hong Kong's crisis-hit government scrambles to find an appropriate response to the unprecedented pro-democracy protests, which have by turns seen millions march, closed the airport and left city streets strewn with bricks and shrouded in tear gas.
The protests started as a kickback against a bill allowing extraditions to mainland China, but quickly billowed out into wider calls for democracy and police accountability.
Permission for another mass rally on Saturday was denied on security grounds, raising the likelihood of another weekend of clashes between police and protesters.
In a letter to rally organisers the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), police said they feared some participants would commit "violent and destructive acts".
After an appeal to hold the rally was rejected, Bonnie Leung of the avowedly peaceful CHRF said "no option but to cancel the march tomorrow".
But pockets of protesters swiftly vowed to hold creative events at the scheduled time and place of the rally, including a mass shopping trip, football match and impromptu religious gatherings in downtown Hong Kong, while a YouTuber with 800,000 followers called a fan meeting.
With a hardcore minority among the protesters, mainly young students, unlikely to heed the police ban, the weekend appeared poised for renewed violent clashes.
Student protester Kelly, who wanted to be identified only by her first name, said the arrests would not cow the movement. "The police think there are leaders behind the protests and this will stop us," she said. "We are our own leaders and we will keep coming out."
On Sunday the city saw some of its worst clashes, with running battles between black-clad protesters, armed with bricks and Molotov cocktails, and police wielding batons, rubber bullets and tear gas.
One officer fired a warning shot -- believed to be the first live round used during the protests — as a mob with sticks set upon several policemen.
The violence has damaged Hong Kong's reputation for stability and prosperity.
China has responded with a campaign of intimidation, with a slick PR video released Thursday showing troop movements into Hong Kong as part of "routine garrison rotation".
State-media reported that fresh Chinese military anti-riot drills were held across the border in Shenzhen.

Sri Lanka Court Orders Relocation of Remains of Easter Attacker from Public Cemetery After Protests

MMNN:30 August 2019
Colombo: A Sri Lankan court on Friday ordered police to exhume and relocate the remains of an Easter Sunday suicide bomber buried in a public cemetery in the eastern district of Batticaloa, after residents' protests stoked tension.
Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels across Sri Lanka killed more than 250 people in the country's worst suicide bombings since it defeated dissident Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009, ending a 26-year-long civil war.
Hundreds of people, including the relatives of those killed in the attack at Zion Church in Batticaloa, protested this week over the burial of the militant in a Hindu cemetery nearby, saying it hurt their sentiments.
Protesters blocked roads and law enforcement fired tear gas shells to disperse them, but an uneasy calm has prevailed since, police said.
"The remains will be exhumed on Monday and kept in a mortuary until the government agent finds a suitable place to bury them," police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told Reuters.
The bomber was buried in a Hindu public cemetery after Muslims declined to allow his burial in a community graveyard.
Police say at least nine members of two little-known local Islamist outfits, the National Thawheedh Jamaath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim, carried out the bombings.
The government last week withdrew an emergency law imposed after the Easter attacks that had allowed police and military to detain and interrogate suspects without court orders.

Hand-in-Glove with 'Newcomer' Imran, Pakistan Army Manipulated Polls to Remove Nawaz Sharif: US Report

MMNN:29 August 2019
Washington: During Imran Khan's tenure as prime minister, the Pakistani military has retained the dominant influence over foreign and security policies of the country in a bid to oust former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, according to a US Congressional report. The report prepared for US lawmakers by the bipartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) said Khan had no governance experience prior to winning his current office and analysts contend that Pakistan's security services manipulated domestic politics during elections with a motive of removing Nawaz Sharif. Khan's "Naya Pakistan" vision which appeared to animate many younger, urban, middle-class voters emphasizes anti-corruption and creation of a "welfare state" that provides better education and health care, but his effort has foundered due to the country's acute financial crisis, and a need for new foreign borrowing and government austerity, the report said. "Most analysts see Pakistan's military establishment continuing to retain dominant influence over foreign and security policies," it said. The CRS is an independent research wing of the US Congress, which prepares periodic reports on issues of interest for lawmakers. Its report are for meant for US lawmakers to make informed decision and not considered as an official report of the US Congress. The CRS said that many analysts contend that Pakistan's security services covertly manipulated the country's domestic politics before and during the election with a central motive of removing Nawaz Sharif from power and otherwise weakening his incumbent party. A purported "military-judiciary nexus" allegedly came to favour Khan's party. "Election observers and human rights groups issued statements pointing to sometimes 'severe' abuses of democratic norms, and the unprecedented participation of small parties with links to banned Islamist terrorist groups was seen to embolden militants (Islamist parties won a combined 10% of the national vote in 2018)," the CRS said.

China Rotates Troops in Hong Kong Ahead of Pro-Democracy Rally

MMNN:29 August 2019
Hong Kong: China rotated troops in its People's Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong on Thursday, days before protesters plan to hold a march and rally calling for full democracy for the Chinese-ruled city after three months of sometimes violent demonstrations.
Chinese state media described the troop movement in the early hours as routine, while Asian and Western diplomats watching PLA movements in the former British colony had been expecting it.
But, even if routine, the timing is likely to hit nerves in the "special administrative region" of Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997.
Observers estimate the Hong Kong garrison numbers between 8,000 and 10,000 troops split between bases in southern China and a network of former British army barracks in Hong Kong.
China has denounced the protests and accused the United States and Britain of interfering in its affairs in Hong Kong. It has sent clear warnings that forceful intervention is possible.
Beijing warned again on Tuesday against foreign governments interfering in the Hong Kong protests, after the G7 summit of leaders of seven industrialised nations called for violence to be avoided.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has also not ruled out the possibility her administration could invoke emergency powers to quell the protests. She said in a news briefing on Tuesday that violence was becoming more serious but was confident the government could handle the crisis itself.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua said: "The Hong Kong Garrison of the Chinese People's Liberation Army conducted the 22nd rotation of its members in the wee hours of Thursday since it began garrisoning Hong Kong in 1997."
"Approved by the Central Military Commission, the move is normal routine annual rotation in line with the Law of the People's Republic of China on Garrisoning the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, which stipulates that 'the Hong Kong Garrison shall practise a system of rotation of its members'."
The announcement of the annual troop rotation in 2018 included the phrase "the number of soldiers and amount of equipment of the troops stationed in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was maintained with no change".
That phrase was not used in the latest announcement.
The Civil Human Rights Front, the organiser of previous mass protests in Hong Kong that they said attracted up to two million people, plans a rally from Central to Beijing’s main representative office in Hong Kong on Saturday, although the protest has not yet received a police permit.
The protest would mark five years since Beijing issued a White Paper that ruled out universal suffrage for Hong Kong.
Protesters targeted the representative office in July, daubing anti-China slogans on its walls.
The protests come as Hong Kong faces its first recession in a decade, with all its pillars of growth under stress.
Unrest escalated in mid-June over a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts.
It has since evolved into calls for greater democracy under the "one country, two systems" formula under which Hong Kong has been run since 1997, guaranteeing freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland that include an independent judiciary.
The protests in the Asian financial hub have posed the biggest challenge for Communist Party rulers in Beijing since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.
Authorities in Beijing are eager to quell the unrest before the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1, when Xi will oversee a large military parade in the Chinese capital.

'It Happens Every Year', Says UK Minister After Boris Johnson Announces Suspension of Parliament

MMNN:29 August 2019
Helsinki: Britain's defence secretary Ben Wallace said on Thursday that the suspension of parliament is an annual occurrence, as he arrived in Helsinki for talks with his European Union counterparts.
"It happens every year," Wallace told reporters when asked about the government's controversial move on Wednesday to prorogue parliament. The move has sparked outrage among opposition lawmakers and many others in Britain, and led to a sharp weakening in sterling as it was seen as increasing the risk of a no-deal Brexit.
EU's foreign and defence ministers are meeting to discuss a raft of issues from hybrid threats to climate risks to security to tensions in the Middle East. Austria's defence minister was asked if Brexit would weigh on EU defence capabilities.
"Of course there will be consequences but it (Brexit) has also driven a dynamic to make the EU more self-reliant in this area," Thomas Starlinger told reporters.

Deal to Withdraw Troops From Afghanistan Nears in Talks With US, Says Taliban

MMNN:28 August 2019
Doha: US and Taliban negotiators moved closer Tuesday to a deal, the insurgent group said, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced guarded hope for a deal under which Washington will withdraw large numbers of troops from Afghanistan.
The optimism came during the fifth day of talks in Qatar between the two sides as negotiators wrangled over individual words and phrases in a draft deal.
"We have progress in this round so we are finalising the remaining points," Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told journalists outside the upmarket Doha members' club where the talks are taking place.
He said a deal could be expected "as soon as the remaining points are finalised".
The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after the September 11 attacks, toppling the Taliban from power.
Washington wants to withdraw thousands of US troops and bring an end to 18 years of war -- but only on the condition that the group renounces its connections to Al-Qaeda and curbs attacks.
Pompeo, addressing US war veterans, said while he could not predict how the talks would end, President Donald Trump "is committed to make sure that we get it right."
"His clear guidance to me and to my military colleagues is this -- we want to get our folks home as fast and in as large numbers as we can, and we want to make sure that never again is terror struck on the United States," Pompeo said.
"So I believe we can and will accomplish both of these, and we will honour your labours and your sacrifices in this fight," he told the American Legion's national convention in Indianapolis.
The Doha negotiations -- the ninth round between the United States and the Taliban -- are being held against a backdrop of persistent violence in Afghanistan.
The Taliban claimed on Saturday to have killed seven members of the US military in an attack on a convoy near Bagram airfield north of Kabul. American officials dismissed the claims as "lies".
On Wednesday, two US soldiers were killed by small arms fire in Faryab province in northern Afghanistan, the Pentagon said.
Shaheen had said the deaths should have a "positive" impact on talks in Doha.
Chief US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted Monday that Washington would "defend Afghan forces now and after any agreement" with the group.
He was responding to suggestions a deal might not apply to the insurgents' fight against the US-backed Afghan government.
He also wrote that all sides in the negotiations had agreed "Afghanistan's future will be determined in intra-Afghan negotiations".
Shaheen said "all internal issues" would be discussed in inter-Afghan talks after the Doha agreement is completed and made public.
Washington is hoping to strike such a deal by September 1 -- ahead of Afghan polls due the same month, and the US presidential election next year.
The four pillars of any Taliban-US deal are expected to be the withdrawal of foreign troops, a ceasefire, counter-terror guarantees and intra-Afghan dialogue.
Any agreement would be announced before the media as well as representatives from neighbouring countries including China, as well as Russia and the United Nations, the Taliban has said.

'Now or Never, Will Defend Freedom at Any Cost': Hong Kong Protesters Say They Have Nothing to Lose

MMNN:28 August 2019
Hong Kong: Exasperated with the government's unflinching attitude to escalating civil unrest, Jason Tse quit his job in Australia and jumped on a plane to join what he believes is a do-or-die fight for Hong Kong's future.
The Chinese territory is grappling with its biggest crisis since its handover to Beijing 22 years ago as many residents fret over what they see as China's tightening grip over the city and a relentless march toward mainland control.
The battle for Hong Kong's soul has pitted protesters against the former British colony's political masters in Beijing, with broad swathes of the Asian financial centre determined to defend the territory's freedoms at any cost.
Faced with a stick and no carrot - chief executive Carrie Lam reiterated on Tuesday protesters' demands were unacceptable - the pro-democracy movement has intensified despite Beijing deploying paramilitary troops near the border in recent weeks.
"This is a now or never moment and it is the reason why I came back," Tse, 32, said, adding that since joining the protests last month he had been a peaceful participant in rallies and an activist on the Telegram social media app.
"If we don't succeed now, our freedom of speech, our human rights, all will be gone. We need to persist."
Since the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997, critics say Beijing has reneged on a commitment to maintain Hong Kong's autonomy and freedoms under a "one country, two systems" formula.
Opposition to Beijing that had dwindled after 2014, when authorities faced down a pro-democracy movement that occupied streets for 79 days, has come back to haunt authorities who are now grappling with an escalating cycle of violence.
"We have to keep fighting. Our worst fear is the Chinese government," said a 40-year-old teacher who declined to be identified for fear of repercussions.
"For us, it's a life or death situation."
What started as protests against a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, has evolved into demands for greater democracy.
"We lost the revolution in 2014 very badly. This time, if not for the protesters who insist on using violence, the bill would have been passed already," said another protester, who asked to be identified as just Mike, 30, who works in media and lives with his parents.
He was referring to the 79 days of largely peaceful protests in 2014 that led to the jailing of activist leaders.
"It's proven that violence, to some degree, will be useful."
Nearly 900 people have been arrested in the latest protests. The prospect of lengthy jail terms seems to be deterring few activists, many of whom live in tiny apartments with their families.
"7K for a house like a cell and you really think we out here scared of jail," reads graffiti scrawled near one protest site. HK$7,000 ($893) is what the monthly rent for a tiny room in a shared apartment could cost.
The protests pose a direct challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whose government has sent a clear warning that forceful intervention to quell violent demonstrations is possible.
Some critics question the protesters' "now or never" rallying cry, saying a crackdown by Beijing could bring an end to the freedoms in Hong Kong that people on the mainland can only dream of.
The campaign reflects concerns over Hong Kong's future at a time when protesters, many of whom were toddlers when Britain handed Hong Kong back to Beijing, feel they have been denied any political outlet and have no choice but to push for universal suffrage.
"You either stand up and pull this government down or you stay at the mercy of their hands. You have no choice," said Cheng, 28, who works in the hospitality industry.
"Imagine if this fails. You can only imagine the dictatorship of the Communists will become even greater ... If we burn, you burn with us," he said, referring to authorities in Beijing.
"The clock is ticking," Cheng added, referring to 2047 when a 50-year agreement enshrining Hong Kong's separate governing system will lapse.
As Beijing seeks to integrate Hong Kong closer to the mainland China, many residents are recoiling.
A poll in June by the University of Hong Kong found that 53% of 1,015 respondents identified as Hong Kongers, while 11% identified as Chinese, a record low since 1997.
With the prospect of owning a home in one of the world's most expensive cities a dream, many disaffected youth say they have little to look forward to as Beijing's grip tightens.
"We really have got nothing to lose," said Scarlett, 23, a translator.
As the crisis simmers, China's People's Liberation Army has released footage of troops conducting anti-riot exercises.
But graffiti scrawled across the city signals the protesters' defiance.
"Hong Kong is not China" and "If you want peace, prepare for war" are some of the messages.
Tse said he believes violence is necessary because the government rarely listens to peaceful protests.
"Tactically I think we should have a higher level of violence," he said. "I actually told my wife that if we'll ever need to form an army on the protester side I will join."

US News Anchor Sparks Row For Saying Black Co-host 'Kind of Looks Like' an Ape, Issues Apology

MMNN:28 August 2019
Washington: A television news anchorwoman in the US apologised on-air after comparing her black colleague to a gorilla, NBC News reported Tuesday. Alex Housden of KOCO 5 News in Oklahoma City made the remark last Thursday during a segment on an ape whose handler was running the local zoo's Instagram for the day.
When a video of a baby gorilla appeared on screen, Housden, who is white, turned to her black co-anchor, Jason Hackett, and said that the ape "kind of looks like you," NBC reported. The following day, a tearful Housden apologised to Hackett, saying: "I said something yesterday that was inconsiderate, it was inappropriate, and I hurt people."
"I want you all to know from the bottom of my heart, I apologise for what I said. I know it was wrong and I am so sorry." Hackett accepted her apology, but acknowledged that the words "cut deep for me."
"I want this to be a teachable moment and that lesson here is that words, words matter," he said.
"There's no doubt about that." The incident comes amid heightened racial tensions in the US following a series of remarks by Republican President Donald Trump directed at lawmakers from the Democratic opposition that have been criticised as racist.
The president in July said four Democratic lawmakers of colour should "go back" to where they came from, then later called Baltimore, a majority-black city, a "dangerous & filthy place."

Brazil Rejects $20 Million G7 Aid to Fight Amazon Fires, Asks Macron to Focus on ‘His Colonies’ Instead

MMNN:27 August 2019
Brasília: Brazil on Monday rejected aid from G7 countries to fight wildfires in the Amazon, with a top official telling French President Emmanuel Macron to take care of "his home and his colonies." Nearly 80,000 forest fires have broken out in Brazil since the beginning of the year -- just over half of them in the massive Amazon basin that regulates part of Earth's carbon cycle and climate.
G7 countries made the $20 million aid offer to fight the blazes at the Biarritz summit hosted by Macron, who insisted they should be discussed as a top priority.
"We appreciate (the offer), but maybe those resources are more relevant to reforest Europe," Onyx Lorenzoni, chief of staff to President Jair Bolsonaro, told the G1 news website.
"Macron cannot even avoid a foreseeable fire in a church that is a world heritage site," he added, referring to the fire in April that devastated the Notre-Dame cathedral. "What does he intend to teach our country?"
The presidency later confirmed the comments to AFP.
Brazilian environment Minister Ricardo Salles had earlier told reporters they had welcomed the G7 funding to fight the fires that have swept across 950,000 hectares (2.3 million acres) and prompted the deployment of the army.
But after a meeting between Bolsonaro and his ministers, the Brazilian government changed course.
"Brazil is a democratic, free nation that never had colonialist and imperialist practices, as perhaps is the objective of the Frenchman Macron," Lorenzoni said.
Although about 60 percent of the Amazon is in Brazil, the vast forest also spreads over parts of eight other countries or territories, including the French overseas territory of Guiana on the continent's northeast coast.
Hundreds of new fires have flared up in the Brazilian part of the forest, data showed Monday, even as military aircraft dumped water over hard-hit areas.
Smoke choked Porto Velho city and forced the closure of the airport for nearly two hours as fires raged in the northwestern state of Rondonia where firefighting efforts are concentrated.
Bolsonaro -- a climate-change skeptic -- has faced criticism over his delayed response to the fires at home and thousands have taken to the streets in Brazil in recent days to denounce the destruction.
- Fuel to the fire -
The blazes have also fueled a diplomatic spat between Bolsonaro and Macron, who have locked horns repeatedly over the past week.
The French president has threatened to block a huge new trade deal between the European Union and Latin America unless his Brazilian counterpart takes serious steps to protect the fast-shrinking forest from logging and mining.
Bolsonaro reacted by blasting Macron for having a "colonialist mentality," and days later endorsed vicious personal comments about the French president's wife posted online, driving their relationship to a new low.
In another sign of tension, Bolsonaro skipped a meeting last month with visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, saying that he had instead gone to the hairdresser.

Johnson & Johnson Ordered to Pay $572 Million For Fueling Oklahoma Opioid Crisis

MMNN:27 August 2019
Oklahoma (US): An Oklahoma judge on Monday found Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries helped fuel the state's opioid crisis and ordered the consumer products giant to pay $572 million, more than twice the amount another drug manufacturer agreed to pay in a settlement.
Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman's ruling followed the first state opioid case to make it to trial and could help shape negotiations over roughly 1,500 similar lawsuits filed by state, local and tribal governments consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.
"The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma," Balkman said before announcing the judgment. "It must be abated immediately."
An attorney for the companies said they plan to appeal the ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Before Oklahoma's trial began May 28, the state reached settlements with two other defendant groups — a $270 million deal with OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and an $85 million settlement with Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
Oklahoma argued the companies and their subsidiaries created a public nuisance by launching an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign that overstated how effective the drugs were for treating chronic pain and understated the risk of addiction. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter says opioid overdoses killed 4,653 people in the state from 2007 to 2017.
Hunter called Johnson & Johnson a "kingpin" company that was motivated by greed. He specifically pointed to two former Johnson & Johnson subsidiaries, Noramco and Tasmanian Alkaloids, which produced much of the raw opium used by other manufacturers to produce the drugs.
On Monday, Hunter said the Oklahoma case could provide a "road map" for other states to follow in holding drugmakers responsible for the opioid crisis.
"That's the message to other states: We did it in Oklahoma. You can do it elsewhere," Hunter said. "Johnson & Johnson will finally be held accountable for thousands of deaths and addictions caused by their activities."
Among those seated in the courtroom on Monday were Craig and Gail Box, whose son Austin was a 22-year-old standout linebacker for the Oklahoma Sooners when he died of a prescription drug overdose in 2011. One of the attorneys for the state, Reggie Whitten, said he also lost a son to opioid abuse.
"I feel like my boy is looking down," Whitten said after the judge's ruling, his voice cracking with emotion.
Oklahoma pursued the case under the state's public nuisance statute and presented the judge with a plan to abate the crisis that would cost between $12.6 billion for 20 years and $17.5 billion over 30 years. Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson have said that estimate is wildly inflated. The judge's award would cover the costs of one year of the state's abatement plan, funding things like opioid use prevention and addiction treatment.
Attorneys for the company have maintained they were part of a lawful and heavily regulated industry subject to strict federal oversight, including the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, during every step of the supply chain. Lawyers for the company said the judgment was a misapplication of public nuisance law.
Sabrina Strong, an attorney for Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries, said the companies have sympathy for those who suffer from substance abuse but called the judge's decision "flawed."
"You can't sue your way out of the opioid abuse crisis," Strong said. "Litigation is not the answer."
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the cases consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio called the Oklahoma judgment "a milestone amid the mounting evidence against the opioid pharmaceutical industry."
"While public nuisance laws differ in every state, this decision is a critical step forward for the more than 2,000 cities, counties, and towns we represent in the consolidation of federal opioid cases," they said in a statement.
Also on Monday, the Kentucky Supreme Court declined to review an earlier ruling , making previously secret testimony from former Purdue Pharma President Rickard Sackler and other documents public. The court record was sealed in 2015 as part of a $24 million settlement between Purdue and Kentucky.
The 17 million pages of documents were being shipped Monday from Frankfort to Pike County, where the case originated. The Pike County Circuit Court Clerk's office could not immediately say how and when they would be available.

Ethics Outcry as Trump Touts His 'Magnificent' Miami Golf Resort for Next G7

MMNN:27 August 2019
Miami: President Donald Trump was in full sales mode Monday, doing everything but pass out brochures as he touted the features that would make the Doral golf resort the ideal place for the next G-7 Summit — close to the airport, plenty of hotel rooms, separate buildings for every delegation, even top facilities for the media.
There's just one detail he left out: He owns the place.
Government ethics watchdogs have long railed against the perils of Trump earning money off the presidency and hosting foreign leaders at his properties. But they say Trump's proposal to bring world leaders to his Miami-area resort takes the conflict of interest to a whole new level because, unlike stays at his Washington, they would have no choice but to spend money at his property.
"It's ethics violation squared," said Kathleen Clark of Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.
Added Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, "This is him making it perfectly mandatory that they stay at his resort."
Trump's proposal at the current G-7 Summit in Biarritz, France, portrayed the Doral resort in the most glowing terms, even though he said later he was more interested in logistics for the meeting than making money.
"We have a series of magnificent buildings ... very luxurious rooms," Trump told reporters. "We have incredible conference rooms, incredible restaurants, it's like — it's like such a natural."
Trump's pitch comes as several lawsuits accusing the president of violating the U.S. Constitution's emoluments clause, which bans gifts from foreign governments, wind their way through the courts.
It also comes as Doral, by far the biggest revenue generator among the Trump Organization's 17 golf properties, appears to have taken a hit from Trump's move into politics.
The trouble began during soon after Trump announced he was running for the presidency in 2015 with a speech that called Mexican immigrants crossing the border illegally rapists and murders. Businesses started cutting ties to the president. The PGA and NASCAR moved events that used to be booked at Doral elsewhere.
Eric Trump, who is overseeing the business with his older brother, Don Jr., told The Associated Press last year that "the Doral is on fire." But a financial disclosure report filed with the federal government this year showed revenue at the club has barely been growing — up just $1 million to $76 million.
Trump's financial disclosure also shows he owes a lot of money to Deutsche Bank for the property, which helped him buy it in 2012. As of the end of last year, Trump had two mortgages on the resort, one for more than $50 million, the other for as much as $25 million.
A Trump Organization consultant told the Miami-Dade Value Adjustment Board last year that the property was "severely underperforming," according to The Washington Post. The local government cut the resort's assessed value for 2018 from $110.3 million to $105.6 million, according to county records.
Another sign of trouble is the long list of former Doral members who quit the club years ago but are still waiting for their initial deposits back. New members have to join first for old ones to get refunds, but that isn't happening, according to Doral member Peter Brooke. He says some former members have been waiting for 10 years or longer.
Brooke said a G-7 summit would bring in "considerable income" for the club, citing the need to accommodate Secret Service, guards and other staff that must accompany each foreign government delegation. "They would have to house all of them at the various lodges, not to mention food and more staff," he said.
In an effort to assuage critics, Trump agreed before he took office to donate profits from foreign government spending at its properties. But the company is private, so it's not certain the $340,000 donated so far is all of the profits, or even precisely how "profits" is defined.
The company has also said it doesn't actively seek foreign government business, and even tries to turn it away. Earlier this year, Eric Trump said the company goes "to great lengths" to discourage such spending.
It's not clear how hosting the G-7 would square with this policy. The Trump Organization did not respond to several requests for comment.
At Monday's news conference, Trump spoke as if the idea of making money off the summit never entered his mind. In fact, he said, other people were pushing Doral as a venue — not just him. He said the Secret Service and the military have been visiting various sites and appear to have formed a bit of consensus already.
"They went to places all over the country and they came back and they said, 'This is where we'd like to be,'" Trump said. "It's not about me. It's about getting the right location."
He then added: "I'm not going to make any money. I don't want to make money. I don't care about making money."

On Day 2 of G7 Summit, Leaders Wrestle with Iran, Amazon Fires & Trade Ties, Remain Divided Over US-China Tariff Issue

MMNN:26 August 2019
Biarritz (France): G7 leaders close their summit on Monday with a discussion of world problems including the fires ravaging the Amazon rainforest, but overshadowed by President Donald Trump's trade wars and questions over the group's unity.
The summit in Biarritz, a high-end surfers' paradise in southwestern France, saw a dramatic shift of focus Saturday when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif flew in to discuss the diplomatic deadlock on Tehran's disputed nuclear programme.
Zarif's presence had not been expected and it represented a gamble by French host Emmanuel Macron who is seeking to soothe spiralling tensions between Iran and the United States.
The Iranian top diplomat didn't meet Trump, French diplomats said, but the presence of the two men in the same place at least sparked hopes of a detente. Just this July, the US government imposed heavy sanctions seeking to hamper Zarif's travel and effectively banning him from the United States .
"Road ahead is difficult. But worth trying," the US-educated Zarif tweeted after meeting Macron and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, as well as British and German representatives.
French officials said Trump, who has imposed crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy over its nuclear programme, had been aware of the arrival. The sources suggested that the secretive visit had also been discussed during an impromptu two-hour lunch between the US president and Macron on Saturday.
"We work with full transparency with the Americans," one diplomat told reporters on condition of anonymity, despite US media reports that the White House had been taken by surprise. Trump, who will give a press conference before returning to Washington on Monday, proclaimed that the G7 summit was going "beautifully" on Sunday.
Leaders of the G7 countries -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States -- ended their second day with another sumptuous dinner of the finest French cuisine. They also posed for a group photo with the ocean and Biarritz's tall lighthouse as a backdrop.
On the final day, the agenda included discussions of the fires destroying chunks of the Amazon, a scenario that European leaders have described as an assault on the so-called green lungs of the world. Trump has been less vocal on the issue. He also stands out from the rest of the G7 in his budding friendship with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a former army officer who has given freer rein to industrial farmers and loggers who have made the country an agribusiness power -- at huge cost to the environment.
An even bigger issue dividing Trump from the rest of the G7 throughout the summit was trade and the US president's effort to force even close allies into hard negotiations on market access and tariffs.
Trump arrived in Biarritz fresh from having upped the ante with increased tariffs in the escalating trade struggle with China.
European leaders lined up to press for caution and on Sunday Trump gave a glimmer of hope that he was reconsidering his all-or-nothing approach to the dispute between the world's two biggest economies, when he appeared to admit he'd had "second thoughts" about the most recent escalation.
But only hours later, Trump's spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham did a 180-degree turn, saying the president had been misunderstood and that his real regret was not to have raised tariffs on China even more strongly. At a breakfast meeting, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the latest of the G7 partners to urge Trump to step back from trade wars that critics fear could tip the world economy into recession.
"Just to register a faint, sheep-like note of our view on the trade war -- we are in favour of trade peace on the whole," Johnson told Trump.
The meeting with Johnson, who is sometimes compared to a British version of the populist, nationalist Trump, also underlined the White House's sometimes chilly relations with the European Union. Trump predicted that Johnson would manage to untangle the mess of Brexit and described the EU as "an anchor around their ankle".
The 73-year-old US leader then promised Johnson a "very big trade deal, bigger than we've ever had." He and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe separately announced that they had pencilled in a major bilateral trade deal that they hope to sign next month.
A closing joint press conference was scheduled for early Monday.

'Why Don't We Nuke Them': Trump Suggested 'Bombing' Hurricanes to Stop Them From Hitting US

MMNN:26 August 2019
Washington: President Donald Trump suggested dropping nuclear bombs on hurricanes before they made landfall in the United States, Axios reported Sunday. During a hurricane briefing, Trump asked if it were possible to disrupt hurricanes forming off the coast of Africa by dropping a nuclear bomb in the eye of the storm, Axios wrote.
According to an anonymous source, meeting attendees left the briefing thinking, "What do we do with this?" Axios did not say when this conversation took place. It is reportedly not the first time the president made such a suggestion. In 2017, Trump asked a senior official whether the administration should bomb hurricanes to prevent them making landfall.
Axios said that in this conversation Trump did not specify that nuclear bombs be used. The White House declined to comment, but a senior administration official said Trump's "objective is not bad," Axios.
Trump's idea is not new, according to Axios. The suggestion was originally made by a government scientist in the 1950s, under President Dwight Eisenhower.
The idea continues to pop up, even though scientists agree it would not work. The US is regularly pummelled by hurricanes. In 2017 one named Harvey became the strongest hurricane to make landfall in 12 years.
Since then, the East Coast has been hit with a string of catastrophic storms, which have killed thousands of people and cost hundreds of billions of dollars in damage.

'From Tonight Be Ready...' Hezbollah Chief Threatens Israel After Beirut 'Drone Attack'

MMNN:26 August 2019
The head of Hezbollah on Sunday threatened Israel after a "drone attack" on the Lebanese Shiite movement's Beirut stronghold, vowing to "do everything" to thwart future attacks.
Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and the United States, is a major political actor in Lebanon and a key government backer in war-torn Syria.
The Shiite movement and Israel, which have fought several wars, have upped their belligerent rhetoric in recent months.
The pre-dawn incident in Beirut came just hours after Israel said it had launched strikes in neighbouring Syria to prevent an Iranian attack on the Jewish state.
Nasrallah said the strike had killed two Hezbollah members.
In a televised speech broadcast to thousands of supporters, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said the attack on a target in Beirut's south was the first such "hostile action" since the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.
He said it violated a UN Security Council resolution ending the 33-day war, which killed 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 in Israel.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah would do "everything" to prevent similar attacks.
"The time when Israeli aircraft come and bombard parts of Lebanon is over," he said.
"I say to the Israeli army along the border, from tonight be ready and wait for us," he said. "What happened yesterday will not pass."
- 'Do not rest' -
Addressing Israelis, he said: "Do not live, do not rest, do not be reassured, and do not bet for a single moment that Hezbollah will allow... aggression of this kind."
Nasrallah said a surveillance drone had flown over the capital's suburbs, and that an armed drone had then "hit a specific area".
Earlier, the Lebanese army said two Israeli drones had violated Lebanese airspace over Beirut, and Hezbollah said one had damaged a media centre it runs in a residential building.
A Hezbollah spokesman, Mohamed Afif, said shards from shattered window panes had caused "minor injuries".
The Israeli army declined to comment on the Lebanese claims.
Earlier, Lebanon's President Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah, said the drone incursion targeted "stability and peace in Lebanon and the region".
Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is one of the Shiite group's most prominent political opponents, said the incident was "a threat to regional stability".
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later Sunday called Hariri to stress the "necessity to avoid any escalation", the premier's office said.
Earlier Sunday, the Israeli military said it had been able late Saturday to thwart an attempt by an Iranian force to attack northern Israel with explosive-laden drones.
Since the beginning of Syria's war in 2011, Israel has conducted hundreds of strikes in the country, most of them against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.
However it rarely acknowledges specific operations so promptly.
- 'Iran has no immunity' -
Military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the Israeli attack in Aqraba, southeast of Damascus, targeted "terror targets and military facilities belonging to the Quds force (of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards) as well as Shiite militias".
"We've been tracking the Quds force" for weeks, he said.
"The intention was to fly a number of attack drones towards targets located in northern Israel," he said.
A Syrian military source quoted by state news agency SANA said anti-aircraft defences detected "enemy targets" late Saturday and responded.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said five fighters were killed, but a high-ranking official in Tehran denied Iranian positions had been hit.
Nasrallah said those strikes killed two Hezbollah members but that the site hit was a resting place, not a military facility.
"There were just Lebanese youth from Hezbollah in the place that was bombarded," he said.
On Sunday afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured the north of Israel.
"Any country that allows its territory to be used for aggression against Israel will face the consequences," said the veteran premier, who has sought to burnish his security credentials ahead of September elections.
Just minutes after Israel announced its raid, Netanyahu in the morning had hailed what he termed a "major operational effort" in thwarting an attack.
"Iran has no immunity anywhere," Netanyahu said. "Our forces operate in every sector against the Iranian aggression."

Al Qaeda Claims 'Treacherous' Pakistani Forces Detained Wife of Its Chief Ayman al-Zawahiri

MMNN:24 August 2019
Islamabad: Al-Qaeda has accused Pakistani security forces of detaining the wife of its chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and two other families of the insurgent group's "martyrs" for nearly a year. In a statement, the leadership of al-Qaeda on Friday alleged "treacherous Pakistani forces" captured Zawahiri's wife and others as they left the former Taliban stronghold of Waziristan bordering Afghanistan about a year ago due to continuous airstrikes.
It said: "We ... hold Pakistan's government and its treacherous army and their American masters responsible for their criminal acts."
There was no immediate comment from Pakistan.
Zawahiri, an Egyptian, became leader of al-Qaeda following the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan by U.S. Navy SEALS. He is believed to be hiding somewhere in the region.

Iranian Oil Tanker Pursued by US Says It is Going to Turkey

MMNN:24 August 2019
Dubai: An Iranian-flagged oil tanker pursued by the US amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington changed its listed destination to a port in Turkey early Saturday after Greece said it wouldn't risk its relations with America by aiding it. The crew of the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1, updated its listed destination in its Automatic Identification System to Mesrin, Turkey, a port city in the country's south and home to an oil terminal. However, mariners can input any destination into the AIS, so Turkey may not be its true destination. Mesrin is some 200 kilometers (125 miles) northwest of a refinery in Baniyas, Syria, where authorities alleged the Adrian Darya had been heading before being seized off Gibraltar in early July. Iranian state media and officials did not immediately acknowledge the new reported destination of the Adrian Darya, which carries 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil worth some $130 million. Nor was there any immediate reaction from Turkey, whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan deals directly with Tehran and Russia over Syria's long war. The ship-tracking website showed Adrian Darya's position as just south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. At current speeds, it estimated the Adrian Darya would reach Mesrin in about a week. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The tanker's detention and later released by Gibraltar has fueled the growing tensions between Iran and the US after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago. In the time since, Iran lost billions of dollars in business deals allowed by the deal as the US re-imposed and created sanctions largely blocking Tehran from selling crude oil aboard, a crucial source of hard currency for the Islamic Republic. In US federal court documents, authorities allege the Adrian Grace's true owner is Iran's Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organization answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The US declared the Guard a foreign terror organization in April, the first time America named a military force of a nation as such, giving it the legal power to issue a warrant for the vessel's seizure. However, that would require another nation to acknowledge the writ.
The Adrian Darya had put its intended destination as Kalamata, Greece, even though the port did not have the infrastructure to offload oil from the tanker. The State Department then pressured Greece not to aid the vessel. Meanwhile, Iran continues to hold the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which it seized in a commando-style raid July 19 after the taking of the Adrian Darya. Analysts suggested the release of the Adrian Darya would see the Stena Impero released, but that has yet to happen.

UK Consulate Staffer Returns to Hong Kong After China Detention

MMNN:24 August 2019
Hong Kong: A British consulate employee detained in China has returned to Hong Kong, his family said Saturday.
Simon Cheng disappeared after visiting the neighbouring city of Shenzhen on August 8 and was placed in administrative detention by police. "Simon has returned to Hong Kong," his family said in a Facebook post, adding he would take "some time to rest and recover".
Cheng was returning to Hong Kong via high-speed train on August 8 and sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to go through customs. But he vanished without contact for several days before Beijing confirmed he had been taken into custody by police in Shenzhen for breaking a public security law.
In a statement posted on the Twitter-like Weibo, Shenzhen police said he was "punished with administrative detention for 15 days... for violating the law of the People's Republic of China on public safety management."
Cheng was released Saturday as the term had expired, the police said, adding he had "confessed to the facts of his illegal activity", but without saying what he was accused of.
The incident came as relations between Britain and China have become strained over what Beijing calls London's "interference" in pro-democracy protests that have wracked Hong Kong for three months. While in detention Chinese-state media published lurid allegations about Cheng and the possible reason for his detention.
The Global Times, a tabloid state-run newspaper, said he had been detained for "soliciting prostitutes", citing police in Shenzhen.
In an editorial on Friday, the tabloid said it was at Cheng's request that police did not contact his family and that "thanks to the British foreign ministry and media, which have been hyping it, the case is now fully exposed."
But a Facebook page run by Cheng's family dismissed the report of solicitation. "This is a made-up crime of soliciting prostitution, everyone should see it's a joke," the comment said.
China promised to respect the freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong after its handover from Britain in 1997 — including freedom of speech, unfettered access to the internet and an independent judiciary. But the protesters who have tipped the city into an unprecedented political crisis say these rights are being chipped away.
Chinese authorities have increased their inspections at the border since the protests, including checking the phones and devices of some passengers for photos of the demonstrations. Beijing has faced criticism in the past for detaining foreign nationals amid ongoing diplomatic spats, and for accusing dissidents or activists of sex crimes.
In one of the latest protests in Hong Kong, thousands of people held hands Friday in a recreation of the "Baltic Way" human chain demonstration against Soviet rule three decades ago. The city's skyscraper-studded harbourfront as well as several busy shopping districts were lined with peaceful protesters, many wearing surgical masks to hide their identity and holding Hong Kong flags or mobile phones with lights shining.
Activists even scaled the famous Lion Rock mountain which overlooks the city for a night-time protest illuminated by mobile phones.

'They're Right There': Trump Wants India, Pakistan to Join Fight Against Islamic State in Afghanistan

MMNN:22 August 2019
Washington: Countries such as India, Iran, Russia and Turkey would have to fight against terrorists in Afghanistan at some point of time, US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday, ruing that the job is being done only by the United States, some 7,000 miles away.
Trump said that other nations currently are making very less efforts against terrorists in Afghanistan.
"At a certain point, Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey… they are going to have to fight their battles too. We wiped out the caliphate 100 per cent. I did it in record time but at a certain point, all of these other countries where ISIS is around… they have been decimated by the way, badly decimated,” Trump told reporters at the White House while responding to a question on the re-emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan.
"All of these countries are going to have to fight them because do we want to stay there for another 19 years? I don't think so. So, at a certain point, other countries and that includes Russia and it includes Iran and Turkey and Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and India,” he said.
Trump's comments came a day after he indicated that the US forces will not completely withdraw from war-torn Afghanistan and America will have "somebody there" to make sure that Taliban does not regain control.
Trump said the US was fighting the terrorists in Afghanistan despite being 7,000 miles away while India and Pakistan were not doing so even after being next door.
"Look, India is right there. They are not fighting it. We are fighting it. Pakistan is right next door. They are fighting it very little. Very, very little. It's not fair. The United States is 7,000 miles away,” Trump said.
Trump said that the US under him has decimated ISIS. "We haven't been hearing much about ISIS. We took the caliphate 100 per cent. When I took it at 98 per cent, I said all right, maybe we go home now, let these other countries in. Everyone went crazy. They said do 100 per cent. They said it was going to take a year. It took me a month and they are gone," he said.
Asserting that the caliphate is gone, he said the US is holding thousands of ISIS fighters right now and Europe has to take them. And if Europe doesn't take them, Trump said, he will have no choice but to release them into the countries from which they came, which is Germany and France.
"We beat them. We captured them. We've got thousands of them and now as usual our allies say, no, we don't want them even though they came from France and Germany and other places. So we're going to tell them and we have already told them take these prisoners that we've captured because the United States is not going to put them in Guantanamo for the next 50 years and pay for it,” Trump said.

Expect India to Adopt Just Policy Towards Noble People of Kashmir, Says Iran's Supreme Leader

MMNN:22 August 2019
New Delhi: Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, the Supreme leader of Iran, has expressed concern over the situation of Muslims in Kashmir, which has been on the edge since the Narendra Modi government repealed Article 370, which granted special status to the state and bifurcated it into two Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh.
Taking to Twitter, Khamenei said: “We’re concerned about Muslims’ situation in #Kashmir. We have good relations with India, but we expect the Indian government to adopt a just policy towards the noble people of Kashmir and prevent the oppression & bullying of Muslims in this region.”
He also blamed the United Kingdom for the “disputes between India &Pakistan”, saying: “The British intentionally left this wound in that region in order to sustain conflicts in Kashmir.”
The leader’s comments came after Pakistan said it would approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over India’s decision. Pakistan had also knocked on the doors of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) but in vain as the international community stressed on the two countries resolving the issue bilaterally.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly offered to mediate what he called the "explosive" situation in Kashmir. Speaking on Tuesday, a day after phone calls with both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump said religion was one of the main reasons for uneasy ties between India and Pakistan.

After Global Leaders, Imran Khan Reaches Out to Pakistanis Living Abroad Over Kashmir Issue

MMNN:22 August 2019
Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has asked his party's workers and followers living abroad to help highlight the Kashmir issue internationally.
The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf decided to highlight the Kashmir issue at all the world forums. Tensions between India and Pakistan spiked after New Delhi abrogated provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir's special status and bifurcated it into two Union Territories.
India has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was an internal matter and also advised Pakistan to accept the reality.
During a meeting with his party's Overseas Secretary Abdullah Riar on Wednesday, the prime minister directed the party leaders and workers to hold protest in New York against Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the UN General Assembly session next month.

US State Department Approves Possible $8 Billion Fighter Jet Sale to Taiwan: Pentagon

MMNN:21 August 2019
Washington: The U.S. State Department has approved a possible $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said on Tuesday in an official notification to Congress.
The sale being considered would be for 66 aircraft, 75 General Electric Co engines, as well as other systems, the agency said in a statement. It said the sale serves U.S. national, economic and security interests and would help Taiwan maintain a credible defence.
China has already denounced the widely discussed sale, one of the biggest yet by the United States to Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province. It has warned of unspecified "countermeasures."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch, a Republican, has welcomed the proposed sale of the Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 jets.
"These fighters are critical to improving Taiwan's ability to defend its sovereign airspace, which is under increasing pressure from the People’s Republic of China," he said in a recent statement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump notified Congress of the sale last week.
Pompeo told Fox News the sale was "consistent with past U.S. policy" and that the United States was "simply following through on the commitments we've made to all of the parties.

Italian PM Giuseppe Conte Announces Resignation, Denounces Interior Minister for Toppling Govt

MMNN:21 August 2019
Rome: Italy's prime minister announced his resignation on Tuesday as he made a blistering attack on his own interior minister, Matteo Salvini, accusing him of sinking the ruling coalition and endangering the economy for personal and political gain.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, addressing parliament after it was recalled from its summer recess to decide the future of the barely year-old government, accused League party chief Salvini of seeking to cash in on his rising popularity.
"(Salvini) has shown that he is following his own interests and those of his party," Conte told a packed Senate, a stony-faced Salvini sitting by his side. "His decisions pose serious risks for this country." He described Salvini's actions as "serious institutional recklessness, above all showing disrespect to parliament and liable to tip the country into a spiral of political uncertainty and financial instability".
Conte, who belongs to neither of the coalition's two parties, is to hand in his resignation later in the day, allowing the head of state to start formal consultations with parties to see if a new coalition can be formed. Failing that, President Sergio Mattarella would dissolve parliament.
Salvini at times shook his head, rolled his eyes or nodded to League senators as the prime minister unleashed his fierce critique of Salvini's actions over the past two weeks. Salvini, who moved to sit with his League senators to give his response, rejected Conte's comments, saying other parties were afraid of going to elections and losing their jobs.
He said his political goal was to challenge the European Union's fiscal rules, which he has blamed for impoverishing the country. Rome should spend at least 50 billion euros ($55 billion) to stimulate the chronically weak economy, he added. "I am not afraid," he said.
On the other side of Conte sat Luigi Di Maio, head of the League's now-estranged coalition partner, the 5-Star Movement, which was branded as obstructionist by Salvini over the past 12 days, since he pulled the plug on their alliance.
Salvini has demanded early elections, 3-1/2 years ahead of schedule, confident his surging popularity will sweep him into power as prime minister and push the anti-establishment 5-Star into opposition.

Anyone Who 'Touches' Iran Tanker Risks US Sanctions, Says Secretary of State Pompeo

MMNN:21 August 2019
United Nations: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says anyone who "touches," supports or allows an Iranian tanker carrying crude oil to dock risks US sanctions.
He told reporters Tuesday that if an Iranian supertanker that left Gibraltar on Sunday again heads to Syria, "we'll take every action we can consistent with those sanctions to prevent that."
The Iranian vessel was detained for a month for allegedly attempting to violate European Union sanctions on Syria. Gibraltar authorities rejected US attempts to seize the tanker.
Pompeo said the US doesn't want crude oil to go to Syria because it will be "off-loaded, sold, used by the Quds force, an organization that has killed countless Americans and people all across the world." He said he believes this rationale "is shared by the entire world."

Zakir Naik, Wanted in India, Banned from Making Speeches in Malaysia to 'Preserve Racial Harmony'

MMNN:20 August 2019
Controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik has been banned from giving public speeches anywhere in Malaysia, a day after he was quizzed for over 10 hours by police for his remarks against Malaysian Hindus, local media reports said.
The 53-year-old, who is wanted in India for fuelling extremism, is a controversial figure who labelled the 9/11 terror attacks an "inside job". He fled India three years ago and moved to Muslim-dominated Malaysia, where he was granted permanent residency.
Malaysian police said the ban on him has been imposed in the interest of national security. Datuk Asmawati Ahmad, head of corporate communications, The Royal Malaysia Police, confirmed the development to the Malay Mail. Naik has already been banned from the Malaysian states of Johor, Selangor, Penang, Kedah and Sarawak.
Naik is alleged to have made controversial remarks against Malaysian Hindus and Malaysian Chinese during a talk in Kota Baru on August 3, prompting calls for him to be deported to India.
Responding to calls for his deportation from Malaysia by suggesting Malaysian Chinese should leave the country first as they were "old guests." He also said that ethnic Hindus in Malaysia enjoyed "100 times more rights" than Muslims in India and that they believed in the Indian government more than the Malaysian one, media reports said.
Naik apologised for his remarks but insisted that he was not a racist. He said his detractors had taken his comments out of context and added "strange fabrications to them". "It was never my intention to upset any individual or community," he said in a statement on Tuesday.
"It is against the basic tenets of Islam, and I would like to convey my heartfelt apologies for this misunderstanding," Naik said.
Reacting to Naik's controversial comments, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir on Sunday said it was "quite clear" that Naik wanted to participate in racial politics. "He is stirring up racial feelings. The police will have to investigate whether it is causing tension; obviously, it is," he said.
Mahathir added that as a permanent resident, Naik was not allowed to participate in politics. "You can preach (religiously). But he wasn't doing that," he said.
"He was talking about Chinese going back to China and Indians going back to India. I have never said such things. But he did. That is politics," the annoyed Malaysian prime minister said.
Meanwhile, more Malaysian provinces have banned Naik from making public speeches. On Monday, Melaka became the latest state to ban his speeches. Naik has been banned from speaking in Melaka, said the Malaysian state's Chief Minister Adly Zahari.
Adly said the state government wants to avoids any issue that could strain ties between races, the Star reported on Monday. "We want to maintain this. So we decided not to allow Mr Naik to hold talks or gatherings here," he was quoted as saying.
Last week, the northern state of Perlis banned him from speaking at an event, following public uproar over racially insensitive remarks which he had made.

UK PM Boris Johnson Tells EU He Wants Brexit Deal But Without Irish Backstop

MMNN:20 August 2019
London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has written to EU President Donald Tusk reaffirming his desire to conclude a Brexit deal as well as his opposition to the controversial "backstop" on Ireland.
The so-called backstop is a mechanism that would keep the UK in EU customs arrangements to prevent a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.
In the letter Johnson stressed that his government wanted to achieve a divorce deal with Brussels.
"You have my personal commitment that this government will work with energy and determination to achieve an agreement. That is our highest priority," Johnson wrote on Monday. Brussels says the backstop is needed as a fallback option to preserve the integrity of European trade and avoid risking a return of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
The backstop was included in the accord reached with the European Union by former premier Theresa May, which was rejected thrice by the British parliament. Johnson, who succeeded May in July, has said he's ready to leave the EU at the new scheduled exit date of October 31, with or without an accord.
But he also reiterated his view that the Irish backstop plan was "anti-democratic and inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK as a state." In addition, keeping the UK in the customs union would prevent London from establishing a trade policy independent of EU rules, he said.
The EU has repeatedly stated that it was not ready to renegotiate the Brexit deal it had reached with May. Johnson will seek support for his vision for Brexit in key European capitals, travelling Wednesday to Berlin to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel and Thursday to Paris for talks with President Emmanuel Macron, ahead of the G7 summit in Biarritz at the end of the week.

Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam Promises a 'Communication Platform' to Resolve Differences With Protesters

MMNN:20 August 2019
Hong Kong: Hong Kong's leader says she's setting up a "communication platform" to resolve differences in the city after months of anti-government protests. Chief Executive Carrie Lam also said Tuesday a fact-finding study will look at the causes of the protests and the police response to them.
The movement held a massive but peaceful rally on Sunday after earlier protests had been marked by violence. Lam and other officials have conditioned dialogue on the protest movement remaining peaceful.

One Minute It Was an Afghan Wedding. The Next, a Funeral for 63

MMNN:19 August 2019
Kabul: One minute, it was a wedding — nearly 1,000 guests packed under one roof, a thin partition segregating them by gender. Men shimmied to a live band, women spun to a DJ. Their invitation cards read: We celebrate “with a world of hope and desire.” The next minute, a suicide bomber walked into the men’s section of the Kabul hall and turned it into carnage. Dozens were dead, on the dance floor and around their tables. The band perished on the stage. The women were left broken, wailing, and searching.
Even by the standards of Afghanistan, where dozens are killed every day in a long war that seems out of control, the attack Saturday night was a shock. And not just because one bomber could end at least 63 lives, wound nearly 200, and scar hundreds of others for life.
It also was because of the choice of target and the timing, just as US negotiators are finalizing a deal with Taliban insurgents to extricate US forces from Afghanistan after 18 years.
The Islamic State group asserted responsibility Sunday for the blast and identified the bomber in such a way as to suggest he was from neighbouring Pakistan, underscoring just some of the complexities in the conflict that the Americans will be leaving behind.
Violent loss in Afghanistan is such a daily reality that any celebration — a concert, or even dinner at a restaurant — often is avoided as unnecessary risk-taking.
A wedding, a celebration of union, had remained the exception, an occasion when people could dance without guilt, laugh without hesitation. But for the bride and groom, who survived, and the hundreds of their relatives, that respite was snatched.
“Death is better for me than this,” Mirwais Alami, the groom, told a local television channel. “I can’t get myself to go to the funerals, my legs feel weak. Even if they tear me to pieces now, and take a piece of me to each home that lost a loved one so they get solace, their hearts won’t get peace.”
Although the Taliban wage the majority of the insurgent violence, the Islamic State group — which is no ally of the Taliban — also has established a small but stubborn foothold in Afghanistan and has claimed responsibility for many deadly explosions. Unlike the Taliban, the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State often hit targets like Shiite mosques, gyms and schools to foment sectarian divisions.
U.S. negotiators with the Taliban have sought assurances that it will not support international and regional terrorist groups. Afghan officials worry that the United States is agreeing to a rushed withdrawal of its remaining 14,000 troops without leaving a realistic transition period to test the Taliban’s true intentions for peace or the extent of Islamic State’s threat.
“This war has turned this land into a slaughterhouse where nowhere is safe, where we don’t live but spend our days trying to stay alive,” Shaharzad Akbar, the chairwoman of Afghanistan’s human rights commission, wrote on Twitter. “How & when will we overcome this culture of murder & violence, this mentality of terror, this terrifying willingness 4 indiscriminate slaughter?”
Alami, the groom, is a tailor. He is 25. His bride, Raihana, was just graduating from high school, and is 18.
Their families are working class, their homes modest. From the engagement about seven months ago, he had spent about $14,000 on wedding expenses, from savings and from loans.
“I brought pain, and nothing else — no happiness,” Alami said.
The wedding was not even supposed to happen this soon. When the couple became engaged, the bride’s parents had agreed on the condition that she not marry for two years, until she graduated and took some time.
But about three months ago, the groom asked her parents if the wedding could be scheduled earlier, partly because in Afghanistan, it is a time of great uncertainty. No one knows what might happen once the Americans withdraw, and whether the agreement between the Taliban and the United States will bring peace — or still more conflict.
Many Afghans are skeptical. They say the U.S. agreement with the insurgents is rushing the withdrawal of troops because of President Donald Trump’s electoral calculations rather than the conditions on the ground. It could result in a full-blown civil war or the return of the Taliban in triumphant ways, they say. And that could cost Afghans their basic liberties.
These days, such fears are a factor in every matter of life.
Makai Hazrati, the bride’s mother, said she had asked the couple to wait for at least after the 100th anniversary celebration of Afghanistan’s independence, on Monday, when she hoped threats would subside. But they had argued back, noting that soon after that occasion would be another of high threat: the Shiite commemoration of Ashura next month, which has been repeatedly targeted by the Islamic State.
“I wanted to arrange a small gathering between two families in the house, but Raihana wanted to have a bigger wedding party in a hall,” Hazrati said.
The Dubai City Wedding Hall, a spacious if modest venue in the west of Kabul, was booked for about 1,000 guests. The groom delivered all the groceries for the meal, and the hall’s kitchen staff prepared massive pots of pilaf rice, chicken drumsticks, chopped cucumbers and sliced melons.
When Raihana and several girlfriends went to a beauty salon hours before the ceremony, Hazrati made a stop to rent a special vest the bride’s family usually gives the groom. Alami had insisted that they not purchase one — a one-night rental would do.
The suicide bomber, identified by the Islamic State as Abu Asim al-Pakistani, walked into the men’s section around 10:30 p.m. The couple had changed clothes once already, after wearing green for the ritual of putting henna in each other’s palms. In the women’s section, dinner was served, the food still on the table.
In the men’s section, music played and friends danced as they awaited dinner. The groom was in a separate room upstairs, where the ceremony of nikah, completion of a marriage contract, was underway.
“Four people were dancing in the middle, others were cheering them on,” said Ezatullah Ramin, 23, a relative. “Then I saw a huge flame, and then a big bang.”
Knocked out by the explosion, Ramin awoke surrounded by dead guests, badly mangled and many in pieces.
“There is an echo in my ear still — a mix of music and the blast,” he said.
Early Sunday morning, the wedding hall was cordoned off by police as workers tried to remove the blood and debris.
The floor at the men’s hall was washed clean, as if the blood of dozens had not been smeared there. Ceiling pieces dangled. The murals around the hall, of lush and serene scenery, were punctured by the ball-bearings that had been packed into the bomber’s suicide vest.
“I have been burying bodies all night, all morning,” said Mohammed Hamid, a relative of the groom.
He had come to the wedding hall to load a truck with the pots of unserved food, sweets and sugar for the tea, and hundreds of cans of soda.
Some of that food went to the wake at the house of a neighbor of the groom, where two funerals were happening: one for a husband killed at the wedding hall, the other for his young wife, who had a heart attack after her husband’s body arrived home early Sunday morning.
The husband, Najib, was a close friend of the groom’s brother, Basir.
“I feel guilty because I invited him to the party,” Basir said. “I thought we were going to have fun.”
Nearly two dozen bodies arrived in a small, tightly knit community where the bride’s family lives. Armed men dotted the narrow lane leading to a mosque, frisking visitors out of fear of a second suicide bomber.
Men wailed as the final prayers were recited at the mosque’s small garden. Some fainted, others were collapsed in corners — holding and consoling one another.
Next door to the mosque, the women’s cries would grow louder as the bodies made a final stop, a final farewell with mothers and sisters. Many of the bodies were not in a condition for the coffins to be opened.
Then, one by one, the bodies arrived at a small cemetery, and were lowered into holes dug so close together they might as well have been one mass grave.
At noon, many — including the bride’s father — were still searching for news of loved ones. One of the bride’s younger brothers was still missing.
“They say there’s one body at Aliabad hospital that is unidentified,” a man stepped into the mosque’s garden and announced.
The bride’s father, wiping his tears with his sleeves, followed the man, down the dusty alley.

Hong Kong Protesters Throng Streets Peacefully in Pouring Rain

MMNN:19 August 2019
Hong Kong: Hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters rallied peacefully in Hong Kong on Sunday, filling major thoroughfares under torrential downpours in the eleventh week of what have been often violent demonstrations in the Asian financial hub. Sunday's turnout showed that the movement still has broad-based support despite the ugly scenes witnessed in recent days when protesters occupied the Chinese-ruled city's airport, a move for which some activists apologised.
It was the calmest weekend protest since the latest demonstrations against perceived creeping Beijing influence in the former British colony began.
"They've been telling everyone we're rioters. The march today is to show everyone we are not," said a 23-year-old named Chris, who works in marketing and was dressed all in black, including a scarf covering his face and baseball cap.
"It does not mean we won't keep fighting. We will do whatever is necessary to win, but today we take a break, then we reassess."
One protester shouted at others who were jeering at police, "Today is a peaceful march! Don't fall into the trap! The world is watching us," prompting the group to move on.
Late in the evening, some demonstrators were urging others to go home and rest.
Anger erupted in June over a now-suspended bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China, but the unrest has been fuelled by broader worries about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" formula put in place after Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule in 1997, including an independent judiciary and right to protest.
The protests present one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012, with the ruling Communist Party preparing to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic on Oct. 1.
Protesters held aloft placards with slogans including "Free Hong Kong!" and "Democracy now!" and umbrellas to shield them from the sometimes heavy rain.
Some aimed green lasers at police and government buildings. The crowd in Causeway Bay's leafy Victoria Park, where the rally started, included elderly people and young families, with some parents carrying toddlers.
Despite rally organisers not having permission to march, the park could not accommodate the crowd, which thronged nearby streets. Many protesters headed towards Hong Kong's financial centre, chanting for the city's Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, to step down.
It was impossible to put an exact figure on the number of protesters. The organisers put the number at 1.7 million, adding they had applied for permission to march to the Hong Kong Liaison Office, Beijing's main representative body in the city, on the last day of the month.
Police estimated there were 128,000 people in Victoria Park at the height of the protest.
"It's bloody hot and it's raining. It's a torture just to turn up, frankly. But we have to be here because we have no other choice," said a 24-year-old student named Jonathan.
"We have to continue until the government finally shows us the respect that we deserve."
A government spokesman said the protests were generally peaceful, but they had disrupted traffic badly.
"The most important thing at present is to restore social order as soon as possible," he said. "When everything is calm, the government will engage in a sincere dialogue with the public to fix the social rifts and rebuild social harmony."
Aside from Lam's resignation, demonstrators are seeking complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, a halt to descriptions of the protests as "rioting", a waiver of charges against those arrested, an independent inquiry and resumption of political reform.
Speaking to reporters before boarding Air Force One in New Jersey on Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump drew parallels between the violent protests in Hong Kong and Beijing's bloody suppression of student-led pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
He added that he supported liberty and democracy in Hong Kong and said that he hoped the situation would be resolved in a "humanitarian" fashion.
"When we were young, we didn't think about it. But my son tells me: After 2047, what will happen to me?" said a history teacher named Poon, referring to the year when the 50-year agreement enshrining Hong Kong's separate system will lapse.
"I will come again and again and again. We do not know how any of this is going to end. We will still fight," she said.
Police have come under criticism for using increasingly aggressive tactics to break up demonstrations and on Sunday some people handed out balloons resembling eyeballs, a reference to the injury suffered by a female medic hit by a pellet round in the eye.
On Saturday, however, a demonstration in support of the government attracted what organisers said was 476,000 people, although police put the number of attendees at 108,000.
Beijing has struck an increasingly strident tone over the protests, accusing foreign countries including the United States of fomenting unrest.
Scenes of Chinese paramilitary troops training this past week at a stadium in the city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, gave a clear warning that mainland intervention by force is possible.
Last week, protesters who occupied the terminal at Hong Kong's airport forced the cancellation of nearly 1,000 flights and detained two men they thought were pro-government sympathisers, prompting Beijing to liken the behaviour to terrorism.
"We are Hong Kongers. We are here for our future. We feel for the teenagers," said Frances Chan, 60, a retired journalist attending Sunday's rally.
She said only a few protesters had used violence, sparingly, brought on by pressure from the authorities.
"Actually, we want peace and freedom," she said.

'Linking Kashmir With Our Peace Efforts is Reckless, Unwarranted': Afghanistan Lashes Out at Pakistan

MMNN:19 August 2019
Washington: Afghanistan has hit out at Pakistan after the latter linked the current situation in Kashmir with the ongoing peace efforts in Afghanistan, with Afghan ambassador to the US Roya Rahmani calling it "reckless, unwarranted and irresponsible".
"The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan strongly questions the assertion made by Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan, that the ongoing tensions in Kashmir could potentially affect Afghanistan's peace process," Rahmani said.
Asserting that Kashmir is "a bilateral issue" between India and Pakistan, Rahmani said her country believes Pakistan's motive and insistence to purposely tie Afghanistan to the Kashmir issue is a deliberate attempt to prolong the violence happening on Afghan soil.
"Any such statements that link the evolving situation in Kashmir to the Afghan peace efforts are reckless, unwarranted and irresponsible," the top Afghan diplomat said in an unusual lengthy statement here. "It is a poor excuse used by Pakistan to justify its inaction against the Taliban and to avoid taking a decisive stance against the militant group," she asserted.
Rahmani said the assertion by the Pakistani Ambassador that the Kashmir issue could compel Pakistan to reposition its troops from its western frontier with Afghanistan to its eastern border with India is "a misleading statement which inaccurately suggests that Afghanistan poses a threat" to Pakistan.
"There is no threat from Afghanistan to Pakistan. The Afghan government sees no credible reason for Pakistan to maintain tens of thousands of military troops on its western frontier," she said. "On the contrary, Afghan stability is frequently threatened by Pakistan-based, sanctioned and supported militant and terrorist groups," Rahmani said.
These groups operate openly from Pakistan-governed spaces and regularly spill over into Afghanistan, she alleged. "Pakistani authorities should address this problem by undertaking a sincere and forceful law and order measure through police actions inside Pakistan," she said.
Rahmani said the statement by her Pakistani counterpart runs contrary to the positive and constructive engagement Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had with Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on his recent visit to the country.

Signs of recession worry Donald Trump ahead of 2020

MMNN:17 August 2019
President Donald Trump is warning of an economic crash if he loses reelection, arguing that even voters who personally dislike him should base their ballots on the nation’s strong growth and low unemployment rate.
But privately, Trump is growing increasingly worried the economy won’t look so good come Election Day.
The financial markets signaled the possibility of a U.S. recession this week, sending a jolt of anxiety to investors, companies and consumers. That’s on top of concerns over Trump’s plans to impose punishing tariffs on goods from China and word from the United Kingdom and Germany that their economies are shrinking.
Though a pre-election recession here is far from certain, a downturn would be a devastating blow to the president, who has made a strong economy his central argument for a second term. Trump advisers fear a weakened economy would hurt him with moderate Republican and independent voters who have been willing to give him a pass on some his incendiary policies and rhetoric. And White House economic advisers see few options for reversing course should the economy start to slip.
Trump has taken to blaming others for the recession fears, mostly the Federal Reserve, which he is pushing for further interest rate cuts. Yet much of the uncertainty in the markets stems from his own escalation of a trade war with China, as well as weakened economies in key countries around the world.
Some of Trump’s closest advisers have urged him to lower the temperature of the trade dispute, fearing that further tariffs would only hurt American consumers and rattle the markets further. The president blinked once this week, delaying a set of tariffs in an effort to save Christmas sales.
Aides acknowledge it is unclear what steps the White House could take to stop a downturn. Trump’s 2017 tax cut proved so politically unpopular that many Republicans ran away from it during last year’s midterms. And a new stimulus spending program could spark intraparty fighting over big deficits.
The hope among administration officials is that a mix of wage gains and consumer spending will power growth through 2020. Yet Trump knows his own survival hinges on voters believing that he alone can prolong the economy’s decade-plus expansion.
“You have no choice but to vote for me because your 401(k), everything is going to be down the tubes,” the president said at a Thursday rally in New Hampshire. “Whether you love me or hate me, you’ve got to vote for me.”
Trump has spent much of the week at his New Jersey golf club, many of his mornings on the links, his afternoons watching cable television and his evenings calling confidants and business executives to get their take on the market’s volatility.
Though he has expressed private worries about Wall Street, he is also skeptical about some of the weaker economic indicators, wondering if the media and establishment figures are manipulating the data to make him look bad, according to two Republicans close to the White House, not authorized to discuss private conversations.
His skepticism has been reinforced by White House officials who have long been inclined to only show Trump rosier economic assessments. Amid the market turmoil this week, the president tweeted out defenses of his economic record.
He blasted the Fed for not cutting interest rates deeper, under the belief that sharper cuts would lead to more lending activity and make the U.S. dollar more competitive against foreign currencies. The president also highlighted the strength of consumer spending — as retail sales have jumped 3.4% from a year ago.
Yet his focus on the Fed may be counterproductive.
The Federal Reserve voted last month to trim rates for the first time since 2008, a step taken to insulate the economy against trade uncertainty. But consumers interpreted that as a precautionary move ahead of a downturn rather than as part of an effort to keep the economy growing, according to the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment survey released Friday.
Consumer confidence has dropped 6.4% since July. The pessimism could worsen if the Fed decides to slash rates in accordance with Trump’s wishes.
“Additional cuts in interest rates would act to increase consumer apprehensions about a potential recession,” said Richard Curtin, director of the survey.
One sector already suffering this year is manufacturing, the very industry that Trump pledged to revive and fortify with his tariffs. Factory output has fallen 0.5% during the past 12 months, the Fed said Thursday.
There are a few steps the government could take to help manufacturing and the economy, said Linda Dempsey, vice president of international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers.
Congress could approve the updated trade agreement among the United States, Canada and Mexico — which would protect the North American supply chain. Secondly, the government could renew the soon-to-expire charter for the Export-Import Bank. But reconciling the situation with China is tricky because it involves negotiations between two countries with competing interests.
“That requires two sides — it’s not something the United States and our own political environment can deal with,” Dempsey said.
Most economists — including Fed officials — still expect the economy to grow this year, just at a slower pace than last year’s 2.9%.
A senior White House official said the growth in the second quarter this year was artificially low because of unusually bad weather and problems at Boeing that hurt aircraft production. Thus the baseline economy might be stronger than many forecasters think.
Financial markets on Wednesday pointed to a possible downturn as the interest rate charged on a 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell below the rate on a 2-year note. That event has traditionally foreshadowed a recession. But the Trump official said it might have lost its predictive power because of the low rates and other policies of central banks worldwide.
But the falling rates on U.S. Treasury notes indicates that the recession countdown clock is now ticking, said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West.
The only challenge is figuring out when that alarm bell might ring.
“I think we’re heading down that road to recession — we’re on that steady march toward that inevitable conclusion,” Anderson said. “It’s just that drip, drip, drip of trade war anxiety that is hanging over market sentiment.”

Donald Trump says Apple will spend ‘vast sums’ in US

MMNN:17 August 2019
Donald Trump said Friday that tech giant Apple would be spending “vast sums” of money in the US in a tweet ahead of a dinner meeting with its CEO Tim Cook.
The men have had several informal meetings before, including at Bedminster, New Jersey, where Trump is reportedly on a working holiday at his golf course.
“Having dinner tonight with Tim Cook of Apple. They will be spending vast sums of money in the U.S. Great!” he tweeted at around 7 pm local time.
The meeting follows Thursday’s announcement from Apple that it has invested roughly $60 billion in the US, and currently employs some 90,000 people in the country.
Many of the tech giant’s products are assembled in China and the company opposes incoming tariffs -- an issue Trump is fixated on -- of 10 percent on goods manufactured in China, due to come into force on September 1.
Trump has rejected Apple’s calls for an exemption on its products, tweeting in July the company should, “Make them in the USA, No Tariffs!” But his administration announced Thursday tariffs on some goods would be delayed until December.
Apple did not immediately respond to comment about the dinner, and Trump did not tweet again about the meeting, or what was discussed.
The president’s latest missive comes after a gaffe in March when he referred to Cook as “Tim Apple”.
Trump later claimed the naming was deliberate and a “time saving” measure.

Noble laureate Kailash Satyarthi calls for UN convention to stop digital child abuse

MMNN:17 August 2019
Noble laureate Kailash Satyarthi has called for a UN convention to address the issue of digital child sexual abuse and trafficking.
Satyarthi made the comments on Saturday during a conference- IIMPACT 2019- organised by PAN-IIM Alumni Singapore.
IIMPACT is a forum created by the PAN- IIM (Indian Institutes of Management) alumni in Singapore. “What I am working on and demand (that) a legally binding UN Convention to stop digital abuse of children and child trafficking,” Satyarthi said.
Satyarthi said he was also in talks with the Indian government to lead in proposing a UN convention to stop the use of technology for child abuse.
“We need strong champions who can bring this issue, not in this General Assembly in September because it is too short, but next year. We have to build it with strong demand,” he told PTI.
The Nobel Peace Prize Winner lamented that technology is being misused by traffickers as well as organized criminals to use children in pornography and other kinds of sexual abuses.
Blocking the network is not going to be enough, he said, calling for a UN convention that would hold these tech-savvy child abusers accountable for the crime.
Highlighting the possibility of a successful UN Convention, he said success has been achieved in getting the International Labour Organisation law on child labour by massive mobilization campaign across 103 countries in 1998.
Satyarthi said he has held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of Norway, Sweden and Qatar over the issue of digital child abuse.
It is possible and achievable, he said of the UN convention.

India, China no longer developing nation, won’t let them take benefits: Trump

MMNN:14 August 2019
US President Donald Trump has said that India and China are no longer “developing nations” and were “taking advantage” of the tag from the WTO and asserted that he will not let it happen anymore. Trump, championing his ‘America First’ policy, has been a vocal critic of India for levying “tremendously high” duties on US products and has described the country as a “tariff king”.
The US and China are currently engaged in a bruising trade war after Trump imposed punitive tariffs on Chinese goods and Beijing retaliated. Earlier in July, Trump asked the World Trade Organisation to define how it designates developing-country status, a move apparently aimed at singling out countries like China, Turkey and India which are getting lenient treatment under the global trade rules. In a memorandum, Trump had empowered the US Trade Representative (USTR) to start taking punitive actions if any advanced economies are inappropriately taking benefits of the WTO loopholes.
Addressing a gathering at Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Trump said India and China – the two economic giants from Asia – are no longer developing nations and as such they cannot take the benefit from the WTO.
However, they are taking the advantage of a developing nation tag from the WTO, putting the US to disadvantage, he said.
“They (India and China) were taking advantage of us for years and years,” Trump said. The Geneva-based WTO is an intergovernmental organisation that regulates international trade between nations.
Under the global trade rules, developing countries claim entitlement to longer timeframe for the imposition of safeguards, generous transition periods, softer tariff cuts, procedural advantages for WTO disputes and the ability to avail themselves of certain export subsidies.
Trump expressed hope that the WTO will treat the US “fairly”. He said the WTO views certain countries like China and India as “they’re growing”. “Well, they’ve grown,” he said and warned that the US will not let such countries to take advantage of the WTO.
“We’re not letting that happen anymore...Everybody is growing but us,” he said.

PM Imran Khan visits PoK as tensions boil with India

MMNN:14 August 2019
Prime Minister Imran Khan travelled to Pakistan occupied Kashmir on Wednesday where he was expected to issue a fresh challenge to India over its move to scrap Article 370 which gave special status to Jammu-Kashmir. The move has sent tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours soaring.
His visit to mark the country’s Independence Day comes more than a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to strip Kashmir of its special status.
In the wake of the move, Pakistan has launched a diplomatic offensive aimed at reversing the order and formally asked the United Nations Security Council late Tuesday to hold an emergency session to address India’s “illegal actions”.
Pakistan has also expelled the Indian ambassador, halted bilateral trade and suspended cross-border transport services, however, analysts said the actions were unlikely to move Delhi.
Kashmir has been under lockdown for over a week with tens of thousands of troop reinforcements deployed to the main city of Srinagar and other towns and villages, with a curfew enforced across the region and phone and internet lines cut to quell potential unrest.
Indian authorities vowed to reduce the restrictions on freedom of movement in Kashmir following the country’s own Independence Day celebrations on Thursday.
As tensions simmered with India, Pakistan moved ahead with independence celebrations which began at the stroke of midnight with firework shows lighting up the skies in major cities, where residents jammed the streets waving the national flag from their cars and motorcycles.
In August 1947 the British Raj was dismantled with the subcontinent divided into two independent states -- Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan.

Russian jet chases NATO plane away from defence minister’s aircraft: Report

MMNN:14 August 2019
A Russian fighter jet saw off a NATO warplane after it approached a plane carrying Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu over neutral waters in the Baltic Sea, the TASS news agency reported on Tuesday. Shoigu’s aircraft had been returning to Moscow from the Russian Baltic region of Kaliningrad - which is surrounded by Poland and Lithuania - and was carrying a TASS reporter on board, the agency said. It said a Spanish F-18 jet based in Lithuania had tried to approach Shoigu’s plane, prompting one of two Russian SU-27 fighter jets accompanying him to see it off. A video of the incident shown on Russian state media showed a Russian jet sharply banking to the left in the direction of the NATO plane, forcing it to veer leftwards itself. Shoigu had flown to Kaliningrad to attend a ceremony marking the start of construction of a new military academy.

Russia says small nuclear reactor blew up in deadly accident

MMNN:12 August 2019
The failed missile test that ended in an explosion killing five scientists last week on Russia’s White Sea involved a small nuclear reactor, according to a top official at the institute where they worked.
The institute is working on small-scale power sources that use “radioactive materials, including fissile and radioisotope materials” for the Defense Ministry and civilian uses, Vyacheslav Soloviev, scientific director of the institute, said in a video shown by local TV.
The men, who will be buried Monday, were national heroes and the “elite of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center,” institute Director Valentin Kostyukov said in the video, which was also posted on an official website in Sarov, a high-security city devoted to nuclear research less than 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Moscow.
The blast occurred Aug. 8 during a test of a missile that used “isotope power sources” on an offshore platform in the Arkhangelsk region, close to the Arctic Circle, Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom said over the weekend.
The Defense Ministry initially reported two were killed in the accident, which it said involved testing of a liquid-fueled missile engine. The ministry didn’t mention the nuclear element.
Radiation Spike
It caused a brief spike in radiation in the nearby port city of Severodvinsk, according to a statement on the local administration’s website that was later removed. The Russian military said radiation levels were normal but disclosed few details about the incident.
News of the explosion set off in nearby cities and towns a run on iodine, which is believed to help prevent the thyroid gland from absorbing radiation. Norway said it had stepped up radiation monitoring after the incident but hadn’t detected anything abnormal.
Southerly winds and the large distance between the border and the explosion make it unlikely that Finland will detect any radiation, Pia Vesterbacka, director at Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, said by phone Monday. The authority hasn’t checked its air filters since the incident but expects to have results this week, she added.
Rosatom declined to comment on the incident Monday and a spokeswoman for the Sarov institute couldn’t immediately be reached.
Russian media have speculated that the weapon being tested was the SSC-X-9 Skyfall, known in Russia as the Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered cruise missile that President Vladimir Putin introduced to the world in a brief animated segment during his state-of-the-nation address last year.
The incident comes after a series of massive explosions earlier last week at a Siberian military depot killed one and injured 13, as well as forcing the evacuation of 16,500 people from their homes.
Russia’s navy has suffered numerous high-profile accidents over the years. In July, 14 sailors died in a fire aboard a nuclear-powered submarine in the Barents Sea in an incident on which officials initially refused to comment. A top naval official later said the men gave their lives preventing a “planetary catastrophe.”
Russia’s worst post-Soviet naval disaster also occurred in the Barents Sea, when 118 crew died on the Kursk nuclear submarine that sank in after an explosion in August 2000.

‘An eye for an eye’: sea of black at Hong Kong airport protest

MMNN:12 August 2019
The protesters streamed into Hong Kong airport and quickly transformed the arrivals hall at one of the world’s busiest transport hubs into a sea of black. Instead of being met by smiling relatives and friends, passengers arriving at the airport were greeted by thousands of pro-democracy activists chanting “fight with Hong Kong, fight for freedom!”
Most were dressed in the movement’s trademark black clothing, some sporting construction hard hats or gas masks.
And many added a new accessory on Monday: eyepatches or bandages to pay tribute to a woman who suffered a serious face injury at a protest on Sunday night.
The woman, who has not been identified, was reportedly hit by a beanbag round fired by police, and rumours circulated that she lost her vision.
Images of blood pouring from her face as she lay on a pavement quickly went viral and featured in posters calling for demonstrations under the banner: “an eye for an eye”.
“HK police are killing us,” read a sign held by one protester. “Hong Kong is no longer safe,” said another.
And on walls, pillars and barriers in the airport, protesters sprayed painted red graffiti in English and Chinese reading “an eye for an eye”.
“Hong Kong police are out of their minds, exceeding the level of force in their guidelines,” said a 22-year-old protester who gave only his surname, Law.
“Hong Kong people must rise up and not be afraid.”
Some protesters said the airport had been chosen as a venue for the demonstration because they believed police would not fire tear gas surrounded by international visitors.
“The police wouldn’t act unreasonably because if people from other countries see how police can come in and hit people, that would be serious,” said Kelvin Liu, a 19-year-old student at the protest.
- ‘Sorry for the inconvenience’ -
Protesters had already staged a three-day sit-in from Friday at the airport, handing out leaflets about their movement to arriving passengers.
But while several thousand people joined those rallies, the scene on Monday was vastly different, with people so tightly packed that it took 15 minutes to move through the crowd from the upper floor to the ground floor in the arrivals hall.
In the early afternoon, shops in the hall began to shut as the protest swelled, but well-organised volunteers moved through the crowd distributing water and food to the mostly young protesters.
Passengers looked confused as they exited wheeling their luggage, with some moving swiftly past the outstretched hands offering information about the pro-democracy movement.
But others stopped to look at the posters and artwork hung around the hall and talk with the protesters.
“I think they have every right to do what they are doing,” said Rhiannon Coulton, 33, from Australia after she landed at the airport.
“I don’t know if this will do any good for them, we will have to wait and see.”
Coulton arrived in Hong Kong airport on one of the last planes to land on Monday after authorities announced all remaining flights in and out would be cancelled.
As protesters sang and chanted, an occasional muffled announcement could be heard from the loudspeakers above: “All flights have been cancelled, please leave as soon as possible.”
Flight boards showed row after row of flights with their status reading “cancelled”.
Underneath one protester had attached a sign: “Sorry for the inconvenience... But we’re fighting for survival!”

‘India, China ties should be a factor of stability in uncertain world’, says S Jaishankar

MMNN:12 August 2019
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who is on a crucial three-day visit to China, on Monday said that India-China relations should be a factor of stability at a time when the world is facing an uncertain situation.
Jaishankar, who arrived here on Sunday, called on Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan at the Zhongnanhai, the picturesque imperial residential complex where top Chinese leaders reside.
He later had a restricted meeting with Foreign Minster Wang Yi followed by a delegation level meeting.
In his opening remarks during the meeting with Wang, considered a confidant of President Xi Jinping, Jaishankar said, “We reached a consensus in Astana two years ago that at a time when the world is more uncertain, our relationship should be a factor of stability”.
“And I am very pleased today to come in the aftermath of the Wuhan summit where the consensus between our leaders on global and regional issues has expanded,” he said, referring to the summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi.
During his three-day visit, Jaishankar will hold talks with the Chinese leadership on a host of issues including finalisation of arrangements for President Xi’s visit to India later this year for the second informal summit with Prime Minister Modi. The visit of Jaishankar, the first Indian minister to tour China after the Modi government began its second term, is also taking place in the aftermath of India’s decision to revoke special status to Jammu and Kashmir and its division into two Union Territories -Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
His visit was finalised much before India’s move to revoke Article 370 of the Constitution that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
Jaishankar, who was the first career diplomat to become the External Affairs Minister, served as India’s Ambassador to China from 2009 to 2013, the longest tenure by an Indian envoy. PTI KJV PMS PMS

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan extends cautious welcome to UK PM’s new visa plan

MMNN:9 August 2019
Nobel laureate Venki Ramakrishnan, who is also president of the Royal Society, on Friday extended a cautious welcome to post-Brexit plans to fast-track visas for top scientists and researchers announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The plans were criticised by several scientists, who believe they could in no way compensate for the damage that would ensue from Johnson’s intention to leave the European Union on October 31 without an agreement.
Ramakrishnan said the Royal Society has long called for reform of the UK’s costly and complex visa system which acts as a barrier to attracting the best international talent, but said he welcomed the new plans and will look forward to its details.
Like other scientists, Ramakrishnan also cautioned about the implications of a no-deal Brexit: “But the fact remains, half of international academic talent in UK universities comes from the European Union and the EU is our single largest research collaborator”.
“Alongside immigration reform, therefore, maintaining close working ties with researchers in Europe and access to EU research funding, are essential. A ‘no-deal’ exit from the EU is the worst option for science.”
Details of Johnson’s plans have not been released, but he said: “We were home to the world’s first national DNA database, we discovered graphene, and our cutting-edge scientists should be proud to follow in the footsteps of titans like Ada Lovelace and Nobel laureates Francis Crick and Peter Higgs”.
“But to ensure we continue to lead the way in the advancement of knowledge, we have to not only support the talent that we already have here, but also ensure our immigration system attracts the very best minds from around the world”.
But his plans were ridiculed by the discoverer of graphene, the Nobel prize-winning physicist Andre Geim, who told The Times: “The government may try and reduce the barriers to entry for scientists but they cannot reduce turmoil that would be caused to science in the UK by a no-deal Brexit. Scientists are not fools. They know that turmoil is inevitable for many years.”
Johnson announced the plans on a visit to the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire.

United Nations rejects Pakistan’s appeal for intervention on J-K

MMNN:9 August 2019
Calling for “maximum restraint” by all sides, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres on Thursday indicated the Kashmir issue needs to be resolved bilaterally in keeping with the Shimla Agreement of 1972 and by peaceful means in accordance with the UN charter.
The reference to the Shimla Agreement in this context is rare and significant, according to people familiar with these discussions, as it provides the framework for resolving the dispute bilaterally, which is a rebuff in a way to Pakistan’s attempts to seek UN intervention.
“The Secretary-General has been following the situation in Jammu and Kashmir with concern and makes an appeal for maximum restraint,” a spokesperson for Gutteres said in a statement and added that the position of the United Nations on this region is governed by the world body’s Charter and applicable Security Council resolutions.
The spokesperson also said, “The Secretary-General also recalls the 1972 Agreement on bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, also known as the Shimla Agreement, which states that the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”
The secretary general was “concerned over reports of restrictions on the Indian-side of Kashmir, which could exacerbate the human rights situation in the region,” the spokesperson added and that he has called on all parties to “refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir”, which was a reference, according to those people cited above, to the “final status”, and not the change in the state’s status to that of a Union Territory.
Pakistan had sought UN and UNSC intervention in a letter to Gutteres, but it appears to have not achieved its objectives. Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN Maleeha Lodhi had written on Twitter on Tuesday that the letter, written by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi would make “clear that the rights of Kashmiris as provided by Security Council resolutions cannot be abrogated by any unilateral action. Compliance of SC resolutions on J&K is essential for peace in our region”. She did not say, but was referring to Resolutions 39 and 47 from 1948, which set up a UN-mandated commission to help resolve the dispute and recommended a plebiscite in the state to determine its final status.

US says no policy change on Kashmir

MMNN:9 August 2019
The United States on Friday said that there is no change in its policy on Kashmir and called on India and Pakistan to maintain calm and restraint.
“No”, replied State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus when asked by reporters if there has been any change in America’s policy on Kashmir.
The US policy has been that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and it is up to the two countries to decide on the pace and scope of the talks on the issue.
“And if there was, I certainly wouldn’t be announcing it here, but no, there’s not,” Ortagus said in response to a follow up question.
She said the United States supports dialogue between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.
“It’s something that we’ve called for calm and restraint by all parties. We want to main peace and stability, and we, of course, support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues of concern,” the US State Department spokesperson said.
India had on Monday revoked provisions of Article 370 to take away Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, and bifurcating the state into two union territories -- Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Ortagus said the US was working closely with the two South Asian countries.
“We have a lot of engagement with India and Pakistan. Obviously, we just had Prime Minister Khan here, not just because of Kashmir. That’s certainly an incredibly important issue and something that we follow closely. But we have a host of issues that we work with India on quite closely and that we work with Pakistan on quite closely,” she said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had met External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in Bangkok last week.
Responding to a question on Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir, Ortagus said, “I really don’t want to go beyond what we’ve said, because it’s such a tenuous issue. It’s something that we’re talking to them about quite closely.” “The United States, whenever it comes to any region in the world where there are tensions, asks for people to observe the rule of law, respect for human rights, respect for international norms. We ask people to maintain peace and security and direct dialogue,” she said .
The State Department spokesperson said the US was closely monitoring the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
“There are reports, as you’ve mentioned, of detentions and restrictions of residents in Jammu and in Kashmir. And again, that’s why we continue to monitor this very, very closely,” she said. Ortagus reiterated earlier statements that the US was not consulted and informed by India about its decision on scrapping articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution.
“There was no heads up given,” she said.
Successive US administrations’ policy have been to encourage India and Pakistan to resolve their differences through dialogue.
The Trump administration has insisted that Pakistan needs to create conducive conditions for talks by taking irreversible and decisive actions against terrorist and militant groups operating from its soil.
Meanwhile, after Acting Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells, another senior US diplomat is heading to India.
The visit was pre-scheduled but it would be used to discuss the current issues, Ortagus said.
“Deputy Secretary of State John J Sullivan will travel to Thimphu, Bhutan, and New Delhi, August 11 through 17th to advance the United States partnership with two nations that are critical to preserving the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region,” the US State Department spokesperson said.
In Bhutan, she said, Sullivan will explore expanding and deepening the ties with the government and people of Bhutan. The deputy secretary will be the highest-level executive branch official from the United States to visit Bhutan in over two decades, Ortagus added.
She said Sullivan will then travel to New Delhi to advance the “broad and multifaceted” US-India Strategic Partnership, which is based on a shared commitment to democratic values, economic growth and rule of law. “There, the deputy secretary will meet Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar and address the India-US Forum,” Ortagus said.

Kim Jong Un says North Korean missile test sends warning to US

MMNN:7 August 2019
Kim Jong Un said North Korea’s latest missile tests were intended as a warning against ongoing US-South Korea military exercises, while President Donald Trump’s new defense chief defended the training as necessary to maintain readiness.
North Korean state media said Wednesday that Kim personally oversaw what allied military officials said was a pair of short-range ballistic missile launches a day earlier -- the fourth such volley in two weeks. “The demonstration fire clearly verified the reliability, security and actual war capacity of the new-type tactical guided weapon system,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.
North Korea has taken escalating steps in recent weeks to show its frustration with the US’s refusal to meet its demands in nuclear talks. The regime also has specifically accused Trump of breaking a pledge during a June 30 meeting to suspend all joint drills -- the latest of which started Monday.
“Kim Jong Un noted that the said military action would be an occasion to send an adequate warning to the joint military drill now underway by the U.S. and South Korean authorities,” KCNA reported.
The so-called Alliance 19-2 exercises were instituted after Trump unilaterally agreed to Kim’s request last year to suspend larger, live-fire Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills that North Korea long denounced as an effort to prepare for an invasion. Trump administration officials say the current “command post” exercises are largely computer-driven and don’t constitute a breach of the president’s commitments to Kim.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Tuesday while en route to Tokyo that the allies were “still abiding” by the adjustments made after Trump and Kim’s historic first meeting in Singapore last year. “At the same time, we need to maintain our readiness and making sure that we’re prepared,” said Esper.
Weapons experts have said all of the tests in the past two weeks were of the same solid-fuel, ballistic missile known as the KN-23, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and has a range to strike all of South Korea and perhaps parts of Japan.
North Korea Warns U.S. Talks at Risk After Latest Missile Tests
Kim Dong-yub, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the regime appeared to be trying to balance foreign and domestic pressures. “Externally, it’s trying not to break the platform of dialogue,” he said, adding that Kim must also shield “himself from criticism from the North Korean people who feel insecure over national security concerns.”
Esper said he would also press allies Japan and South Korea to keep their escalating trade feud from affecting cooperation. Seoul has warned that the dispute, rooted in disagreements over Japan’s 1910-45 colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula, could cause it to reconsider an intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo.
“My message to -- in both Seoul and Tokyo -- will likely be, look, we have really big challenges in the near term, threats, challenges if you will in North Korea in the longer term, bigger one of China, we should focus on those two things,” said Esper, who will also visit South Korea. “So, I’d ask them to both resolve this issue quickly, and let’s really focus on North Korea and China.”
That may prove easier said than done. Japan followed through with a plan to remove South Korea from a list of trusted export destinations Friday, despite a personal appeal for restraint by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

Hafiz Saeed, 26/11 mastermind, guilty of terror financing, says Pakistan probe agency

MMNN:7 August 2019
Formal charges of terror financing were filed against Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed in a court in Pakistan’s Punjab province on Wednesday, just before the case was transferred to another court due to reasons of jurisdiction, people familiar with the development said.
Hafiz Saeed, a UN designated terrorist, was presented before the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) Gujranwala, some 80 km from Lahore, amid tight security. He continues to be in custody and has not been freed, sources have said.
“Since the case is related to Mandi Bhauddin district of Punjab therefore the prosecution requested the court to shift it to Gujrat ATC court (some 200-km from Lahore),” a counter-terrorism department official said. Next hearing of the case will be in the Gujrat ATC.
Hafiz Saeed, the 2008 Mumbai attack mastermind, was arrested on July 17 over charges of terror financing. Saeed is being kept at the high security Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore.
The US Department of the Treasury has designated Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, and the US, since 2012, has offered a USD 10 million reward for information that brings Lashkar chief to justice.
Saeed-led JuD is believed to be the front organisation for the LeT which is responsible for carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. He was listed under UN Security Council Resolution 1267 in December 2008.
The CTD on July 3 registered 23 FIRs against 13 JuD leaders, including Saeed, on the charges of terror financing in different cities of Punjab province.
Since the Imran Khan government has taken control, the JuD and its charity wing Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) properties, including seminaries and mosques, across the country have been under scanner following immense international pressure after Pulwama attack in which 44 Indian soldiers were killed.
The Pakistani government had also arrested the JuD’s second-in-command Abdul Rehman Makki, who is brother-in-law of Saeed, on the charges of making a public speech and terror financing charges.
The CTD said it booked Hafiz Saeed and his 12 aides for ‘terror financing’ in 23 cases after “irrefutable evidence” against them was detected.
The cases have been registered in Lahore, Gujranwala & Multan for collection of funds for terrorism financing through assets/properties made and held in the names of Trusts/ Non Profit Organisations (NPO) including Al-Anfaal Trust, Dawatul Irshad Trust, Muaz Bin Jabal Trust, etc.
The CTD said investigation launched into financing matters of proscribed organisations -- JuD and LeT -- in connection with implementation of UN Sanctions against these Designated Entities & Persons as directed by NSC (National Security Committee) in its Meeting of January 1, 2019, chaired by the Prime Minister Imran Khan for implementing the National Action Plan.
“These suspects made assets from funds of terrorism financing. They held & used these assets to raise more funds for further terrorism financing. Hence, they committed multiple offences of terrorism financing & money laundering under Anti Terrorism Act 1997. They will be prosecuted in ATCs (Anti Terrorism Courts) for commission of these offences,” the CTD said.
Makki, MaliK Zafar Iqbal, Ameer Hamza, Muhammad Yahya Aziz, Muhammad Naeem Sh, Mohsin Bilal, Abdul Raqeeb, Ahmad Daud, Muhammad Ayub, Abdullah Ubaid, Muhammad Ali and Abdul Ghaffar are other suspects. The other suspects reported to have been hiding since the government took over the properties of these organisations.

World mourns the death of Nobel laureate Toni Morrison

MMNN:7 August 2019
Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, a pioneer and reigning giant of modern literature whose imaginative power in “Beloved,” ‘‘Song of Solomon” and other works transformed American letters by dramatizing the pursuit of freedom within the boundaries of race, has died at age 88.
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf announced that Morrison died Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Morrison’s family issued a statement through Knopf saying she died after a brief illness.
“Toni Morrison passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends,” the family announced. “The consummate writer who treasured the written word, whether her own, her students or others, she read voraciously and was most at home when writing.”
Few authors rose in such rapid, spectacular style. She was nearly 40 when her first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” was published. By her early 60s, after just six novels, she had become the first black woman to receive the Nobel literature prize, praised in 1993 by the Swedish academy for her “visionary force” and for her delving into “language itself, a language she wants to liberate” from categories of black and white. In 2012, Barack Obama awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Her writing was not just beautiful but meaningful — a challenge to our conscience and a call to greater empathy,” Obama wrote Tuesday on his Facebook page. “She was as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page.”
Morrison helped raise American multiculturalism to the world stage and helped uncensor her country’s past, unearthing the lives of the unknown and the unwanted, those she would call “the unfree at the heart of the democratic experiment.” In her novels, history — black history — was a trove of poetry, tragedy, love, adventure and good old gossip, whether in small-town Ohio in “Sula” or big-city Harlem in “Jazz.” She regarded race as a social construct and through language founded the better world her characters suffered to attain. Morrison wove everything from African literature and slave folklore to the Bible and Gabriel Garcia Marquez into the most diverse, yet harmonious, of literary communities.
“Narrative has never been merely entertainment for me,” she said in her Nobel lecture. “It is, I believe, one of the principal ways in which we absorb knowledge.”
Winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for “Beloved,” she was one of the book world’s most regal presences, with her expanse of graying dreadlocks; her dark, discerning eyes; and warm, theatrical voice, able to lower itself to a mysterious growl or rise to a humorous falsetto. “That handsome and perceptive lady,” James Baldwin called her.
Her admirers were countless — from fellow authors, college students and working people to Obama and fellow former President Bill Clinton; to Oprah Winfrey, who idolized Morrison and helped greatly expand her readership. Morrison shared those high opinions, repeatedly labeling one of her novels, “Love,” as “perfect” and rejecting the idea that artistic achievement called for quiet acceptance.
“Maya Angelou helped me without her knowing it,” Morrison told The Associated Press during a 1998 interview. “When she was writing her first book, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,’ I was an editor at Random House. She was having such a good time, and she never said, ‘Who me? My little book?’
“I decided that ... winning the (Nobel) prize was fabulous,” Morrison added. “Nobody was going to take that and make it into something else. I felt representational. I felt American. I felt Ohioan. I felt blacker than ever. I felt more woman than ever. I felt all of that, and put all of that together and went out and had a good time.”
The second of four children of a welder and a domestic worker, Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, a steel town outside of Cleveland. She was encouraged by her parents to read and to think, and was unimpressed by the white kids in her community. Recalling how she felt like an “aristocrat,” Morrison believed she was smarter and took it for granted she was wiser. She was an honors student in high a school, and attended Howard University because she dreamed of life spent among black intellectuals.
At Howard, she spent much of her free time in the theater (she had a laugh that could easily reach the back row), later taught there and also met and married a Jamaican architect, Harold Morrison, whom she divorced in 1964. They had two children, Harold and Slade.
But although she went on to teach there, Howard disappointed her. Campus life seemed closer to a finishing school than to an institution of learning. Protesters, among them former Morrison student Stokely Carmichael, were demanding equality. Morrison wanted that, too, but wondered what kind.
“I thought they wanted to integrate for nefarious purposes,” she said. “I thought they should demand money in those black schools. That was the problem — the resources, the better equipment, the better teachers, the buildings that were falling apart — not being in some high school next to some white kids.”
In 1964, she answered an ad to work in the textbook division of Random House. Over the next 15 years, she would have an impact as a book editor, and as one of the few black women in publishing, that alone would have ensured her legacy. She championed emerging fiction authors such as Gayl Jones and Toni Cade Bambara, helped introduce U.S. readers to such African writers as Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, worked on a memoir by Muhammad Ali and topical books by such activists as Angela Davis and Black Panther Huey Newton. A special project was editing “The Black Book,” a collection of everything from newspaper advertisements to song lyrics that anticipated her immersion in the everyday lives of the past.
By the late ‘60s, she was a single mother and a determined writer who had been pushed by her future editor, Robert Gottlieb of Alfred A. Knopf, into deciding whether she’d write or edit. Seated at her kitchen table, she fleshed out a story based on a childhood memory of a black girl in Lorain — raped by her father — who desired blue eyes. She called the novel “The Bluest Eye.”
Morrison prided herself on the gift of applying “invisible ink,” making a point and leaving it to the reader to discover it, such as her decision to withhold the skin color of her characters in “Paradise.” Her debut as an author came at the height of the Black Arts Movement and calls for literature as political and social protest. But Morrison criticized by indirection; she was political because of what she didn’t say. Racism and sexism were assumed; she wrote about their effects, whether in “The Bluest Eye” or in “Sula,” a story of friendship and betrayal between two black women.
“The writers who affected me the most were novelists who were writing in Africa: Chinua Achebe, ‘Things Fall Apart,’ was a major education for me,” Morrison, who had studied William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf as a graduate student, told the AP in 1998.
“They took their black world for granted. No black writer (in America) had done that except for Jean Toomer with ‘Cane.’ Everybody else had some confrontation with white people, which was not to say that Africans didn’t, but there was linguistically an assumption. The language was the language of the center of the world, which was them.
“So that made it possible for me to write ‘The Bluest Eye’ and not explain anything. That was wholly new! It was like a step into an absolutely brand new world. It was liberating in a way nothing had been before!”
She had no agent and was rejected by several publishers before reaching a deal with Holt, Rhinehart and Winston (now Henry Holt and Company), which released the novel in 1970. Sales were modest, but her book made a deep impression on The New York Times’ John Leonard, an early and ongoing champion of her writing, which he called “so precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry.”
Setting her stories in segregated communities, where incest and suicide were no more outrageous than a sign which reads “COLORED ONLY,” Morrison wrote of dreamers for whom the price was often death, whether the mother’s tragic choice to murder her baby girl — and save it from slavery — in “Beloved,” or the black community that implodes in “Paradise.”
Like Faulkner, her characters are burdened by the legacy, and ongoing tragedy, of slavery and separation. For Faulkner’s white Southerners, losers of the Civil War, the price is guilt, rage and madness; for Morrison’s slaves and their descendants, supposedly liberated, history follows like the most unrelenting posse.
“The future was sunset; the past something to leave behind,” Morrison wrote in “Beloved,” in which the ghost of the slain daughter returns to haunt and obsess her mother.
“And if it didn’t stay behind, well, you might have to stomp it out. Slave life; freed life — every day was a test and a trial. Nothing could be counted on in a world where even when you were a solution you were a problem.”
Morrison’s breakthrough came in 1977 with “Song of Solomon,” her third novel and the story of young Milkman Dead’s sexual, social and ancestral education. It was the first work by a black writer since Richard Wright’s “Native Son” to be a full Book-of-the-Month selection and won the National Book Critics Circle award. It was also Morrison’s first book to center on a male character, a novel that enabled her “get out of the house, to de-domesticate the landscape.”
But the mainstream was another kind of education. Reviewing “Song of Solomon,” author Reynolds Price chided Morrison for “the understandable but weakening omission of active white characters.” (He later recanted.) When “Beloved” was overlooked for a National Book Award, a letter of protest from 48 black writers, including Angelou and Amiri Baraka, was published in The New York Times Book Review, noting that Morrison had never won a major literary prize.
“Beloved” went on to win the Pulitzer and Morrison soon ascended to the very top of the literary world, winning the Nobel and presiding as unofficial laureate of Winfrey’s book club, founded in 1996. Winfrey chose “Song of Solomon,” ‘‘The Bluest Eye,” ‘‘Paradise” and “Sula” over the years and would list all of Morrison’s works as among her favorites. Winfrey also starred in and helped produce the 1998 film version of “Beloved.”
As with so many other laureates, Morrison’s post-Nobel fiction was viewed less favorably than her earlier work. Morrison received no major competitive awards after the Nobel and was criticized for awkward plotting and pretentious language in “Love” and “Paradise.” But a novel published in 2008, “A Mercy,” was highly praised. “Home,” a brief novel about a young Korean War veteran, came out in 2012 and was followed three years later by a contemporary drama, “God Help the Child.” Morrison herself was the subject of an acclaimed documentary, “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” which came out this year.
Morrison’s other works included “Playing in the Dark,” a collection of essays; “Dreaming Emmett,” a play about the slain teenager Emmett Till; and several children’s books co-authored with her son, Slade Morrison (who died of cancer in 2010). In November 2016, she wrote a highly cited New York essay about the election of Donald Trump, calling his ascension to the presidency a mark of what whites would settle for to hold on to their status.
“So scary are the consequences of a collapse of white privilege that many Americans have flocked to a political platform that supports and translates violence against the defenseless as strength. These people are not so much angry as terrified, with the kind of terror that makes knees tremble,” she wrote.
“William Faulkner understood this better than almost any other American writer. In ‘Absalom, Absalom,’ incest is less of a taboo for an upper-class Southern family than acknowledging the one drop of black blood that would clearly soil the family line. Rather than lose its “whiteness” (once again), the family chooses murder.”
She taught for years at Princeton University, from which she retired in 2006, but also had an apartment in downtown Manhattan and a riverfront house in New York’s Rockland County that burned down in 1993, destroying manuscripts, first editions of Faulkner and other writers and numerous family mementoes. She had the house rebuilt and continued to live and work there.
“When I’m not thinking about a novel, or not actually writing it, it’s not very good; the 21st century is not a very nice place. I need it (writing) to just stay steady, emotionally,” she told the AP in 2012.
“When I finished ‘The Bluest Eye’ ... I was not pleased. I remember feeling sad. And then I thought, ‘Oh, you know, everybody’s talking about “sisterhood,’“ I wanted to write about what women friends are really like. (The inspiration for ‘Sula’). All of a sudden the whole world was a real interesting place. Everything in it was something I could use or discard. It had shape. The thing is — that’s how I live here.”

Iran’s Rouhani says war with Iran is the mother of all wars: Report

MMNN:6 August 2019
Peace with Iran is the mother of all peace and war with Iran is the mother of all wars, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday in a speech broadcast live on state TV. If the United States wants to have negotiations with Iran then it must lift all sanctions, Rouhani said.

China rebuffs US over ‘currency manipulator’ tag amid trade wars

MMNN:6 August 2019
China on Tuesday criticised the US Treasury’s decision to label it as a “currency manipulator” as arbitrary, unilateral and protectionist amid the ongoing trade war between the two countries.
China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China said it “regrets” Washington’s decision to slap it with “the currency manipulator” label, adding that Beijing doesn’t meet the “quantitative criteria for the so-called currency manipulators” set by the US Treasury.
Washington’s decision and Beijing’s response came as the Chinese currency Yuan weakened against the US dollar, crossing the 7 RMB (Renminbi or RMB is the official currency of China, Yuan is its lowest unit) mark against 1$.
“The U.S. labeling is an arbitrary unilateral and protectionist practice, which seriously damages international rules and will significantly impact the global economy and financial markets,” the People’s Bank of China said in a statement.
The statement attributed the recent weakening of the Chinese currency to “market supply and demand as well as fluctuations in the global foreign exchange markets” amid changes in the global economic situation and rising trade tensions.
It called on the US to “pull back before it is too late” and return to a “rational and fair track”.
The Chinese central bank, state media said, has long been committed to keeping the Yuan’s exchange rate stable at a reasonable and balanced level.
“The Chinese currency is the strongest among the G20 group and is one of the currencies that have seen substantial appreciation globally. From the beginning of 2005 to June this year, the currency’s nominal exchange rate appreciated 38 per cent and real exchange rate strengthened 47 per cent,” the state media report said.
An editorial in the nationalistic tabloid Global Times called US’ move “absurd”.
“When China was widely believed to have taken measures to keep the Renminbi at 7, the US didn’t frown at it. But when China allows market forces to determine the Renminbi exchange rate, Washington accuses it of manipulation. This is absurd,” the editorial added.
It claimed that every time the US discarded trade talks, the trade war escalated. Now a vicious circle has formed.
“But China has two things that the US lacks. First, China has a powerful political system and the Chinese people have united against a common source of hatred. Second, China has a rapidly expanding domestic market and huge development potential. Which country has room for maneuver, and which country is facing a political cliff? We will let time prove,” it said.

Iconic shipyard in Ireland that built Titanic to file for bankruptcy

MMNN:6 August 2019
The iconic Belfast shipyard Harland and Wolff, which built the Titanic, went into administration on Monday as its workers vowed to continue a week-long occupation of the site.
The company is set to file for insolvency on Tuesday at the High Court in Belfast, with accountancy firm BDO appointed administrators, according to reports.
The moves come after Dolphin Drilling, the Norwegian parent of Harland and Wolff which filed for bankruptcy in June, failed to find a buyer for the giant of Northern Ireland’s industrial past.
The shipbuilder, whose huge yellow cranes have towered over the Belfast skyline for decades, employed more than 30,000 people in the early 20th century but now has only 130 workers.
A group of them protesting at the shipyard every day for the past week voted Monday to continue their occupation of the site, calling on the government to intervene.
They emerged from a meeting chanting “save our shipyard” before confirming the outcome of the vote.
“The workforce have told us they wish to continue with the occupation of this plant until such times as we find a way to continue shipbuilding and heavy industry in Belfast,” Joe Passmore, a steel worker and union representative, said.
John McDonnell, finance spokesman for the main opposition Labour Party in Westminster, visited the shipyard site and claimed Prime Minister Boris Johnson had failed the workers in his first real test since taking power last month.
“We know this is a viable concern, we know the government has naval contracts it can put here to ensure the long-term future,” he said.
However, a British government spokesperson said Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith had held stakeholder meetings since taking up the role last month but no “viable” options for the shipyards’ future had emerged.
“He is speaking to partners... on the next steps to help those affected,” the spokesperson added.
As well as building the doomed Titanic, which sank in 1912, Harland and Wolff supplied almost 150 warships during World War II.
It has since moved away from shipbuilding and was until recently working mostly on wind energy and marine engineering projects.

US wants to quickly deploy new missiles in Asia: Esper

MMNN:3 August 2019
Washington wants to quickly deploy new intermediate-range missiles in Asia, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday in a move likely to anger China.
The new Pentagon chief said the US was now free to deploy the weapons following its withdrawal Friday from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia.
“Yes I would like to,” Esper said when asked if the US was considering deploying new medium-range conventional weapons in Asia.
“We would like to deploy a capability sooner rather than later,” Esper told reporters on a plane to Sydney at the start of a week-long tour of Asia.
“I would prefer months... But these things tend to take longer than you expect.”
The plan to deploy new missiles in Asia is likely to anger China which is vying with Washington for influence in the region, but Esper said Beijing should not be surprised.
“That should be no surprise because we have been talking about that for some time now,” he said.
“And I want to say that 80 percent of their inventory is INF range systems. So that should not surprise that we would want to have a like capability,” he said.
But Esper stressed the US was not embarking on a new arms race.
“The traditional sense of an arms race has been in a nuclear context,” he said.

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