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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.
“Right now, we don’t have plans to build nuclear-tipped INF range weapons. It’s the Russians who have developed non-compliant likely, possibly nuclear-tipped weapons,” he said.
“So I don’t see an arms race happening. I do see us taking corrective measures to develop a capability that we need for both the European theatre and this theatre, the Indo-Pac-Com theatre.”
The INF treaty was considered a cornerstone of the global arms control architecture but the United States said the bilateral pact had given other countries -- namely China -- free rein to develop their own long-range missiles.
The rise of a militarily more assertive China in the region has worried traditional US allies such as Australia and New Zealand, and Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea have alarmed neighbours with competing territorial claims to the strategic waterway.
Esper did not specify where the US intended to deploy the weapons.
“I would not speculate because those things depend on plans, it’s those things you always discuss with your allies,” he said.
Esper said he chose Asia for his first trip since taking office on July 23 “to affirm our commitment to the region, to reassure our allies and our partners.”
The Pentagon chief and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are due to meet with their Australian counterparts on Sunday.
Washington withdrew from the INF treaty on Friday after accusing Russia of violating it for years.
Under the pact signed in 1987 by then US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Washington and Moscow agreed to limit the use of conventional and nuclear medium-range missiles (with a range of 500-5,000 kilometres, 300-3,000 miles).
But its unravelling had been on the cards for months amid worsening ties between Russia and the US.

Iran to further reduce commitments to nuclear deal, says foreign minister

MMNN:3 August 2019
Iran will take another step to reduce its compliance with a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Saturday without elaborating, according to parliamentary news agency ICANA.
Iran has repeatedly said it will reduce its commitment to the nuclear accord in stages and may even withdrew from the pact altogether unless the remaining signatories find ways to shield its economy from U.S. sanctions. Washington pulled out of the deal last year.
“The third step in reducing commitments to (the nuclear deal) will be implemented in the current situation,” he said.
“We have said that if (the deal) is not completely implemented by others then we will also implement it in the same incomplete manner. And of course all of our actions have been within the framework of (the deal).”
Last month, Iran threatened to restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up enrichment of uranium to 20% purity in a move away from the nuclear deal.
Iranian officials have said that all of Tehran’s moves in reducing its commitments to the nuclear deal are reversible as long as the remaining signatories uphold their commitments.
Fears of a Middle East war with global repercussions have risen since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew last year from the 2015 deal and revived a panoply of sanctions meant to push Tehran into wider security concessions.
The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Zarif himself, blocking any property or interests he has in the United States, although Zarif said he had none.
He added at a charity event on Friday night that he is proud to be sanctioned by America for defending the rights of Iranian people, the IRIB news agency reported.

Hong Kong protesters defy China warnings with weekend rallies

MMNN:3 August 2019
Anti-government protesters in Hong Kong kicked off a new mass rally on Saturday as they defy increasingly stern warnings from China over weeks-long unrest that has plunged the city into crisis.
The semi-autonomous southern Chinese financial hub has seen two months of protests and clashes triggered by opposition to a planned extradition law that quickly evolved into a wider movement for democratic reforms.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing this week signalled a hardening stance, including with the arrests of dozens of protesters, and the Chinese military saying it was ready to quell the “intolerable” unrest if requested.
But protesters have remained unyielding, vowing to hold multiple rallies and marches throughout the weekend and into next week, sending tensions soaring once more.
Thousands of protesters filled a park in the densely populated neighbourhood of Mongkok, which has previously seen clashes between police and demonstrators, listening to speeches and shouting slogans.
Police initially denied activists permission to march through the neighbourhood but later allowed it after an appeal. Two marches are also planned for Sunday -- one on Hong Kong island and the other in the Tseung Kwan O district -- as well as a city-wide strike on Monday and rallies in seven locations.
The call for strike action appears to be gaining more traction than previous walkouts, with a host of organisations and unions vowing to join.
Sliding freedoms
Hong Kong has witnessed eight consecutive weekends of huge rallies -- often followed by violent clashes between police and small groups of hardcore protesters.
Under the terms of the 1997 handover deal, the city has rights and liberties unseen on the mainland, including an independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say those rights are being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Public anger has been compounded by rising inequality and the perception that the city’s distinct language and culture are being threatened by ever-closer integration with the Chinese mainland.
The past two weekends have seen a surge in violence used by both protesters and police, who have repeatedly fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse projectile-throwing crowds.
A mob of pro-government thugs also attacked protesters, putting 45 people in hospital.
Hong Kong’s police have increasingly adopted tougher tactics, including this week charging 44 protesters with rioting -- an offence that carries up to 10 years in jail.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has made few concessions beyond agreeing to suspend the extradition bill and has made few public appearances.
Protesters are demanding her resignation, an independent inquiry into police tactics, an amnesty for those arrested, a permanent withdrawal of the bill and the right to elect their leaders.
On Friday evening, thousands attended a rally organised by members of Hong Kong’s usually tight-lipped civil service -- a remarkable development as they called on their paymasters to meet the protesters’ demands.
Many civil servants wore surgical masks to hide their identities after the government warned that employees should show “total loyalty” and could be punished for attending.
Thousands of pro-government supporters also held a rally in a separate park on Saturday, many waving Chinese flags.

Osama bin Laden's son Hamza is dead, says U.S. media

MMNN:1 August 2019
The United States believes that Hamza bin Laden, a son of slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and himself a notable figure in the militant group, is dead, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.
The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, provided no further details, including when Hamza died or where.
President Donald Trump earlier on Wednesday declined to comment after NBC News first reported the U.S. assessment. Asked if he had intelligence that bin Laden's son had been killed, Trump told reporters: “I don't want to comment on it.”
Separately, the White House declined comment on whether any announcement was imminent.
Hamza, believed to be about 30 years old, was at his father's side in Afghanistan before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and spent time with him in Pakistan after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan pushed much of al Qaeda's senior leadership there, according to the Brookings Institution.
Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces who raided his compound in Pakistan in 2011. Hamza was thought to be under house arrest in Iran at the time, and documents recovered from the compound indicated that aides had been trying to reunite him with his father.
The New York Times reported that the United States had a role in the operation that led to Hamza's death, which it said took place in the past two years. Reuters could not immediately verify those details.
Still, the U.S. government's conclusion appears to be a recent one. In February, the State Department said it was offering a reward of up to $1 million for information leading “to the identification or location in any country” of Hamza, calling him a key al Qaeda leader.
Introduced by al Qaeda's chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in an audio message in 2015, Hamza provided a younger voice for the group whose aging leaders have struggled to inspire militants around the world galvanized by Islamic State, according to analysts.
Hamza has called for acts of terrorism in Western capitals and threatened to take revenge against the United States for his father's killing, the U.S. State Department said in 2017 when it designated him as a global terrorist.
He also threatened to target Americans abroad and urged tribal groups in Saudi Arabia to unite with Yemen's al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to fight against Saudi Arabia, it said.
In March, Saudi Arabia announced it had stripped Hamza bin Laden of his citizenship, saying the decision was made by a royal order in November 2018.

Rwanda closes border with Congo over deadly Ebola outbreak

MMNN:1 August 2019
Rwanda closed its border with Congo over the deadly Ebola outbreak on Thursday, while a Congolese official said a person who had contact with the second confirmed Ebola case in the border city of Goma was receiving treatment after showing signs of the disease.
The Ebola coordinator for North Kivu province, Dr. Aruna Abedi, told that the person in treatment is a suspected case. Congo’s health ministry said it is the 1-year-old daughter of the man who died on Wednesday and had spent several days at home with his large family while showing symptoms.
If this suspected case is confirmed, it could be the first transmission of Ebola in this outbreak inside Goma, a city of more than 2 million people on the Rwandan border. It is a scenario that health experts have long feared. The painstaking work of finding, tracking and vaccinating people who had contact with the man and the contacts of those contacts has begun.
Thursday’s developments came as the outbreak that has killed more than 1,800 people entered its second year. It is now the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history and last month the World Health Organization declared it a rare global emergency.
WHO has recommended against travel restrictions amid the outbreak but says the risk of regional spread is “very high.”
Rwanda’s state minister for foreign affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe confirmed the border closure to , a day after WHO officials had praised African nations for keeping their borders open. Last week Saudi Arabia stopped issuing visas to people from Congo while citing the Ebola outbreak, shortly before the annual hajj pilgrimage there this month.

UN Security Council to discuss North Korea missile launches

MMNN:1 August 2019
Britain, Germany and France have asked the United Nations Security Council to meet behind closed doors on August 1 on North Korea's latest missile launches, diplomats said.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles early on July 31, the South Korean military said, only days after Pyongyang launched two similar missiles intended to pressure South Korea and the United States to stop upcoming military drills.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres believed the missile launches were “just another reminder of the importance of restarting talks on the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
Revive denuclearisation talks
Ballistic missile launches by North Korea violate UN security council resolutions aimed at pressing the country to abandon its nuclear weapons program and Pyongyang is subject to extensive international sanctions over its missile and nuclear weapons programs. The tests have come despite a meeting between North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump on June 30 at which they agreed to revive stalled denuclearisation talks.
Both Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, played down last week's launches and Pompeo has continued to express hope for a diplomatic way forward with North Korea, which has been demanding relief from punishing U.S. sanctions and for Seoul and Washington to call off the joint exercises planned for this month.
Pompeo and the top U.S. North Korea negotiator are attending an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum in Bangkok this week, and Pompeo said he was holding out hope that U.S. officials could meet North Korean counterparts there.
'Americans still open to meeting'
North Korea has said the military drills could derail dialogue and has also warned of a possible end to its freeze on nuclear and long-range missile tests in place since 2017, which Trump has repeatedly held up as evidence of the success of more than a year of engagement with Kim.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho canceled a planned visit to the ASEAN forum, but Pompeo told reporters traveling with him the Americans were still open to a meeting and he hoped U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun and his new North Korean counterpart could meet soon.
Trump has continued to hail his good personal relationship with Kim and some analysts believe North Korea will be emboldened to press more aggressively for U.S. concessions by the U.S. leader's apparent eagerness to hold up his North Korea policy as a success in his 2020 re-election bid.
On July 31, North Korea's state news agency called the joint exercises “the root cause of confrontation and war,” and said a permanent halt to them was a prerequisite for improving inter-Korean relations and ensuring peace on the Korean peninsula. It said moves by the U.S. and South Korea to rename the drills were simply double-dealing that proved ”confrontational maniacs remain unchanged in their black-hearted intention to stifle” North Korea by force.
A top South Korean official said last month the drills would mainly involve computer simulations rather than troops in the field.
A summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February collapsed after they failed to reconcile differences between Washington's demands for Pyongyang's complete denuclearisation and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.

At least 28 killed as Afghan bus hits roadside bomb: official

MMNN:31 July 2019
Dozens of passengers, mainly women and children, were killed in western Afghanistan early Wednesday when the bus they were travelling in hit a roadside bomb, officials said.
“A passenger bus travelling on the Kandahar-Herat highway hit a Taliban roadside bomb. So far at least 28 killed, 10 wounded,” said Muhibullah Muhib, the spokesman for Farah province, adding that all were civilians.
Farooq Barakzai, a spokesman for Farah’s governor, confirmed the toll but warned it may rise higher. There was no immediate confirmation from the Taliban that it was behind the attack.
It came one day after the United Nations said civilians are being killed and wounded at a “shocking” level in Afghanistan’s war, despite a push to end the nearly 18-year-old conflict.
Casualties have dropped 27% in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period last year, which was a record, but nonetheless 1,366 civilians were killed and another 2,446 injured. The UN branded efforts to reduce the violence “insufficient”.
It also said that U.S. and pro-government forces caused more civilian deaths than the Taliban and other insurgent groups for the second quarter running. Child casualties represented almost one-third of the overall total of civilian casualties.
The bloodshed comes amid a months-long, U.S.-led push to forge a peace deal with the Taliban that would see foreign forces quit the country in return for various security guarantees.

North Korean launch was two ballistic missiles, flew 250 km: Seoul

MMNN:31 July 2019
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles early on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, only days after it launched two other missiles intended to pressure South Korea and the United States to stop upcoming military drills.
The latest launches were from the Hodo peninsula on North Korea's east coast, the same area from where last week's were conducted, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement. It said it was monitoring in case of additional launches.
The JCS in Seoul said later the North had fired ballistic missiles that flew about 250 km. South Korean news agency Yonhap said they appeared to be a different type to previous launches.
Colonel Lee Peters, a spokesperson for U.S. military forces in South Korea, said: “We are aware of reports of a missile launch from North Korea and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
He did not comment when asked whether the joint South Korea-U.S. drills, scheduled to begin next month, would continue.
Japan's defence ministry said no missiles had reached Japanese territory or its exclusive economic zone, and the launches did not threaten Japan's immediate security.
North Korea test-fired two new short-range ballistic missiles on July 25, its first missile tests since leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump met on June 30 and agreed to revive stalled denuclearisation talks.
The White House, the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both played down last week's launches and Pompeo has continued to express hope for a diplomatic way forward with North Korea.
Since Trump and Kim's June 30 meeting in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas, Pyongyang has accused Washington of breaking a promise by planning to hold joint military exercises with South Korea next month and warned that these could derail any talks.
North Korea has also warned of a possible end to its freeze on nuclear and long-range missile tests that has been in place since 2017, which Trump has repeatedly upheld as evidence of the success of his engagement with Kim.
A top South Korean official said last month the drills would go ahead as planned but would mainly involve computer simulations and not troops in the field.
A February summit in Vietnam between Trump and Kim collapsed after the two sides failed to reconcile differences between Washington's demands for Pyongyang's complete denuclearisation and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.
Trump reiterated to reporters at the White House earlier on Tuesday that he had a good relationship with Kim, but added: ”We'll see what happens. I can't tell you what's going to happen.”
Pompeo said on Monday he hoped working-level talks to revive denuclearisation talks could occur “very soon.”
On Tuesday, he told reporters travelling with him on a visit to Asia he did not know when this would happen but hoped U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun and his new counterpart could meet “before too long”.
Pompeo and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho had been expected to meet on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian security forum in Bangkok this week but Ri cancelled his trip, a diplomatic source said told Reuters last week.
Pompeo said on Tuesday he did not anticipate that the North Koreans would be in Bangkok but, if they were, he would look forward to a chance to meet Ri.
“Well see if they are there and, if they are, Im confident we will meet,” he said.
A senior U.S. administration official said earlier on Tuesday a North Korean official told a White House National Security Council (NSC) counterpart last week that working-level talks would start very soon.
The NSC official, who was in Asia for unrelated talks, travelled to the DMZ to deliver photographs commemorating the June 30 summit, the senior administration official told reporters.
Harry Kazianis, of Washington's Center for the National Interest think tank, said the latest launches were a clear attempt by North Korea to put pressure on Washington.
“For now, it seems any working-level talks between America and North Korea are on hold until the fall, as the Kim regime won't immediately spring back to diplomacy after this round of tests,” he said.
Other analysts have said North Korea will have been emboldened to press more aggressively for U.S. concessions by Trump's apparent eagerness to hold up his engagement with Pyongyang as a foreign policy success ahead of his 2020 reelection bid.

Make a deal now, or you may not get one, Donald Trump tells China

MMNN:31 July 2019
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned China against waiting out his first term to finalise any trade deal, saying if he wins re-election in the November 2020 U.S. presidential contest, the outcome could be no agreement or a worse one.
“The problem with them waiting ... is that if & when I win, the deal that they get will be much tougher than what we are negotiating now...or no deal at all,” Mr. Trump said in a post on Twitter, as the latest U.S-China trade talks began in Shanghai.
Mr. Trump said China appeared to be backing off on a pledge to buy U.S. agricultural products, which U.S. officials have said could be a goodwill gesture and part of any final pact.
“China ... was supposed to start buying our agricultural product now — no signs that they are doing so. That is the problem with China, they just don’t come through,” Mr. Trump tweeted.
Expectations low
U.S. and Chinese officials restarted negotiations after talks stalled in May, in a bid to end the year long trade war marked by tit-for-tat tariffs, but must still resolve deep differences, keeping expectations for this week’s two-day meeting low.
The trade war between the world’s two largest economies has rattled global financial markets that have also been pressured by this week’s U.S. Federal Reserve policy meeting and renewed concerns over Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Mr. Trump said the trade talks were going well with China, but added the United States would “either make a great deal or no deal at all.” ”We’ll see what happens,” he told reporters.
U.S. negotiating team
The U.S. negotiating team arrived for talks in Shanghai on Tuesday afternoon but there was no sighting of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer or U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The U.S. and Chinese delegations later appeared to have reached Shanghai’s historic Fairmont Peace Hotel where sources say the U.S. delegations are having dinner, but both teams avoided the media and did not make public comments.
Mr. Trump has targeted China as part of his “America First” campaign that helped him win the White House in 2016 and has staked his re-election bid in part on the strength of the U.S. economy. He has sought to negotiate various trade deals with China as well as Europe and other countries as part of his efforts to make good on his campaign promises.
On Tuesday, Mr. Trump also reiterated that Beijing might stall talks in hopes of inking a laxer deal with “somebody like Elizabeth Warren or Sleepy Joe Biden,” singling out two Democratic presidential frontrunners, before reversing course.
“China is dying to make a deal with me. But whether or not I do it, is up to me. It’s no up to them.” he said. “China is willing to give up a lot. But that doesn’t mean I’m willing to accept it.”

Blasts rock Kabul as US, Afghanistan vow to speed up peace talks

MMNN:26 July 2019
A series of bombings rocked Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Thursday, killing at least 10 people and wounding scores more, as US and Afghan officials pledged to speed up efforts to reach a negotiated end to the lengthy conflict.
The three blasts came amid a wider surge in violence in Kabul and around Afghanistan, where nine family members were killed in an eastern province Thursday while driving to a wedding.
The Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate claimed responsibility for the first two blasts, while the Taliban claimed the third. US and Afghan security officials, however, blamed the Taliban for all three explosions.
The bombings came just days before the start of campaigning for the September 28 presidential election, in which President Ashraf Ghani is seeking a second term.
Previous polls have been marred by violence from the Taliban and other insurgents who refuse to recognise Afghanistan’s fragile democracy.
Upcoming Afghan elections The first blast came at about 8:10 am (0340 GMT) when a suicide bomber targeted a bus as it slowed to turn a corner in an area just east of central Kabul, according to security officials and high-resolution surveillance footage seen by AFP.
Civilians scrambled to help stricken passengers off the bus and carried the body of a small child from the vehicle as smoke poured out the rear window. Other bodies could be seen in pools of blood on the road.
About 30 minutes later, a second explosion from a device hidden at the scene hit civilians and Afghan security forces as they responded.
A third blast, apparently targeting some sort of convoy, came later in the morning, also in eastern Kabul.
Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said that 11 civilians were killed, including five women and a child, and 45 more wounded.
Health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar said the toll was at least 10 dead and 41 wounded.
“Over the past month, we have seen increased numbers of civilian casualties. (The Taliban) are not targeting coalition forces, they are injuring innocent Afghans,” said Colonel Sonny Leggett, spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan.
‘Now is the time’
After the carnage unfolded, the US and Afghan governments released a joint statement with their pledges to speed up diplomatic efforts to stem the bloodshed.
Ghani and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed in a telephone call on Wednesday that “now is the time to accelerate efforts to reach a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan,” it said.
General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Washington’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, had been sent to Kabul to “discuss in detail the next steps on the road to peace,” the statement said.
Khalilzad is then expected to fly to Doha to resume talks with the Taliban.
He has held several meetings with the Islamist militants in the past year, the most recent being on July 9, also in Doha.
But the major hurdle has so far been the Taliban’s refusal to negotiate directly with the Afghan government, and nothing in the description of the call between Ghani and Pompeo indicated that had changed.
Ghani made the phone call to ask for clarification following President Donald Trump’s remark that the United States could easily win the war in Afghanistan but didn’t “want to kill 10 million people.”
Pompeo assured him that “there has been no change to President Trump’s South Asia strategy, including US commitment to a conditions-based drawdown” of troops, the statement said.
Some observers say the insurgents are increasing attacks to gain greater leverage in the talks.
Family killed
According to NATO, the Taliban has caused 1,075 casualties since April 11, the start of this year’s fighting season.
Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the eastern province of Nangarhar, said a car carrying a family to a wedding was hit by a roadside bomb Thursday in Khogyani district. Six women and three children were killed, he said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility.

A suicide attack on a wedding in Nangarhar on July 12, reportedly by a child bomber, was claimed by IS, which has a growing footprint in that part of Afghanistan.
The United States has stepped up its air campaign against the Taliban this year, and all sides claim to have inflicted heavy casualties on each other.
The insurgents and a group of Afghans this month made a vague and unbinding pledge to try to reduce civilian deaths to “zero”.
But last year was the deadliest on record for ordinary Afghans.
According to a UN tally, at least 3,804 civilians died in the war in 2018, including 927 children.

Indian-American adoptive father of Sherin Mathews begins life sentence

MMNN:26 July 2019
The Indian-American foster father of 3-year-old Sherin Mathews, sentenced to life in prison for the death of the toddler who was found dead in a culvert in 2017, has begun serving the jail term in Dallas.
In a case that attracted much international attention, Wesley Mathews, 39, pleaded guilty on June 24 to a lesser charge of injury to a child in Sherin’s tragic death.
He was originally charged with capital murder by authorities in the US state of Texas after they discovered Sherin’s highly decomposed body after a massive search that lasted 15 days.
On Thursday, Dallas County Sheriff officials said that Mathews was transferred from Dallas County jail to state prison at around 12:58 AM Thursday.
A Dallas County jury heard the case, and Mathews was sentenced to life in prison in Sherin’s death on June 26.
Mathews has since filed another appeal in the case asking for a new sentencing trial. His attorney alleges photos of Sherin’s body were “prejudicial”.
“Jurors expressed visible emotion when shown the exhibits,” defence attorney Brook Busbee wrote in the appeal.
The appeal also claims that evidence of prior injuries on Sherin’s body “prejudiced the jury”. The court filing said that those injuries cannot be linked to Mathews.
The father had reported Sherin missing after he put her outside October 7, 2017, because she wouldn’t drink her milk. Her badly decomposed body was found 15 days later in a culvert.
Prosecutors argued Mathews hid his crime, making it impossible to determine exactly what happened to the girl because of how badly decomposed her body was.
Mathews testified that his daughter choked on her milk and that he wrapped her body in a trash bag because he wanted “to do something nice” for her.
Sherin’s adoptive mother, Sini Mathews, was also criminally charged after the child’s body was found, but that case was later dismissed after the Dallas County District Attorney said there was not enough evidence to prosecute.
Mathews and his wife Sini Mathews, both hailing from Kerala, adopted Sherin from an orphanage in Bihar’s Nalanda district in 2016.
Police charged Sherin’s foster mother Sini with child abandonment in November 2017, after Mathews told officials that the couple left the toddler alone the night of her death while they went to dinner with their biological daughter.
Sini’s case was dismissed in March this year after prosecutors said they could not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
Sherin’s death attracted the attention of the Indian government and then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj took keen interest in the case and also instructed the Indian mission in Houston to make sure that the Indian toddler received justice. India revoked the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) immigration status of Wesley and Sini after Sherin’s death.

Imran Khan came with hope to reset ties with US, got only respite

MMNN:26 July 2019
Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan came to the US to reset ties with an estranged ally but may have to settle for merely a respite from hostilities for now at least till he delivers unambiguously on promises he made during the visit, from delivering the Taliban to always tell the truth.
The first progress report was sought on Thursday, just a day after Khan left for home.
It came when a reporter asked the US state department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus about American hostages, whose imminent release in 48 hours Khan had announced more than 72 hours ago last Monday, in joint remarks with President Donald Trump.
“The prime minister did say that,” Ortagus said acknowledging the lapsed deadline.
“We are, of course, working closely with the Pakistanis on recovering them. We think his statements were helpful and we’re of course hopeful that there will be some action proceeding those statements,” she said.
Imran Khan also promised to persuade the Taliban to agree to talks with the Afghan government in the search for a political solution ahead of the September general elections. And, also undertake sustainable counter-terrorism measures unlike in the past and to tell the truth, as he told lawmakers at a reception on Capitol Hill on the last day of his three-day visit.
The last was an important concession from his point of view as he said much of the present distrust and tension in ties stemmed from the then Pakistan government’s failure to tell the truth.
Khan also promised — in an interview to President Trump’s favourite Fox News channel — to consider a swapping Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani physician who helped the CIA ascertain al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and his family’s hideout in Abbottabad.
The United States has been seeking Afridi’s release in return for Afia Siddiqui, a Pakistani American neuroscientist with suspected al Qaeda links serving an 86-year sentence for, among other things, shooting an FBI agent during interrogation in custody in Afghanistan.
Khan might have felt pressured to make these promises as a guest thrust upon the administration by one of President Trump’s closest allies on the Capitol Hill, Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina. Graham had orchestrated the visit, single-handedly and not with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin-Salman and Jared Kushner, the US president’s son-in-law and top adviser, as has been suggested in some news reports citing unidentified Pakistani cabinet ministers.
But some south Asia watchers said Pakistan might have over-played their Graham card when foreign minister Mehmood Qureshi attacked Trump administration’s top officials on the region, Lisa Curtis at the White House and Alice Wells at the state department, accusing them of blocking Pakistan. He told Pakistani journalists, “We cannot forget the fact that the relationship between the two countries was such that no door was being opened for us in the time of Alice Wells and Lisa Curtis.”
Does that look like a part of a reset effort, asked a Pakistan watcher who suggested Pakistan might have “over-estimated its Graham-card”. The senator, it was pointed out, was a staunch opponent of Trump before he became an ally. He ran against Trump for the White House.
The reset Khan had desired, and his government has since claimed as achieved, is actually a cessation of hostilities from the US side, which is still not entirely convinced about Khan, his ideology — “Taliban Khan”, remember? — and, most importantly, his command of the military.
While arguing that the “respect and recognition” Khan received on the visit was more important at this time in view of Pakistan’s long-running complaint of not been accorded enough credit for its contribution to the war on terrorism, Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert with Wilson Center, a leading think tank, admitted Khan “may not have gotten the reset he sought while in Washington”.
“The Trump administration saw this visit as an opportunity to reward Islamabad for the assistance it’s provided to the US with the Taliban peace talks. For Washington, Afghan reconciliation remains the priority in the relationship with Pakistan, and despite all the great optics and good vibes emerging from the visit, the White House, for now, will continue to look at the relationship with Pakistan through that narrow lens,” he said.
But, from US perspective, Kugelman added, “a reset and expansion of the relationship may be possible eventually, but not until America sees Pakistan delivering more on the Afghan reconciliation front, and also on the counterterrorism front.”

Moscow warns of ‘consequences’ after Ukraine holds Russian tanker

MMNN:25 July 2019
Moscow on Thursday threatened Kiev with unspecified “consequences” after Ukraine said it was holding a Russian tanker for its role in a naval confrontation between the two countries last November.
“We are looking into what happened to take appropriate measures,” a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson told AFP.
“If Russians are taken hostage, this would be interpreted as the crudest violation of international law and consequences will not be long in coming.”
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)

Terms of draft Brexit deal ‘unacceptable’: PM Boris Johnson

MMNN:25 July 2019
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday described the terms of the current draft Brexit deal as “unacceptable” and called on Brussels to rethink its refusal to renegotiate.
Johnson also said his new government would set as a “top priority” preparations for exiting without an agreement if there is no deal with the EU by the October 31 deadline.
“I would prefer us to leave the EU with a deal -- I would much prefer it,” he told parliament a day after taking over as prime minister from Theresa May following a leadership contest in the governing Conservative Party.
“I believe that it is possible even at this late stage and I will work flat out to make it happen,” he said.
But he added: “The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by my predecessor has been three times rejected by this house. Its terms are unacceptable to this parliament and to this country.”
Johnson also confirmed that Britain would not nominate anyone to the European Commission which takes office on November 1.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)

China launches first private rocket capable of carrying satellites

MMNN:25 July 2019
A Chinese startup successfully launched the country’s first commercial rocket capable of carrying satellites into orbit Thursday, as the space race between China and the US heats up.
Beijing-based Interstellar Glory Space Technology -- also known as iSpace -- said it launched two satellites into orbit around 1:00 pm Beijing time (0500 GMT) from Jiuquan, a state launch facility in the Gobi desert.
The three-year-old company is one of dozens of Chinese rivals jostling for a slice of the global space industry, estimated to be worth about $1 trillion by 2040 according to Morgan Stanley.
The sector is currently dominated by SpaceX and Blue Origin in the US.
But Chinese startups are mostly focused on building technology to launch microsatellites instead of space tourism like their US counterparts, a spokeswoman for iSpace said.
Microsatellites are typically no larger than a shoebox and are used to monitor crops, weather patterns or disaster sites or used by universities for research purposes.
They are cheaper to build and easier to deploy than traditional truck-sized versions and their launch has become a lucrative market, currently dominated by the Indian space programme.
The 20-metre (66-foot) rocket designed by iSpace named Hyperbola-1 reached an altitude of 300 kilometres (186 miles), according to a statement on the company’s official WeChat social media account.
The company declined to say how much it cost them to build the rocket.
Two other private Chinese rocket builders, LandSpace and OneSpace, have both failed to launch their rockets into orbit in the last year.
Once dominated by state research agencies and the military, China allowed private companies to enter the space industry to build and launch satellites in 2014.
But in June Beijing tightened supervision of the sector, issuing new guidelines that said private players needed to get state permission before embarking on space-related research or manufacturing.

Boris Johnson wins contest to become next UK Prime Minister

MMNN:23 July 2019
Boris Johnson, one of the most known British politicians abroad, was on Tuesday elected leader of the ruling Conservative party and will become the next prime minister on Wednesday, taking on the challenging Brexit in-tray that consumed his predecessor, Theresa May.
Boris Johnson, 55, a former journalist educated in Eton and Oxford, won the leadership contest against foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who polled 92,152 of the 1.6 lakh votes from members of the party, which is leading a minority government with the Democratic Unionist Party.
Theresa May will formally step down before Queen Elizabeth on Wednesday after attending her last Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons. Johnson will then be invited to Buckingham Palace and return to Downing Street as prime minister and address the nation.
The Tory government has a thin majority of two in the House of Commons, which may dwindle further if the party loses the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election in Wales on Thursday. It is one of the first tests Johnson will face as prime minister.
Anticipating Johnson’s election and taking over as the prime minister, ministers in the outgoing May government have symbolically resigned or announced they will resign as a sign of opposition to him, opening another divide within the fractious ruling party.
Faced with the task of uniting the party and country, as well as navigating the Brexit minefield, Johnson, a former two-term London mayor, is likely to forego summer holidays because the new deadline to leave the European Union is three months away, October 31.
Besides gaffes and errors in his career, Johnson has attracted renewed criticism over his promise to leave the EU on October 31, with or without an agreement. Senior Tories are grouping together to ensure that an economically crippling no-deal Brexit does not happen.
Every step of the Johnson government is likely to be closely watched, including his composition of the team of ministers: how many pro-Brexiteers and Remainers would be included, or not. Several ministers have announced they would not serve under Johnson.
However, Johnson, who was married to Indian-origin Marina Wheeler and has several links to India, is expected to bring back Priti Patel to the cabinet, and promote junior ministers Alok Sharma and Rishi Sunak, son-in-law of Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy.

‘Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of Earth, but…’:Donald Trump

MMNN:23 July 2019
President Donald Trump on Monday hailed Pakistan’s help in advancing peace talks in Afghanistan, a marked shift in tone as the United States seeks an accord with the Taliban to end almost 18 years of war.
Speaking from the Oval Office alongside Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump also warned he could end the conflict in a matter of days through force and “Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth,” but preferred dialogue.
Pakistan was the Taliban’s chief sponsor when it took power in neighbouring Afghanistan during the 1990s.
Its influence over the group, which has waged an insurgency since it was ousted from power by US-led forces in 2001, is seen as key in facilitating a political settlement with the government of President Ashraf Ghani.
“We’ve made a lot of progress over the last couple of weeks, and Pakistan has helped us with that progress,” said Trump.
“A lot of things are happening for the United States, and I think a lot of great things are going to be happening for Pakistan under your leadership,” he added as he turned to face his counterpart.
The warm words and smiles signalled a clear reversal for the Republican president, who has in the past accused Pakistan of being duplicitous and last year cut $300 million in security aid.
Imminent hostage release
Khan, on his first official trip to Washington, said: “I am one of those who always believed there was no military solution,” adding: “I have to compliment President Trump, because he has now forced people to end the war.”
Khan also referenced during the exchange “two hostages” about whom there would soon be “good news,” but it was not immediately clear whom he was referring to as there are no known American hostages in Pakistan.
Asked about the topic on a Fox News interview later, he said: “I think two or three American hostages, one Australian” were being held in Afghanistan and promised “good news in the next 48 hours.”
He may be referencing American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, who were abducted from the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul in 2016.
Asked about the fate of Shakeel Afridi, a doctor whose fake vaccination drive helped the CIA track Osama Bin Laden and whose release has long been sought by the US, Khan sounded less enthused.
“This is a very emotive issue because in Pakistan he is considered a spy,” Khan told Bret Baier.
‘Don’t want to kill 10 million’
Following an exchange with a reporter, Trump also said he had been asked to mediate the decades-long Kashmir conflict by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and would be happy to help, but his claim was swiftly denied by New Delhi.
The United States is pressing for a political agreement with the Taliban before presidential voting in Afghanistan in late September. This would clear the way for most US troops to withdraw from Afghanistan and bring an end to America’s longest war.
But Trump warned: “If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.”
Shamila Chaudhary, a senior fellow at the New America think tank and a former National Security Council official, told AFP that Khan’s visit amounted to “a reward for good behavior for following through on the Taliban talks.”
Islamabad wants to shore up relations with Washington after years of discord following the discovery of 9/11 architect Bin Laden on Pakistani soil, where he was killed in a US raid in 2011.
The IMF has just approved a $6 billion loan to help right Pakistan’s faltering economy, and keeping the US onside is crucial in maintaining the flow of Western assistance, added Raza Rumi, a Pakistan expert at Ithaca College.
The interaction between the two leaders -- both celebrities-turned-politicians -- had been the subject of much speculation.
But according to Chaudhary, the Trump-Khan encounter was in some ways a “formality” because the meetings between the US and Pakistan’s powerful army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who also traveled to Washington, were where the “real substance... will be discussed.”
Khan is seen as much closer to the army, which controls the country’s foreign policy, than his recent predecessors, and the presence of Bajwa “gives a little more credibility to whatever message the Pakistanis are bringing,” said Shuja Nawaz, a South Asia expert at the Atlantic Council.
A readout of the meeting by the White House said Trump hoped to “revive all aspects of the bilateral relationship,” including new trade deals and “strong military-to-military ties.”
The latter would be welcomed by Pakistan’s military, which is keen to access new US military hardware and restart security aid, said the analysts.

Boris Johnson wins contest to become next UK Prime Minister

MMNN:23 July 2019
Boris Johnson, one of the most known British politicians abroad, was on Tuesday elected leader of the ruling Conservative party and will become the next prime minister on Wednesday, taking on the challenging Brexit in-tray that consumed his predecessor, Theresa May.
Boris Johnson, 55, a former journalist educated in Eton and Oxford, won the leadership contest against foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who polled 92,152 of the 1.6 lakh votes from members of the party, which is leading a minority government with the Democratic Unionist Party.
Theresa May will formally step down before Queen Elizabeth on Wednesday after attending her last Prime Minister’s Question Time in the House of Commons. Johnson will then be invited to Buckingham Palace and return to Downing Street as prime minister and address the nation.
The Tory government has a thin majority of two in the House of Commons, which may dwindle further if the party loses the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election in Wales on Thursday. It is one of the first tests Johnson will face as prime minister.
Anticipating Johnson’s election and taking over as the prime minister, ministers in the outgoing May government have symbolically resigned or announced they will resign as a sign of opposition to him, opening another divide within the fractious ruling party.
Faced with the task of uniting the party and country, as well as navigating the Brexit minefield, Johnson, a former two-term London mayor, is likely to forego summer holidays because the new deadline to leave the European Union is three months away, October 31.
Besides gaffes and errors in his career, Johnson has attracted renewed criticism over his promise to leave the EU on October 31, with or without an agreement. Senior Tories are grouping together to ensure that an economically crippling no-deal Brexit does not happen.
Every step of the Johnson government is likely to be closely watched, including his composition of the team of ministers: how many pro-Brexiteers and Remainers would be included, or not. Several ministers have announced they would not serve under Johnson.
However, Johnson, who was married to Indian-origin Marina Wheeler and has several links to India, is expected to bring back Priti Patel to the cabinet, and promote junior ministers Alok Sharma and Rishi Sunak, son-in-law of Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy.

Former Chinese premier Li Peng dies at 91

MMNN:23 July 2019
Li Peng, a former hard-line Chinese premier best known for announcing martial law during the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, has died. He was 91.
The official Xinhua News Agency said that Li died Monday of an unspecified illness.
Li was a cautious, uninspiring figure but a keen political infighter who spent two decades at the pinnacle of power before retiring in 2002. He leaves behind a legacy of extended and broad-based economic growth coupled with authoritarian political controls.
While broadly disliked among the public, he oversaw China’s reemergence from post-Tiananmen isolation into rising global diplomatic and economic clout, a development he celebrated in often defiantly nationalistic public statements.
“Ridding themselves from the predicament of imperialist bullying, humiliation and oppression, the calamity-trodden Chinese people have since stood up,” Li said in 1995 in a speech for the Oct. 1 anniversary of the 1949 revolution.
One reminder of Li will likely stand for ages to come: During his final years in power, Li pushed through approval for his pet project, the gargantuan and controversial $22 billion Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, which forced 1.3 million people to leave their homes as they were swallowed up by its enormous reservoir.
Li stepped down as premier in 1998, becoming chairman of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament. He retired from the party’s seven-member ruling Standing Committee in 2002 as part of a long-planned handover of power to a younger generation of leaders headed by Hu Jintao.
In his later years, Li rarely appeared in public, and was usually seen only at official gatherings aimed at displaying unity such as in 2007 at the 80th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.

During talks with Pak PM, Trump to seek release of doctor who helped track Osama

MMNN:22 July 2019
Iran has captured 17 spies working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and some have been sentenced to death, Iranian media reported on Monday.
State television quoted the Intelligence Ministry as saying it had broken up a CIA spying ring and captured 17 suspects. A ministry official said some of those arrested had been sentenced to death, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
The announcement comes after three months of spiralling confrontation with the West that began when new tighter U.S. sanctions took effect at the start of May. Last week Iran captured a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz after Britain’s Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar in July 4.
“The identified spies were employed in sensitive and vital private sector centres in the economic, nuclear, infrastructural, military and cyber areas...
where they collected classified information,” said a ministry statement read on state television.
It was not immediately clear if the arrests were linked to the case in which Iran said in June it had exposed a large cyber espionage network it alleged was run by the CIA, and that several U.S. spies had been arrested in different countries as a result of this action.

China thanks UAE for backing Beijing's Xinjiang policies

MMNN:22 July 2019
BEIJING: China on Monday thanked the United Arab Emirates for backing its security crackdown in Xinjiang, state media said, as President Xi Jinping played host to Abu Dhabi's crown prince.
Beijing has come under growing international scrutiny for placing an estimated one million mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in internment camps in the name of counter-terrorism, but Muslim countries have largely refrained from criticising China.
During his meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Beijing, Xi thanked the UAE for its "valuable support" on Xinjiang and urged the two countries to strengthen cooperation on anti-terrorism, said state-broadcaster CCTV.
In return, Abu Dhabi's crown prince said the UAE "highly appreciates China's efforts to protect the rights and interests of ethnic minorities", according to CCTV's readout.
He also said the UAE would be willing to "jointly strike against terrorist extremist forces" with China, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a militant group Beijing has accused of attempting to foment Uighur separatism.
The crown prince's remarks come as Beijing seeks to corral more international support for its controversial policies in the country's northwest region. After initially denying the existence of re-education camps, China has been on a public relations blitz to counter the global outcry against what Beijing calls "vocational education centres".
So far, Beijing has scored multiple successes, with UN ambassadors from 37 countries - including majority Muslim nations Saudi Arabia and Algeria - releasing a letter earlier this month in defence of China's treatment of Uighurs and other ethnic minorites in Xinjiang.
The letter came after 21 Western nations and Japan co-signed a text denouncing China's conduct in Xinjiang.
Currently, Turkey is one of the only Muslim-majority countries to have criticised China over its network of camps in the region.
In February, Turkey's foreign ministry lambasted China's treatment of Uighurs as "a great embarrassment for humanity" and said those in the centres and prisons were "subjected to torture and political brainwashing".
Ankara has, however, adopted a softer stance since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited China in July.
"I believe we can find a solution to the issue taking into account the sensitivities of both sides," Erdogan told Turkish journalists in Beijing before flying back to Turkey, according to Hurriyet daily.
Xi and the Abu Dhabi crown prince also discussed trade and China's Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious $1 trillion programme that includes maritime, rail and road projects in Asia, Africa and Europe.
According to CCTV's readout, Xi said the two countries should aim to reach their goal of $200 billion in bilateral trade by 2030.
In 2018, two-way trade between the two countries hit $45.9 billion, according to China's commerce ministry.
Xi also called for the "good development" of the second phase of the Khalifa Port Container Terminal, as well as the China-UAE Industrial Capacity Cooperation Demonstration Zone, a joint Belt and Road project between the two countries.

Snub for Imran Khan: No US welcome at airport, takes metro to Pakistan envoy’s house

MMNN:22 July 2019
With his country in financial doldrums, Khan made it a point to travel by a commercial flight, Qatar Airways, instead of a private jet, to cut down expenses.
When his flight touched down at Dulles airport, reportedly there was no high ranking US administration official to welcome him.
Later, Khan took a metro ride to the Pakistani envoy’s house.
Social media was awash with speculation that Khan had been snubbed by the US administration, and that the Pakistani government had offered to pay $250,000 for the State Department to arrange an official welcome/protocol of the visiting Pakistani premier, but it was refused.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was at the airport to receive Khan and also accompanied him on the metro ride.
Acting Chief of Protocol, Mary-Kate Fisher, who had welcomed the Pakistan Prime Minister at the airport, accompanied him on the metro ride.
The State Department later said the Acting Chief of Protocol had received the visiting Prime Minister, “as is standard for an Official Working Visit to the White House”.
Imran Khan, who is staying at the official residence of the Pakistani Ambassador to the US, Asad Majeed Khan, is to meet US President Donald Trump on July 22.
Khan, who was lustily greeted by members of the Pakistani expatriate community, later met with the Pakistani business community.
During his three-day visit, Khan is also to meet IMF acting chief David Lipton and World Bank President David Malpass.
Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and the Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are accompanying Khan to the US.
The Pakistan Embassy in Washington has hired the services of top lobbying firm Holland & Knight to help advance the country’s interests in the US.
His visit comes as Pakistan has received a $6 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) despite concerns expressed by the US.
According to the White House, Khan’s visit will focus on strengthening cooperation between Washington and Islamabad to bring peace, stability and economic prosperity to a region that has seen far too much conflict.

Trump to pressure Khan on Afghanistan, terrorism

MMNN:20 July 2019
The United States will press Pakistan during Prime Minister Imran Khan’s upcoming visit to do more to help the Afghan peace process and sustain the recent crackdown on terrorists, going beyond the kind of “window-dressing” it has exhibited in the past in regard to the arrest of Lashkar-e-Toiba leader Hafiz Saeed and others like him.
“We have seen this movie before,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, previewing President Donald Trump’s upcoming first meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan this Monday. The official was referring to Saeed’s arrest earlier in the week, the seventh time so far since 2001, as part of Pakistan’s new resolve under the Khan government to combat terrorism, which has been received with much skepticism in both Washington DC and New Delhi.
While the Afghanistan peace process is expected to be the primary focus of the meeting, Pakistan’s patchy counter-terrorism efforts will figure prominently. Khan and his delegation will be told, the official said, “the door is open to repairing the relationship and building an enduring partnership if Pakistan changes its policy with regards to terrorists and militants”.
Pakistan’s counter-terrorism actions, which have come in for the most withering of US attacks under the Trump administration, will also be critical to the resumption of security aid that President Trump ordered to be suspended in January 2018. Asked if restarting this aid could figure in the Monday talks, the official said, “We will consider changing the suspension on certain items in Pakistan meets our security concerns in Afghanistan and with regard to some of the externally focussed groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.”
The Trump administration also plans to press Pakistan to allow India-Afghanistan trade to transit through its territories as part of the discussion on trade, another of the major topics of discussion for the two sides on Monday. “We think this would be a very positive step and would demonstrate Pakistan’s commitment to a peaceful, prosperous South Asia,” the official said.
Trump and Khan, who once exchanged angry Tweets over Pakistan’s half-hearted efforts at combatting terrorism, will meet over lunch accompanied by their respective delegations and the tone of the meeting is expected to be urgent and business-like, with the focus on the Afghanistan peace process.
The Trump administration sees the visit, as the official said, “as an opportunity to incentivise Pakistan to use its full leverage and influence with the Taliban to advance the peace process in Afghanistan”. And that is in line with the incremental softening in this administration’s posture on Pakistan from the stark hostility of the president’s tweets and remarks of most of 2018, all geared towards exiting Afghanistan, ending the country’s longest war in history.
“We do appreciate the initial steps that Pakistan has taken to facilitate this effort, but we are reaching a critical juncture in the peace process and we are asking Pakistan to pressure the Taliban into a permanent ceasefire and participation in an intra-Afghan negotiation that would include the Afghan government,” the official said.

Suspect in Japan anime studio arson reportedly had grudge

MMNN:20 July 2019
The man suspected of setting ablaze a beloved Japanese animation studio, killing 34 people, was raging about theft and witnesses and media reported he had a grudge against the company, as questions arose why such mass killings keep happening in the country.
Police only have said the suspect Shinji Aoba, 41, who is hospitalized with severe burns and unable to talk, is from near Tokyo and did not work for the studio, Kyoto Animation.
Japanese broadcaster NHK said the death toll rose to 34 on Saturday after one of the injured died in a hospital. Aoba was meanwhile transferred to another hospital specializing in treating burns. Footage showed medics carrying Aoba on a stretcher, connected to multiple tubes and part of his exposed skin swollen and pink. He was not moving, suggesting he was still unconscious.
NHK and other media, quoting an unnamed source, said that Aoba spent 3 ½ years in prison for robbing a convenience store in 2012 and lived on government support. The man told police that he set the fire because he thought “(Kyoto Animation) stole novels,” according to Japanese media. It was unclear if he had contacted the studio earlier.
The company founded in 1981 and better known as KyoAni made a mega-hit anime series about high school girls and trained aspirants to the craft.
The shocking attack left another 34 people injured, some critically. It drew an outpouring of grief for the dead and injured, most of them workers at the studio.
Kyoto prefectural police chief Hideto Ueda solemnly laid flowers at the site, now a charcoal shell, vowing for the utmost in the investigation to find motives behind the attack, which he described as “unprecedented and unforgivable.”
While shooting deaths are rare in Japan, the country has had a series of high-profile killings in recent years. Less than two months ago, a man described as a social recluse, or “hikikomori,” stabbed a number of private school children at a bus stop outside Tokyo, killing two people and wounding 17 before killing himself. In 2016, a former employee at a home for the disabled allegedly killed 19 people and injured more than 20.
Nobuo Komiya, a Rissho University criminology professor, calls the attacks “suicidal terrorism,” in which attackers typically see themselves as losers and target their anger on the society, often those who seem happy and successful.
“Feeling angry at people who they think are winners, they tend to choose privileged people as targets,” Komiya said. “They think they have nothing to lose, they don’t care if they get caught or if they die.”
They are part of a growing trend that reflects a change in the Japanese society, where disparities are growing and ties among families, community and other groups have weakened and people are less obligated to follow the rules and be part of it, he said. “Japan shouldn’t be complacent about its safety anymore. We should follow the U.S. and Europe and do more for risk management.”
About 70 people were working inside the three-story Kyoto Animation No. 1 studio in southern Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, at the time of the attack.
The arsonist arrived carrying two containers of flammable liquid. He shouted, “You die!” as he entered the studio’s unlocked front door, dumped the liquid using a bucket, and set it afire with a lighter, police said, quoting witnesses. Police at the scene confiscated the gasoline tanks, a knapsack and knives, but have not confirmed they belonged to the attacker. A Kyoto police official declined to speculate how Aoba prepared the attack, saying he wanted the man to explain himself, as well as his motives.
The blaze blocked the front door and quickly engulfed the workspace, rising up the stairs to the third floor, sending panicked employees fleeing. Some were able to escape by crawling out of windows, with the help of neighbors. Many tried but failed to escape to the roof, fire officials said. Most of the victims are believed to have died of carbon monoxide poisoning, experts say.
The suspect fled but was chased by studio employees who eventually caught him. He collapsed to the ground outside a house and was quickly surrounded by police.
“They are always stealing. It’s their fault,” he told policemen bending over and asking him why he set the fire, according to a witness who described the scene outside her house. The man complained bitterly that something had been stolen from him, the witness told NHK and other networks.
Neighbors interviewed by Japanese media said the suspect had troubles with other residents in the apartment building in Saitama, north of Tokyo, where he lived.
One man told the broadcaster TBS that he had knocked on Aoba’s door to ask him to stop banging on the walls. He said Aoba shouted “I will kill you!” and “Shut up!” then grabbed him by the hair and shirt.
Studio president Hideaki Hatta was stunned as he entered the site for the first time since the attack Friday and joined police investigators. “I can hardly bear to see this,” Hatta said.
Construction worker Takumi Yoshida, 23, was a fan of KyoAni works. “I am shocked and I’m sure for their families it must be very difficult. So with those feelings in my mind, I brought flowers,” Yoshida said.
Anime fan and university student Yuki Seki traveled from nearby Hyogo prefecture to pay her respects. “After properly recovering while taking their time, I hope Kyoto Animation can once again share their power and energy with us,” she said.
Kyoto Animation’s hits include “Lucky Star” of 2008, “K-On!” in 2011 and “Haruhi Suzumiya” in 2009. It has an upcoming feature film, “Violet Evergarden,” about a woman who professionally writes letters for clients.
It’s also done secondary animation work on a 1998 “Pokemon” feature that appeared in U.S. theaters and a “Winnie the Pooh” video.
It is Japan’s deadliest fire since 2001, when a blaze in Tokyo’s congested Kabukicho entertainment district killed 44 people in the country’s worst known case of arson in modern times. Police called the cause arson, but never announced an arrest in the setting of the blaze, though five people were convicted of negligence.

During talks with Pak PM, Trump to seek release of doctor who helped track Osama

MMNN:20 July 2019
US President Donald Trump, during his meeting next week with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, would seek the release of jailed Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi who helped the CIA track down Osama bin Laden, a senior administration official said Friday.
The two leaders are scheduled to meet at the White House on Monday.
“This is an extremely important issue to the President and the American people. I think Pakistan could demonstrate its leadership role in the region and among the international community by freeing Dr. Afridi who remains unjustly imprisoned in Pakistan,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday.
Before being elected as the president of the United States Trump had said during his campaign that he will get Afridi freed within two minutes from Pakistan.
Afridi helped the CIA track down al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in 2011. He was later arrested and is currently serving a jail-term in Pakistan.
In an interview to Voice of America, the lawyer and family of Dr Afridi, expressed hope that Trump and Khan would discuss his release. “Dr. Afridi can’t sleep properly due to harsh conditions and sweltering heat as there is no window in the cell where he is kept. Imran Khan is visiting the US, but if Dr. Afridi remains in pain, then I think the visit won’t be a success,” his lawyer Qamar Nadeem told the VOA.
The United States has requested Pakistan to free Dr Afridi, the senior administration official told a group of reporters ahead of the Monday meeting between Trump and Khan.
“We have clearly and regularly communicated this to Pakistan at the highest level in public and private and will continue to do so until he is released. Pakistan’s leadership will be judged by treatment of Dr. Afridi, while he remains in prisons. We are calling on Pakistan to release him,” said the senior administration official.
Describing Dr Afridi as a “hero”, the senior administration official said that he helped the US capture the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, the worst terrorist incident in history.
“This is something that is of the utmost importance to us. It is likely to come up (during the meeting),” the official said, adding that it remains a very important issue for the US. He has been unjustly imprisoned, the official said.

Donald Trump says US warship downed Iran drone near Strait of Hormuz

MMNN:19 July 2019
Donald Trump said the US “immediately destroyed” an Iranian drone that approached the USS Boxer near the Strait of Hormuz, the latest sign of escalating military tensions around the critical oil chokepoint.
The drone was a threat to the ship and its crew, Trump said at the White House on Thursday. The US president said he’s calling “on other nations to protect their ships as they go through the Strait.” The Boxer is an amphibious assault ship.
“The Boxer took defensive action against an Iranian drone which had closed into a very, very near distance -- approximately 1,000 yards, ignoring multiple calls to stand down and was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew,” Trump said.
Oil futures in New York snapped a four-day drop to rise 1.7% to $56.23 a barrel as of 11:47 am in Singapore.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement that the Boxer “was in international waters conducting a planned inbound transit of the Strait of Hormuz” when a drone “closed within a threatening range” and “the ship took defensive action.”
The confrontation comes as tensions between Washington and Tehran remain high over a spate of attacks on cargo ships, the downing of an American drone and the British seizure of a tanker carrying Iranian oil.
Read More: Iran Knows It Can’t Bet on Trump 2020 Defeat as Sanctions Bite
Earlier in the day, the U.S. condemned Iranian naval activity in the Persian Gulf and demanded that the Islamic Republic release a small tanker and its crew that its forces seized this week. A State Department official who asked not to be identified discussing the issue cited the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ “continued harassment” of vessels in and around the Strait.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with Bloomberg News on Wednesday that said his country is capable of shutting the Strait of Hormuz, but doesn’t want to do so.
“We certainly have the ability to do it, but we certainly don’t want to do it because the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf are our lifeline,” Zarif said in New York. “It has to be secured. We play a big role in securing it, but it has to be secure for everybody.”
About one-third of the world’s seaborne crude and fuels passed through the Strait of Hormuz last year, highlighting its key role in global oil markets. In May and June, six tankers were attacked in the region. While Iran has been blamed for attacks on merchant shipping, it has denied responsibility.
“It’s dangerous because it is very crowded,” Zarif said, adding that the last time the area was this crowded, the U.S. shot down an Iranian commercial airliner with 290 passengers in 1988. “We feel the danger and that is why we want to avoid a dangerous escalation, but we cannot give up defending our country.”
Iran and the U.S. have been at loggerheads since last year, when Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear agreement he called the “worst deal ever.” In May, the administration refused to extend waivers to eight governments for Iranian oil purchases, ratcheting up the pressure on the country’s already battered economy.
‘Serious Gesture’
Speaking to reporters in New York on Thursday, Zarif said he had made a “substantial” offer to break the impasse with the U.S. While Trump administration officials have said they are willing to meet Iranian leaders without preconditions, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has laid out a series of demands -- including ending support for proxy militias in other countries -- he says Iran must adhere to before sanctions are lifted. Iran wants some easing of sanctions first.
In the meantime, Iran has proceeded with efforts to enrich uranium beyond limits proscribed by the 2015 accord.
A Trump administration official, asking not to be identified, said a “serious gesture” on Iran’s part would involve ending uranium enrichment immediately and move toward ending ballistic missile development. Zarif and other officials have said they won’t bargain away the right to have missiles for defensive purposes.

‘Hell’ of Japan fire that killed dozens at anime company

MMNN:19 July 2019
Details emerged Friday of the horrifying blaze that ripped through a Japanese anime firm, killing dozens including people who tried in vain to reach the roof, but the motive for the suspected arson remained unclear.
Eyewitnesses described a fire that was like “looking at hell,” after a man apparently doused the production company office in the city of Kyoto with flammable liquid and set it alight.
Experts and firefighters said the blaze would have raged uncontrollably throughout the structure almost instantly, leaving the dozens of people inside with almost no chance of escape.
That was borne out by the grim toll: 33 dead, with dozens more injured, including several in critical condition.
The attack appeared to be among the worst violent crimes in decades in famously safe Japan.
It sparked an outpouring of grief in Japan and beyond, as fans of the country’s famed anime industry expressed horror at the enormous loss.
On Friday people were laid flowers and said prayers at the charred Kyoto Animation building.
“These young people were the age of my grandchildren,” 78-year-old Sachiko Konishi told AFP of those killed in the attack, most of whom are presumed to be young employees of the company.
“If my grandchildren died under circumstances like this, I wouldn’t want to go on living.” Yasuko Tomita, 59, was offering prayers near the building, which was still cordoned off.
“I’m praying to help the souls of those killed find release,” she said.
Eyewitnesses described a raging inferno that left those outside unable to even approach to help people trying to escape.
“There was a person who jumped from the second floor... but we couldn’t rush to help because the fire was so strong,” one local woman told an online affiliate of the Asahi Shimbun daily.
“People with severe burns were crying uncontrollably, just completely dazed,” she added.
“It was like I was looking at hell.” Police investigators were on the scene Friday taking pictures and examining the devastated building, but a motive in the attack remained unclear.
A 41-year-old suspect is in custody, but the investigation has been hampered by the fact that the man suffered serious burns. He has been hospitalised and was reportedly unconscious on Friday.
Only sketchy details have emerged about the man, who reportedly shouted “drop dead” before starting the fire.
Local media said he did not appear to have any ties to Kyoto Animation. He had reportedly also brought knives and a hammer to the building.
Some reports suggested the man believed the company had stolen his work, with the local Kyoto Shimbun newspaper reporting that he told police: “I set the fire because they stole novels.” On Thursday, Kyoto Animation president Hideaki Hatta said the firm had received emailed death threats in the past but gave no further details.
The company founded by a husband and wife couple is known for its skilful animations of manga works, and has a reputation as a generous employer in an industry rife with exploitation of artists.
There was still little information on the victims of the blaze.
Local police said 12 men and 20 women were among the dead, with one victim not yet identified.
Local restaurant owner Tomoyo Kamada said company employees had often come to her “Cafe Lapin” for lunch.
“They were serious and polite women who gave the impression of loving their work and giving it their heart and soul,” she told AFP.
“I still can’t believe it. I can’t understand why people like them had to suffer such a fate.” Many of the bodies were found on a stairwell leading to the roof, suggesting people were trying to escape the flames when they were overcome.
A local fire department official told AFP the building was in compliance with fire safety rules.
But he said a gasoline-fuelled fire would have burned too quickly for people to outrun it, with a spiral staircase connecting the floors of the building likely helping the blaze spread faster.
“If a large quantity of gasoline was poured, it must have turned into gas very quickly, causing explosions,” he told AFP.
“Smoke and flames would have risen up instantaneously.” The blaze hit hard in Japan’s anime industry, one of the country’s best known cultural products.
An online fundraiser organised by an American anime licencing firm had raised over nearly USD 1.3 million by Friday afternoon.
“Thank you to everyone who has shown their support for those impacted by the tragedy at KyoAni,” the organisers Sentai Filmworks wrote, using a nickname for Kyoto Animation.
“Together, we can bring light to this incredibly dark time.”

Six killed, 27 injured in blast near Afghan university

MMNN:19 July 2019
An explosion on Friday near a gate to the campus of Kabul University in the Afghan capital killed six people and injured at least 27 as students waited to take an examination, officials said.
Afghan security forces are facing almost daily attacks by Taliban militants, despite reported progress in efforts by the United States to broker an end to Afghanistan’s nearly 18-year war.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday’s blast just hours after Taliban militants set off two car bombs outside police headquarters in the southern city of Kandahar, killing at least 12 and wounding more than 80.
Health ministry spokesman Wahid Mayar said there were students among the 27 injured taken to hospital after the blast, which a student at the university campus said took place while a number of students waited to appear for an exam.
An eyewitness and an interior ministry official said a vehicle caught fire after the explosion caused by a sticky bomb, a common threat in Kabul, where insurgents often stick explosives under vehicles.
A police team defused a second bomb placed near the explosion site, Kabul police spokesman Faramarz Firdaws said.

Mastermind Hafiz Saeed arrested in Mumbai attack

MMNN:17 July 2019
Lahore Hafiz Saeed, the terrorist organization Jamaat-ud-Dawn drugmaker, has been arrested in Pakistan. He has been sent to judicial custody. Mastermind terrorist Hafiz Saeed was arrested from the Punjab province of Pakistan by several attacks including the Pulwama, Uri and Mumbai attacks. Pak CTD's Big Action
Hafiz Saeed was going to Gujranwala for bail application this morning, but he was arrested on the way by CTD ie Counter Terrorism Department. CTD presented him in judicial remand to counter-terrorism court Gujranwala. Where the court sent him to jail
This news was confirmed by issuing a statement by CTD Punjab. A spokesman of Jamaat UD Drug also confirmed the news of Sayeed's arrest and said that his leader has been taken to Kot Lakhpat Jail.
The court has instructed the CTD to complete the investigation and submit the charge sheet in the prescribed time. It is claimed that bail was granted in two cases registered against him in Saeed Colahore.
This move of CTD is being seen as a major action against terrorist financing. A few days ago, 23 cases were registered against Saeed.
CTD said that it had registered cases under the Anti-Terrorism Act in Lahore, Gujranwala and Multan under the leadership of JuD, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Falah-e-Insanity Foundation (FIF).
First such action
Let me tell you that such action has taken place for Hafiz Saeed for the first time. This is the first time when he has been sent to judicial custody. Earlier on several occasions, the police had to chime on him, but he was only detained in his own house.
In the past, anti-terrorism court had given him relief from the arrest. According to sources, Hafiz Saeed has a total of 23 records. In some cases he has got advance bail but still in many cases he is hanging the sword of arrest.
What will happen next?
The sources said that Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed was arrested by the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) on Wednesday. Hafiz Saeed, who has several cases pending against him, was traveling from Gujranwala to Lahore to appear before the Anti-Terrorist Court at the time of the arrest.
After the arrest of Hafiz Saeed, he was taken to an unknown place first. According to Pakistan media reports, this arrest is part of the action of Pakistan government against illegal organizations under National Action Plan
Only two days back relief
Earlier, a Pakistani anti-terrorism court granted bail to Hafiz Saeed in Lahore before arresting him in a single case on Monday. In the case related to the illegal use of land for the madrasa, along with Hafiz Saeed, the three others were also granted bail by the court. The court had given interim bail to all the accused, including Hafiz Saeed, Hafiz Masood, Amir Hamza and Malik Zafar. The court granted bail to a private bond of 50-50 thousand till 31st August.

Court to hear ICJ briefly in Kulbhushan Jadhav case; Court arrives at Indo-Pak official

MMNN:17 July 2019
The International Court of Justice ( ICJ ) will pronounce its verdict on Wednesday in connection with Indian citizen Kulbhushan Jadhav . The military court of Pakistan has sentenced Jadhav to death under conspiracy, which has been challenged by India in ICJ.
The 49-year-old Indian retired officer of the Indian Navy, Kulbhushan Jadhav, was sentenced to death by the Pakistani military court in April 2017 after he was heard in a closed room hearing "espionage and terrorism".
India lodged a strong objection to this and challenged in the ICJ. Now, in The Hague's Peace Palace, a public hearing will be held on July 17 at 6:30 pm, during which the Chief Judge Abdul Kawi Ahmed Yusuf will read the verdict.
Challenge for India
On Wednesday, there is a clock of testing for India on Wednesday. Earlier, during the hearing on February 2019, there was a wide variety of arguments from Pakistan on ICJ. Although India's response to every allegation was answered.
Pakistan had said that Jadhav is an Indian spy who is associated with the agency 'Research and Analysis Wing' ( RAW ). Jadhav was arrested on March 3, 2016 from Balochistan on charges of espionage and terrorism.
The challenge for India is how Jadhav should be brought back by Pakistan's occupation. Because earlier ICJ had instructed Pakistan to give counselor access to Jadhav. Although Pakistan did not believe it.
Pakistan's attorney general Anwar Mansoor Khan had argued that Jadhav was an Indian spy sent to Balochistan to destabilize the country and hence the counselor is not entitled to access. He had said that India's claim of relief to Jadhav should be dismissed.
However, after this Pakistan gave permission to Jadhav's mother and sister to come to Pakistan while serving food. But like a drama Jadhav mixed them. India had made strong objection to this.
What is the whole case
Let us know that the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav is March, 2016. Actually, it has been said from Pakistan that the Pakistan Army has arrested Kulbhushan Jadhav from the Balochistan province on charges of espionage in Afghanistan. After this, the Pakistani military court sentenced Kulbhushan Jadhav to death on April 10, 2017, and sentenced him to death.
India lodged a strong protest against it and then appealed to the international court. Earlier, the International Court had stayed the hearing while holding the trial of Kulbhushan. India has said before its side that Kulbhushan Jadhav has been kidnapped by the Pakistani army from Afghanistan border.
India has also kept the fact that Kulbhushan Jadhav has been caught by Iran and fake arrest has been shown from Balochistan. This was disclosed by former German ambassador to Pakistan Guntak Mulak. Apart from this, India also argued that Pakistan also violated the Vienna Treaty.
Pakistan has been asked counselor access 16 times, but Pakistan has been consistently refusing to give counselor access. Since then, on May 18, 2017, the International Court has directed Pakistan that Jadhav should not be hanged until the trial is completed.

Germany's Ursula, the first woman president of the European Commission, will hold the post on this day

MMNN:17 July 2019
Brussels . Germany's Outgoing Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyan has been elected as the new president of the European Union's Executive Unit European Commission. She is the first woman to be in control of this position. Ursula will take charge on November 1. From this one day earlier i.e. 31 October Britain may be separated from the EU. In such a situation, it is important to be their president and to become president. Close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and member of Christian Democrat Union will replace Lod Zunker in Ursula EC.
Let him know that in the European Parliament, he got 383 votes in the confidential polling on Tuesday. Congratulating Ursula, Merkel said that he is eager to work with them. For the first time in 50 years, any person from Germany has been elected president of EC. After winning, Ursula raised the issue of gender equality in his address in the European Parliament. He said that violence on women will be included in the EU's crime list. He talked about working on the issue of refugees.

Jaguar Land Rover gets £500 million guarantee from UK

MMNN:16 July 2019
Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover, which earlier this month announced a new range of electrified vehicles, has been extended a £500 million guarantee by the UK government to support the company’s design and manufacture of the range and its export activities.
Keen to push industry on electrified vehicles, Prime Minister Theresa May held a roundtable in Downing Street with representatives of leading automotive manufacturers on Monday, confirming the guarantee to JLR from credit agency UK Export Finance.
Infrastructure to charge electrified vehicles is one of the major challenges in the push. The representatives said the UK should build on its strengths in the development of next generation battery technology, officials said.
The UK has made a major commitment through its £274 million investment in the Faraday Battery Challenge and earlier investments through the Automotive Propulsion Centre. Building a Gigafactory – a large-scale battery technology factory for electric vehicles – is one of the plans.
The Gigafactory is a major manufacturing facility producing ‘cells’ which are the basic building blocks of a battery. Carmakers are expected to source cells from supplier and assembly into battery packs. For example, a factory making 200,000 electric vehicles, each with a 75kWh battery pack, would have a cell requirement of 15GWh.
May set out new commitments aimed at making electric vehicles more convenient to own, such as making England the first place in the world where every new-build home will be fitted with an electric car charge-point.
She also committed to bringing forward plans to regulate charge-points so that they use ‘smart’ technology which will send signals to electric vehicles to charge them at different times of the day, encouraging off-peak charging to keep costs down for consumers and helping prepare the energy system for mass uptake of electric vehicles
The UK government’s ambition is for better access to rapid charge-points by 2030.

Australia targetsT20 world cup in 2020 to increase tourist inflow

MMNN:16 July 2019
Australia is banking big on women and men T20 cricket world cups in 2020 to achieve the mark of half million tourists in a year, a target which it had set for 2022.
With a record 3,64,600 visitors in 2018-19, Tourism Australia is in talks with airports in Australia and Indian airlines to increase the capacity between two countries.
According to the data provided by Tourism Australia, visitors from Delhi and Maharashtra contribute heavily to the tourist inflow and with 7.5 lakh Indians living there, the Australian government is hopeful to achieve 5 lakh tourist by the end of next year.
Since last five years, the island nation has seen double digit growth in Indian visitors every year with majority of them visiting Canberra and South Australia.
“With the ICC T20 Cricket World Cup fast approaching, Australia is gearing up to ensure our visa processing is as fast and convenient as possible. Since the visa is valid for 12 months, the people wanting to go can apply from now,” an Australian government official said.
For the financial year ended 30 June 2019, over 306,000 visitor visas were processed by the Australian High Commission in New Delhi. This included more than 240,000 tourist applications from Indian nationals, an increase of 7% over the previous year and a jump of 60% in the last three years.
In addition, over 42,000 student visas were granted, up 30% in the last year and almost doubling in the last three years.
“We have had a talk with Australian airports and also held an interaction with low cost carriers in India and national carrier Air India. We want to increase the capacity between two countries so that more and more people can visit. But these things involve a lot of planning and ultimately it’s the airline that will take the call,” an official of Tourism Australia said.
Air India operates non-stop services on the Delhi-Sydney (five times a week) and Delhi-Melbourne (thrice a week) route. Besides, regular, one-stop flights from key cities in India to key ports in Australia via Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific, Scoot, Air Asia X, Malindo, Sri Lankan Airways, Garuda, China Southern, Etihad and Emirates are available.
According to Australian government sources, for year ended March 2019, Indian visitors spent Australian dollar (A$) 1.7 billion (approximately Rs 8,300 crore) on their Australian trips, an increase of 12 per cent over the previous year.
India is the 6th largest source market in terms of expenditure for Australia and the average spend per trip for Indian visitors was A$ 4,900 (approx Rs 240,000).
For year ended March 2019, Indian visitors spent 20.9 million nights in Australia, an increase of 21 per cent over the previous year. The average length of stay for all visitors from India was 61 nights, with a 53 per cent repeat visitation. “Most of these could be visiting family members since a lot of Indians live here,” the official added.

On deals with Gupta family, Jacob Zuma says ‘I put them into trouble’

MMNN:16 July 2019
Former South Africa president Jacob Zuma has said that he initiated the idea that led to the controversial Indian-origin Gupta family establishing their media empire, which has since collapsed.
Zuma said he had conceived the idea of having an “alternative media” in South Africa because “the media in this country is very biased; at all material times, just critical”.
He started his long-awaited testimony on Monday before the Zondo Commission, which is inquiring into allegations of “state capture” during his rule.
Zuma said the African National Congress had been trying to establish some media as an “alternative” voice, but despite trying by partnering with other people, this had never worked.
He had then suggested that a newspaper be established, which the ANC had agreed to. This led to him approaching the Guptas with the idea.
“They seemed to be warm to the idea” Zuma said, adding that he and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe met the Guptas to further discuss the idea. “When (the Guptas) were ready with the idea, they said to me: ‘Give us a name; we don’t know what to call this newspaper’.” He gave them some names of newspapers during the freedom struggle, from which they selected ‘The New Age’.
“When this paper was operating and really being appreciated in this country to bring in an alternative voice, … I wondered whether I could push them further,” he said. “I suggested the paper to them; I suggested the [TV] channel [ANN7].
The Guptas partnered with a media house in India to establish the ANN7 channel, which was closed down after allegations of their involvement in “state capture” emerged.
The New Age was earlier first sold to an individual with controversial vendor financing from the Guptas, but also shut down after being economically unviable.
“Somebody can then say we were abusing this friendship. It was never the other way round,” Zuma said.
“It’s me who put them into trouble, because I said your paper is so successful and so your TV thing can be successful.
“They agreed and said it’s a good idea and they moved on it. There was no law broken there. There was no wrong thing done,” he said.
“ANN7 brought a fresh air in the country in terms of reporting; in terms of putting across progressive ideas,” the former president said. “It was never a back door thing or there’s corruption about it. Never.” Zuma resigned as president in February last year after huge outcries over his alleged involvement in corrupt and illegal activities that left a number of government departments bankrupt. He was replaced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was subsequently re-elected during national election.
The commission had heard evidence from a number of witnesses, including former ministers of state, implicating Zuma in a range of activities, among them his closeness to the three Gupta brothers who allegedly fleeced a number of government organisations of billions of rand. Zuma has repeatedly denied these allegations.
The family, originally from Saharanpur in India, rose to power in the IT, mining and media sectors after coming to South Africa as the new democracy dawned under President Nelson Mandela.
They have since relocated to Dubai amid calls for them to come and testify before the Commission.
The eldest brother, Ajay Gupta, earlier offered to testify in camera but not in person, which was declined by the chairman of the Commission, Judge Raymond Zondo.
A number of former senior members of government testified that they had been told by the Gupta brothers about their imminent appointment by Zuma about their appointment as ministers even before the former President had called them.

If the US sanctions were lifted, then we are ready to negotiate: President Rouhani

MMNN:15 July 2019
Tehran President Rouhani has tried to talk again between rising tensions between Iran and the US. He said that if the United States withdraws the sanctions imposed on him and stops intimidating, then we are ready to negotiate. At the same time, the President of Iran also said that now he will respond to any American action.
Let us assume that the US went out of the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 about nuclear enrichment. Apart from this, he has imposed several economic and military restrictions on Iran. Meanwhile, Germany, France and Britain called for a meeting of joint action plan under the international nuclear agreement on Iran's introduction of uranium enrichment.
These countries are afraid that by the pressure of the US, Iran can break the remaining provisions of the nuclear deal. On these restrictions, Iran has said that it does not make any difference to them. What restrictions have been left in the last 20 years, which the US has not imposed?
In recent times, many incidents have pushed the tension between Iran and the United States. Iran had killed American drone aircraft operating under its borders, then President Trump had ordered an attack on Iran. However, on an occasion, he had withdrawn the order, from which the clouds of Chhay Jung had split in both the countries.
Recently, in the explosion of two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, the US described the hand of the Iranian army. The United States has imposed economic sanctions on Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and eight top military commanders of Iran. On the other hand, Iran's oil tanker was captured by Gibraltar to Britain, after which Iran threatened to face serious consequences.

Trump now to be taken from Parliament for military action

MMNN:15 July 2019
Washington Now President Donald Trump has to get the approval of the Trump Parliament for military action against Iran and Yemen. Some amendments related to annual Defense Policy Bill in the House of Representatives have been approved. In the House of Representatives, this decision was taken to cut the trump. Now it will not be possible for Trump to take such a step without the approval of the House.
In the House of Representatives, this amendment was supported by 251 MPs compared to 170. During the poll, 27 MPs of the Republican Party of Trumpet joined the party with the separatist Democratic Party from the party line. Seven Democrats were against it. In the recent days, Trump had ordered an attack on Iran last month during the troubled situation. However, in the last moments, he had withdrawn his decision by saying that many people would die from this.
Trump had also said at that time that he did not need sanction from parliament to attack Iran. The way this amendment Bill has got support from now, it seems that the leaders of both the parties have always been bored with the war environment. Most of the leaders are in favor of keeping the situation normal. From Democrat leader Row Khanna to the Republican leader and an articulate assistant to Trump, Matt Getz is mobilizing in this favor.
Khanna said, "Having this bill means that the leaders of both sides believe that the endless series of war should end. We do not want another war in the West Asia. ' Gatez also challenged his colleagues, saying, "My colleague who wished war, believes in the verdict of the attack against Iran, come to this house. Apply the parliament and the American public on your decision. '
This amendment does not prevent Trump from responding to any war situation. A draft of the annual Defense Policy Bill in the Senate has already been passed. In such a situation, the amendments passed from the House of Representatives will also be sealed on the Senate. It is believed that the Senate negotiators can agree on the removal of some provisions from this amendment. The signal is also that the Trump Administration can veto it if necessary. Through the veto, the President has a monopoly to reject the amendment.

28 dead in floods in Nepal, thousands homeless

MMNN:15 July 2019
Kathmandu Due to heavy rains in Nepal, the death toll has reached 28. At least 10 people are injured and 16 are missing. Due to the continuous rains, life has become disrupted due to the flood. Most of the dead were residents of Lalitpur, Kotang, Maqanpur, Bhojpur and Kavera districts.
Due to rising water levels in torrential rains, there has been a threat of landslides in many areas. Traffic on all major highways of the country has been affected. At the same time, the dams on the rivers have also been damaged. Because of this, people living on the banks of the river are facing a terrible situation.
Thousands of people have become homeless due to damage to many houses. Government machinery has been activated to provide relief material and other help in rain-affected areas. According to officials, 50 people trapped in the flood were saved. A senior official of the Home Ministry said that the work related to relief operations is being speeded up.

After the threat of Iran, Britain sailed off the destructive vessel

MMNN:13 July 2019
Tehran Iran's enmity is increasing. After the United States, the country is now facing the British. The case is from Iran's oil tanker, which has been seized by Britain. Iran, asking back the oil tanker, warned Britain that it did not play dangerous games. After this, Britain has sent its Navy's destroyer ship to the Persian Gulf. The special thing is that the Captain of the Indian origin of the ship which has stopped Iran from the Gibraltar near the sea.
Britain says that this ship was going to supply oil to Syria in violation of the EU sanctions. On Friday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry warned Britain for the incident of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is the British colony located close to Spain.
After this, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musawi said that Britain's occupation of the Iranian ship on July 4 is not justified. The large size tanker contains 21 million barrels of light crude oil. In the interest of all the allied countries, this oil tanker should be left immediately. If this is not done, then there will be severe adverse effects.
Earlier on Thursday, the British Navy had told that three paramilitary Iranians had tried to stop the oil tanker in Britain near the Hormuz Straits in the Persian Gulf. But he was driven by Britain's warship HMS Montrose. Iran's Revolutionary Guards, who operated semi-civilian ships, has refused to stop the British tanker. The British Ministry of Defense said, looking at the latest conditions, it is now deploying a more destructive battleship, HMS Duncan, in the Persian Gulf.

Pakistan has condition to open air space

MMNN:13 July 2019
Islamabad. The fear of Balakot attack has not gone far from Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan has now come on the bargain to open air space. He says that till India does not remove fighter aircraft from its advance air station, it will not open its air space for commercial flights of India. Pakistan's aviation secretary Shahrukh Nusrat gave this information in front of the parliamentary committee.
After the terrorist attack in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian Air Force had an air strike on 26 February in the terrorist place of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Balakot, Pakistan. Since then Pakistan has stopped its air space in awe. Shahrukh is also Director General of Nusrat Pakistan Civil Aviation Tribunal (CAA). According to Dawn News, Nusrat told the Senate Standing Committee on Aviation Affairs on Thursday that his department has clarified Pakistan's stand on India.
Nusrat also told the committee that India had approached Pakistan to open air space. This is probably the first time that a senior Pakistani official has spoken of the condition to open air space. Last month, the CCA extended the ban on air space till July 12.
According to the Express Express Tribune, due to the ban by Pakistan, the planes flying from India have to catch a long way. This has increased the cost. According to the newspaper, CCA has challenged this claim of India, which states that India had opened its air space for Pakistan. Nusrat told the committee that the airline from India's air space to Thailand and Malaysia has not even started airfare from Pakistan.
Last month, Pakistan joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and opened its air space for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's aircraft to go to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. But Prime Minister Modi's VVIP aircraft did not pass the air space of Pakistan.

If the dirty car is seen in the parking lot then heavy fines

MMNN:13 July 2019
UAE is known for its strict laws and officials are serious about their implementation. There are strict motoring laws in this country and the new rules will force people to keep their cars clean. If there is a car parked on a street or a dirty car, there may be a penalty of 500 dirhams which is more than 9000 rupees in Indian currency. According to a new rule issued by the Dubai municipality, Dubai residents will be fined 500 dirhams for parking dirty car at public parking spaces.
Dubai municipality said in a tweet that such things can 'shatter the beauty of the city'. He has also issued a reminder to the residents who are planning to go on long leave in the summer. Municipality inspectors have started identifying such cars and sticking a notice on the windscreen, so that they will be given 15 days' notice to clear their vehicles or they will be removed by the authorities. In addition, if the owner does not contact them, the vehicle will be auctioned by the municipality.
Dubai is one of the most prominent and famous holiday destinations in the world and makes significant contribution to United Arab Emirates's revenues through tourism. The step taken by the municipality is to maintain its beauty and ensure that the city remains attractive for tourists.

Discussion on the speculation, White House said: Pakistan PM will come on July 22

MMNN:11 July 2019
Washington There was a report from the United States, which Pakistan and Prime Minister Imran Khan would have heaved a sigh of relief. Actually, after a lot of controversy and rumors, the White House has confirmed that the Pakistani PM will soon come to visit the United States and visit President Donald Trump. After confirming White House, questions arising on this trip have been restrained.
White House Confirmation on Wednesday
According to information, Pak PM Imran Khan will go to USA on July 22 It is Imran Khan's first US visit since assuming office in August 2018. On Wednesday, a statement was issued by White House, in which the visit has been confirmed. Further in the statement said that issues of peace, stability and economic prosperity will be discussed in the meeting of the President of the two countries.
Rumors were started due to delay in confirmation
Let us tell you that many speculations were caught due to delays in travel confirmation from White House. Imran was skeptical about the visit of Imran to the Pakistani media himself. At the same time, after the disclosure of Imran's invitation to the Eastern Economic Forum on behalf of Russia's Foreign Ministry, the visit of America was seen to be seen in the same way. On the same day, the US State Department also said in the statement that the White House has not yet confirmed the meeting of Trump-Imran.
Foreign Office spokesman tweet
During these speculations, on Wednesday, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Dr. Mohammad Faisal made a tweet in this regard. In his post, he wrote, "Precautionary measures should be taken against the foreign visits of Prime Minister Imran Khan. We are constantly in contact with US officials about this visit. According to the protocol, formal announcements will also be made when the right time comes.

Iran seeks to capture the British tanker in the Gulf, withdraws the Royal Navy's withdrawal

MMNN:11 July 2019
Tehran Beginning between the United States and Iran in the Gulf, it has started taking a vivid form. Alam is that now other countries have started coming in this strain. A few days back, the British army took another big action by provoking Iran to take over its tanker. Iran has alleged that he has tried to capture a British tanker.
Iran's response?
A British government spokesman said that Iranian boats had surrounded a British oil tanker near the bay , but they were running as soon as the Royal Navy ships arrived. He said that HMS Montrose gave protection to British tanker 'Heritage' after issuing verbal warnings to Iranian ships. The British described Iran's work as "contrary to international law"
Iran denies
On the other hand, Iran had threatened to retaliate to seize its tanker, but now he has refused any kind of effort. According to reports in the American media, these boats were related to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. It is being said that boats encircled the British tanker 'Heritage' when it was coming out in the Hormuz Bay.
British tanker kidnapping plans!
Navy Ship HMS Montrose has said that the three boats were full of guns and heavy weapons. The Navy Ship claims that they only warned Iranian tankers and there was no firing between the two sides. The incident took place almost a week after the British Royal Navy confiscated the Iranian tanker in Gibraltar.
Explain that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Britain had threatened to suffer the consequences of seizing Iranian tankers.

Sri Lanka re-introduces Arrival Visa Scheme, India and China for 39 Countries

MMNN:11 July 2019
Colombo After the Easter Sunday bomb blasts, the Sri Lankan government suspended the visa on arrival for many countries in the exercise of tackling the attacks . Now it has been decided to revive the program, but it does not include India and China. According to the media reports, except for India and China, the arrival visa program has been started for citizens of 39 countries.
India and China not in the list
After the suicide bombings, Sri Lanka had postponed its plan to grant visas on the arrival of citizens of 39 countries on April 25. Let me tell you that after the bomb blasts in Sri Lanka on April 21, more than 250 people died in Sri Lanka and at least 500 were injured.
It is being said that Arrival Visa is part of a major initiative to increase tourist arrivals in the country during the six-month off-season period from May to October. After the bomb blasts , the situation in Sri Lanka had worsened very much, due to which the number of tourists traveling to this country has been declining drastically.
Sri Lanka's tourism industry is lagging behind The tourism industry of Sri Lanka, which is about 5 percent of the country's gross domestic product, was badly affected due to the blasts. Tourism Development Minister John Amartunga said on Tuesday that his ministry is working on a proposal to approve a Cabinet for introducing a free visa on arrival with the immigration department.
Tourists from India go to great numbers
The Tourism Minister said that this program will be implemented as a six-month period test for 39 countries except India and China. The report states that the countries which will be included in the Visa on Arrival Program include Austria, UK, US, Japan, Australia and Canada. About 50,000 Indians visited Sri Lanka last year. In 2019, total Indian tourists were expected to cross one million mark.

The Iran-America fears a tension between the nuclear deal, on the brink of failure

MMNN:8 July 2019
Tehran Iran has announced that it will increase the range of uranium enrichment. He is once again preparing to violate the conditions of the nuclear deal with the global powers in 2015. This step can increase its tension with the US.
Officials say this step of violation of the terms of the agreement will be taken in 60 days. Iran has also indicated a dialogue to save the agreement while preparing for the violation of the agreement, saying the increase in uranium enrichment.
Foreign Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi said that talks with European countries are ongoing. By the end of this month, there is a plan for ministerial talks. US President Donald Trump last year banned Iran from the deal outside the agreement.
After a year, Iran has said to increase the limit of uranium enrichment. Under the agreement Iran is allowed to enrich uranium up to 3.67 percent only. To this extent, the enhanced uranium can be used to make nuclear power. Uranium has to be highly encouraged for atomic bombs.

14 killed, 150 wounded in Taliban suicide attack in Afghanistan

MMNN:8 July 2019
Kabul The terrorist organization, the Taliban launched a major suicide attack in the Ghajini province of Afghanistan on Sunday morning. 14 people were killed in this attack. In the attack on the premises of National Intelligence Directorate of the country's main intelligence agency, a car filled with explosives, 8 people were killed in the attack. About 150 people have been injured. Taking responsibility for the attack, Taliban spokesman Zaheehullah Mujahid claimed that many officers of NDS were killed in this attack. Ghajini's health officials said that 27 people were injured in the attack.
The number of casualties is expected to increase. About 60 people, who have been involved in Afghanistan's affairs for the talks with the Taliban, have reached Doha in diplomatic efforts in Germany and Qatar.
Continuing to refuse direct talks with the Afghan government, the Taliban agreed to negotiate with these people on the condition that they would be involved in this negotiation with private status.

Dawood Ibrahim, who is present and well-versed in Pakistan, has done the support of the claim

MMNN:8 July 2019
London. Dawood Ibrahim, declared by the United Nations, is in Pakistan and is healthy, it is constantly being confirmed by many sources. Jabir Moti, who handles Dawood's black businesses spread across many countries, is seeking US custody and questioned, but Pakistan is making every effort to stop him from visiting America. Moti was arrested by Scotland Yard in London a few months ago and he is currently in the British Prison. Photograph of Moti with a few months ago came out with Dawood.
The way Pakistan is pushing the heels to stop Moti from being extradited to America, there is also a sign that Dawood is still in active condition and he remains a "man of work" for Pakistan. The US investigating agency FBI has recently confirmed that Dawood is in Pakistan and is operating its network from there.
The Indian Foreign Ministry has also confirmed the FBI's claim and has rejected Pakistan's refusal in this regard.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ravish Kumar has said that there is no secret to be in Dawood's Pakistan. After a few months old photo of Jabir Moti with Dawood, it has been confirmed that underworld gangster is healthy, the news of his ill-fame being spread in recent years - was an attempt to mislead Pakistan. .
The latest statement by American security expert Lawrence Céline is about to create sensation. They linked the series of serial blasts to Dawood Ibrahim in Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. It is said that Dawood and Pakistani intelligence agency ISI's narcotics-terrorism-jihadist network may be responsible for Sri Lanka blasts. There is great likelihood that the nefarious coalition of Dawood and ISI provided facilities and funds for the Sri Lankan blasts.
More than two and a half hundred people were killed in the blasts in Sri Lanka. While in the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai, 257 people were killed. These blasts were also executed by Dawood's network.

US / India will benefit from the same status of NATO countries found in the US, defense relations

MMNN:4 July 2019
Washington . The American Parliament passed a resolution on Tuesday. According to this, India will also get the status of NATO countries. This will further encourage defense relations between the two countries. So far South Korea, Australia and Japan received this status. Indo-US will boost defense cooperation in the Indian Ocean Last year the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was passed by the US Parliament, 2020. Under this, India-US will increase defense cooperation in the Indian Ocean. Under this, things like maritime security, piracy, counter terrorism and humanitarian assistance will come. In 2016, the US considered India a big partner in defense matters. After this status, India will be able to purchase even more advanced weaponry from America. In July 2018, the Donald Trump Administration gave India the status of Strategic Trade Authorization. India is the only country in South Asian countries with this status. This step will ease the import of high tech products. The Hindu American Foundation praised Parliament for its efforts after the passage of the bill. Sameer Kalra, MD of Hindu American Foundation said that it is important to bring India above the status of non-NATO. This is the beginning of unprecedented relations between India and America.

D. Korea : Trump called Ianka and Pompeo on stage, said - Meet Beauty and Beast

MMNN:4 July 2019
Seoul US President Donald Trump was on a two-day visit to South Korea on Sunday. During this time he also appeared in his funny form. During a program in PyongTech, he summoned his daughter, Ianka Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on the stage and called both of them a beautiful couple. However, he called Beauty and Mike the Beast to Iwaka. Evanwa Trump is the executive vice president of the group. He is also President Trump's adviser. Yankara is married to Jared Kushner and has three children. This is not the first time when Trump has mentioned Iowa openly. Earlier in 2004, in an interview he said that one thing tells me. Ianaka is great and is quite beautiful. Every person in the country wants to go with him. But she's already a boyfriend. Trump meets Kim, before that Trump talks to dictator Kim Jong in North Korea. Trump is the first US president to visit Korea. Before this, there have been two meetings between the two leaders. Trump also invited Jong to come to the White House. Trump said, this is an important day for the world. It is a matter of honor for me to be here.

UAE : The children of UAE / Dubai princess and Rs 271 crore Absconded from the country, sought refuge from Germany: report

MMNN:4 July 2019
Seoul US President Donald Trump was on a two-day visit to South Korea on Sunday. During this time he also appeared in his funny form. During a program in PyongTech, he summoned his daughter, Ianka Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on the stage and called both of them a beautiful couple. However, he called Beauty and Mike the Beast to Iwaka. Evanwa Trump is the executive vice president of the group. He is also President Trump's adviser. Yankara is married to Jared Kushner and has three children. This is not the first time when Trump has mentioned Iowa openly. Earlier in 2004, in an interview he said that one thing tells me. Ianaka is great and is quite beautiful. Every person in the country wants to go with him. But she's already a boyfriend. Trump meets Kim, before that Trump talks to dictator Kim Jong in North Korea. Trump is the first US president to visit Korea. Before this, there have been two meetings between the two leaders. Trump also invited Jong to come to the White House. Trump said, this is an important day for the world. It is a matter of honor for me to be here.

Thai Princess To Run For Prime Minister, Against Junta Chief.

MMNN:8 February 2019
BANGKOK: A Thai princess will run for prime minister in March elections, in an unprecedented entry by a royal into frontline politics which pits her against the chief of the ruling junta, throwing into disarray his bid to stay in power. Princess Ubolratana, 67, the older sister of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn, was announced as a candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart party steered by the divisive Shinawatra political clan. The Thai monarchy, a revered institution shielded from criticism by a tough defamation law, has traditionally been seen as above the political fray, although royals have intervened in moments of political crisis. Ubolratana's nomination has electrified the buildup to a March 24 election which had seemed poised to return the junta and its proxies to power in some form. It dramatically redraws the kingdom's political landscape by giving a royal sheen to Thaksin Shinawatra's political machine, which has won every election since 2001. Her support also potentially builds a bridge between Thaksin's "Red" shirted supporters and the "Yellow" shirts -- who are arch royalists. Deadly violence and disruption linked to the two groups has defined Thailand's turbulent last decade. "The board agrees that the name of Princess Ubolratana, an educated and skilled person, is the most suitable choice," Thai Raksa Chart party leader Preechapol Pongpanich told reporters. The party falls under the tutelage of Thaksin, a billionaire self-exiled former premier, who stands at the heart of Thailand's bitter political schism -- loathed by the army and Bangkok elite, yet adored by the rural poor. The announcement thrusts him back to the centre stage of Thailand's political drama just as it appeared the military were set to succeed in sidelining him. He was toppled in a 2006 coup, and his sister Yingluck was booted from power in a 2014 military takeover and forced into exile to avoid a jail term. The princess' move deals a heavy blow to the political aspirations of Prayut Chan-O-Cha, the junta head, who has spent nearly five years trying to recast the political system to limit the power of elected governments and prepare his own return as a civilian leader. In a day of high political drama, Prayut declared his candidacy for premier, running for the Phalang Pracharat army party, moments after the princess's announcement. "I want to reassure that I do not intend to hang on to power. It is not easy for me to make my decision... it is a crucial moment for the country." Bridging the divide? The military under Prayut has cast itself as the protector of the monarchy. But Ubolratana's shock entrance into politics, aligned with the junta's nemesis -- the Shinawatra family -- undercuts those claims. Ubolratana, a colourful, public-facing royal in contrast to her more restrained brother King Maha Vajiralongkorn, relinquished her royal titles after marrying the American Peter Jensen in 1972. But the couple divorced and she moved back to Thailand where she is still considered part of the royal family. Thailand has not had a royal as premier since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932. It was not immediately clear if Ubolratana would be covered by the kingdom's widely interpreted royal defamation law -- which carries up to 15 years in jail per charge -- or how that could impact debate and criticism in the run up to elections. "It is unprecedented if she becomes prime minister," said Puangthong Pawakapan, professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University. "Can people treat her like a commoner? Who would dare criticise a royal prime minister?" Known to the public for lead roles in Thai films, onstage singing performances, a vibrant fashion sense and a sizeable Instagram following, Ubolratana is the first-born child of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. She was seen at the 2018 World Cup in Russia smiling with Thaksin and Yingluck and has over the junta years given a number of coded nods on social media in favour of the Shinawatras. Since ascending the throne in 2016, King Maha Vajiralongkorn has reorganised palace affairs. The vastly wealthy Crown Property Bureau is now under his personal stewardship, he has appointed several new privy counsellors and established a highly trained personal guard. COMMENT Crucially he has appointed a new army chief from a different faction of the military to the ruling junta.

Former Pak PM Yousuf Raza Gilani Stopped From Leaving Country.

MMNN:6 February 2019
LAHORE: Former Pakistan prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is facing corruption charges, was stopped from leaving the country by immigration officials at the Lahore airport after his name popped up in the no-fly list. According to the Federal Investigation Agency, 66-year-old Gilani reached the Allama Iqbal International Airport here Tuesday night to board a flight for South Korea via Bangkok to attend a conference. However, his name was on the no-fly list. "At the immigration counter, Mr Gilani was told that his name was placed on the black list therefore he could not leave the country," the FIA said, adding that it was following orders from the interior ministry. Reacting strongly, the senior Pakistan Peoples Party leader said he always appeared in courts in the different cases against him. "There was no point in placing my name on (the) no-fly list. I was not fleeing the country. Prime Minister Imran Khan's sole agenda seems to be targeting his political opponents," Gilani said. "The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government should have informed me about blacklisting my name," Gilani said, adding that he will challenge the "illegal decision" of the government. Gilani is facing several corruption cases and last week, the accountability court of Islamabad rejected his plea seeking exemption from personal appearance in a case related to awarding alleged illegal advertising contract to a private agency. He is accused of misusing authority to illegally grant Messrs Midas an advertising contract in contravention of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority rules. The act is reported to have cost the national treasury Rs. 129.07 million.

More Google Staff Doubt CEO Sundar Pichai's Vision, Shows Employee Survey.

MMNN:4 February 2019
Alphabet Inc.'s Google became the most-profitable internet company by recruiting talented technologists and inspiring them enough to keep them around. That advantage may be slipping as some workers increasingly doubt the leadership and vision of Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai, according to recent results from an employee survey. The annual internal poll, known as Googlegeist, asked workers whether Pichai's vision of what the company can achieve inspires them. In response, 78 percent indicated yes, down 10 percentage points from the previous year. Another question asked if employees have confidence in Pichai and his management team to effectively lead Google in the future. Positive responses represented 74 percent of the total, an 18 point decline from a year earlier. There were similar declines for questions about Pichai's decisions and strategies, his commitment to diversity and inclusion, and the compensation the company pays, according the results, which were viewed by Bloomberg News. Google shares the results with all employees to make sure concerns are heard. This time, 89 percent of workers took the survey. Wired reported some of the Googlegeist results earlier on Friday. A Google spokeswoman declined to comment. While the survey findings are still mostly positive, the declines are a worrying shift for Google, which prides itself on high employee morale, luxurious working conditions and high pay. If these things are beginning to erode, the company could lose talent to other technology companies, undermining its ability to build new services that drive its profitable advertising business. Last year, tension between the company and employees exploded into the public realm. Workers clashed with management on a range of issues, including a lack of benefits for contract staff and the ethical use of artificial intelligence. Thousands of Google staff staged a walkout after a report that the company gave large exit payments to executives accused of sexual harassment. Google added new questions to the latest survey, highlighting potential management concerns. Employees were asked if Google responds quickly and consistently to verified cases of proven misconduct. 53 percent responded positively. Staff were also asked if they understand how their compensation is determined, and 56 percent indicated yes. Still, most Googlers aren't leaving any time soon, with 82 percent of survey respondents saying they plan to be working at Google one year from now. That was down just 1 percentage point from the previous year. And 86 percent said they would recommend the company as a place to work. Here are some of the other results from the Googlegeist employee survey: Pichai's decisions and strategies help Google do excellent work -- 75 percent positive, down 13 percentage points from the previous year. Pichai demonstrates a visible commitment to diversity and inclusion -- 79 percent positive, down 12 points. Google has the right priorities -- 66 percent positive, down 13 points. I'm excited about Google's future -- 78 percent positive, down 11 points. Overall, my total compensation is fair and equitable -- 59 percent positive, down 11 points. My total compensation is competitive compared to compensation for similar jobs at other companies. 54 positive, down 11 points. At the present time, I am not seriously considering leaving Google -- 74 positive, down 2 points.

Malaysian company ready to invest $250m in Pakistan.

MMNN:2 February 2019
Islamabad, A Mala­ysia-based company has pledged to make $250 million investment in the telecommunication sector in Pakistan during next five years. Malaysia’s Edotco Group chairman of the board of directors, Datuk Azzat Kamaluddin, made this commitment during a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan along with a delegation at Prime Minister Office (PMO) on Friday, said a Dawn report. According to the media cell of the PMO, Mr Kamaluddin told the prime minister that the Edotco Group, with the existing investment of $100m in Pakistan, planned to further increase its investment in tower infrastructure in the telecommunication sector. “The group plans to add an investment of $250m in next five years,” he said. The delegation included Nik Ramlah Nik Mehmood, the board member, Suresh Narain Singh Sidhu, CEO, and Arif Hussain, country MD. High Commissioner of Malaysia Ikram Mohammad Ibrahim also attended the meeting. The Edotco Group chief appreciated the vision of Prime Minister Khan and the policies being pursued by his government which have restored confidence of the investors. He said that the Edotco Group wanted to become a partner in the Digital Pakistan Programme. The prime minister, welcoming the delegation, said that all possible facilitation would be provided to the group in expansion of its business ventures in Pakistan. He highlighted various steps being taken by the government to improve ease of doing business and ensure investor-friendly environment in the country. In a separate meeting Zhang Chun, chairman, board of directors, China Machinery Engineering Corporation, and Huang Daoyuan, head of Huan DR Group, called on Prime Minister Khan. Mr Zhang briefed the prime minister on various projects his company has undertaken in Pakistan in the past, most notably in the energy sector. He also spoke about the progress of work on 1263MW power plant in Jhang which is near completion. Mr Zhangand Mr Huang expressed keen interest in making investments in the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme and agriculture sector. Meanwhile, the federal government has asked the provinces to furnish proposals aimed at revival of crippling agriculture sector and getting better yield of crops. The proposals were sought at meeting on agriculture and food processing chaired by the prime minister. He urged the provincial governments to send proposals based on their problems in a week to boost up agriculture production in the country. Interestingly, after passage of 18th Amendment in 2010, like many other subjects, agriculture has also become a provincial subject and does not come under the domain of the federal government. However, international agreements with other countries are made at the federal government’s level. The prime minister also urged the provinces to help increase export of agricultural products to generate more revenue. “The provincial governments must point out the hurdles and impediments coming in the way of export of agricultural products,” he said. Prime Minister Khan was told that China was ready to provide technical support while some countries in the Middle East had agreed to extend financial support for revival of agriculture sector. “The provinces should also give proposals how Pakistan can take advantage of technical support from China and financial support from Middle East countries,” the prime minister said. He said during his recent visit to China, Chinese authorities had assured him of their technical assistance to Pakistan in agriculture sector so that Pakistan could enhance its agricultural production by working on modern lines. It has been learnt that China is conducting research on Pakistani wheat, with the focus on yield increase through hybrid technology or other means. Prime Minister Khan held another meeting with members of the National Assembly from Kohat and Dera Ismail Khan and vowed to solve basic problems confronting the people of the two cities. During the meeting, the MNAs apprised the prime minister about problems of their respective areas. The prime minister said brining real “change” in the life of people of the country was included in the priorities in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf manifesto. “The government will further enhance its plans in Khyber Pakhtunkwa to bring real change and provide better health, education and other facilities to the people,” he added. The prime minister stressed the need for improvement in tourism sector and said: “KP has a big potential of tourism which can help stable the country’s economy.” He ordered for devising plans for provision of drinking water to the people of Karak and Dera Ismail Khan.

One-Time Presidential Hopeful Jailed In South Korean #MeToo Scandal.

MMNN:1 February 2019
SEOUL: A former South Korean provincial governor who once ran for presidential nomination was jailed for three and a half years on Friday for molesting an aide after his earlier acquittal was overturned in one of the country's most high-profile #MeToo cases. An Hee-jung had been a rising star in South Korea's ruling party before he quit in March 2018, hours after the aide accused him of repeated sexual assault. Seoul High Court overturned his acquittal on molestation charges. "Former governor An's position of power over the victim was sufficient to dominate her free will," the court said. "An appears to have seen the victim in the context of a superior-subordinate relationship and used it to commit adultery." An, who ran for presidential nomination in 2017, had denied wrongdoing. "I thank the bench that adjudicated exactly according to the truth," Kim Ji-eun, the aide who had gone on national TV to accuse him of sexually harassing and repeatedly assaulting her, said in a statement. South Korea's #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault has ensnared a number of high-profile political, entertainment, religious and sports figures. Two-time Olympic speed skating champion Shim Suk-hee, 21, accused her former coach of assault in December in a case that triggered national outrage. The accused, Cho Jae-beom, who has denied the charges, is under police investigation while having been jailed on separate charges of hitting Shim

France : 130 ISIS fighters to be brought back from Syria.

MMNN:30 January 2019
Paris, France will repatriate around 130 men and women detained in Syria and suspected of jihadism, according to the French Minister of the Interior on Tuesday. The men are currently being held by the Syrian Democratic Forces, the partner of the US-led anti-ISIS Coalition. This is the first time France has organized such a massive repatriation of French jihadists from Syria. According to our information, nearly 130 men and women, suspected of fighting or having been in contact with Daesh and detained in camps in Syria under the supervision of the Kurds, will return in the coming weeks in France. Many of them are known to the French intelligence services. French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said “All those who will return to France will be judged in court. If the judge estimates that it will be necessary to incarcerate them, and that will be the usual case, they will be put in jail. These men are believed to have left France for Syria, several years ago, to fight in the ranks of Daesh. For some, French anti-terrorist services only have their names as combatants, for others, they know their real identity and sometimes have videos showing them committing abuses, French BFM TV reported. Many European countries and members of the Coalition have refrained from repatriating up to 600 of an estimated 3,200 ISIS members and their families held in Syria. Hundreds of these detainees are from European countries, some of the 5,000 ISIS members from Europe who went to Syria and Iraq and committed genocide against the area’s population, including Yazidis in Iraq in August 2014. To date, more than 500 people are incarcerated in France, either as part of a pre-trial detention or as part of a conviction. French prisons have “watertight” neighborhoods including neighborhoods for assessing radicalization and care. Some areas are completely sealed so that the detainees do not come into contact with others and thus avoid any religious propaganda. They are followed by supervisors and disciplinary teams, composed of psychologists, educators, imams and insertion penitentiary counselors, who work towards the disengagement of violence.

Death toll rises to 58 in Brazil mining dam burst, 305 missing.

MMNN:29 January 2019
Brasilia, The death toll to dam burst at an iron ore mine in south-eastern Brazil town of Brumadinho owned by Vale SA, rose to 58, officials said on Monday. According to Vale 305 employees, contractors and residents were still missing adding that 192 have been rescued so far.”After 48 hours of work, the chances of finding someone alive is very low, but we’re working with the possibility that we’ll find people alive.” Col Eduardo Angelo, who is leading the search operation said. “We’ve got to have hope,” said a woman whose 35-year-old husband was missing. The dam break caused a sea of muddy sludge to bury the site.The Brazil’s Environmental Protection Agency has issued an initial fine of 250m reais (66.5 million dollars) to Vale, in relation to the incident. Brumadinho Mayor Avimar de Melo Barcelos criticised the company for being “careless and incompetent”.The company claims that it had followed all safety procedures. Mr Schvartsman, who took office in May 2017, promised “to go above and beyond any national or international standards… We’ll create a cushion of safety far superior to what we have today to guarantee this never happens again.” The dam was built in 1976, was used to hold residue from the mine and it had a capacity of 12m cubic metres and had been an inactive site for three years, Vale said.

‘Brexit: ‘Delaying Brexit worse than no deal’.

MMNN:24 January 2019
London, Delaying or cancelling Brexit would be a “calamitous” breach of trust with the electorate and worse than leaving the EU with no deal, Brexiteer Minister Liam Fox has said. He told BBC’s Radio 4’s Today programme, the MPs pushing for a delay actually wanted to stop Brexit.But he said this was the “worst outcome” of the current wrangles. MPs are proposing alternative plans to the PM’s deal with the EU, including seeking an extension to the UK’s exit date – it is due to leave on 29 March. But the prime minister has said the “right way” to rule out no-deal Brexit is to approve her withdrawal agreement. Liam Fox said MPs should think about the “political consequences” of delaying Brexit not just the “short-term economic consequences”. “There is no doubt that leaving with a deal and minimising disruption both to the UK and our EU trading partners is in our best interest,” the international development secretary said. “But I think the most calamitous outcome would be for Parliament, having promised to respect the result of the referendum, to turn around and say it wouldn’t.” Under current law, the UK will exit the EU on 29 March, whether or not a deal has been struck. The decision to leave was taken by 52pc to 48pc in a referendum in June 2016. Former Chancellor George Osborne has said delaying the UK’s exit from the EU was now the “most likely” option. Speaking to BBC business editor Simon Jack in Davos, Mr Osborne said that the prospect of no-deal meant “the gun is held to the British economy’s head”. “Russian roulette is a game which you should never play because there’s a one-in-six chance that the bullet goes into your head,” he said. Mr Osborne, who was sacked by Mrs May when she became prime minister after the referendum, said his successor Philip Hammond had “sensibly” told businesses that leaving without a deal was not a possibility. “But we now need to hear it from the British prime minister,” he said.

‘Trump could face super-rich challenger in 2020.

MMNN:23 January 2019
Washington, As some of the Democratic Party’s heavyweight contenders start announcing their intention to run for president, there remains a chance that President Donald Trump will square off with a fellow billionaire come 2020, said an NBC News report. But does anyone on the left want a candidate from the private sector as their nominee at a time when some in the party are running hard against big business, corporate greed and Wall Street? Entering the cycle, three billionaires appeared poised to seek the presidency: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Forbes estimated his wealth at over $46 billion); Starbucks founder Howard Schultz (Forbes pegged his riches at $3.3 billion); and ex-hedge fund chieftain and impeachment activist Tom Steyer (Forbes ball-parked him at $1.6 billion), who has since removed his name from contention. Trump is worth $3.1 billion, according to Forbes. Early polls showed none of the three would start from a position of power. A December straw poll from the liberal advocacy group MoveOn found Bloomberg in eighth place among 2020 contenders while Steyer finished a distant 23rd and Schultz found himself in dead-last. If any of the mega-wealthy potential candidates “look like they’re running simply because of their own ego or they like their names in lights, their candidacy will never get out of the gate,” Jesse Ferguson, a high-ranking staffer on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, told NBC News. But, he added, if any candidate can “present an authentic, believable antidote to Trump,” they can resonate with voters. Steyer, one of the Democratic Party’s most prominent donors and an advocate for climate change action, told NBC News that business acumen and a big bank account should not be a roadblock to the Democratic nomination simply because Trump ran a campaign claiming that he was the world’s best deal maker. “Look, as far as I know, Mr. Trump never succeeded in any business other than inheriting money, which he was quite good at, and being a reality TV star,” Steyer said. “As far as I can tell, that was the extent of his business success.” As for his billionaire contemporaries, Steyer said it’s too early to say whether he would support Schultz or Bloomberg or someone else. He said Bloomberg has been “a good partner” on climate-change initiatives. If one of the super-rich potential candidates were to jump in, he’d look at “the basis on which they intend to run…including whether they believe this president should be impeached and removed from office.” Schultz and Bloomberg, who’s teased a presidential several times in the past but never declared, are mum about whether they will run. Schultz, who declined an interview for this story, is embarking on a book tour this month and The Washington Post reported Saturday he is considering an independent presidential bid. Bloomberg, who also declined to comment, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” he will make up his mind by February. Bloomberg has ramped up his schedule, speaking on climate change — a signature issue and an area where he’s drawn a stark contrast with the Trump. On Monday, the former mayor will speak at the National Action Network’s Martin Luther King Day breakfast in Washington — an event that will be attended by fellow potential presidential contender and former Vice President Joe Biden. While speaking at the University of Toronto last week, Bloomberg said a potential candidate like himself — not only a billionaire, but a white man over the age of 50 — shouldn’t be discounted. “Somebody the other day said, ‘If you’re over 50, white and male, forget about it. You’re never going to get elected in America ever again,” Bloomberg said. “We’ve gone a little bit too far in some of these things in terms of thinking that the world’s changed. People still want somebody with maturity and experience and accomplishment.” Some believe that with such an expected large Democratic field in such a Trump-disrupted political environment, anything is possible. “Looking at these guys, I don’t think there is really an intrinsic benefit or problem of their being rich. It will help them get the message out,” said Aaron Fritschner, communications director for Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va, adding that it is unclear what type of coalition of primary voters a candidate like Bloomberg or Schultz will appeal to. “The problem is formulating the message and fitting it to a constituency that can win in battleground primary states,” he added. “While I have a lot of trouble imagining what it might look like, it’s still early and nearly everything I expected to happen in 2016 was ultimately proved wrong.” One of the party’s leading contenders — Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — has already taken the potential billionaire candidates to task over the issue of self-funding their candidacies. She said on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” earlier this month that Democrats should say “no to the billionaires whether they are self-funding or whether they’re funding PACs.” Bloomberg said days later that he would self-fund his candidacy if he runs.Bradley Tusk, founder and CEO of Tusk Holdings and Bloomberg’s former campaign manager, said he understood why Warren made those comments. “You know, fundraising is probably a bigger challenge for her than it is for some of the other candidates, let alone some of the self-funded ones,” Tusk said. “So she’s putting out a view of the world that is good for her and one that fits with her narrative.” Steyer, who would’ve had the ability to provide significant self-funding for a presidential campaign, said he agreed with Warren “where she is concerned about money in politics.” “I think the hostile corporate takeover of our democracy is a central issue,” he said. Regardless of what the early polling says, Tusk said it would be wrong to make any assumptions about how the field — which could feature 20 or more candidates — could shape up at this point. “The best thing we can do is have a really robust primary with lots of elections and lots of candidates and lots of debates and lots of everything and see who actually connects,” he said.

‘World’s oldest man’ dies in Japan at 113.

MMNN:22 January 2019
Tokyo, “World’s oldest man” Masazo Nonaka, who was born just two years after the Wright brothers launched humanity´s first powered flight, has died aged 113, Japanese media said. Nonaka, who died on Sunday, was born in July 1905, according to Guinness World Records — just months before Albert Einstein published his special theory of relativity. Guinness officially recognised Nonaka as the oldest living man after the death of Spaniard Francisco Nunez Olivera last year. “We feel shocked at the loss of this big figure. He was as usual yesterday and passed away without causing our family any fuss at all,” his granddaughter Yuko told Kyodo News. Nonaka had six brothers and one sister, marrying in 1931 and fathering five children.He ran a hot spring inn in his hometown and in retirement enjoyed watching sumo wrestling on TV and eating sweets, according to local media. Japan has one of the world’s highest life expectancies and was home to several people recognised as among the oldest humans to have ever lived. They include Jiroemon Kimura, the longest-living man on record, who died soon after his 116th birthday in June 2013.The oldest verified person ever — Jeanne Louise Calment of France — died in 1997 at the age of 122, according to Guinness.

Trump announces plans to expand US missile defence.

MMNN:18 January 2019
Washington, US President Donald Trump announced plans for a huge expansion of US missile defence with aim of destroying enemy missiles “anywhere, anytime, any place”. The missile defence review, which Trump unveiled on Thursday in a speech at the Pentagon, calls for a major upgrade in land and sea-based missile interceptor systems, as well as the development of a layer of satellite sensors in low orbit that would help track new types of cruise missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) countries like Russia and China are developing. Under the review, the Pentagon plans to expand the country’s existing missile defence shield, including extra layers with space-based sensors and interceptors, technology to track and defeat hypersonic weapons, unmanned aircraft with lasers to shoot down threats, and missile-hunting F-35 stealth fighters. “The United States will adjust its position to defend against any missile strikes to include cruise and hypersonic,” Trump said. “Missile defences are a key element of our strategy given this proliferation of offensive ballistic and cruise missiles and emerging hypersonic weapons technologies that markedly raise threats to regional balances and to our major allies and partners,” Acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan wrote in a preface to the review. The review is the first update to the US missile defence policy since its 2010 version unveiled during the Obama administration.

May survives ‘No Confidence’ vote.

MMNN:17 January 2019
London, British Prime Minister Theresa May has survived a vital No Confidence vote in the House of Commons, averting a snap general election that could have ushered in a Labour government. Giving her reaction to the result, May told MPs she would “continue to work to deliver on the solemn promise to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union”. “We must find solutions that are negotiable and command sufficient support in this House,” she added. The PM won the vote by a margin of 19, including 10 votes from the DUP. Had the party voted against her, she would have lost by one. Seconds after Speaker John Bercow announced the result 325 in favour of the government and 306 against, May said she intended to start those talks “this evening”. Earlier on Tuesday, May suffered a historic defeat, after the parliament refused her Brexit deal by 432 to 202. After seeing off a challenge that would have triggered a battle for control of Downing Street, May announced she would be having immediate talks with leaders of opposition parties to thrash out a new Brexit deal, BBC reported. Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on May to rule out “once and for all” a no-deal prospects before any positive discussions took place with party leaders. In another day of nail-biting drama in the House of Commons, the 10 MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland came to the rescue to save May’s Conservative government. May will return to the House of Commons on Monday to make a statement to MPs about Brexit and to present MPs with an alternative Brexit plan in the hope it has more success than the deal rejected Tuesday by a massive margin of MPs

Cargo plane crashes at Iran’s Fath airport.

MMNN:15 January 2019
Dubai, A Boeing 707 cargo plane with nine people on board crashed on Monday near Iran’s Fath airport, west of the capital ,Tehran. Some news sources says that the crash occurred when the plane was making a landing approach heading for the wrong airport and trying to land at a non-commercial airport near a residential area instead of a cargo airport some 4 kilometers away. However, there was no immediate information on casualties and also it was not immediately clear who owned the plane, reported Arab News. The head of Iran’s emergency department, Pirhossein Kolivand said, “We don’t have clear information about the details of the crash.” The plane went down near Fath airport, near Karaj in the central Iranian province of Alborz. The rescue teams had been sent to the area, between the airports of Fath and Payam

New Gurudwara to come up in Fishers.

MMNN:14 January 2019
Fishers, United States, On the auspicious occasion of 253rd birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of Sikhs, Sikh Community in Fishers, Indiana launched a $ 3 million Gurudwara project (Gurudwara Guru Nanak Darbar) on the existing property in Fishers to replace the current building with a new Gurudwara. Speaking on the occasion, Sikhs Political Action Committee founder and chairman, Gurinder Singh Khalsa said on Sunday that “Community members and management committee are tirelessly working on this project for a long time. Our Sikh community is growing in Fishers and Noblesville. In just the past decade, we have grown from five families to more than 500 families. The new proposed new building project will meet the needs of the growth.” Groundbreaking for the new Gurudwara building will take place in summer with the intent to complete the project within six months. “Presently we serve community meals every Sunday from 1000 hrs to 1400 hrs .We also have a clothing and food bank for those in need”, Gurinder said. Fishers City Mayor Scott Fadness was the chief guest and he received a warm and affectionate welcome by the members of the Sikh community. The Sikh Community members also presented him a memento to honor him. The Mayor complimented Gurinder Singh Khalsa, an entrepreneur and vocal leader of the Sikh community and said, “The Sikh community braces everyone and Gurinder and all you have educated me for the values the Sikh community stands.” Despite snow all over, a large number of devotees turned up to celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, who was born in Patna (Bihar, India) on January 5, 1666. Mayor Scott also made a heartwarming announcement that more members of the Sikh community would be involved in further development of Fishers. It may be recalled that last year Mayor Schoot had appointed Gurinder Singh Khalsa on the Fishers Town Building Corp as board director and vice president.The Mayor added another feather in Gurinder’s cap by appointing him on the Planning Committee of Fishers City on Sunday.

Former Trump lawyer Cohen to testify publicly before US Congress.

MMNN:12 January 2019
Washington, Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, will testify before the US House Oversight and Reform Committee next month, the panel’s chairman said. “I thank Michael Cohen for agreeing to testify before the Oversight Committee voluntarily,” said the committee’s chairman, Elijah Cummings, in a statement on Thursday. Cohen was sentenced last month to three years in jail after pleading guilty to a series of crimes, including hush money payments prior to the 2016 presidential election to silence two women who claim to have had affairs with Trump. In a statement posted on Twitter, Cohen said he is “looking forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired”,reported Xinhua. Cohen is also a person of interest in the ongoing Russia inquiry led by special counsel Robert Mueller, whose investigation focuses on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Speaking on Cohen’s testimony later in the day, Trump said he’s “not worried at all.” Earlier, Trump has slammed Cohen as a weak person and has repeatedly called the Mueller probe a political “witch hunt.” Cummings said on Thursday that the committee has “no interest in inappropriately interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations.” “To that end, we are in the process of consulting with Special Counsel Mueller’s office,” the chairman added. Cohen, 52, served as a vice-president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Trump and previously served as co-president of Trump Entertainment.

"Putin, Merkel discuss Syria over phone.

MMNN:11 January 2019
Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the Syria situation over phone on Thursday. The two sides affirmed intent to strengthen efforts to conduct the political process in Syria in close coordination with the United Nations in order to reach a long-term settlement of the Syrian crisis, according to a statement by the Kremlin. “They exchanged views on the situation in Syria, including the formation of a constitutional committee on the basis of the agreements achieved at the four-way summit Russia, Turkey, Germany, and France in Istanbul on October 27, 2018,” the statement added. Russia, Turkey, and Iran are seeking to form a constitutional commission in cooperation with the UN to support a political settlement and put an end to the ongoing war in Syria since 2011.

"Sri Lanka Political Crisis "Death Blow" To Economy: Ranil Wickremesinghe.

MMNN:10 January 2019
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's prime minister said Thursday the country was struggling to pay back its ballooning foreign debt, blaming a recent political crisis for dealing a "death blow" to the economy. Ranil Wickremesinghe said his government was scrambling to raise $1.9 billion to help service a first debt payment of $2.6 billion, that is due on Monday. Sri Lanka faces $5.9 billion in foreign debt repayments in 2019, a record for the cash-strapped island. The country lost $1 billion in foreign reserves during a power struggle between Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena in late 2018. Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe in October and later dissolved parliament to quell any opposition, but Sri Lanka's courts deemed the move unconstitutional. Wickremesinghe was reinstalled 51 days later but not without a cost, the prime minister said. "We are yet to quantify the losses, but it was a death blow to an economy that was struggling to recover," Wickremesinghe told parliament. Three global ratings agencies downgraded Sri Lanka during the crisis, making it more expensive for the Indian Ocean nation to access foreign loans. Sri Lanka hopes to raise $1 billion from the international debt market, another $500 million from China and Japan and a further $400 million from the Reserve Bank of India. Wickremesinghe has dispatched his finance minister to Washington to try to revive a loan arrangement with the International Monetary Fund that was suspended during the chaos. Sri Lanka narrowly averted defaulting on its sovereign debt after Wickremesinghe's reformed administration introduced a plan late last month to meet urgent spending obligations for the first four months of 2019. Sirisena came to power in 2015 with the help of Wickremesinghe's United National Party but personal and political clashes came to a head before the October sacking.

"Sheikh Hasina sworn-in Bangladesh Prime Minister.

MMNN:8 January 2019
Dhaka, Awami league President Sheikh Hasina was on Monday sworn in as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh for a third consecutive term along with her 46 members of her cabinet following the December 30 national elections in which her party won a landslide victory. President M Abdul Hamid administered the oath of office and secrecy to Hasina and the new cabinet members at the Darbar Hall of Bangabhaban this afternoon.Over 20 new faces have been inducted into the council of ministers. AK Abdul Momen has been appointed Foreign Affairs Minister. Thousands of people from all walks of life thronged the Rajuk Avenue and Bangabandhu Avenue intersection to have a glimpse of her when she was on her way back home from Bangabhaban after the the swearing-in ceremony.

"Malaysian Royals To Pick New King After Surprise Resignation.

MMNN:7 January 2019
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's royals prepared on monday to pick a new king to replace Sultan Muhammad V, who abdicated in a historic first after reportedly marrying a Russian former beauty queen, holding a special gathering at the national palace. The king stepped aside yesterday following intense speculation about his future after reports surfaced in recent weeks that he had taken medical leave, and then wed the former Miss Moscow. As the country reacted with shock to the news, Malaysia's Islamic royal families set about the task of electing a new king to replace Muhammad V, 49, who gave up the throne just two years into his term. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, with a unique arrangement where the throne changes hands every five years between rulers of the country's nine states headed by centuries-old Islamic royalty. The royal households take it in turn to provide the country's king, and it is usually known before the formal election who will become the monarch. While their role is ceremonial, Malaysia's royalty command great respect, especially from Muslim Malays, and criticising them is strictly forbidden. A special meeting of the rulers was held at the palace in Kuala Lumpur to set a date for a new king to be elected, official news agency Bernama reported. It will happen in the coming weeks, with the new king expected to serve a full, five-year term. The national palace did not respond to requests for comment. Sultan Nazrin Shah of northern Perak state is the acting king, local media reported. He is the current deputy king and performed Muhammad V's duties after he went on medical leave at the start of November. Despite mounting speculation in recent days the king might give up the throne, there was still palpable shock in the Muslim-majority country at the first abdication of a king since the end of British rule in 1957. "I am naturally stunned. The (king) is a man of the people," Siti Nur Fahimah Razali, a 25-year-old trader from the king's home state of Kelantan, told the New Straits Times newspaper. Among those wishing the former king well was scandal-plagued former premier Najib Razak, who wrote in a Facebook post: "We Malaysians pray for his health and that he is protected by Allah. Long live the king!" But there had been growing unease after reports emerged in foreign media in late November -- several weeks after the king went on leave -- that he had married the Russian, Oksana Voevodina. Royal officials in Malaysia have not so far commented on the reported marriage.

"Major Changes Never Seen In A Century": Xi Tells Army To Be Battle-Ready.

MMNN:5 January 2019
China's armed forces must strengthen their sense of urgency and do everything they can to prepare for battle, President Xi Jinping told a meeting of top brass on Friday. China is keen to beef up its armed forces amid territorial disputes in the South China Sea and escalating tension with the United States over issues ranging from trade to the status of Taiwan. The official Xinhua news agency said Xi told a meeting of the top military authority that China faced increasing risks and challenges, and the armed forces must work to secure its security and development needs. Xi, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, said the armed forces must devise strategies for the new era and take on responsibilities for preparing and waging war. "The world is facing a period of major changes never seen in a century, and China is still in an important period of strategic opportunity for development," he was quoted as saying. He said the armed forces needed to be able to respond quickly to emergencies, needed to upgrade their joint operations capabilities and nurture new types of combat forces. Xi's comments followed his remarks on Wednesday that China still reserved the right to use force to achieve "reunification" with Taiwan and prevent the island's independence. Xi's Taiwan speech came just days after U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act into law, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the island's security.

Bangladesh: New MPs to take oath on Jan 3.

MMNN:3 January 2019
Dhaka,Information Minister of Bangladesh Hasanul Haq Inu has announced that the the oath-taking ceremony of new members of parliament will be held on Thursday. The information minister made the announcement during a Secretariat Reporters Forum discussion at the Secretariat Media Centre on Tuesday. The oath taking ceremony will held on January 3. A gazette will be released before then. ‘We, the Grand Alliance tried to work for the people. This is why the Grand Alliance has won by a massive vote margin’, the minister said. The prevailing term of Sheikh Hasina administration will end January 28.

Japan : Nine injured as car runs down pedestrians on Tokyo’s Takeshita Street, claims act of terror.

MMNN:2 January 2019
Tokyo, Nine people were injured in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward on Tuesday when a man rammed his car into pedestrians on a well-known shopping street in what he claimed was an act of terrorism, authorities said. Police arrested Kazuhiro Kusakabe, 21, who was driving the rental car with an Osaka license plate, on suspicion of attempted murder. Investigative sources quoted the man as saying he had perpetrated an act of terrorism “in retaliation for an execution” and “would not make any excuse” for his act. It was not immediately clear whether he was referring to a specific execution or Japan’s system of capital punishment. Kusakabe told the police he had driven from Osaka and intended to kill the pedestrians he hit. There was a tank of kerosene in the rental car, which he said he planned to use to burn the vehicle, the investigative sources said, reports Kyodo news . The incident took place on Takeshita Street in the Harajuku district close to Meiji Shrine shortly after midnight. The street was closed to vehicular traffic at the time as it was expected to be crowded on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Eight people were hit by the car, including a teenage boy who is in critical condition, the police said.Another man was slightly injured when Kusakabe allegedly struck him after getting out of the car, the police said. Kusakabe fled the scene, but the police found him in a nearby park about half an hour later. Meanwhile, about 120,000 revelers packed into Shibuya’s famous scramble crossing but activities were tightly controlled by police and riot police. No major trouble had been reported as of 5 a.m. and most people had dispersed by then.

Obamas declared most admired people in US.

MMNN:29 December 2018
New York, Former US President Barack Obama has been named the most admired man in America for the 11th year in a row – but now he is joined by his wife, Michelle, who knocked Hillary Clinton off the perch to be voted the most admired woman. It is the first time in 17 years that a woman other than the former US presidential candidate and Secretary of State has been named the most admired woman in Gallup’s annual poll. There are ten points between Ms Obama and her nearest rival, Oprah Winfrey, according to an SBS News report. Her jump to number one likely comes down to the release of her best-selling book, Becoming. Meanwhile, Ms Clinton has been staying out of the spotlight more than usual. And while Barack Obama has continued his number one streak, US President Donald Trump has come in second for the fourth year in a row. When it comes to the women, First Lady Melania Trump is sitting at number four, behind Ms Clinton who dropped to third place. Queen Elizabeth took out the fifth spot – the first non-American to make the Most Admired Woman list – followed by German Chancellor Angela Merkle, Supreme Court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, talk show host Ellen Degeneres, US politician Nikki Haley, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai and another US politician, Nancy Pelosi. The data shows American’s hold talk show hosts in high esteem, with both Winfrey and Degeneres making the list.No entertainers appeared in the male list and only two non-Americans made the cut: Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama. After Mr Obama and Mr Trump, Americans said they admired George W Bush, Pope Francis, Bill Gates, Bernie Sanders, Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama, Joe Biden, Elon Musk and Mike Pence, in that order. There is a six-point gap between first and second place in the Most Admired Man list. According to Gallup, this year is only the 13th time in 72 years the incumbent president didn’t come in first. If Trump does not get to the top spot during his term, it will be only the second time that a US president has not had the honor. The survey, which has run every year since 1946, asked 1025 adult Americans to name the man and women, from any country in the world, whom they most admire.

Taliban: US offers safety, job security.

MMNN:28 December 2018
Washington, The US is offering Taliban militants a safety network and job opportunities to persuade the insurgents to join the Afghan peace process. As world powers, including the US and Russia, expedite efforts to encourage the Taliban to join the Afghan peace process, the US Defence Department has outlined a plan for rehabilitating the rebels in a new Afghanistan. “Although some members of the Taliban may be weary of fighting and ready to lay down their weapons, they will only rejoin society if they believe their safety and the safety of their families are guaranteed, and if they have an opportunity to earn enough money to provide for their families,” says the plan that the Pentagon sent to Congress this week, along with proposals for addressing US security concerns and the interests of Afghanistan’s neighbours. The Pentagon, however, notes that while local leaders are developing programmes that may offer a path to peace on a small scale, “the Afghan government has not developed a national reintegration programme”. While the Trump administration appears keen to start withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan, the Pentagon advocates maintaining enough troops in Afghanistan to force the Taliban to join peace talks. Over the past 16 months, the United States and its partners have used military force to drive the Taliban towards “a durable and incl­u­sive political settlement”. The Pentagon report claims that this selective use of force persuaded the Taliban to accept the Eidul Fitr ceasefire in June. Even though the Taliban did not publicly accept the second ceasefire offer, “there’re indicators of support within the Taliban senior leadership and a desire to pursue negotiations,” it adds. The Pentagon also supports the peace process initiated by US Special Represen­tative for Afghanistan Rec­o­n­ciliation (SRAR), Ambas­sador Zalmay Khalilizad, who has already held a series of meetings with Taliban in Qatar and the UAE and regularly visits Afghanistan and its neighbouring states, like Pakistan and India. “Increased military pressure on the Taliban, international calls for peace, and the new SRAR’s engagements appear to be driving the Taliban to negotiations, says the Pentagon report. The report, however, acknowledges that the Taliban control large portions of Afghanistan’s rural areas, and continue to attack poorly defended government checkpoints and rural districts. A key element in the Pentagon’s proposal for persuading the Taliban to stay engaged in the peace process is to “ensure the long-term sustainability of the ANDSF”, which would “demonstrate to the Taliban the international communities’ firm resolve in Afghanistan”.

US, China Trade Negotiators Planning To Meet In January.

MMNN:27 December 2018
BEIJING: Trade negotiators from China and the United States are planning to meet in January for talks, Beijing said Thursday, but stopped short of confirming the exact date or location. Both sides are engaged in a bruising trade war but relations have thawed since Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump agreed to a 90-day truce earlier this month. "The Chinese and US economic and trade teams have always maintained close communication," said commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng at a regular briefing. "In January, in addition to maintaining intensive telephone consultations, the two sides have made specific arrangements for face-to-face consultations." Deputy US Trade Representative Jeffrey Gerrish will lead the US team for talks during the week of January 7, Bloomberg reported, citing two people familiar with the matter. Word of the meeting follows small signs of progress -- and the absence of new threats from Trump -- while the two sides work to ease trade tensions by March 1. This would be the first face-to-face talks since the truce was agreed by both leaders on the sidelines of the G20 in Buenos Aires. On Sunday, Beijing's commerce ministry said China and the US "made new progress" on the issues of trade balance and intellectual property during a phone call between officials from the two countries. Beijing on December 14 announced that starting January 1 it would suspend extra tariffs added to US-made cars and auto parts. China also resumed the purchase of US soybeans and eased investment rules for US companies following the truce. Resolving the bruising spat with its key trade partner, the US, could help shore up confidence in the Chinese economy, which is bracing itself for a slowdown. Washington and Beijing have slapped tit-for-tat tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of goods in total two-way trade, locking them in a conflict that has begun to eat into profits and contributed to stock market plunges

Militants storm govt building in Kabul; 43 killed’.

MMNN:25 December 2018
Kabul, The death toll of a terrorist attack against a government office in Kabul rose to 43 with an Afghan Public Health Ministry official said on Tuesday. The siege lasted for about eight hours, leaving 43 dead and over 30 injured, Xinhua reported.The attack occurred on Monday afternoon when a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb outside the targeted office, which provides service to family members of soldiers and ordinary people who lost their lives during the war or terrorist attacks. The attack started with a car bomb explosion at 3:20 p.m. local time (1050 GMT) near the Ministry of Public Works and the National Authority for People with Disabilities and Martyrs’ Families in Kabul’s PD16 – near Makroyan-e-Kohna colony. The attackers then started gunshots and entered the building of the National Authority for People with Disabilities and Martyrs’ Families. Three hours after the attack, Nusrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for Ministry of Interior, said two attackers were gunned down by government forces, who arrived at the scene shortly after the first explosion. At least two gunmen made their way inside the building after the blast, spreading bullets on the people inside before security forces’ arrival. Eyewitnesses said helicopters were also seen in the area to support ground forces who are busy in rescuing those under siege. “They (attackers) opened fire on the people and killed them and then made their way to the ministry,” said Awal Khan Amiri, tolo news reported an eyewitness as saying. “We were selling lemons there. The car was burning and we were hurt by the explosion,” said Zekrullah, a Kabul resident, who sustained injuries in the attack. Almost seven hours after the attack, Interior Ministry’s spokesman Najib Danish said the building that insurgents had attacked has been cleared. The attack occurred in Makruyan-e-Awal locality near Shashdarak, where several foreign embassies located. The area also gives home to several apartment buildings and several government offices, including Afghan Ministry of Public Works. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far.

India adds Aus$ 10 million to research fund’.

MMNN:23 November 2018
Melbourne, India has put in a matching Aus$10 million in the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund that has brought together over 90 top universities and research institutions on both sides. President Ram Nath Kovind announced this on Friday while delivering a speech titled “‘Australia and India as Knowledge Partners” at the University of Melbourne. Australia today is among the top five research partner countries for India and the Fund, he said, is Australia’s “biggest investment in research collaboration with any single country.” “During my visit, our countries have renewed their commitment to the Fund, adding a matching contribution of Aus$ 10 million each.” Australia ranks the second most preferred destination for higher education for Indian students. Today, there are close to 85,000 Indian students in various parts of Australia. Over 1500 Australians have studied and completed internships in India in last few years. “We live in a knowledge-driven world. Our two countries share a special bond when it comes to education and learning,” said the president and described education as a “force multiplier”. He voiced happiness over the fact that “education” has been chosen as the flagship sector for Australia in the “India Economic Strategy” commissioned by the Australian government. The president’s visit to the university was facilitated by the Australia India Institute, which is based at the University. Warmly welcoming him, Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell said he was looking forward to strengthen and develop relations between the University of Melbourne and India. Professor Maskell said the university’s engagement strategy with India would continue to focus on students as well as research in the coming years. “The University of Melbourne aims to be one of the world’s best centres for India-focused research – to build a global reputation for the quality and impact of our India research. This is something the University is passionate about achieving,” he said. During President Kovind’s current visit, India and Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding to promote cooperation in the field of disability. As a result of the MoU, a project has been approved involving the University of Melbourne and the Department of Empowerment of People with Disability in India, to co-design a course to promote community disability inclusion. “The project will draw on the expertise of community-based rehabilitation workers in India, and the University of Melbourne’s Disability Institute and Faculty of Medicine Dentistry and Health Sciences, to develop a course to train community disability inclusion workers in India,” Maskell said.

Prez says Indian professionals much sought after world over’.

MMNN:22 November 2018
Sydney/New Delhi, President Ram Nath Kovind on Wednesday lauded the hard work and talent of members of the Indian comunity, saying that Indian professionals were much sought after all over the world. ‘Today, Indian professionals are much sought after, whether in Australia or elsewhere in the world.As entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers, bankers and technology specialists, members of the Indian community are adding value to Australia. Indian students are excelling on campuses in academics and research, in fostering innovation and even on the sports field,’ the President said addressing members of the Indian diaspora here. Mr Kovind reached Sydney on the final leg of his two-nation state visit to Vietnam and Australia. This is the first state visit to Australia by a President of India, an official release here said.The President, who attended an Indian community reception hosted by Indian High Commissioner to Australia Dr Ajay M Gondane, told the gathering that it was a matter of pride that the Indian community was held in high regard and contributed to society and the economy in Australia. Noting that Australia was also home to a large number of Indian students, he said their hard work and talent was a symbol of the Australia-India Knowledge Partnership. Earlier, the President, who is the first ever President to pay a state visit to Australia, received a warm welcome on his arrival at Sydney. He formally began his visit by paying respects at the ANZAC War Memorial in Sydney. The memorial was originally built as a tribute to Australian soldiers who did service in World War I. In his subsequent engagement with the Indian community, the President made special mention of Indian soldiers who fought alongside their Australian comrades in World War I, including on the beaches of Gallipoli. The centenary of the conclusion of World War I was commemorated earlier this month, the statement said.

Donald Trump And Land Fears Boost South Africa's White Right "State"’.

MMNN:21 November 2018
WASHINGTON: When US President Donald Trump pledged to investigate large scale killings of white farmers in South Africa and violent takeovers of land, Pretoria said he was misinformed. Elsewhere, there was quiet satisfaction. For a little-known South African activist group, Trump's intervention, following a Fox News show criticising the land reform plans of President Cyril Ramaphosa's ruling African National Congress, signalled a job well done. "The best possible outcome that we hoped for was for a statement by the president of the USA, which we got," Ernst Roets, deputy CEO of Afriforum, told Reuters in his office in a quiet suburb of the capital. The office walls display photographs of street protests by Afriforum, stepped up this year against land distribution plans and what it calls the targeted killing of white farmers. In South Africa, no land has been seized and while violent crime is a huge problem, the vast majority of victims are poor and black. Of 20,000 murders in the last recorded year, 46 were white people killed on farms, according to police data. Afriforum is an interest group representing Afrikaners - the 5 percent of the population descended mainly from Dutch, German and French settlers. It belongs to a wider movement called Solidarity, which has grown from a 100-year-old trade union into a sprawling and well-resourced organisation offering education and training and a range of other services in Afrikaans. Ramaphosa's vague pledge this year to pursue land expropriation without compensation to right the wrongs of apartheid has given new impetus to both groups, who have brushed aside his insistence he will protect property rights. Critics, including some prominent Afrikaners, accuse them of stirring racial fears at a time when Ramaphosa is trying to defuse threats of unrest from a far-left party. Solidarity says it reflects fears rather than stirring them. "On expropriation, they can't threaten that sort of thing and not expect a reaction," Flip Buys, chairman of the umbrella movement, said by telephone. "Some battles you must fight. We must save the country from what happened in Zimbabwe," he said, referring to the widespread violent takeover of white-owned farms in the early 2000s. More fringe white groups, including the survivalist Suidlanders, have been warning for decades that Afrikaners are under threat. But Solidarity and Afriforum are working at a different level, holding prominent protests, lobbying foreign governments and preparing to approach the United Nations to request land expropriation be recognised as a breach of human rights. Afriforum and COPE, a party formed by dissident ANC members with three seats in parliament, said they met senior US embassy officials on Monday to ask Washington to put pressure on South Africa to protect property rights. The US embassy said COPE and AfriForum delivered a petition to one of its officials. Hijacked Conversations with a dozen members of Afriforum at its rallies and elsewhere, reviews of its social media accounts and private text messages sent by its members reveal an increasingly influential movement with an agenda that divides South Africa. Roets had appeared on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show in May where they spoke about what they called targeted killings of white farmers and plans to take land along racial lines. The government, academics and a wide range of commentators say neither is happening, but right-wing journalists from Canada, Britain and Australia have made programmes on the issue. "Afriforum has understood this emergence of white chauvinist identities around the world and is manipulating it for its own ends," said Adam Habib, vice-chancellor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. "The problem with that is it will fracture our communities." Max du Preez, an Afrikaans-speaking author and commentator, said Afriforum did not represent the community and did it a disservice by making it seem racist. "If black people want to insult an Afrikaner they call him Afriforum," he said. Roets denies Afriforum preys on white people's fears and said it was employing the same tactics as the ANC used in the 1980s to build pressure on the apartheid government "We learnt from the best. We have found the South African government is very sensitive to international criticism." Trump's intervention stole the limelight during Ramaphosa's high-profile visit to the U.N. general assembly in September. Ramaphosa made light of Trump's comments but an ANC source said he was very angry. Every president since Nelson Mandela led South Africa out of white-minority rule in 1994 has tried, and largely failed, to redress an imbalance whereby whites - nine percent of 56 million South Africans - own more than 70 percent of agricultural land. Ramaphosa is competing in next year's election with a far-left party exploiting anger at persistent rural destitution among blacks alongside wealthy, white-owned commercial farms. That party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, has threatened to nationalise all land and urged people to occupy it - calls which have so-far gone unheeded beyond a few groups erecting shacks on unused plots. Ramaphosa, who replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma in February, has said reforms will not harm the economy, investment or food security and that unused land in towns and cities would be a high priority. He has given few details, but has the support of most big businesses and foreign investor community. Trump's tweet unnerved investors and drove down the rand and share prices, although they subsequently recovered. "I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers," it said. A US embassy spokesman said it was continuing to evaluate various issues, including land, as normal. State Within A State Solidarity contains around 20 organisations, including a media company, a university and an investment fund. Its half a million members pay fees and a property portfolio and stock market investments are among other funding sources. Reuters spoke to Afriforum members who believed the Afrikaner community was under threat and felt Solidarity was the only support network they could rely on. Some described Solidarity as a "state within a state". Roets said Afriforum's membership was growing but it had no intention of trying to carve out a de-facto white state. "There are certain buzzwords that we like to use and we encourage among our membership and those are words like 'self-reliance' like 'self-help' like 'independence'," he said. "If you want to describe that as a 'state within a state' that's fine." The Suidlanders, meanwhile, are preparing for battle. In an isolated outpost town on the Orange River, they say they expect an "imminent" racial civil war. Hoarding guns, clothes and food in bunkers hidden in the dry barren landscape, its growing membership has drawn up a detailed plan to carve off a section of the country. "Some people think we are racists. It's totally not the case. We are purely and simply a civil defence organisation," Suidlanders spokesman Simon Roche told Reuters. Roche, who showed Reuters caravans filled with supplies ready for when "war" breaks out, says he has travelled to Washington and Europe to meet with likeminded groups and with politicians, although he declined to name them. COMMENT "We must tell the world what is coming. People can call us conspiracy theorists. Soon we will see who was right."

Nawaz dismisses findings of JIT probe, calls it ‘biased’.

MMNN:20 November 2018
Islamabad, Former Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif on Monday dismissed the findings of a joint investigation team (JIT) investigation, claiming that the probe was biased and politically motivated. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader issued this statement as he appeared in an accountability court which was hearing the Al-Azizia corruption reference that had been filed against him by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) after the Panamagate scandal. During the hearing, Nawaz told an accountability court that the investigation carried out by JIT in connection with Al-Azizia corruption reference against him was biased and not backed by evidence, Geo News reported. Nawaz reiterated during the hearing that the statements recorded by the JIT during its probe were not acceptable evidence.The PML-N leader also told the court that the money deposited in his account from abroad was documented correctly in FBR records, whereas a plea was submitted in the Supreme Court on his behalf rejecting the “so-called evidence” and report presented by the JIT. The former premier said that he has pointed out in the plea that the JIT is a mere investigative body and hence, any statement recorded by it cannot be presented as evidence in the court.He alleged that the JIT’s investigation was biased and not backed by evidence. Nawaz had told the court that he had never been a part of any transactions related to the sale of Al-Azizia steel mills, and that all the money he had received from abroad had been documented in his tax returns, and that he was free to spend it as he wished.

PM Modi arrives Male to attend swearing in ceremony of new President of Maldives.

MMNN:19 November 2018
Male (Maldives), Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived here on Saturday to attend the swearing in ceremony of President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of Maldives. “Deepening our connect with a valued maritime neighbour. PM Narendra Modi begins a historic visit to The Maldives,” said a tweet from PMO India. Earlier in a tweet, MEA spokesman Raveesh Kumar wrote: “Pursuing the policy of Neighbourhood First! On his first visit to our maritime neighbour, PM Modi emplanes for Maldives to attend the historic swearing-in ceremony of President-elect Solih. The last visit by an Indian PM to Maldives was in November 2011”. “I will be in Malé to attend the historic Inauguration Ceremony of the President-elect H.E. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. I warmly congratulate him on his victory in the recent elections and wish him the very best for his tenure,” Prime Minister wrote in a series of tweets on Friday night. Maldives newly elected President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih last week invited Prime Minister Modi to attend his swearing in ceremony. Briefing reporters here, MEA spokesman Raveesh Kumar has said Mr Modi has accepted the invitation “with pleasure”. “In keeping with our neighbourhood first policy, India looks forward to closely work with Maldives in further deepening our partnership,” Mr Kumar has said

"Good First Step": US Welcomes Indictments In Khashoggi Case.

MMNN:16 November 2018
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES: The United States welcomed the first indictments Thursday in the Saudi probe into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi as a "good first step," while urging Riyadh to pursue its investigations. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said there had been no prior coordination with the United States, which simultaneously announced sanctions against 17 Saudi officials over the killing. She did not rule out further sanctions as more details come to light in the case. "We regard the announcement that they made as a good first step, it's a step in the right direction," Nauert told reporters. "It is an initial investigation finding. It is important that those steps continue to be taken toward full accountability." Saudi Arabia on Thursday called for the death penalty against five people accused of murdering the journalist inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate, but absolved Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of any blame.

Theresa May Says 'No Brexit' Is An Alternative To Draft Deal.

MMNN:15 November 2018
Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday told MPs they faced the possibility of Britain exiting the EU with no deal or no Brexit at all if they failed to back her draft agreement with Brussels. "We can choose to leave with no deal, we can risk no Brexit at all or we can choose to unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated," May told parliament, to cheers from some lawmakers when she mentioned the possibility of no Brexit.

Israel Defence Minister Resigns After Gaza Ceasefire.

MMNN:14 November 2018
JERUSALEM: Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation on Wednesday after a sharp disagreement over a Gaza ceasefire deal, throwing the government into turmoil. "What happened yesterday -- the truce combined with the process with Hamas -- is capitulating to terror. It has no other meaning," Lieberman told journalists. "What we're doing now as a state is buying short-term quiet, with the price being severe long-term damage to national security."

Zulfi Bukhari’s disqualification: SC issues notice to Pakistan PM.

MMNN:13 November 2018
Islamabad,The Supreme Court on Monday accepted a petition seeking the disqualification of Zulfi Bukhari, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant on overseas Pakistanis and human resource development. Petitioners Muhammad Adil Chattha from Lahore and Mirza Abdul Moiz Baig from Karachi made PM Khan a party in their petition. While fixing the case for hearing on Nov 16, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar asked- what portfolio Bukhari holds, Dawn reported. Upon being told that he is Prime Minister Khan’s special assistant, the Chief Justice asked Bukhari’s lawyer “Tell me, if an ordinary citizen can become a minister despite possessing dual nationality?” “When a dual national cannot become a member of the assembly, one can also not become a minister,” the chief justice added. During the debate, the chief justice asked the petitioner’s lawyer, if he had based his application on Article 63 (1)(c), which pertains to factors that may disqualify a person from being elected or chosen as, or from being, a member of Parliament. The lawyer maintained that ‘a rule which cannot be circumvented directly also cannot be circumvented indirectly’. According to the government’s stance, he said, even Jahangir Tareen could be appointed to a position in a ministry. Justice Ijazul Ahsan pointed out that no court has given a verdict against Bukhari as yet, while the CJP observed that there are no qualifications mentioned for a special assistant in the Constitution. The court issued notices to PM Khan, Bukhari and the secretary of the Cabinet Division.When Bukhari was first appointed special assistant to the PM, questions were raised by members of the opposition regarding his dual nationality. It is also pertinent to mention that the PM’s special assistant is facing an inquiry by the National Accountability Bureau for allegedly owning offshore companies in British Virgin Islands and assets beyond his known sources of income

Sri Lanka’s new PM Rajapaksa cuts petrol prices by Rs 10 amid political crisis.

MMNN:2 November 2018
Notwithstanding the political crisis in Sri Lanka, new Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday significantly slashed fuel prices, saying “ill-conceived” financial policies of the previous government have affected the economy and raised the cost of living. Rajapaksa, who is also the Finance Minister, reduced the prices of petrol and diesel by Rs 10 (USD 0.058) and Rs 7 (USD 0.048) per litre respectively as he announced a new series of economic relief measures. The announcement was made even as the constitutional validity of Rajapaksa’s appointment has come under increased scrutiny both locally and internationally. The Finance Ministry said in a statement that concerns have been raised regarding the serious setback in the economy as reflected in the persistently low growth rates during the last three years along with the rising cost of living. “The honorable Prime Minister (Rajapaksa) is of the view that ill-conceived economic and financial policies of the previous government have led to this situation by marginalising local entrepreneurs, industries and domestic production,” it said. The ministry said that the budget targets could be met in 2018 despite tax cuts. “The government is confident that the primary surplus of 1.8 per cent of the GDP and the budget deficit of around 4.9 per cent of the GDP that have been targeted for 2018 could be achieved in support for further fiscal consolidation to provide economic stability,” the Finance Ministry said. President Sirisena replaced Wickremesinghe with Rajapaksa in a dramatic turn of events last Friday and suspended Parliament after the sacked premier sought an emergency session to prove his majority. Wickremesinghe has refused to accept his dismissal, claiming to be the country’s legitimate premier. He argues that he cannot legally be removed until he loses the support of Parliament and called for a floor test to prove his majority.

Trump Says China Not Ready For Deal, Will "Absolutely" Slap New Tariffs.

MMNN:10 October 2018
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Tuesday repeated his threat to slap tariffs on an additional $267 billion of Chinese imports if Beijing retaliates for the recent levies and other measures the United States has imposed in an escalating trade war between the economic giants. Trump, speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, also said China is not ready to reach a deal on trade. "China wants to make a deal, and I say they're not ready yet," Trump said. "I just say they're not ready yet. And we've canceled a couple of meetings because I say they're not ready to make a deal." When asked whether he was ready to levy new taxes in case of retaliation from China, Trump said, "sure, absolutely." He added that the current US trade imbalance with China means "they've already retaliated." Last month Trump imposed tariffs on nearly $200 billion of Chinese imports and then threatened more levies if China retaliated. China then hit back with tariffs on about $60 billion of US imports. Citing the growing trade war, the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday cut its global economic growth forecasts for 2018 and 2019. Asked about Trump's remarks at a regular news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said a trade war was bad for the global economy and not in the interests of either country. "But China's resolution to protect its own legitimate interests is unwavering. No one should have any illusions about this," Lu said. The United States wants to pressure China to make sweeping changes to its trade, technology transfer and high-tech industrial subsidy practices. Trump's latest comments underline a threat by Washington that it may ultimately impose tariffs on more than $500 billion worth of Chinese goods - nearly the total amount of US imports from China last year.

India, Tajikistan have convergence of ideas on regional issues: Prez Kovind.

MMNN:8 October 2018
Dushanbe, President Ram Nath Kovind on Monday said India and Tajikistan have “convergence” of views on key regional and global issues and maintained that both the countries are also “determined” to counter all forms of terrorism and violent extremism. “India is committed to peace and development in neighbouring Afghanistan through an Afghan-led Afghan-owned and Afghan controlled peace process. Like Tajikistan, we too look forward to a peaceful Afghanistan which is able to achieve national reconciliation. I am happy that India and Tajikistan have convergence of views on key regional and global issues,” President Kovind said in a press statement here. President Kovind and First Lady Savita Kovind embarked on a three-day visit to Tajikistan on Sunday, his first visit to the Central Asian country. During his stay, Mr Kovind has been interacting with top leaders including the President of Tajikistan, Emamoli Rahmon and the Prime Minister of Tajikistan Qohir Rasulzoda. “We live in a region which has unfortunately been beset with challenges posed by fundamentalists and terrorists. Both India and Tajikistan remain determined to counter all forms of terrorism and violent extremism which are a grave threat to international peace and stability,” Mr Kovind said. He also thanked President Rahmon for his support for early adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism at the UN – which has been pushing with all earnestness. President said his meeting with President Rahmon was very “useful” and it saw “exchange of ideas”.”I am certain that the roadmap that we have agreed to will further strengthen our Strategic Partnership. There is enormous potential for bilateral cooperation and collaboration in the fields of defence, trade and investment, tourism, health and development partnership. To take our ties forward, today we have signed key MOUs in the fields of political relations, strategic research, agriculture, renewable energy, traditional medicine, space technology, youth affairs, culture and disaster management,” President Kovind said. “Connectivity is vital for realizing the full potential of our Strategic Partnership and economic relations. Together, India and Tajikistan can promote the International North-South Transport Corridor and other connectivity initiatives such as the development of Chabahar Port and the Ashgabat Agreement for smooth transport of goods,” Mr Kovind said.

S-400, an elephant in the room for US?

MMNN:5 October 2018
Washington, President Vladimir Putin’s two-day visit to India from Thursday will be closely watched by United States in view of its objections on India’s plans to purchase five S-400 missile systems from Russia, observers assert. In 2016, Russia had signed an agreement with India for purchase of five S-400 Triumf systems for 5.8 billion dollars. The deal had raised eyebrows in US and threatened India with sanctions. America believes the S-400 could access sensitive military technology.The missile can even track US-built F-35.US had declared that countries trading with Russia’s defence and intelligence sectors would face automatic sanctions under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act that President Donald Trump signed into law last August. The law was formulated by the US to punish Putin for the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, ‘involvement’ in the Syrian civil war and ‘meddling’ in the 2016 US presidential election, according to US media reports. US is implementing CAATSA act vigorously as in September it imposed sanctions on China’s military for its purchase of combat fighters as well as the S-400 missile system it bought from Russia, Arab News reported. However, a later amendment to the act allows the US President to grant waivers on a case-by-case basis. India argued for a waiver in July and again in September on the grounds that the absence of the S-400 would adversely affect its military abilities, and that it was significantly reducing its dependence on Russian military hardware. More than 80 per cent of India’s military equipment was of Soviet origin during the days of the Cold War, but since its breakup, New Delhi has diversified its weaponry. The US is one of its top arms suppliers, closing 15 billion dollars worth of deals in just the last decade. Putin’s visit to India will be watched closely by Beijing too as his trip comes at a time when Russia and China are strengthening ties with each other, a report of South China Morning Post said. In September, Russia conducted Vostok 18, its largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War, on its eastern border. It also invited China and Mongolia to participate in the war games. However, in the first quarter of 2018, the trade between India and China increased by 30 per cent. Both the Asian countries seems to be aiming to reduce “US influence as a global power’. Moreover, as the trade war between China and US has taken an “ugly turn” with both imposing duties on each other products, Beijing might be willing to further increase its trade with New Delhi. However, the US has recognised Indo-Sino trade boost and is trying to strengthen Washington-New Delhi relations. In March, the US formally changed the name of its Pacific Command to the Indo-Pacific Command, with defence secretary James Mattis stressing that this was in keeping with the country’s strategic focus spanning both the Pacific and Indian Oceans–from Hollywood to Bollywood.Russia, too, has favoured the use of the term.However, analysts assert that India seeks a ‘multipolar’ world. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan, with Putin in Sochi, India’s participation in the 2+2 dialogue with the US, and its S-400 defence systems deal with Russia are emblematic of this multipolarity, a media report said. The S-400, a missile defence system, is intended to act as a shield against incoming ballistic missiles. It is the world’s most dangerous operationally deployed modern long-range surface-to-air missile system, and is considered much more effective than the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system developed by the US. Moreover, it integrates multifunction radar, autonomous detection and targeting systems, anti-aircraft missile systems, launchers, and a command and control centre. It can be deployed within five minutes, and is capable of firing three types of missiles to create a layered defence. It can engage all types of aerial targets. In 2007, the S-400 was made operational. It was deployed in Syria in 2015 to guard Russian and Syrian naval and air assets. Units have also been stationed in the Crimean peninsula.

Talk of Indian HC in Pakistan cancelled at last minute

MMNN:4 October 2018
Islamabad, Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan Ajay Bisaria’s talk at a training institute in Lahore was cancelled at the last minute on Thursday, according to the reports emanating from there. Bisaria was scheduled to deliver a speech at the Lahore campus of National School of Public Policy, an institution for training of civil servants in Pakistan. The event was organised by Civil Services Academy in Pakistan and the invitation for the same was sent last month. However, the institute withdrew the invitation and later stated that the event has been cancelled due to scheduling constraints.

Pervez Musharraf Promised "High-Level" Security If He Returns To Pak

MMNN:25 September 2018
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday assured former dictator General Pervez Musharraf that high-level security will be provided to him if he returns to the country to face the trial in a high-profile treason case. Pervez Musharraf, 75, has been living in Dubai since 2016. The former Army chief is facing a high-profile treason case and has been declared absconder due to his persistent failure to appear before the special trial court set up to try him in the case. A three-member bench, presided by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar was hearing a petition on Tuesday pertaining to losses suffered by the country after the promulgation of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) case in 2007. The Chief Justice asked Pervez Musharraf's lawyer Athar Shah why did he not return to Pakistan, the Dawn newspaper reported. "He left the country on the pretext of pain in his backbone but he can be seen dancing abroad," the Chief Justice said. The lawyer responded that the former military ruler respected the courts but could not return because of security issues. The chief justice said that the head of the Rangers force in the relevant province will be responsible for Musharraf's security upon his return to the country, the report said. Pervez Musharraf will also be offered the services of best available doctors in the country if he comes back, the Chief Justice asserted. The court also ordered to de-seal Pervez Musharraf's farmhouse to accommodate him upon his return. The case pertains to the recovery of a large amount of public money wasted allegedly by former presidents Musharraf, Asif Zardari and former attorney general Malik Qayyum in the wake of the NRO in 2007. During Tuesday's hearing, Pervez Musharraf's lawyer presented details of his assets in Pakistan and abroad. According to Mr Shah, Pervez Musharraf owns nothing in the country, whereas he has a flat in Dubai and a farmhouse in Chak Shahzad that has been leased in Musharraf's wife's name. The former president was indicted in March 2014 on treason charges for imposing emergency in the country which led to the confinement of a number of superior court judges in their houses and sacking of over 100 judges. A conviction for high-profile treason carries the death penalty or life imprisonment. COMMENT Pervez Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, has been declared a fugitive in the Benazir Bhutto murder case and Red Mosque cleric killing case.

The Fascinating Race That Left Indian Navy Sailor Stranded Near Australia

MMNN:24 September 2018
NEW DELHI: The three-day international mission to rescue an Indian navy officer has ended today with Commander Abhilash Tomy's safe shift to a French vessel. Commander Tomy's vessel was hit by a vicious storm mid-way across the south Indian Ocean near Australia while taking part in the 2018 Golden Globe Race, among the toughest races on Earth. His one-man sail boat, the Thuriya, lost its mast in the storm and he suffered serious back injuries on Friday. Here is what you need to know about this daunting race: The Golden Globe Race British sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston became the first person to circumnavigate the globe alone in 1969 onboard the Indian-built boat, Suhaili. To mark the 50th anniversary of the world's first solo non-stop circumnavigation in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Yacht Race, a new Golden Globe Race was conceived. The 2018 version keeps to both the rules and the spirit of its predecessor. It is a non-stop solo round the world race that begins on the French coast before heading through the Atlantic and then east, passing through the five Great Capes of the Southern Hemisphere. The racers will return to France around 300 days and 30,000 miles later. The participants departed Les Sables-d'Olonne, France on July 1, 2018 and the race is expected to finish in April 2019. Participants are sailing similar yachts and equipment that was available to Sir Robin in the first race. They had to pick boats designed before 1988 that have a full-length keel with rudder attached to their trailing edge. These yachts are heavily built, strong and sturdy, similar in concept to Sir Robin's 32ft vessel Suhaili. Suhaili was a slow, sturdy 32ft double-ended boat made of teak. Sir Robin completed the challenge with no outside assistance or aid of shore-based weather routing advice. He had only a wind-up chronometer and a barograph. Commander Abhilash Tomy sailed Thuriya, a replica of Suhaili. The Eligibility The participants were expected to have sailed at least 8,000 miles and another 2,000 miles solo, in any boat, by March 1, 2018 to enter the race. The entry to the race was by invitation only, for sailors aged 18 years and older at the start on June 16, 2018. The non-stop race doesn't allow any stopover, or breaking of the seal on their portable GPS chart plotter. Any participant making two stops is disqualified. Entries were limited to 25 participants. The challenge Each entrant was provided a standard Race Pack by the organisers. It had a stand-alone satellite tracking system (the skippers cannot see) for web tracking updates. A two-way satellite short text paging unit (to race headquarters only) for 100-character text reports twice a day. Two hand-held satellite phones (for important calls to the race headquarters only) for once-a-week safety check and a sealed box with a portable GPS chart plotter (for emergency use only) All Entrants are being tracked 24/7 by satellite, but competitors will not be able to access this information unless an emergency arises and they break open their sealed safety box containing a GPS and satellite phone. Doing this, however, would mean that the competitors have retired from the Golden Globe Race. Sponsorship was allowed. All competitors had to carry at least 5 million pounds of Public Liability insurance while in UK waters and during the race. On route, the sailors will stop at just two 'Rendezvous Gates' - here they can talk to family and friends from the boat, but they are not allowed to set foot ashore or ask about any form of weather routing. The official prize giving and dinner will be held on April 22, 2019, 50 years to the day that Sir Robin Knox-Johnston completed his voyage. Commander Abhilash Tomy is one of India's most prominent sailors. He has covered 53,000 nautical miles under sail, including a solo non-stop circumnavigation of the globe in 2012-13 onboard Indian Naval Sailing Vessel (INSV) Mhadei. He is also a recipient of the Kirti Chakra, Mac Gregor and Tenzing Norgay awards.

BIMSTEC Declaration endorses India’s stand; Makes veiled attack on Pakistan

MMNN:31 August 2018
Kathmandu, The Kathmandu Declaration adopted at the end of the fourth BIMSTEC Summit here on Friday endorsed India’s known stand on terror menace and said categorically that fight against terror should also identify and hold accountable States and non-State entities that encourage, support or finance terrorism. The Declaration adopted by the member nation heads and government heads of Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan, and Nepal said that: “….the fight against terrorism should target not only terrorists, terror organizations and networks but also identify and hold accountable States and non-State entities that encourage, support or finance terrorism, provide sanctuaries to terrorists and terror groups and falsely extol their virtues”. It deplored terrorist attacks in all parts of the world, including in BIMSTEC countries and strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations “wherever and by whomsoever”.It also said there can be “no justification whatsoever for any act of terrorism”. The observations on terror front is largely seen as a veiled attack on Pakistan.Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech at the plenary session on Thursday gave a major push to make the seven-member BIMSTEC a more purposeful regional grouping and sought a bigger role for it vis-a-vis transnational crime, terrorism and drug trafficking. “None of us among the member nations can say we have not faced terrorism and terror-related networks. There are issues of drug trafficking and transnational crimes. We are ready to host a frame-work conference on drug menace,” the Prime Minister has said. The Kathmandu Declaration also reiterated strong commitment to combat terrorism and call upon all countries to devise a comprehensive approach in this regard which should include preventing financing of terrorists and terrorist actions from territories under their control, blocking recruitment and cross-border movement of terrorists, countering radicalization, countering misuse of internet for purposes of terrorism and dismantling terrorist safe havens.

China Denies Planning Military Base In Afghanistan

MMNN:29 August 2018
BEIJING: China on Wednesday denied that it planned to build a military base in Afghanistan, after a Hong Kong newspaper said Beijing was constructing a training camp for Afghan troops to which it could also send its own soldiers. The South China Morning Post, citing unidentified sources with ties to the Chinese military, said China was building the camp in the narrow Wakhan Corridor that links the two countries. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed the report, however. "After looking into it, the relevant report is not true," she told a daily news briefing. "Since the construction and training, this situation, it doesn't exist - it's not true. So anything related naturally is not true," Hua added, dismissing the assertion about China eventually sending its own soldiers. She did not elaborate. The Defence Ministry did not respond to a request from Reuters for comment. It was not the first time reports have pointed to China seeking a military presence in Afghanistan, although it has denied all of them. In January, the defence ministry denied a similar report that it planned to build a military base in Afghanistan. It has also previously dismissed reports that Chinese military vehicles were patrolling in the south Asian nation. China has long worried that instability in Afghanistan could spill over into its violence-prone Xinjiang region, home to the Muslim Uighur people. In recent years, hundreds of people have been killed in the far western region in unrest China blames on ISIS militants. China has also worked with Pakistan and the United States to broker peace talks to end Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency that has raged since the militants were ousted by US-backed forces in 2001. Last year, China opened its first overseas military base, in the Horn of Africa country Djibouti. It has previously denied having plans for other overseas bases, but the United States expects it to build more, with Pakistan a likely location.

Sushma unveils Gandhi’s bust in Hanoi

MMNN:28 August 2018
Hanoi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is on a four-day two-nation tour of Southeast Asia, has unveiled the bust of Mahatma Gandhi in the Indian Embassy in Vietnamese capital Hanoi. “Paying respect to the Father of the Nation! EAM @SushmaSwaraj unveiled the bust of Mahatma Gandhi in the Chancery building at the Embassy of India in Hanoi,” said External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Ravish Kumar in a tweet. In March this year, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang had paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat in New Delhi during his visit to India. Swaraj arrived in Hanoi on Sunday on the first leg of her tour through which India aims to deepen its strategic cooperation with Vietnam and Cambodia. Both nations are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and are key players in the geopolitics of Southeast Asia, according to the reports. At an event held in the Indian Embassy, the EAM praised the role played by the Indian community in the country in strengthening people to people bond. “Hailing the role played by Indian community in Vietnam in consolidating cultural connect between India and Vietnam! EAM @SushmaSwaraj praised the Indian Diaspora in Vietnam for strengthening people to people bond between two nations,” said Kumar in a tweet. Swaraj also participated in a camp at Phu Tho province in the country where many Vietnamese were benefitted with the Jaipur foot. “Together with you when you take those small steps! EAM @SushmaSwaraj participated in the Jaipur foot camp and encouraged a girl to walk with the newly fitted artificial limb. 500 Vietnamese beneficiaries were present at the Camp organised in the Phu Tho province of Vietnam,” said Kumar. In Vietnam, Sushma Swaraj will co-chair the 16th meeting of the Joint Commission along with her counterpart Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. In Vietnam, Sushma Swaraj will co-chair the 16th meeting of the Joint Commission along with her counterpart Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh. She will also call on Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and will inaugurate the third edition of the Indian Ocean Conference on Monday.

After "Going Private" Scare, Tesla's Elon Musk Says Firm Will Stay Public

MMNN:25 August 2018
NEW YORK: Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Friday that the company would continue to be publicly traded, weeks after suggesting that he would take the electric carmaker private. Musk met with Tesla's board of directors on Thursday "and let them know that I believe the better path is for Tesla to remain public. The Board indicated that they agree," he wrote on the company blog. Musk surprised markets on August 7 by announcing on Twitter he wanted to take Tesla private at $420 a share. But shares fell more than 20 percent since the announcement. After the announcement the controversial entrepreneur came under extensive scrutiny over his Twitter statements related to the proposal, especially a claim that Tesla had "secured" funding for the move. However, Musk said Friday that based on talks with current shareholders, as well as an assessment by financial advisers Silver Lake, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, "it's apparent that most of Tesla's existing shareholders believe we are better off as a public company." Even though the majority of shareholders "said they would remain with Tesla if we went private, the sentiment, in a nutshell, was 'please don't do this,'" he wrote. "I knew the process of going private would be challenging, but it's clear that it would be even more time-consuming and distracting than initially anticipated."

We Stand By Our Readout": US On Statement About Imran Khan-Pompeo Call

MMNN:24 August 2018
A fresh row has erupted between the US and Pakistan with Islamabad taking exception to a State Department statement that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the issue of terrorism with newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan while Washington stands by its version. Mike Pompeo yesterday spoke to Imran Khan for the first time after the cricketer-turned-politician assumed office last week and sought "decisive action" against all terrorists operating in Pakistan, the US State Department said. Soon after the State Department's statement, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said that "Pakistan takes exception to the factually incorrect statement issued by the US State Department on today's phone call between Prime Minister Khan and Secretary Pompeo". "There was no mention at all in the conversation about terrorists operating in Pakistan. This should be immediately corrected," Mr Faisal tweeted. The US has long been frustrated with Pakistan's overt and covert support to the Afghan Taliban and other terror groups, forcing the Trump administration to warn Islamabad and slash military aid to the country. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said yesterday in a statement that Mike Pompeo, in his talks with Mr Khan, discussed the issue of terrorism and Pakistan's vital role in promoting the peace process in war-torn Afghanistan. "Secretary Michael R Pompeo spoke today with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and wished him success. Secretary Pompeo expressed his willingness to work with the new government towards a productive bilateral relationship," she said in the statement. Ms Nauert today said Mike Pompeo's telephonic discussion with Khan was good and the US stands by its earlier statement. "In the readout, the secretary notes that he spoke with the new prime minister and expressed his willingness to work with the new government toward a productive bilateral relationship. They had a good call," she said. "That may surprise some of you, but they had a good call. Pakistan is an important partner to the United States. We hope to forge a good, productive working relationship with the new civilian government," she said. She went on to say that based on her understanding, "the beginning of the call or the call itself was a good call, and a good discussion toward our working with the new government and the new administration". When asked again by a reporter if the US government continues to stand by the readout, she said: "We stand by our readout." The Pakistani media this week reported that Mike Pompeo is likely to visit Islamabad in the first week of September to hold talks with newly-elected Prime Minister Khan. Mr Pompeo, who is expected in Islamabad on September 5, would be the first foreign dignitary to meet Khan, Dawn reported, quoting the diplomatic and official sources. The relations between Pakistan and the US nose-dived after President Donald Trump in January accused Islamabad of giving nothing to Washington but "lies and deceit" and providing "safe haven" to terrorists. The US Congress also passed a bill to slash Pakistan's defence aid to $150 million, significantly below the historic level of more than $1 billion per year. Imran Khan has been critical of the US drone strikes against terrorists in Pakistan as well as along the country's border with Afghanistan. In his victory speech last month, Mr Khan said he wants a balanced relation between Pakistan and America which should be mutually beneficial, not one sided.

Britain To Set Out Advice On How To Prepare For 'No Deal' Brexit

MMNN:23 August 2018
LONDON: Britain will on Thursday publish a series of notes advising people and businesses how to protect themselves from the potential disruption of a 'no deal' break with the European Union. With less than eight months to go until March 29 when it leaves the bloc, Britain has yet to reach a divorce agreement with the EU. Negotiations resumed on Tuesday but diplomats in Brussels expect an informal deadline of October to be missed. Around 80 technical notices are expected over the coming weeks covering everything from financial services to food labelling. "Whilst we are setting out these technical notices today to deal with the unlikely eventuality of a no deal I am still confident that a good deal is within our sights," Brexit Minister Dominic Raab told BBC radio. "We are at every meeting making good progress on the outstanding separation issues." UNILATERAL ACTION Several ministers have warned that the risk of leaving without an agreement has increased. Earlier this month trade minister Liam Fox put the chances at 60-40. Raab will say that in some cases Britain will take unilateral action to maintain continuity in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The notes are expected to be published on the government's website at around 11.30 a.m. (1030 GMT). The government will announce that British citizens who have lived and worked overseas risk losing access to their pensions, the Sun newspaper reported. Many economists say failure to agree exit terms would seriously damage the world's fifth-largest economy as trade with the EU, Britain's largest market, would become subject to tariffs. Supporters of Brexit say there may be some short-term pain for the economy, but that long-term it will prosper when cut free from the EU. The opposition Labour party's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said his party may back a second referendum if parliament votes down the prime minister's plan. Starmer said the talks with the EU are "going badly" and the publication of the documents on how to prepare for a no deal is a sign the government is "moving into panic mode". A survey this month by the Institute of Directors, a business lobby group, found that fewer than a third of company bosses had carried out contingency planning on Brexit. "'No deal' preparations should have happened far earlier, and the onus is on government to move quickly and give businesses as much detailed technical information as possible to avoid significant disruption in any scenario," Adam Marshall, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said before the publication of the advice notices. Customs and tax procedures, immigration rules and how to process transactions are among the things companies need more information from government on, Marshall said.

Speed Of Rohingya's Return Is Up To Bangladesh: Aung San Suu Kyi

MMNN:21 August 2018
SINGAPORE: Aung San Suu Kyi said Tuesday it was up to Bangladesh to decide how quickly Rohingya refugees would return to Myanmar, appearing to blame Dhaka for the delay. More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh after a brutal military crackdown on the stateless minority almost a year ago. The two countries last November signed a deal to repatriate them but it has stalled. Many fear returning to a place where villages were burned to the ground and where they say security forces murdered, tortured and raped members of their communities. Bangladesh insists the Rohingya are on its soil temporarily but has not forced them back. In rare public remarks on the crisis, civilian leader Suu Kyi said in a speech in Singapore that Myanmar has been ready to receive Rohingya returnees since January 23 as agreed in the memorandum of understanding. "It's very difficult for us to put a time frame on it by ourselves unilaterally because we have to work with Bangladesh in order to do that," she told an audience in a lecture organised by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute and entitled "Myanmar's Democratic Transition: Challenges and Way Forward". "Bangladesh would also have to decide how quickly they want the process to be completed," Suu Kyi added. Since the repatriation was signed the two countries have wrangled over details, including the way refugees are described on ID cards in Bangladesh. Crumbling reputation Rohingya living in the crowded camps over the border in Cox's Bazar insist on safety guarantees and citizenship rights before returning to Rakhine state in western Myanmar, where the United Nations says conditions are not ready for their return. The US and UN have described the military's campaign as ethnic cleansing and there is scepticism over whether Myanmar seriously intends to allow mass returns. The crackdown against the Rohingya was sparked on August 25 last year when insurgents attacked police posts. Calls have mounted for Myanmar's military to be held responsible for the campaign, in which thousands are estimated to have died, and the US has sanctioned two army brigades and several commanders who oversaw the expulsion. But Myanmar says it was simply defending itself and bristles at international calls for justice, arguing that the world does not understand the problem. Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate once under house arrest by the junta that ruled for decades, has seen her global reputation crumble since coming to power for failing to speak up for the Rohingya. "We who are living through the transition in Myanmar view it differently from those who observe it from the outside and who will remain untouched from its outcome," she said, appearing relaxed and jocular. She also blamed Rohingya insurgents and avoided criticism of the military. "The danger of terrorist activities which was the initial cause of events leading to the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine remains real and present today," she said. "Unless these security challenges are addressed, the risk of communal violence would remain." The Rohingya are seen as outsiders in Myanmar but consider Rakhine their homeland. They were stripped of their citizenship decades ago and subject to periodic purges while denied access to healthcare and freedom of movement.

Blocked Visas, Parades, Haircuts: North Korea's Plans For Foundation Day

MMNN:20 August 2018
North Korea is planning a party. Next month, the reclusive country will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country, officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. And there are signs that the event, which will take place on Sept. 9, will be a celebration to watch. Those observing the preparations for the event have spotted practice for a military parade, while tourist visas to the country have apparently been blocked - sparking speculation about who, exactly, the VIP guests could be. According to one report, a close eye is being kept on the finest details: ruling party youth groups have been sent around the country to keep tabs on taboo haircuts, Radio Free Asia reports. The North Korean state cherishes anniversaries, using them to reinforce the tale of how their small, embattled state fought off bigger foes like Imperial Japan and the United States. It often uses parades on these days to send a message to these foreign rivals. For example, on the 105th anniversary of the birth of the country's founder Kim Il Sung in April of last year, North Korea used the day to show off a variety of new intercontinental missiles - an early hint of the technological advances testing would later confirm. On last year's anniversary in September, Kim held an event where he celebrated the work of nuclear scientists and engineers who had helped the country test its biggest ever nuclear bomb just a few days earlier. Earlier in the year, in February, North Korea had used another military parade to display the recently-tested Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 missiles that could theoretically deliver a nuclear weapon to the continental United States. This year's DPRK anniversary event will be different however. In many ways, the messaging behind it will be more complex. North Korea was previously happy to menace the United States and other rivals with visions of military might as tensions escalated rapidly. This June, however, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with President Donald Trump in Singapore, where they agreed to work toward peace. Kim has also held several meetings with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in, with both sides talking hopefully of greater integration. The negotiations started with these meetings have been far from conclusive. In particular, North Korea and the United States seem to be at odds over the issue of denuclearization - with Washington seeking progress on North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons before other issues, like the long-awaited official end of the Korean War, while Pyongyang clearly views things differently. As such, though things are nominally warmer with the United States, a surprise Trump visit to Pyongyang on Sept. 9 looks unlikely at the moment. Instead, many are expecting a different guest - China's Xi Jinping - whose presence would send a message to Washington that it isn't the only game in town. Either way, Sept. 9 is expected to be a big event. Jeffrey Lewis, a nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey who often uses satellite imagery to keep track on North Korea's weapons program, pointed to images from Aug. 11 that appeared to show people in Pyongyang preparing their choreography for the day. More satellite imagery analysis published by NK News suggested that the events of Sept. 9 would indeed include a military parade, with an apparent buildup of military assets at an airfield in east Pyongyang that had been used as a preparations ground for previous military parades. It is unclear from the imagery what sort of weaponry might be included in the parade. On another practical note, tour groups have said that Pyongyang has stopped issuing tourism visas for September. One group, Koryo Tours, wrote on their website that they had been information "by our partners in Pyongyang that they had been instructed from above that all tourist visa applications currently underway are to be frozen." Koryo later wrote that this applied only to tours up until Sept. 9. Koryo speculated that the frozen visa applications suggested that Pyongyang was still working out who the VIP foreign guests attending the events on Sept. 9 might be. "A higher power in the country is simply pressing pause on tourism until it is clear to them who is coming in such delegations and how many people," they wrote in their statement. Chinese tour groups have also said they have had their packages blocked - with North Korean authorities apparently citing "renovation" at all hotels in Pyongyang for the rest of August. There had been rumors in the South Korean press that Xi would attend the games. South Korean leader Moon is also expected to visit North Korea at some point in September. With little official confirmation and outside access to the country limited, reports are still largely limited to rumors and speculation. Radio Free Asia cited one unnamed source in the country that the government had given out special instructions to "root out nonsocialist phenomena, such as fashion choices and hairstyles that do not fit the socialist lifestyle." Previous reports a few years ago that North Korea was mandating the haircuts of young men were largely met with suspicion from experts, who suggested that a trend toward copying Kim Jong Un's hairstyle was just that: A trend. But there's no denying that North Korea will be image conscious this September - it certainly knows the world will be watching.

Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary General, Dies At 80

MMNN:18 August 2018
Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary General and Nobel Peace Laureate, has died. He was 80. A statement posted on his Twitter account said, Kofi Annan died after a short illness. "It is with immense sadness that the Annan family and the Kofi Annan Foundation announce that Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Laureate, passed away peacefully on Saturday 18th August after a short illness," the foundation said in a statement. News agency Reuters says Kofi Annan died at a hospital in Bern, Switzerland, in the early hours of Saturday. Kofi Annan was the first black African to take up the role of the world's top diplomat - United Nations Secretary General - serving two terms from 1997 to 2006. He later served as the UN special envoy for Syria, leading efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. He, along with the United Nations, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world". United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said Kofi Annan was the "guiding force for good". "In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the organisation into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination," he added. "Today we mourn the loss of a great man, a leader, and a visionary: former @UN Secretary General @KofiAnnan. A life well lived. A life worth celebrating," a United Nations migration body tweeted. Kofi Annan was married and had three children. Following is the full text of the statement announcing Kofi Annan's death by his foundation: It is with immense sadness that the Annan family and the Kofi Annan Foundation announce that Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Laureate, passed away peacefully on Saturday 18th August after a short illness. His wife Nane and their children Ama, Kojo and Nina were by his side during his last days. Kofi Annan was a global statesman and a deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his life for a fairer and more peaceful world. During his distinguished career and leadership of the United Nations he was an ardent champion of peace, sustainable development, human rights and the rule of law. After stepping down from the United Nations, he continued to work tirelessly in the cause of peace through his chairmanship of the Kofi Annan Foundation and as chair of The Elders, the group founded by Nelson Mandela. He was an inspiration to young and old alike. Kofi Annan was a son of Ghana and felt a special responsibility towards Africa. He was particularly committed to African development and deeply engaged in many initiatives, including his chairmanship of the Africa Progress Panel and his early leadership of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Wherever there was suffering or need, he reached out and touched many people with his deep compassion and empathy. He selflessly placed others first, radiating genuine kindness, warmth and brilliance in all he did. He will be greatly missed by so many around the world, as well as his staff at the Foundation and his many former colleagues in the United Nations system. He will remain in our hearts forever. The family kindly requests privacy at this time of mourning. Arrangements to celebrate his remarkable life will be announced later.

Presidential Election On September 4, Says Pakistan Election Body

MMNN:16 August 2018
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will hold presidential elections on September 4 to elect President Mamnoon Hussain's successor at the end of his five-year-tenure, the pakistan election commission announced today. Pakistan's president is elected indirectly by the members of Parliament and the four provincial assemblies. "Presidential election will be held on September 4," the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said as it issued the schedule of the election. The candidates can file nominations by August 27 and the final list of contesting candidates will be issued on August 30, it said. The polling will be held in the buildings of the federal parliament and provincial assemblies. In Pakistan, the President is considered as a symbol of the federation and head of the state and exercises all powers on the recommendations of the prime minister. Mr Hussain, elected in September 2013, was a nominee of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led by jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Mr Hussain's parents migrated from Agra and settled in Karachi after partition. A tough competition is expected between nominees of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by Prime Minister-in-waiting and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and the joint opposition forged by the PML-N, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal.

"In Response To Sanctions, Turkey To Boycott US Electronic Goods: Erdogan

MMNN:14 August 2018
ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said Turkey would boycott US electronic goods in retaliation for punitive sanctions by Washington against Ankara over the detention of an American pastor. "We will boycott US electronic goods," Erdogan said in a televised speech, raising the stakes in a spat that has seen the Turkish lira plunge to record lows. "If (the United States) have the iPhone, there's Samsung on the other side," he said, referring to US giant Apple's iconic phone and the top South Korean brand. "We (also) have our Venus and Vestel," he said about homegrown Turkish electronics brands. Relations between the two NATO allies have plummeted in one of their worst crises in decades after the detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson on terror-related charges, sending the Turkish lira into free fall against the dollar. Erdogan has been repeatedly photographed with Apple products including the iPhone and iPad. He also made his now famous speech on the night of the July 2016 failed coup calling citizens out into the street through Facetime, an iPhone app. The lira's plunge -- which had been ongoing for weeks -- was turned into a rout on Friday when US President Donald Trump tweeted that Washington was doubling aluminium and steel tariffs for Turkey. Turkish Airlines also announced on Twitter that it would join a campaign circulating on social media with a hashtag #ABDyeReklamVerme (don't give ads to America). "We, as the Turkish Airlines, stand by our state and our people. Necessary instructions on the issue have been issued to our agencies," Yahya Ustun, spokesman for the country's flag-carrier, wrote on Twitter. Erdogan said Turkey was facing an "economic attack" and a "bigger, deeper operation" but showed no sign of making concessions to the United States. "They don't hesitate to use the economy as a weapon," he said. "What do you want to do? What do you want to achieve," he added, referring to the US. Erdogan admitted the Turkish economy had problems -- including a widening current account deficit and inflation of almost 16 percent but added: "Thanks to God, our economy is functioning like clockwork

"Imran Khan Borrows Waistcoat From Parliament Employee For Official Photo

MMNN:13 August 2018
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Prime Minister-in-waiting Imran Khan today borrowed a waistcoat from an employee of the National Assembly to pose for a photograph for his parliamentary registration card. Imran Khan, 65, arrived in parliament wearing a traditional white shalwar kameez to attend the maiden session of the National Assembly. He first got himself registered at the parliament. He then asked for a waistcoat to pose for a registration card picture, Urdu language daily Jang reported. One of the National Assembly employees took off his black waistcoat and gave it to Mr Khan. The employee also helped Mr Khan wear the waistcoat, the paper said. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief then sat on a stool for himself to be clicked. Mr Khan attended the first session of the 15th National Assembly and took oath of Member of the National Assembly from outgoing speaker Ayaz Sadiq. He was among the 329 newly-elected members of the National Assembly who took the oath, setting the stage for the cricketer-turned-politician to form the next government, only the second democratic transition of power in Pakistan. Mr Khan also shook hands and posed for a photo with Pakistan Peoples Party chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is entering the National Assembly for his maiden term.

"Girl With A Book" Frightens Extremists: Malala On Pak School Burning

MMNN:4 August 2018
GILGIT-BALTISTAN:: Pakistani activist Malala Yousufzai on Friday condemned the attack on 12 schools in Gilgit-Baltistan which took place late on Thursday night. She tweeted, "The extremists have shown what frightens them most - a girl with a book. We must rebuild these schools immediately, get the students back into their classrooms and show the world that every girl and boy has the right to learn." According to Dawn, Diamer Superintendent Police (SP) Roy Ajmal said 12 schools, including only-girls schools were set on fire. He also said that in a few cases, books were also thrown out and torched. Dawn quoted local police officer Mohammad Bashir as saying that the attack on schools took place near Chilas before dawn on Friday, however, no casualties were reported as the schools were closed when the attack took place. Police added that no group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. Local residents and journalists said explosions were heard in GPS Ronay and Girls School Takya, however, police said that they did not receive reports about blasts. A protest has been called by The Diamer Youth Movement in the district headquarters of Chilas, against the targeting of educational institutions in the area. Later, locals took out a protest rally in Chilas against the burning down of schools and demanded that the police arrest the culprits. They raised the slogans of "Dehshatgard murdabad!" [death to terrorists!] Commissioner of Diamer, Syed Abdul Waheed Shah, told Dawn that no arrests have been made so far in the matter. He added that the police were investigating the incident and a first information report (FIR) would be registered. The commissioner also revealed that attempts were made to blow up two schools using explosives, while the rest of the 11 schools were set on fire

"China Probes High-Ranking Buddhist Monk Accused Of Coercing Nuns Into Sex

MMNN:3 August 2018
China's top religious authority launched an investigation Thursday after two monks alleged that a prominent Buddhist abbot and Communist Party member coerced several nuns into having sex with him, one of the country's most high-profile #MeToo moments. The allegations against abbot Xuecheng and the Beijing Longquan Monastery burst into the public eye when a 95-page document written by the monks, who also claimed that the temple is in financial trouble, emerged online earlier this week. He is accused of sending illicit text messages to at least six women, tempting or threatening them to have sex with him. Four gave in to Xuecheng's demands, the report said, adding that he tried to assert "mind control" by claiming the sex was a part of their Buddhist studies. "We have received the material involved in the report and have started work on investigating and verifying the claims," the State Administration for Religious Affairs said in a statement, adding that it takes the allegations "very seriously". The monastery had on Wednesday denounced the dossier, which it says falsified evidence, calling it an attempt to tarnish Xuecheng and the monastery's reputation. "The falsified evidence is based on a deliberate attempt to frame Master Xuecheng, and can be considered a crime," it said in a statement posted on Xuecheng's account on the Twitter-like Weibo platform. "This incident has its roots in revenge, an operation motivated by malice." The report and posts about it have been taken down or censored on social media. Growing #MeToo movement According to the state-run Global Times, Xuecheng had been brought in for questioning by authorities but later released. In a separate social media posting, one of the report's authors said he was forced to go public after the victims were ignored by authorities who said they could not investigate the matter. There is no legal definition of sexual harassment in China and no national regulations on how to handle sexual assault cases in schools and workplaces. Xuecheng is a prominent personality in Chinese Buddhist life with a social media following of millions. He heads the Buddhist Association of China and is also a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a top advisory board. Located on the outskirts of Beijing, Longquan Monastery has made headlines for combining Buddhism with modern technology, launching last year a two-foot high robot monk that dispenses mantras and karmic advice. The #MeToo movement ignited in China earlier this year with more women starting to open up about sexual assaults, especially on university campuses. Unlike in the West, where #MeToo has forced resignations and sparked widespread public debate, authorities in China have sought to control the discussion, sometimes allowing and at other times censoring social media commentary.

"No Foreign Leaders To Be Called For Imran Khan's Oath: Pak Foreign Office

MMNN:2 August 2018
ISLAMABAD:Foreign leaders will not be invited to Imran Khan's swearing-in as Pakistan's Prime Minister on August 11, Islamabad said today. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) emerged as the largest party in the July 25 election, but short of numbers to take power without an alliance. Earlier this week, reports suggested that the 65-year-old wanted to invite SAARC leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his oath ceremony. "Media speculation about international dignitaries attending PM oath ceremony are not correct," said Fawad Chaudhry, a spokesperson of PTI, stating that a simple ceremony would be held at Aiwan-e-Sadr or President's House. Imran Khan had asked for the oath to be staged with austerity, Mr Chaudhry said. "It has been decided that no foreign personalities will be invited to the ceremony - it will be a completely national event. Only a few close friends of Imran Khan will be invited. There will be no show of extravagance at the event," he said. Imran Khan's personal invitations stand. "A few of Imran's friends are the only foreign nationals being invited to the event," said Mr Chaudhry. The legendary cricketer has invited actor Aamir Khan and former cricketers Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Navjot Singh Sidhu. Mr Sidhu accepted the invitation, calling Imran Khan "a man of character". Addressing the nation after his victory, Imran Khan had pledged to take austerity measures to save taxpayers' money and said he would be "ashamed" to stay in the sprawling Prime Minister's House. The PTI spokesperson had earlier said that the party had sought the advice of the Foreign Office on inviting foreign dignitaries. PM Modi had called Imran Khan to congratulate him on his party's victory in the general elections in Pakistan and hoped that "Pakistan and India will work to open a new chapter in bilateral ties". Imran Khan in his victory speech had also said that better relations between Pakistan and India would be "good for all of us". Former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif had travelled to Delhi to attend PM Modi's oath ceremony in 2014 and PM Modi had made a surprise stopover at Lahore in December 2015 on his birthday. Ties between the two countries have been strained in recent years over terror strikes by Pakistan-based groups, especially the attack on an army camp in Kashmir's Uri, after which India carried out surgical strikes on terror launch pads across the Line of Control.

"Ministers' Enclave Would Be Official Residence Of Imran Khan: Report

MMNN:1 August 2018
ISLAMABAD: A house in the Ministers' Enclave in Islamabad will be declared the official residence of Imran Khan, who is set to become Pakistan's new prime minister, as his private house is vulnerable to threats, according to a media report. Mr Khan's Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has emerged as the single largest party in the National Assembly after the July 25 elections. Mr Khan, 65, would take oath as the prime minister on August 11. Mr Khan, in his victory speech on July 26, had announced that he would not use the Prime Minister's House as his residence and that his party would later decide the fate of the building. Shortly after his party's victory in the elections, the police and the district administration started extending VVIP protocol and security to Mr Khan. Security was tightened around Mr Khan's Banigala residence, Dawn newspaper reported. Senior police officers visited Mr Khan's Banigala residence and assessed the home and the area around it, including the hills. The police officials said there was no standard operating procedure for the prime minister in-waiting, but since Khan is likely to be the next prime minister, necessary measures have been taken for his security, the report said. They discussed security issues with PTI leader Naeemul Haq as well as the chief security officer of the residence, it said. Issues regarding the official residence of the prime minister-in-waiting also came under discussion. The officials briefed them about the standard operating procedure (SOP) related to the security and protocol of the prime minister, the report added. The senior officers also met Mr Khan and briefed him about security and protocol. During the meeting, the district administration officials told him that his residence could not be provided foolproof security as the area was open and vulnerable to threats. Earlier, there was an option to declare Banigala residence as Mr Khan's official residence. Mr Khan then agreed not to use Banigala as his official residence, the officials told Dawn. A few more options were also given to him, including using an accommodation at the Ministers' Enclave, which he accepted, the report said. However, he asked for a lowest category house at the enclave, it said. There are flats which fall in the lowest category, but since necessary SOPs and protocol for prime minister could not be implemented there, the senior officers advised Mr Khan against using a flat and instead prefer a house to which Mr Khan agreed, the report said.

"Nawaz Sharif's Ward In Islamabad Hospital Declared Sub-Jail

MMNN:30 July 2018
ISLAMABAD: Nawaz Sharif's hospital ward has been declared as a sub-jail, a day after Pakistan's former prime minister was admitted to the premier Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences following health complications, a media report said today. Mr Sharif, 68, was shifted to the Cardiac Centre of the country's top hospital in Islamabad yesterday, after his health deteriorated in the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. He is stable, a hospital official said Sunday night. The three-time Pakistan premier is serving a 10-year jail term in a corruption case over his family's purchase of luxury apartments in London. He has been lodged in the Adiala Jail since July 13. "A notification issued by the office of the Islamabad chief commissioner yesterday said that the capital city's administration had decided to declare premises of the PIMS Cardiac Centre's private ward as 'sub-jail' for keeping Nawaz Sharif, convicted prisoner in NAB case, with immediate effect," Dawn newspaper reported. The private ward will serve as sub-jail until the time Mr Sharif is kept there for medical treatment, the paper said. The capital's police will provide security to the convicted premier, according to the notification. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's chief Imran Khan, whose party has emerged as the single largest side in the National Assembly after the polls, prayed for Nawaz Sharif's recovery and directed party workers to stay away from the premises of the PIMS and not to hold any demonstration against the ousted premier. Dr Naeem Malik, head of the PIMS cardiology department, had suggested that authorities shift Sharif to the hospital as his blood tests showed clotting which, according to the doctor, was an alarming sign considering his medical history. The PML-N supremo lives with diabetes and has also undergone bypass surgery. He currently takes medication for his heart condition, cholesterol and diabetes. Later, a meeting between Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam and son-in-law retired Capt Mohammad Safdar took place to discuss his health condition. Extraordinary security arrangements were made ahead of Sharif's arrival. Walk-through gates, CCTV cameras and mobile jammers were installed in the hospital, along with the deployment of security forces.

"Imran Khan's Party Begins Coalition Talks As Rivals Plan Protests

MMNN:28 July 2018
ISLAMABAD: Imran Khan's party said it has begun talks with independents and small parties to form a coalition government after a resounding triumph in Pakistan's general election, as rival parties planned protests over alleged vote rigging. Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) won 115 seats in Wednesday's ballot, short of the 137 needed for a simple majority but a surprisingly strong showing that helped fuel suspicion of rigging. The party has begun reaching out to potential coalition partners to form a government, according to spokesman Fawad Chaudhry, a task that analysts said should be straightforward. "We have contacted small parties and independent members, they will soon meet party leaders in Islamabad," Chaudhry announced late Friday, adding that the process was likely to take about 10 days. Chaudhry's comments followed an announcement by rival parties vowing to launch a protest "movement", after foreign observers voiced concerns about the contest. More than a dozen parties calling themselves the All Parties Conference (APC) promised to protest over the results. However the group remained divided with some parties pledging to boycott joining the National Assembly and others calling for a new vote. The outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party announced its support for the group but stopped short of saying it would boycott the new parliament. And the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which was notably absent from the APC, said in a separate announcement that it rejected the results, but vowed to try to convince the other parties to participate in the parliamentary process. The protests announcement late Friday came as the United States, the European Union and other observers voiced concerns over widespread claims that the powerful military had tried to fix the playing field in Khan's favour. Khan's victory represents an end to decades of rotating leadership between the PML-N and the Pakistan PPP that was punctuated by periods of military rule. The vote was meant to be a rare democratic transition in the Muslim country, which has been ruled by the powerful army for roughly half its history. But it was marred by violence and allegations of military interference in the months leading up to the vote, with Khan seen as the beneficiary. The former cricket star will face myriad challenges, including extremism, an economic crisis with speculation that Pakistan will have to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, water shortages and a booming

"My Sons' Father Is Next PM": Jemima Goldsmith Congratulates Imran Khan

MMNN:26 July 2018
ISLAMABAD: As cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan edges closer to ruling Pakistan, the country that he has promised to change, after a general election hit by delayed counting of votes and rigging allegations by major parties, his fans are already calling him "Prime Minister Imran Khan", even as his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) hasn't made any announcement. Jemima Goldsmith, the first wife of the thrice-married, too, made haste with a tweet and congratulated her "sons' father" for the "win". Mr Khan's nine-year marriage to British socialite Jemima Goldsmith ended in 2004. She had converted to Islam before marrying the 65-year-old former fast bowler. He was 42 and she was half his age. She moved to Lahore to start a life with her Oxford-educated husband. Soon he launched his political career as his new wife tried to adjust to her new surroundings. Ms Goldsmith spoke about Mr Khan's political journey and highlighted his sense of humour on Twitter. "I remember IK's 1st election in 1997- untested, idealistic & politically naive. I waited up for the call in LHR with 3 mo old Sulaiman, who I had lugged around the country. Eventually he called. "It's a clean sweep" & after my gasp, "... the other way." He roared with laughter," she said in a now-deleted tweet. The couple has two sons, Sulaiman and Kasim, who returned to Britain with their mother after the divorce, which Mr Khan had attributed to "geographical problems" and "difficulties of cross-cultural marriages". He had also told NDTV that "political life was a nightmare for her". However, Pakistan remains her "beloved old friend". When Pakistan voted for a new government on Wednesday, she tweeted, "Happy Election Day Pakistan, you maddening, beautiful, crazy, beloved old friend. Here's hoping the people who count your votes, let your vote count. And you get the leader you believe in. Pakistan Zindabad!" Mr Khan married again in 2015. His second bride, Reham Khan, was a weather reporter for the BBC. The marriage lasted barely 10 months. This year, after months of speculation and rumours, the PTI chairman confirmed his marriage to Bushra Maneka (also known as Pinki Pir) in February. Their wedding photographs showed the bride hidden behind a veil. As votes are still being counted, the PTI is leading in 119 of the 272-seats, still short of the majority mark of 137. However, five major parties have alleged blatant rigging. Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, called it the "dirtiest election" he has ever seen. The Election Commission of Pakistan has attributed the delay to technical glitches. Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz or PML-N is ahead in 61 constituencies, and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by Bilawal Bhutto, son of assassinated two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, is leading in 40 constituencies.

Prince Harry Joins Singer Elton John To Launch HIV Campaign Targeting Men

MMNN:25 July 2018
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS: Britain's Prince Harry joined pop star Elton John on Tuesday to launch a campaign to raise HIV awareness among men, warning that "dangerous complacency" about the virus threatened the quest to wipe it out. The billion-dollar project "MenStar" will target men living with or at risk of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, which has been ravaged by AIDS since the 1980s. "The MenStar coalition is bravely tackling the root cause of this problem - the lack of awareness of HIV prevention amongst hard-to-reach young men," Harry said at the 22nd International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam. Speaking at the launch, which also featured South African actress Charlize Theron and Ndaba Mandela, the grandson of late President Nelson Mandela, Elton John said: "If we want to end AIDS once and for all, we must make men part of the solution." Around 36.7 million people around the world have HIV, according to 2016 figures cited by the United Nations' HIV/AIDS body UNAIDS. Fewer than half of men living with HIV receive treatment compared with 60 percent of women, it said. "It is time there was a global coalition to teach men to protect themselves. And in doing so, it will teach them to better protect not only their wives and girlfriends, their sisters and daughters, but also, critically, their brothers and their sons," the British singer said. UNAIDS said this month that the fight against HIV/AIDS was "slipping off track" and while deaths were falling and treatment rates rising, rates of new HIV infections threatened to derail efforts to defeat the disease. Prince Harry said the campaign launch came at "a time when new energetic and innovative solutions are needed more than ever before". "MenStar" is supported by the U.S. government's PEPFAR programme for tackling HIV/AIDS and by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Experts at the conference hope for the elimination of AIDS worldwide by 2030, but the United Nations warned last Wednesday of a funding gap of £4.6 billion that threatens efforts.

Terror Suspect's Wife Arrested In Foiled 'Biological Attack' In Germany

MMNN:24 July 2018
Asharam Chaudhary (18), son of a ragpicker, who made it to AIIMS, Jodhpur for studies of medicine having cracked AIIMS-MBBS entrance test, 2018 will have electricity supply and a toilet at his thatched house soon. Also, he will have a pucca house, said district collector, Dewas. AICC president Rahul Gandhi has also written a letter to Asharam congratulating him on his success, as per the state Congress leaders. Asharam lives at Vijayganj Mandi in Dewas district, about 150 kilometers south west of Bhopal, with his parents, a brother and a sister. Srikant Pandey, collector, Dewas who provided a financial assistance of Rs 25000 to the family on Sunday said, “We have initiated the process for providing electricity supply to and construction of a toilet at Asharam’s home. They will have a pucca house too under the government’s scheme.” Earlier, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan instructed the collector, Dewas to provide immediate financial assistance to the youth and his family in response to certain tweets tagged to his Twitter account. “…Requested collector to provide immediate financial assistance and they’re in touch now. He is also eligible for Medhavi Vidyarthi Yojana, where we will pay his fee. I will speak with him and congratulate him on his success and determination”, said Chouhan in his reply to the tweets. He further said, “I also came to know that the family needs pakka home, toilet and electricity and we are going to provide them with these facilities under various schemes. Who says social media spread only hate? It also spreads love and happiness in the lives of people.” AICC president Rahul Gandhi in his letter said, “You remind me of Mahatma Gandhi who used to say: “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from the indomitable will”.” When contacted Asharam Chaudhary who left for Jodhpur on Sunday said, “There is an atmosphere of joy and happiness in the entire village. I wish to do something for students who are struggling against odds in life like me.” Asharam’s father Ranjeet Chaudhary said, “It was not possible for me to get all these facilities with my meagre income. My son has changed the life of my family even before his study begins for becoming a doctor.” Notably, Asharam’s achievement of qualifying for All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) came to be known only a few days back when he got a letter from AIIMS, Delhi regarding his admission to AIIMS, Jodhpur based on the counselling held on June 28 and 29 and result declared on July 2. Overall rank of Asharam in the examination was 707th while he got 141st rank in OBC category. According to Asharam, he studied in a government school up to class 3. Later, with a teacher’s support he completed his primary education in a private school. He cracked Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya Selection Test (JNVST) and got admission to Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya for studies from class 6. He was selected by Dakshna organisation in Pune to prepare for medical entrance examination. He did his secondary education from Pune

Nawaz Sharif, Unwell In Jail, Not Allowed To See His Doctor, Claims Party

MMNN:23 July 2018
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN: Pakistan's jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is suffering from high blood pressure but has been refused permission to see his personal doctor, his party said Monday. Sharif was convicted in his absence overseas on corruption charges and arrested upon his return to Pakistan earlier his month, ahead of elections on Wednesday. Members of his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have said the powerful military is trying to influence the vote against his party. The former premier is widely believed to have returned to face a 10-year prison sentence to rally his embattled party ahead of a close contest with its main rival -- the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan. "Caretaker Prime Minister Nasir-ul-Mulk and chief minister of Punjab province Hasan Askari were approached with a request to provide access to Sharif's personal physician but all requests went down the drain," PML-N spokesperson Maryam Aurangzeb told AFP. "Nawaz Sharif, who is also a heart patient, has been quite unwell since Saturday after his blood pressure went up," Aurangzeb added. Officials at Adiala jail in Rawalpindi where Sharif is being held could not be reached for comment. Aurangzeb said Sharif needed a special diet due to the ongoing heart condition and should be provided with air conditioning, but was being denied both, adding his cell had "serious hygiene issues". The government has assembled a team of doctors who are set to offer Sharif a checkup. Sharif was ousted last year by the Supreme Court for alleged corruption. He became the 15th prime minister in Pakistan's 70-year history -- roughly half of it under military rule -- to be removed before completing a full term. Since his dismissal he has engaged in open confrontation with Pakistan's security establishment, accusing the military of curbing democratic development and fostering links with militants. The military remains the most powerful institution in the country, and has faced allegations in recent months that it is pressuring the media and politicians in a bid to manipulate the polls against the PML-N. It denies the accusations and says it has "no direct role" in the elections

I'm Ready To Go 500": Trump Threatens Tariffs On All Chinese Imports

MMNN:20 July 2018
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said in an interview released Friday he is willing to hit all Chinese goods imported to the United States with tariffs if necessary. "I'm ready to go 500," the Republican leader told the US network CNBC, referring to the $505.5 billion in Chinese imports accepted into the United States in 2017. "I'm not doing this for politics, I'm doing this to do the right thing for our country," Trump said. "We've been ripped off by China for a long time," he added. After weeks of apparently fruitless negotiations, the United States early this month imposed 25 percent tariffs on approximately $34 billion of Chinese mechanical and technological products -- sparking an immediate response from Beijing, which said it would hit back dollar for dollar. China accused the United States of starting the "largest trade war in economic history." A second tranche of $16 billion in products is under review and could soon be added to the US measures. In the full interview released Friday Trump reiterated his claim that the United States is "being taken advantage of" on issues including trade policy. "I don't want them to be scared. I want them to do well," the US president said of China. "I really like President Xi a lot. But it was very unfair." The US-China spat is the largest and broadest of several trade fights picked by Trump. The growing share of international trade under threat has raised the prospect the escalating trade war could harm the global economy by disrupting companies supply chains, pushing firms to hold off on investments and making goods more expensive for consumers. In excerpts of the interview released on Thursday Trump had broken with the long-established executive branch practice of not commenting on the Federal Reserve's decisions out of respect for its independence. "I'm not thrilled," Trump told the network in an interview excerpt aired Thursday. "Because we go up and every time you go up they want to raise rates again."

How MI5 And The FBI Foiled Plot To Assassinate British PM Theresa May

MMNN:19 July 2018
He knew what supplies he needed, including a black-and-gray Carbrini sports backpack and a hooded down jacket. Standard tourist provisions in Britain. He had the timing all worked out. If he could just get past the gate, a 10-second sprint would find him at the most famous door in the world - the polished black entrance to 10 Downing Street, the emblem of the British state. Once inside, Naa'imur Zakariyah Rahman hoped to behead the building's resident, Prime Minister Theresa May. But Rahman was not the only one in on the plan. He shared his ambitions with a man, "Shaq," who presented himself as a weapons fixer for Islamic State militants. The supposed extremist helper was in fact an undercover police officer working alongside MI5, Britain's domestic security service, and the FBI, according to the BBC. The undercover operation succeeded in nabbing Rahman, 20, who was convicted Wednesday at the Old Bailey courthouse in London of preparing acts of terrorism. He had been arrested in November 2017 and will be sentenced at a later date. The resident of north London, who has given his nationality as Bangladeshi-British, was first flagged by authorities three years ago over concerns that the teenager, raised in an industrial town near Birmingham, was vulnerable to brainwashing by his uncle, British media reported. His uncle, who left Britain for Syria in 2014, aimed to persuade his nephew to stage an attack and had sent him bombmaking materials, according to authorities. A coalition drone strike near Raqqa killed the uncle, Musadikur Rohaman, in June 2017. It was when Rahman learned of his family member's death, prosecutors alleged, that he set out to take revenge. His target became the prime minister of the country where he was sleeping in the back of a car, after quarrels with his mother and other relatives had left him homeless. The same year, a probe into allegations that Rahman had sent lewd images to an underage girl turned up evidence that he had stayed in contact with his uncle. He was never charged in the initial investigation, but a search of his phone set off concern that he had developed extremist views, the Guardian reported. The undercover operation began when Rahman made contact with an FBI agent impersonating an Islamic State official on social media. The American intelligence officer introduced him to MI5 agents posing as fellow extremists. "Can you put me in a sleeper cell ASAP?" Rahman asked members of the security services appearing as Islamist militants over the Telegram messaging app. "I want to do a suicide bomb on parliament. I want to attempt to kill Theresa May." He reaffirmed his resolve the next day, writing, "My objective is to take out my target. Nothing less than the death of the leaders of parliament." His planning included surveying the grounds of the British civil service and government and giving a backpack and jacket to the undercover police officer, who promised to line the items with explosives. In conversations with the officer, he also praised the Manchester bomber who had left 23 dead, including himself, at an Ariana Grande concert months earlier. The mass-casualty event was among a string of terrorist attacks that buffeted Britain in 2017, putting security services on high alert. One strike unfolded outside the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the British Parliament. Rahman seemed to draw inspiration from these attacks. "I wanna drop a bag at the gate, so the gate blows up a bit and I can go through and then like, make a run, like I was thinking taking a human hostage until I get to the actual door," Rahman told "Shaq," the undercover police officer, in a recording played in court. His intention, he said, was to "make a dash for Theresa May. She sleeps there every night." He told the undercover agent that his intention was to "take her head off." Rahman's initial aim had been to obtain a truck bomb and firearms, but he revised his planning because he knew neither how to drive nor how to fire a gun. He settled for more crude weaponry and offered up a backpack and jacket to be outfitted for an attack. At the end of November, the agent returned Rahman's backpack and jacket with fake explosives. "Do you know? Now I've seen everything it feels good," Rahman told the officer as he took back the belongings, according to the recording played in court. Rahman was detained as he walked away from the scene, later saying, "I'm glad it's over." During the trial, which began in June, prosecutors said they believed Rahman had been days away from attempting to carry out his plot on May's life. The accused told jurors that his planning had been nothing more than fantasy, and that he had merely been trying to impress men he believed to be associates of his uncle. Security precautions are designed to keep plans to infiltrate 10 Downing Street in the realm of fantasy. The street on which the residence sits has been closed to the public since 1989 and is heavily guarded. Defenses grew more severe after the Irish Republican Army launched mortar shells in an attempt to kill John Major, the prime minister at the time, along with Cabinet members then presiding over British participation in the Gulf War.

12 Thai Boys, Trapped In Cave For Over 2 Weeks, Discharged From Hospital

MMNN:18 July 2018
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND: Twelve boys and their football coach who survived a highly dangerous and dramatic rescue from a flooded Thai cave were discharged from hospital Wednesday ahead of a press conference where they will tell their incredible story for the first time. An AFP correspondent on the scene saw the team, who were wearing football kits, board three minibuses at the hospital in northern Thailand's Chiang Rai province. The footballers from the "Wild Boars" club are being discharged a day earlier than previously announced, with authorities hoping a question and answer session will satisfy -- at least temporarily -- the intense media speculation that has accompanied their epic underground ordeal. The boys are due to return to their homes later Wednesday. "The reason to hold this evening press conference is so media can ask them questions and after that they can go back to live their normal lives without media bothering them," Thailand's chief government spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd told AFP. Called "Sending the Wild Boars Home" and broadcast on major television channels, the session will last for about 45 minutes, Sunsern said, adding that it would be conducted in an informal style with a moderator. The briefing will be closely monitored, with experts warning of possible long-term distress from the more than two weeks they spent trapped inside a cramped, flooded chamber of the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand. The public relations department in Chiang Rai province solicited questions from news outlets in advance and they will be forwarded to psychiatrists for screening. Thailand's junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha urged media Wednesday to be "cautious in asking unimportant questions" that could cause unspecified damage. But the organisers have also set up a small makeshift football pitch at the press conference and the boys are expected to kick a ball around at the event. Interest in the saga is unlikely to abate, with film production houses already eyeing a Hollywood treatment of the drama. Doctors have advised families of the players, aged 11 to 16, that they should avoid letting them contact journalists for at least one month. Though the boys and coach are said to be in good mental and physical health, they will be provided with additional psychological monitoring to detect lingering trauma. 'Happiest day of my life' Families of the youngsters are eagerly awaiting the homecoming. Khameuy Promthep, the grandmother of 13-year-old Dom, one of the boys rescued from the cave, told AFP in an interview at their family shop in Mae Sai near the Myanmar border on Wednesday that she was very excited. "This is the happiest day of my life," she said. The daring Thai-led international effort to rescue the team captivated the world after the football team walked into the cave on June 23 and were trapped by rising floodwaters. After nine days without a steady supply of food or water they were found emaciated and huddled in a group on a muddy ledge by British divers several kilometres inside Tham Luang. Rescuers debated on the best plan to bring them out but ultimately decided on a risky operation that involved diving them through waterlogged passages while they were sedated to keep them calm and carrying them out in military-grade stretchers. Not even the foreign cave diving specialists who took part were sure the mission would work and many expressed relief when it was all over after the final five were rescued on July 10. 'Pedo' row Further attention was drawn to the rescue by a highly public spat between entrepreneur Elon Musk and a British caver who took part in the rescue. Tesla CEO Musk called Vernon Unsworth a "pedo" in an extraordinary social media attack, after the caving expert had ridiculed Musk's plan to recover the trapped group using a miniature submarine. Musk on Wednesday apologised to Unsworth over the slur, for which he had provided no justification or explanation. "(H)is actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader," Musk wrote on Twitter. "The fault is mine and mine alone." COMMENT Musk's attack on Unsworth had drawn widespread outrage and briefly sent shares in Tesla tumbling. Unsworth told AFP he may take legal action against Musk over the offensive tweet.

Nawaz Sharif To Stay In Jail Till Elections, Hearing On Appeals Adjourned

MMNN:17 July 2018
ISLAMABAD: The hearing on appeals filed by jailed leader Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law against their conviction in a corruption case has been adjourned till the last week of July. They were hoping to come out of jail before the election to boost the chances of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz or PML-N. Elections in Pakistan will be held on July 25. Mr Sharif's party has been banking on his early release to power up its campaign. Mr Sharif, 68, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Captain Muhammad Safdar (retired) on Monday filed the appeals in the Islamabad High Court challenging the verdict in the Avenfield corruption case. A two-member bench of Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb heard the appeals and issued notices to the National Accountability Bureau, and ordered to give to the court the record of the case. The bench adjourned the hearing till the last week of July, which means that the hearing will be held after July 25, the day of the elections. The court also declined to suspend the conviction in the case until the appeals were decided. Earlier, Mr Sharif's aide and PML-N leader Pervaiz Rashid asked the court to decide the appeals without wasting any time. "We want that the appeal should be decided as quickly as the trial was held," he said. On July 6, Mr Sharif was sentenced to 10 years, Ms Maryam seven years and Mr Safdar one year in the Avenfield corruption case over illegal properties in a posh area of London. Mr Sharif's lawyer Khawaja Haris filed his appeal while Amjad Pervez filed the appeals for Ms Maryam and her husband. All the three are at Adiala jail in Rawalpindi. Mr Haris also moved another application on behalf of Mr Sharif to suspend his sentence until the appeals against the conviction was decided by the high court. Another application sought to transfer his remaining cases to a different court after conviction in the Avenfield case by Justice Mohammad Bashir, who is also hearing the Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship reference cases. The court is yet to decide on the transfer of cases. The trial judge has written to the high court that he had no objection if the cases were assigned to another judge. Mr Sharif and his daughter Ms Maryam were arrested in Lahore on July 13 after they arrived from London after the accountability court sentenced them guilty in the Avenfield corruption case

After Blasting UK Over Brexit, Donald Trump Says Relationship Very Strong

MMNN:13 July 2018
CHEQUERS, UNITED KINGDOM: After publicly criticising British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit strategy, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that the relationship was "very, very strong." Trump directly criticised May's plans to leave the EU in an interview with the Sun newspaper, saying it had probably killed off hope of a U.S.-British trade deal after she failed to take his advice on how to negotiate. Trump, sat next to May at her official country residence at Chequers on Friday, said we "really have a very good relationship," and would discuss trade, the military and other matters over lunch. Asked by a U.S. reporter if he regretted his comments to the Sun, Trump looked away, shook his head and pointed at the reporter. When asked if they had discussed the interview, May said: "We've got a lot to discuss," adding that they would talk about the so-called special relationship between the United States and United Kingdom as well as the real opportunities for a trade deal.

Nurse Allegedly Killed Up To 20 Patients, She Wanted Control Over Deaths

MMNN:11 July 2018
TOKYO: A former nurse who allegedly killed as many as 20 elderly patients by injecting their intravenous drips with chemicals is in police custody, Japanese media have reported. The suspect reportedly said she wanted to control when her patients died. Police said Wednesday 31-year-old Ayumi Kuboki was in custody over the alleged murder of an 88-year-old man at a hospital in suburban Tokyo. They declined to confirm the broader investigation. She was arrested Saturday over the alleged murder of the elderly patient in 2016, but she has told police she may have killed up to 20 people, local media said. It is believed the suspect has not worked as a nurse since the 2016 death. Kuboki allegedly killed the 88-year-old man by injecting a disinfectant into his drip, it was reported. The suspect has told police she mixed disinfectant into the intravenous drips of around 20 patients, Jiji Press reported, citing an unnamed police source. Kuboki reportedly denied any specific grudge against her patients, but said she found it difficult to deal with deaths on her shift, and injecting the drips allowed her to control when her patients died. "Explaining to family members about deaths was cumbersome if a patient died during my working hours," she told investigators, Jiji said. The Asahi Shimbun also reported she had admitted injecting the drips of around 20 patients with disinfectant. Police were already investigating the deaths of two patients, including the 88-year-old. Jiji reported that after the 2016 murder, police found surfactant -- a chemical used for products including detergent and cosmetics -- in 50 unused bags for intravenous drips at the hospital. The same chemical has been found in the bodies of two other patients who died aged 78 and 89, the news agency said.

Donald Trump Says Vladimir Putin May Be The Easiest Meeting In Europe

MMNN:10 July 2018
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said his meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin may prove easier than those with European allies, moments before departing for Brussels for a key NATO summit. "Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?" Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One, referring to his upcoming meeting with the Russian leader in Helsinki. Trump also vowed not to be "taken advantage" of by the EU, who he says does not do enough to support the transatlantic alliance and takes unfair advantage of the US on trade

"Iranian Oil Minister Calls Donald Trump's Order To OPEC Insulting

MMNN:7 July 2018
LONDON: Iran's oil minister on Saturday accused US President Donald Trump of insulting OPEC by ordering it to increase production and reduce prices, adding that Iranian output and exports had not changed as a result of US pressure. Trump on Wednesday accused the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries of driving fuel prices higher, and urged Saudi Arabia to pump more if it wanted Washington to continue protecting it against its top rival Iran. "Mr Trump sends every day a new message that creates uncertainty in the market," Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said in an interview with state television. "Trump's order to OPEC members to increase production is a great insult to those governments and nations, and destabilises the market." Zanganeh called the tension between Tehran and Washington a "trade war" and said it had not led to changes in Iranian oil production and exports. Iran, OPEC's third-largest producer, is facing US sanctions on its oil exports that are prompting some buyers to cut purchases. Washington said in May it was walking away from an international deal on Iran's nuclear programme, and said it would impose fresh sanctions on Iran's energy sector. South Korea halted all Iranian oil shipments in July for the first time in six years amid US pressure. The EU, once Iran's biggest oil importer, has promised to try keep the 2015 nuclear deal alive without the United States by trying to keep oil and investment flowing. Foreign ministers from the five remaining signatory countries offered a package of economic measures to Iran on Friday to counter the US sanctions, but Tehran said the package did not go far enough. "I have not seen the package personally, but our colleagues in the foreign ministry who have seen it were not happy with its details," Zanganeh was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency. Iran has threatened to block oil exports through a key Gulf waterway in retaliation for US efforts to reduce Iranian oil sales to zero. Zanganeh said Iran's stance on this issue was clear.

Angela Merkel Warns Donald Trump Against Trade War Over Car Tariffs Threat

MMNN:4 July 2018
BERLIN, GERMANY: German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday warned US President Donald Trump against unleashing an all-out trade war after he threatened to impose steep tariffs on cars from the European Union. Both sides were already locked in a "trade conflict" since Trump's decision to slap punitive tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, said Merkel, adding that "it is worthwhile to prevent this conflict from becoming a real war". Trump on Sunday charged that Europe is "possibly as bad as China" on trade, as he reiterated that he is mulling import taxes of 20 percent on EU cars. The EU has slapped tariffs on iconic US products including bourbon, jeans and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, as a symbolic tit-for-tat response to the metals duties. Taking aim at Trump over his complaint that the EU, and in particular Germany, is running a massive trade surplus against the US, Merkel said that his calculation is skewed as it is based only on goods, not services. "If you include services like the digital services, then you have a completely different trade balance sheet with the US showing a surplus against the EU," she noted. "It is almost old-fashioned to only calculate goods and not include services," Merkel told parliament. Merkel had previously voiced her backing for a "digital tax" that would target multinationals like Amazon, Facebook or Google, which have come under fire for shifting earnings around Europe in order to pay lower taxes. But the EU is divided over the proposal, as countries including Luxembourg and Ireland are loath to see US tech giants head for the exit.

Former Malaysian PM Najib Razak Arrested For Corruption

MMNN:3 July 2018
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA: Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was arrested by anti-corruption investigators Tuesday, a security source said. "The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission took Tan Sri Najib Razak at 3:10 pm to Putrajaya MACC building. They came in three to four unmarked cars," a senior security official familiar with the arrest told AFP.

Myanmar Court Urged To Drop Case Against Reuters Journalists

MMNN:2 July 2018
YANGON, MYANMAR: A lawyer for two Reuters journalists accused of breaching Myanmar's draconian secrecy law on Monday said the pair were simply doing their job by reporting on a massacre of Rohingya Muslims and urged a judge to dismiss the case. Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, are accused of breaching the Official Secrets Act -- which carries up to 14 years in jail -- during their reporting of a military crackdown on the Rohingya minority. The pair have been held in custody for more than six months during protracted pre-trial hearings. The Myanmar nationals were arrested in December and accused of possession of leaked sensitive material linked to security operations in crisis-hit Rakhine state. The allegations against them have been pilloried by rights groups and foreign observers as an assault on media freedom and an effort to stifle reporting on the Rohingya crisis. On Monday a judge said the court will decide on July 9 whether the pair will face trial. After delivering closing arguments on Monday, lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said he urged the court not to take the case any further. His clients "were carrying out their responsibilities as journalists," he said. "It is not government's responsibility to cover up or hide if its security forces do wrong," the attorney added. In his summary, prosecution counsel Kyaw Min Aung said the reporters tried to access "secret papers" and therefore deserved punishment under the secrecy law. The reporters say they were entrapped by police -- a version of events endorsed in court by a whistleblowing cop who testified that officers were ordered to set up the reporters. The pair had been investigating a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims at Inn Din village in Rakhine state during last year's military-led crackdown on Rohingya militants. Army operations forced more than 700,000 of the minority, who are denied citizenship in Myanmar, to flee to Bangladesh. The military has admitted security forces were involved in a massacre at the site, but vehemently denies allegations it launched a wider campaign of atrocities, including rape and murder. The UN and the US say the crackdown on the Rohingya was tantamount to ethnic cleansing. A handcuffed Wa Lone expressed hope for a "fair" ruling next week. In a statement after the hearing Monday, Reuters' editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler urged the court to decline to charge the pair. "Freedom of the press is essential in any democracy, and to charge Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under these circumstances... would seriously undermine Myanmar's constitutional guarantee of free speech," he added.

Indian-American Appointed Chief Of Democratic National Committee

MMNN:30 Jun 2018
WASHINGTON: The Democratic National Committee (DNC), the decision-making body of the Democratic Party in the US, has tapped Indian American Seema Nanda to serve as its new CEO and handle day-to-day operations, making her the first from the community to be named an operational head of a key American political party. Ms Nanda is currently the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the largest human and civil rights organization in the US. She will start later in July in the new position, the DNC said in a press release on Friday. As CEO, Ms Nanda will manage the day-to-day operations of the organisation. The DNC coordinates strategy to support the party's candidates throughout the country for local, state and national office. As mid-term elections continue and the 2020 elections draw closer, hiring the management-oriented Nanda is a move away from more explicitly political executives who have led the troubled party in the past, Politico reported. "I'm beyond excited that Seema is bringing her talent and brilliance to the DNC," DNC Chair Tom Perez said in a statement. "She is a seasoned manager who has a proven track record of success." Ms Nanda previously worked as Mr Perez's chief of staff at the US Department of Labour. She replaces interim CEO Mary Beth Cahill, who took the helm of the DNC in February after replacing Jess O'Connell, a seasoned operative who left after less than a year on the job. "People are hurting all across our country. I believe that Democrats are offering the positive solutions so desperately-needed right now -- solutions forged by the strength of our diversity, the rigour of our ideas and the decency of our values," Ms Nanda said in a statement. She also worked on the DNC transition team for Perez, which "took a fresh look" at the committee's operations after the 2016 election, according to the DNC statement. She has a background in labour and employment law and has worked in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. "As we head towards a crucial election, I'm one hundred per cent certain that Seema's leadership will help the DNC capitalize on the unprecedented grassroots energy and enthusiasm surging throughout the country," Mr Perez said in a statement.

Come Up With Workable Brexit Proposal, EU Tells Theresa May

MMNN:29 Jun 2018
BRUSSELS: The European Union's chief negotiator urged Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday to come up with "workable" proposals for Brexit and overcome "huge and serious" differences to prevent Britain from crashing out of the bloc without a deal. On the second day of a summit more focused on migration than Brexit, leaders of the other 27 EU countries discussed Britain's departure without May, united in turning up the pressure on her to overcome rifts in the government and move forward. May has so far been reluctant to spell out detailed Brexit plans because of deep divisions in her ruling Conservative Party over the terms of Britain's biggest foreign policy shift in almost half a century. But she has promised to thrash out an agreement with her top team of ministers at a meeting next week and intends to present a policy document, or white paper, setting out the government's aims for a future partnership after that. With only nine months to go before Britain leave the EU, it cannot come too soon for chief negotiator Michel Barnier. "We want a deal and (are) working for a deal. The time is short," Barnier told reporters. "Now we are waiting for the UK white paper and I hope it will contain workable and realistic proposals. But let me mention once again that the time is very short." The white paper will set out Britain's vision for its future relationship with the EU, something that has hobbled attempts to settle a divorce agreement especially over pledges on both side to prevent a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland. STRONGEST CARDS The lack of a proposal on how to keep an all but invisible border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland has stalled Brexit talks, increasing frustration among the other leaders. "On Brexit we have made progress but huge and serious divergences remain in particular on Ireland and Northern Ireland," Barnier told reporters in Brussels. The summit's conclusions also underlined the leaders' concerns "that no substantial progress has yet been achieved on agreeing a backstop solution for Ireland/Northern Ireland" but they again held out the possibility of flexibility if "the UK positions were to evolve". After a marathon dinner to try to hammer out a deal on a crisis over migration, Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat, summed up the agreement on Brexit with a tweet: "Almost 9 hours to approve MigrationEU conclusions, not even 1 minute to approve Brexit conclusions. EU can still work together." May again said on Friday she was "ready to intensify and accelerate the pace of negotiations", but only after warning EU leaders to consider Europe's safety before cutting Britain adrift from its security architecture. Security is seen by British officials as one of the country's strongest cards to play in the talks, but another of May's pledges - to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice - has made continued cooperation more difficult. Asked whether she was bringing up security to try to deflect attention from a dearth of proposals on future trade, she told reporters: "No, the future security partnership we have with the European Union will be very important." "We currently enjoy a high level of cooperation with member states of the EU in a number of areas on security that are important for our citizens. This is what is at stake and I want to see a strong and deep security partnership continuing with our European Union partners."

Vladimir Putin To Host Donald Trump Advisor John Bolton At The Kremlin

MMNN:27 Jun 2018
MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin will host US National Security Advisor John Bolton for talks Wednesday aimed at laying the groundwork for a summit between the Kremlin chief and Donald Trump. "The president will host Bolton at the Kremlin," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "Such talks will take place today," he said. President Trump's advisor is also set to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and members of Russia's security council. Bolton's visit is aimed at exploring the idea of a highly anticipated summit between the US and Russian presidents which may take place next month. But in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Peskov declined to discuss details of a possible meeting between the Russian and US leaders. He said Putin's meeting with Bolton would be used to discuss "the sad state" of bilateral relations as well as top international issues. Trump is due to participate in the July 11-12 NATO summit in Brussels before heading to Britain to meet Prime Minister Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth II. Earlier this month, Putin said he was ready to meet Trump as soon as Washington gave the green light, adding that Vienna was a possible venue. But Politico reported this week that the two could meet in the Finnish capital Helsinki, instead of Vienna. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Helsinki is "always ready to offer its good services if asked." He did not provide further details. Ties between Washington and Moscow have been strained by the wide-ranging probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign as well as the poisoning case of a former Russian spy. The last, brief meeting between Putin and Trump took place in November 2017 in Vietnam during an APEC summit.

We Don't Play Games With India, China For Political Gains, Says Nepal PM

MMNN:26 Jun 2018
KATHMANDU: Nepal wants a cordial relationship with India and China and does not believe in playing "games" with it neighbours for short-term political gains, Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said at the Parliament session in Nepal today. Mr Oli, who returned from his six-day visit to China on Sunday, was briefing Parliament about his recent "positive" visit to Beijing and highlighted the agreements the two countries inked during the trip. "The agreements we've reached show our commitment towards realising our common goal of development and prosperity," Mr Oli said. China had also expressed its commitment to provide the necessary support, he added. Mr Oli said his government was keen on ensuring Nepal's development and prosperity and the only way to do so was by maintaining a cordial relationship with India and China. "We do not play card games with (China or India) for short political gains and we stand with our neighbours in good and bad times," Mr Oli said. "For this reason, our foreign and global policies are guided with honest intentions that will not hinge country's security, sovereignty and world peace," he said. Prime Minister Oli said Nepal and China had agreed to resume Tatopani entry point by May 2019 while setting up better infrastructures at Rasuwagadi and Kerung. "The railway connectivity is an important agreement as it will help to speed up development and increase economic activities," he said. Both Nepali and Chinese sides have agreed to intensify implementation of the MoU on cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative to enhance connectivity, he said. "The initiative encompasses vital components such as ports, roads, railways, aviation and communications within the overarching framework of trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network," he said. The two sides also agreed to take practical measures to promote cooperation in all fields mentioned in the MoU, according to the 14-point Nepal-China joint statement which was released on the conclusion of PM Oli's visit. Mr Oli had held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, following which a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed to build a strategic railway link connecting Tibet with Kathmandu through the arduous Himalayan terrain. The new railway line will connect the Gyirong trading port in the city of Xigaze in Tibet with the Nepali capital Kathmandu. During the visit, both sides agreed to implement the understandings and agreements reached between the two countries during Mr Oli's visit to China in 2016. China has also agreed to help build necessary infrastructure for storage of petroleum products in Nepal. China has been building rail, road and air links in the remote Tibet spending billions of dollars. A railway line was put in operation in 2014, linking Tibet's provincial capital Lhasa with Xigaze. Xigaze, also known as Shegatse, is the closest Tibetan city to Nepal. Earlier, there were reports in the Chinese official media that the railway line was to be extended till India.

Ruled Unfit To Run Taxi Service, Uber Struggles To Keep London License

MMNN:25 Jun 2018
LONDON: Uber went to court on Monday to overturn a decision stripping it of its licence in London after being ruled unfit to run a taxi service in its most important European market. Regulator Transport for London (TfL) shocked the Silicon Valley firm last September by refusing to renew its licence, citing failings in its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and to background checks on drivers. Uber, backed by Goldman Sachs and BlackRock among others and valued at over $70 billion, has faced protests, bans and restrictions around the world as it challenges traditional operators and angers some unions. In London, the firm has made several changes to its business model since losing its licence, including the introduction of 24/7 telephone support and the proactive reporting of serious incidents to the city's police. It has also changed its senior management and apologised for mistakes. Uber's lawyer Thomas de la Mare said the company accepted the September ruling and the focus of the appeal should be on the reforms it had made since then. "It's no part of our case to say it was wrong. We accept it was right," de la Mare told Westminster Magistrates Court in London. "It's that acceptance that has led to wholesale change in the way that we conduct our business." While the appeal process is ongoing, Uber can continue to operate in London. The appeal is due to be heard over three days and will hear from witnesses including Uber's UK Chairman Laurel Powers-Freeling, UK Head of Cities Fred Jones and TfL's Interim Director of Licensing Helen Chapman. After its application for a five-year licence was rejected last year, the company is now seeking an 18-month one to prove to the authorities that it has reformed. Judge Emma Arbuthnot may take weeks before making her decision, which is likely to be subject to further appeal by the losing side, meaning the whole legal process could take years. However, she signalled any renewal of the licence could be for a shorter period. "I would've thought, if I were to renew the licence, 18 months would be rather too long," she said. At stake for the U.S. firm is one of its most crucial foreign markets. Of its over 60,000 drivers in Britain, about 45,000 are in London. Since September's TfL decision, Uber has also been stripped of its licence by the southern coastal city of Brighton, in a decision which it is appealing, and the northern city of York. It has, however, gained new licences in Sheffield, Cambridge, Nottingham and Leicester.

Pervez Musharraf Resigns As All Pakistan Muslim League Chairman

MMNN:22 Jun 2018
ISLAMABAD: Former President Pervez Musharraf on Friday has resigned from the chairmanship of the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML). The former military ruler sent his resignation to the Election Commission as it was no longer possible for him to run the party from abroad, the party's new chairman Mohammad Amjad said. Earlier this week, the poll body rejected Musharraf's nomination papers for NA-1 Chitral, after the Supreme Court withdrew its conditional approval for him to file nomination papers for the upcoming general election after he failed to appear before the court. Mr Amjad, previously the general secretary of the party, has been elevated to the position of chairman. He will now be directing all party affairs and deciding APML's role in the elections, the Pakistani media reported. According to Geo News, the party sent a formal request to the Election Commission notifying the change in its chairmanship. Mr Musharraf, despite his resignation, will remain the supremo of APML, the report said. Mr Musharraf founded APML in 2010. Despite the party announcing boycott of the 2013 election just days before the balloting, two of its candidates still contested and won two seats from Chitral. The retired general was also barred from contesting the 2013 election due to cases registered against him.

Benjamin Netanyahu's Wife Charged With Fraud: Israel Justice Ministry

MMNN:21 Jun 2018
JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife Sara was charged on Thursday with fraud and breach of trust after a long police probe into allegations she falsified household expenses, the justice ministry said. "The Jerusalem district prosecutor a short time ago filed charges against the prime minister's wife," the ministry said. The allegations announced last year are that she and an aide falsely declared there were no cooks available at the prime minister's official residence and ordered from outside caterers at public expense. The cost amounted to "over 350,000 shekels ($97,000)", the justice ministry said. She has denied any wrongdoing. Her husband is himself under investigation on suspicion of corruption offences. In one case, he and family members are suspected of receiving one million shekels ($285,000, 240,000 euros) worth of luxury cigars, champagne and jewellery from wealthy personalities in exchange for financial or personal favours. In the other case, investigators suspect the premier of trying to reach an agreement with the owner of Yediot Aharonot, a top Israeli newspaper, for more favourable coverage. Netanyahu has protested his innocence and vowed to remain in power, saying he is the victim of a "witch-hunt". He also faces suspicions of government favours that allegedly saw regulatory breaks go to Israel's largest telecom firm Bezeq, in return for favourable coverage of him and his wife by a news website. Despite his troubles, opinion polls suggest Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party would remain the largest in parliament if elections scheduled for November 2019 were held now.

Two More Women Activists Arrested In Saudi Arabia

MMNN:20 Jun 2018
DUBAI: Saudi Arabia has arrested two more women's rights activists, in an "unrelenting crackdown" just days before the kingdom ends a decades-long ban on female motorists, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday. The New York-based watchdog said activists Nouf Abdelaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani were arrested earlier this month following the detention of at least 14 other women's rights campaigners and supporters. "Saudi authorities have arrested two more women's rights activists... in what appears to be an unrelenting crackdown on the women's rights movement," HRW said. "Saudi activists have reported that the authorities have placed travel bans on numerous others since May 15." Saudi officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The government said earlier this month that it detained 17 people for "undermining" the kingdom's security, without disclosing their names. Rights groups have identified many of the detainees as campaigners for women's right to drive and an end to the conservative Islamic kingdom's male guardianship system. Activist and writer Abdelaziz was arrested after she publicly expressed solidarity with the detained activists, and her friend Zahrani was apprehended days later, HRW said, adding that both women are being held incommunicado. Zahrani's arrest came after she posted a letter Abdelaziz asked her to make public in case of her arrest, the watchdog said. "The Saudi government appears determined to leave its citizens without any space to show even rhetorical support for activists jailed in this unforgiving crackdown on dissent," said HRW's Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson. "Nouf Abdelaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani's only 'crime' seems to be expressing solidarity with their fellow imprisoned activists." Authorities have said that eight of the 17 detainees had been provisionally released until their investigation is completed. Nine suspects, including four women, remain in custody after they "confessed" to a slew of charges such as suspicious contact with "hostile" organisations and recruiting people in sensitive government positions, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. Previous reports in state-backed media branded some of the detainees traitors and "agents of embassies". 0 COMMENTSCampaigners have dismissed the reports as a "smear" campaign and the crackdown has sparked a torrent of international criticism. Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive, is set to lift its decades-long ban on female drivers on June 24.

No Plans To Increase Missile Range": Iran's Revolutionary Guards

MMNN:19 Jun 2018
LONDON: Iran has no plans currently to extend the range of its missiles as their 2,000-km (1,240-mile) reach is enough to protect the country, the Revolutionary Guards commander said on Tuesday. "We have the scientific ability to increase our missile range but it is not our current policy since most of the enemies' strategic targets are already within this 2,000-km range. This range is enough to protect the Islamic Republic...," Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States last month from the 2015 accord between Iran and world powers that curbed Tehran's nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief. He said the deal was deeply flawed as it had not curbed Iran's ballistic missile programme or reined in its support for proxies in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The Islamic Republic has repeatedly said its ballistic missiles are solely defensive and they, along with its support for allies elsewhere in the Middle East, are not negotiable. Jafari said on Tuesday previous negotiations with the United States about Iran's nuclear programme were "an exception", and called Iranian politicians and activists who have favoured fresh talks with Trump as "traitors and anti-revolutionaries". Jafari said previously that the range of Iran's ballistic missiles was based on limits set by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who commands the armed forces. Iran has one of the Middle East's largest missile programmes and some of its precision-guided missiles have the range to strike arch-adversary Israel, which is widely believed to be the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons.

Spanish King's Brother-In-Law To Serve 5 Year Prison Sentence

MMNN:18 Jun 2018
MADRID: The brother-in-law of Spain's king turned himself in to authorities on Monday to serve a five-year, 10-month prison sentence for crimes including tax fraud and embezzlement, a prison system spokesman said. Inaki Urdangarin signed himself into the Brieva prison in Avila at around 8:00 am (0600 GMT). He had been given five-day deadline last Tuesday to appear at a penal institution of his choosing. Urdangarin is married to Princess Cristina, sister of King Felipe VI. Urdangarin was found guilty in February last year of using royal connections to overcharge regional governments through public contracts to stage sports and tourist events and with tax fraud. The retired Spanish handball player appealed the sentence before the Supreme Court, which cut the sentence slightly after overturning a part of the original ruling by the Mallorcan Court. He may appeal the Supreme Court's ruling before the Constitutional Court.

Donald Trump Preps China Tariff Target List, Beijing Ready To Retaliate

MMNN:15 Jun 2018
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Friday was due to unveil a final list of Chinese imports that would face punishing tariffs, fanning fears of a trade war as Beijing warned that it could swiftly strike back. The threat of massive duties on billions of dollars of goods sent Shanghai stocks to their lowest level since September 2016, though it remained uncertain whether Trump would hold fire as part of a negotiating strategy. The deadline to release the list comes as Washington faces a dizzying array of parallel diplomatic horse trading, as Trump is increasingly dependent on Beijing to help advance efforts at North Korean denuclearization, while also using aggressive trade tactics on all major US economic partners. The president's trade team, including senior officials from the Commerce and Treasury departments, were due to gather Thursday at the White House to finalize the list of Chinese goods on the hit list. A report in the Wall Street Journal quoting sources close to the matter said Thursday evening the list had been approved and would affect about $50 billion worth of goods, the same figure that was first announced in March. China has pledged any tariffs will void progress made in recent trade talks between Beijing and Washington and has drawn up its own list of $50 billion in US goods to target. "If the US side adopts unilateral protectionist measures and damages China's interests, we will immediately react and take necessary measures to firmly safeguard our legitimate rights and interests," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in Beijing. "All the results from the negotiations will not go into effect," Geng repeated. Trump has frequently reversed course, threatening and then backing away, or vice versa, but he has appeared determined to take a hard line with Beijing. "What we're seeing here is a bargaining process in which the Trump team has found that by continuing to put pressure on China, the offers have become better and better," said Dennis Wilder, head of a Georgetown University program on US-China relations. "My guess is that the Trump administration will announce but not implement. They want to give the Chinese a little more time," the former senior CIA official for East Asia told AFP. The confrontation with China began in March when Trump announced 25 percent tariffs on about $50 billion in Chinese goods to punish the country against the theft and forced transfer of American technologies and know-how. China immediately threatened to retaliate on $50 billion in US goods, so Trump upped the ante, vowing to hit another $100 billion of goods. A preliminary list of about 1,300 Chinese export goods was released in April by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, with about 70 percent of the goods coming from categories covering nuclear reactors, electrical machinery and optical equipment. - A mystified Beijing - However, the list was due to be trimmed after a public comment period to reduce the negative impact on US companies and consumers, so the final total is not confirmed. CNBC reported Thursday Trump officials planned to winnow that list to between 800 and 900 goods. It was also unclear when the tariffs would take effect. The White House said last month the final list would be unveiled on June 15, with the duties to be imposed "shortly thereafter." Analysts say that repeated about-faces and turmoil among US officials during trade talks have left Chinese officials unsure of Trump's goals or which of the several senior emissaries from Trump's Cabinet actually has the power to seal a deal. "I think the Chinese have been mystified by what the administration wants," said Nicholas Lardy, an expert on the Chinese economy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Trump has moved to save the Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE from US sanctions imposed in April that brought it the verge of collapse, sparking outrage from congressional Republicans. Last month the White House effectively declared a truce in the trade hostilities with China, before deciding weeks later to press ahead with tariffs. Analysts say the tariffs that Washington is preparing are a pittance when compared to the size of the world's two largest economies -- limiting their power to bend Beijing to Trump's will. But others worry about the sign it sends, and the potential to damage the world economy. Trump faces competing objectives in pursuing a North Korean deal while seeking comprehensive economic concessions from China, which might loosen economic pressure on Pyongyang if Washington presses too far. "We're asking them to completely change who they are and we're shaking this little stick in front of them," said Derek Scissors, an expert on the Chinese economy at the American Enterprise Institute. 0 COMMENTS"I'm a China-basher on trade," he told AFP, but added: "I don't see why we're imposing $50 billion worth of tariffs on China. It's not going to do any good.

Pervez Musharraf Barred From Contesting Elections In Pakistan

MMNN:14 Jun 2018
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Supreme Court today withdrew a conditional permission for former military ruler Pervez Musharraf to contest elections after he failed to appear in court. General (Retd.) Musharraf had filed his nomination from the northern district of Chitral after the court last week allowed him to contest the July 25 general election but made it conditional on his appearance before it on June 13 in a case linked to his lifelong disqualification by the Peshawar High Court in 2013. Chief Justice Saqib Nisar yesterday rebuked the former army chief for "cowardice", taunting him for not appearing in court and had told him to appear by 2 pm today. During the hearing, his counsel Qamar Afzal informed the court that Pervez Musharraf, 74, was determined to return but it was not possible for him to come immediately. "I have spoken to Musharraf, he asks for more time. He plans to come to Pakistan but due to Eid holidays and illness, he can't travel immediately," Mr Afzal said. It prompted the chief justice to adjourn the hearing for an indefinite period, saying the next hearing will be held when the petitioner was ready for it. "Alright, we'll adjourn the court hearing till indefinite time period, will hold it on your wish," the judge observed. But he ordered to withdraw the conditional permission for General (Retd.) Musharraf to contest elections. Earlier today, Mr Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) said on Twitter that "preparations for his return were in the final stage". It was not clear why the plan was changed within hours after it was announced. Mr Musharraf has been living in Dubai since March 2016, and is wanted in several cases. He is facing a high-profile treason case and has been declared an absconder due to his persistent failure to appear before the special trial court set up to try him. The former president was indicted in March 2014 on treason charges for imposing an emergency in the country which led to the confinement of a number of superior court judges in their houses and sacking of over 100 other judges. A conviction for high-profile treason carries the death penalty or life imprisonment. Pervez Musharraf has sought adequate security from the government for his return to appear in court in the treason case. 0 COMMENTSMr Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, has been declared a fugitive in the Benazir Bhutto murder case and Red Mosque cleric killing case. In April 2013, the Peshawar High Court had disqualified him for life, holding him ineligible to contest elections. It also dismissed his appeal against his disqualification.

Ivanka Trump made $3.9 million from father’s hotel last year, husband Jared Kushner’s wealth and debt increases: Reports

MMNN:12 Jun 2018
President Donald Trump’s daughter and son in law made at least $82 million in outside income while serving as senior White House advisers last year thanks to investment deals from companies they had previously led, news reports said Monday. Ivanka Trump reported $3.9 million from her stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, as well as more than $2 million in severance pay from the Trump Organization, the Washington Post said, citing financial disclosure forms released Monday. Her husband Jared Kushner earned more than $5 million in income from the Kushner Cos. apartment complex Quail Ridge in New Jersey. Kushner declared income from dozens of companies linked to his family’s real estate company. In all, he took in at least $70 million, the Post said. Kushner and Trump, who have put their daily management of their companies on hold while they serve at the White House, have still managed to obtain huge amounts of income from other firms during their stint in public service. The Post estimated Kushner’s assets at $179 million to $735 million last year, compared to between $55.3 million and $75.6 million for Trump, noting that the Office of Government Ethics uses broad ranges for assets and liabilities. Some of the couple’s assets were listed jointly. In July 2017, the time of their last financial disclosure, the couple reported joint income of at least $19 million from business ventures and another $80 million in real estate and other revenue between January 2016 and early 2017.

Mother Of 'Nut Rage' Korean Air Heiress Questioned Over Illegal Maids

MMNN:11 Jun 2018
SEOUL: The matriarch of the troubled Korean Air dynasty was grilled Monday over allegations she used company resources to illegally hire foreign housekeepers, as a probe into the scandal-hit family widened. Lee Myung-hee, 69, who was questioned by police twice last month over multiple assault allegations, was interrogated by immigration authorities over suspicions she hired more than 10 Filipina maids to work at her family home on false pretences, by claiming they were working for Korean Air. Korean law permits only ethnic Koreans or those married to Koreans to work as housekeepers. The authorities suspect Lee had the airline's human resources department and its Manila branch recruit the housekeepers and provide the Filipinas with documentation. "I didn't," she replied to questions on whether she ordered Korean Air officials to hire the housekeepers, removed evidence by letting them leave the country after the allegations emerged, and had bought their silence. "I will cooperate closely," she told journalists after she appeared at the Korea Immigration Service. A week earlier a Seoul court turned down a request from prosecutors to arrest Lee over multiple allegations of assault against drivers, housekeepers and company employees as well as construction workers renovating her home and building a Korean Air-affiliated hotel. The alleged abuses range from cursing and screaming at employees to kicking, slapping and even throwing a pair of scissors at them. A video that emerged last month showed a woman, reportedly Lee, shoving a female construction worker and throwing a pile of documents on the ground. But the court said there was a low risk of Lee fleeing or seeking to destroy evidence, and that the charges were disputable. Lee and her family have found themselves the object of public anger following a series of scandals. Lee's two daughters, who held management positions at South Korea's national carrier, became viral sensations for temper tantrums which were dubbed the "nut rage" and "water rage" scandals online. Her older daughter Cho Hyun-ah made global headlines in 2014 for kicking a cabin crew chief off a Korean Air plane for being served macadamia nuts in a bag rather than a bowl. She later served a short prison sentence. Earlier this year, the younger sister Cho Hyun-min was accused of throwing a drink at an advertising agency manager's face in a fit of rage during a business meeting. Their father, Cho Yang-ho, issued a public apology over the "immature" behaviour of his offspring and removed his two daughters from their management roles. Authorities have since launched a flurry of official probes into the family's reported abuse of workers, as well as allegations of smuggling and violations of immigration law. Cho Hyun-ah was questioned for 15 hours until early last Tuesday by tax authorities as part of an ongoing investigation into allegations she used Korean Air flights to smuggle foreign luxuries.

Reincarnation Of Dalai Lama Should Be Chosen By Tibetans: US

MMNN:8 Jun 2018
WASHINGTON: Tibetans should choose Buddhist lamas, including the Dalai Lama, as per their beliefs and without interference, the Trump administration has said in an apparent reference to China's intervention. In its latest Tibet negotiations report sent to the Congress, the Trump administration said it was concerned by the Chinese government's interference in the selection, education and veneration of Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders. "The US government believes that respect for Tibetan Buddhists' universal human right of religious freedom dictates that the succession or identification of Tibetan Buddhist lamas, including the Dalai Lama, should occur without interference, in a manner consistent with their beliefs," said the report signed by Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Mary K Waters. The US continues to urge the Chinese Government to revise its policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions, respect and preserve the distinct religious, linguistic and cultural identity of the Tibetan people and permit Tibetans to express their grievances freely, publicly, peacefully and without fear of retribution, it said. China says that the successor to the Dalai Lama must be chosen according to the religious rituals and historical conventions as well as the backing from the ruling Communist Party. The report calls upon the Chinese authorities to allow diplomats, journalists, tourists and others to have unrestricted access to Tibetan areas. It urges the Chinese Government to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all the people in China, including the freedom of movement and the right to leave any country, including one's own. Noting that the Chinese government officials and the Dalai Lama or his representatives have not met in formal negotiations since 2010, the report said the US continued to encourage both sides to engage in meaningful and direct dialogue, without preconditions, to lead to a settlement that resolves differences. The US government remains concerned by the lack of meaningful autonomy for Tibetans within China, ongoing violations and abuses of the human rights of Tibetans in China and efforts by Chinese authorities to eliminate the distinct religious, linguistic and cultural identity of Tibetans, the report said. The US believes the Chinese government must address these concerns to create conditions for a sustainable settlement, which is essential to the long-term stability of the region, it said. "The US government has maintained close contact with Tibetan religious, cultural and political leaders to underscore US support and has expressed its concerns regarding Chinese government actions in bilateral, multilateral and public venues," it said. According to the report, the Department of State maintains close contact with a wide range of religious, cultural and political leaders of the Tibetan people, including Tibetans in the US, China, India, Nepal and around the world. 0 COMMENTSLast year, the Chinese foreign ministry said the successor to the Dharamshala-based 14th Dalai Lama must be chosen according to the religious rituals and historical conventions, including drawing of lots from the Golden Urn in front of the Shakyamuni (Buddha) statue at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, followed by the mandatory approval from the ruling Communist Party of China. Since he fled Tibet in 1959 to escape from the Chinese occupation, the Dalai Lama, 82, has been keeping China on tenterhooks about his successor.

Stockholm Truck Attacker, Who Mowed Down 5, Sentenced To Life Imprisonment

MMNN:7 Jun 2018
STOCKHOLM: A failed Uzbek asylum seeker was jailed for life in Sweden on Thursday for killing five people when he slammed a stolen truck into shoppers on a busy street in Stockholm in April 2017. Rakhmat Akilov was also convicted of the attempted murder of 119 other people who were at the scene of the attack. The killings shocked a nation that had largely considered itself safe from the kind of militant assaults that have hit France, Spain, Britain and other countries in recent years. "The defendant has among a series of crimes been found guilty of (a) terrorist offence by murder in five cases. The penalty has been set to life imprisonment," the Stockholm District Court said in a statement. "He has also been found guilty of 119 cases of attempted murder, which have been labelled as (an) attempted terrorist offence." Akilov hijacked a beer truck outside a restaurant in central Stockholm on April 7 last year and sped about 500 metres (yards) down a pedestrian street, ploughing into shoppers before crashing the vehicle into a department store. He was arrested the same day outside a gas station in a Stockholm suburb after he was recognised from a CCTV image and quickly admitted to being the driver of the truck. He stated during the trial that he wanted to punish Sweden for its part in the global fight against the terrorist ISIS group. Sweden has taken part in international peacekeeping missions in Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and other states in recent years, but has not fought a war in more than two centuries. Soon after the attack, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Sweden would stick by its open, liberal values.

Mohammad Bin Salman Is Silencing Saudi Arabia's Once-Powerful Salafists By Reforms And Repression

MMNN:6 Jun 2018
DAMMAM, SAUDI ARABIA: Saudi Arabia's most conservative Islamists are reeling from a loss of influence that has left them confused about their place in a country where they once wielded much clout. Long a swaggering force, these conservatives now tiptoe on social media outlets like Twitter. In mosques and at community gatherings, they reluctantly criticize recent changes they stridently oppose, like the easing of social boundaries between men and women. The architect of their turmoil is Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's young and hard-charging crown prince. His vows to modernize the country have included curbing the influence of the conservatives known as Salafists, who adhere to a strict form of Islam they say is modeled on the way it was practiced during the time of the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century and the generations that immediately followed. His ambition has put Mohammed in conflict with a powerful Salafist network, which constitutes the most coherent political force outside of Saudi Arabia's ruling family, analysts say. To keep them quiet, Mohammed has used both intimidation and accommodation. Popular Salafist clerics known for their independence have been jailed. But Mohammed has embraced others, including clerics who have opposed greater rights for women and espoused other hard-line views. "We don't know what's happening," said a 50-year-old man from the capital Riyadh who considers himself a Salafist. Speaking after a recent evening gathering of like-minded Saudis at a relative's home, he fretted that he and his fellow Salafists were condemned to become like the Amish in the United States, sequestered from a permissive society because of their strict views. "It's like we're becoming strangers." Salafists are puritanical, religious revivalists who support a strict imposition of Islamic law. They include conservatives who focus on preaching, Islamists who call for political freedoms and small minority that advocate for violence against those they consider heretics. Many have bridled at social changes in Saudi Arabia that have allowed concerts and other events where men and women mingle. That balancing act has prompted debate over whether Mohammed is more interested in bringing about a tolerant state or in consolidating power by neutralizing possible challengers. His supporters say the crown prince has proved his commitment to moderating Saudi ideology by curbing the influence of the religious police, who enforced moral codes like gender segregation - sometimes by beating violators with sticks. He has also reformed the Muslim World League, an umbrella group for Saudi charities founded in the 1960s that Saudis used to propagate their strict ideology around the world. "This time, there is no way to return to the past," Saud al-Sarhan, the secretary general of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, wrote in a recent essay. "There is a clear desire to break with all kinds of political Islam, Sunni and Shiite alike, both by leaders and by the populace, who see the most extreme version of these same Islamist ideologies in the monstrous death cult of the so-called Islamic State." The center is chaired by a member of the royal family, Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, who is often called upon by the Saudi leadership to publicly explain its thinking. But critics say there are also signs that Mohammed is accommodating the hard-liners, pointing to the state's recent arrest and public shaming of some of Saudi Arabia's most prominent women's right advocates. And some of the Salafists the authorities have arrested could have helped with the state's fight against intolerance and extremism. "They target the moderate Muslims, and keep the extremists close," said Abdullah Alaoudh, whose father, Salman al-Awda, a popular cleric and advocate for political reforms has been jailed since September. Alaoudh, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale Law School, noted that the Saudi government had enlisted Awda after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to help counter extremism - choosing a cleric whose reputation for independence added legitimacy to their fight. Under Mohammed, the Saudi authorities are "trying to strike a balance between liberals and conservatives as they've always done," said Stephane Lacroix, a professor of political science at Sciences Po in Paris. But now, the methods are "much more brutal" than under previous Saudi rulers, he said. "It is what I'd call a balance of fear." Several Salafists said they thought the arrests last September were intended to send a message that Mohammed's changes are not open to negotiation or critique. "They made a lesson of them to the others," said the 50-year-old Salafist in Riyadh. "Don't talk too much." The man and several other Salafists interviewed for this report spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared the authorities might arrest them or otherwise retaliate. The man spoke at the house of a relative on a recent evening in a residential neighborhood of the capital where a dozen or so Salafists gathered as rounds of tea and desserts were served. "We don't take our beliefs from the government," said the man, suggesting that it was gatherings like these where Salafists discussed religion that were seedbeds for Saudi ideology. The state should focus on other things, like the economy, he added. His relative, a 42-year-old conservative, recommended that Saudi leaders "read history: the history of countries who fell for forgetting religion. What makes us rich and strong is not oil or gold," he said. Estimates of the number of Salafists in the kingdom vary widely, from 100,000 to a million or more. Some, like Ali Zaid, a businessman in Dammam, said he was not especially disturbed by changes like the opening of cinemas or staging of concerts. His days as a young ultraconservative, preaching what he called "Salafist propaganda," were behind him: He was in his 40s, had lived abroad and had a family. The changes "are not a big deal," he said. "You read, you educate yourself. There are other opinions." But many others he knew were "very religious and not at all happy," he said. "They believe they can stand up to these changes. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes not." One 42-year-old Salafist who works in a mosque in the Eastern Province washing bodies before burial, complained about public celebrations where he saw men and women mingling and about the increasing number of women who are not covering their hair - "honey pots," luring men like flies, he said. "What's happening could take Muslims away from their path," he said. Some had tried to share their complaints with influential figures who sat on a council of senior Islamic scholars, including Sheikh Saad Nasser al-Shithri, who in the past had opposed gender mixing at the first coeducational university in the country. But no one was sure where clerics on the council stood these days, given their embrace by Mohammed. Shithri did not respond to requests for comment. "I think there is no way for conservative people to do anything but accept the reality [of the social changes]," Zaid said, speaking at a crowded cafe in the Eastern Province on a recent evening. "Every day, there are changes." At times, the government has seemed wary of confronting the conservatives too forcefully. In April, for instance, officials apologized for footage aired at a pro-wrestling event in Riyadh that depicted scantily clad women. The arrest of at least 17 activists in recent weeks - including pioneering women's rights advocates - may also have been a concession to the crown prince's conservative allies. At the same time, the crown prince is calculating that ultraconservatives would have less and less influence on Saudi youth, who make up 60 percent of the population, Lacroix said. Mohammed has also created a new narrative that sidesteps difficult questions about the indigenous evolution of Saudi Arabia's strict religious ideology. Instead, he blames the problem of extremist thought on outside forces. While that narrative is "largely historically inaccurate," Lacroix said, it has allowed the crown prince to enlist clerics in a project to create a more pliant, state-led Sunni Muslim establishment. That effort had been combined with efforts at interfaith outreach by Saudi leaders in the past few months - to Christians and Jews, as well as Saudi Arabia's marginalized Shiite Muslims, who are considered heretics by hard-line Sunnis. Some of the outreach has been by the Muslim World League. Under the leadership ofMohammad Abdulkarim Alissa, the group has changed its tone. Just a few years ago, a counterterrorism conference hosted by the Saudi government and the Muslim World League barely broached the topic of Sunni extremism. In a recent interview, Alissa was unequivocal, saying that countering the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State and al-Qaida was the priority. In Awda's case, the ostensible reason for his arrest appeared to be because he refused to tweet in support of a Saudi-led boycott of neighboring Qatar, during a feud between the two countries. But the Saudi authorities had more urgent reasons to keep Awda out of sight: his popularity and his leading role in the "Awakening" movement that fuses religious scholarship with political activism - a kind of activity that Saudi rulers find threatening. Awda had been arrested for political activism before, but since his release in 1999, he had been useful to the Saudi government as a critic of Islamist militants. "In media shows after 9/11 he denounced Jihadis and exposed their misunderstanding of the body of Islamic texts on legitimate jihad, emphasising the illegitimacy of globalising the struggle or localising it where it had killed Muslims and non-Muslims," Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi scholar at the London School of Economics, wrote in her book "Muted Modernists: The Struggle Over Divine Politics in Saudi Arabia." After the Arab Spring uprisings that began in late 2010, Awda's support for peaceful protests offered "a third way between the two religious positions," between the extremism of the jihadists and the obeisance of traditional clerics, she wrote. Awda's son said the arrest belied the current talk of reform in Saudi Arabia. "Real reforms, like political reforms, elections, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, pose a real threat to the superficial rhetoric that the state is presenting," he said. 0 COMMENTSPointing to the work of his father and his contemporaries, he said, "If you talk about fighting extremism, they have been spearheading the campaign against extremism for two decades."

Singapore Adds Sentosa Into Special Zone For Donald Trump-Kim Jong Un Meet

MMNN:5 Jun 2018
SINGAPORE: Singapore on Tuesday added its southern resort island of Sentosa to a special event area designated for next week's summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the government said. On Monday, the wealthy city-state had declared a central region that is home to its foreign ministry, the U.S. embassy and several hotels, as a special zone from June 10 to 14. In its online gazette, the government said the amended zone included Sentosa and an area of the sea stretching more than 1 km (0.6 mile) off its southwestern shore. A smaller area in the centre of the island that includes the Capella hotel, which media have mentioned as a possible venue for Tuesday's talks, will see a greater police presence. The government has said police would make stricter checks of people and personal belongings and items such as public address systems and remotely piloted aircraft system would be prohibited. There has been no confirmation of the venue for the summit to discuss ending the North's nuclear weapons programme in return for diplomatic and economic incentives, although several Singapore hotels have figured as candidates.

Dead Pilot Whale Shows Thailand Is Choked With "Way Too Much" Plastic

MMNN:4 Jun 2018
BANGKOK:A pilot whale that died after ingesting rubbish has highlighted Thailand's losing battle against plastic, said conservationists who called for urgent measures to cut back on pollution that also worsens urban flooding. Thailand remains one of the world's worst polluters, with government initiatives to convince people to use less plastic largely failing, they said. The whale was discovered in a canal in the southern province of Songkhla, and veterinarians and volunteers tried to save it for five days. The whale spit out five plastic bags on Friday and later died, the Marine and Coastal Resources Department said on its website at the weekend. An autopsy found another 80 bags and other plastic items weighing 8 kg (17.6 lb) in its stomach. We use way too much plastic. Reducing our use of plastic, particularly single-use bags, is the first and biggest step we can take," said marine biologist Thon Thamrongnawasawat. From street vendors selling satay to shop clerks putting purchases into multiple bags, Thais use a huge amount of plastic. Authorities have launched campaigns in recent years to try to encourage people to use fewer bags, and to introduce reusable ones, but these have largely failed, campaigners say. "Without specific goals for reducing plastic consumption and more effective waste management, people do not know what to do, even if they want to do more," said Tara Buakamsri, Thailand country director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has declared improved waste management a national priority, and government agencies are evaluating ways to reduce consumption, an official said. "We have a goal to reduce plastic waste by adjusting policies and practices, from their beginning in the production line, then on to consumers' hands and on to waste management at the end," said Wijarn Simachaya at the environment ministry. Globally, eight million tonnes of plastic - bottles, packaging and other waste - are dumped into the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, the United Nations Environment Programme said in December. Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam dump more plastic into the oceans than the rest of the world combined, according to Ocean Conservancy, a Washington-based non-profit. Countries including the U.K. and India are banning straws and single-use bags, and forcing supermarkets to impose levies on plastic bags. Kenya last year enacted the world's toughest law against plastic bags. At least 300 marine animals including pilot whales, sea turtles and dolphins, perish each year in Thai waters after ingesting plastic, according to Thon, the marine biologist. Besides killing marine life, plastic waste clogs waterways, and has been blamed for deadly floods in cities such as Mumbai to Manila. "But people haven't really cared to change their behaviour despite being aware of the damage," Thon told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Perhaps this (whale's death) will make people care more." Greenpeace's Tara urged the government to quickly enact regulations. "We are facing a serious crisis," he said. "We need to take action now."

India will ever remember Bangladesh for what it gave: Hasina

MMNN:1 Jun 2018
Dhaka, Mentioning that Bangladesh wants no return from India, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday said the neighbouring country will ever remember Bangladesh for returning it peace. “Bangladesh helped India get rid of daily bombing and shootout. We’ve returned them peace, they have to remember this,” she said at a press conference at her official residence Ganobhaban in the afternoon. The press conference was arranged to brief the media about her recent tour of Wes Bengal, India, UNB reports. Sheikh Hasina said the present government does not want any return from India. “There’s nothing to get return.” Responding to a question, the Prime Minister said the government does not depend on others to solve Bangladesh’s water problem. “We’re doing our job to mitigate the water problem in the country.” She also mentioned about the ongoing river and canal dredging, digging of old and new ponds in the country to solve the water problem.

"Sergei Lavrov meets Kim Jong-Un, Invites Him To Russia

MMNN:31 May 2018
MOSCOW: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Thursday and invited him to visit, moving to raise Moscow's profile in international efforts to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula. Lavrov visited the secretive state for the first time since 2009, as North Korean and U.S. officials met for a second day to prepare the ground for an historic summit on June 12 between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader. Russia has appeared to be on the fringes of a flurry of diplomacy as Pyongyang and Washington edge towards talks aimed at ending years of tension over North Korea's nuclear programme. Lavrov on Thursday invited Kim him to visit Moscow. "Come to Russia. We would be very happy to see you," Lavrov, seated across a table from Kim, said during a televised meeting. He expressed Moscow's support for a declaration last month in which North and South Korea agreed to work for the denuclearisation of the peninsula. He said Moscow hoped all sides would take a measured approach to possible forthcoming talks on a nuclear settlement. "This will allow for the realisation not only of the denuclearisation of the whole Korean peninsula but also to provide sustainable peace and stability across north-east Asia," Lavrov was quoted as saying by his ministry. Kim's personal meeting with Lavrov was likely a move to try to secure Russia - along with China - as another powerful player that can push the United States to ease sanctions and make other concessions, said Anthony Rinna, a specialist in Korea-Russia relations at Sino-NK, a website that analyzes the region. In the short term, Moscow "cannot afford to be remembered as the country that had no hat in the ring leading up to June 12," he said. "From a longer-term perspective, Russia hopes to foster economic cooperation with both North and South Korea." Kim would be wise to delay any official visit to Russia until after his meeting with Trump, said Jeong Hyung-gon, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy. "It won't be easy for Kim Jong Un to turn down an official invitation, so I think it would be after the June 12 summit, which would help him to hold a successful summit with the U.S." 0 COMMENTSLavrov also held talks with his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, Russian news agencies said.

"It May Resume", Says Malaysian PM As MH370 Hunt Comes To A Close

MMNN:30 May 2018
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA: The hunt for Flight MH370 may resume if new evidence comes to light, Malaysia's prime minister said Wednesday, as a private search for the plane draws to a close. The Malaysia Airlines jet vanished in March 2014 with 239 people - mostly from China - on board, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. US exploration firm Ocean Infinity was contracted for a three-month search for the Boeing 777 on a "no find, no fee basis", which is set to end in the coming days after finding no sign of the wreckage. The private search came after an Australian-led hunt, which covered a vast area of the southern Indian Ocean and was the most expensive in aviation history, was suspended last year. Mahathir Mohamad, who became Malaysia's premier for a second time after a shock election victory, indicated the government had no plans at the moment to resume the hunt. "We have come to a stage where we cannot keep searching for something we cannot find," he told a press conference. "We understand the feelings of the relatives but we cannot allow the search to go on forever." But he added: "If we find any new information, we may resume the search." Ocean Infinity had stood to make up to $70 million if it found the jet or its black boxes. The private US firm scoured over 112,000 square kilometres (43,000 square miles) of seabed. The ship conducting the hunt, Seabed Constructor, was a Norwegian research vessel carrying 65 crew, including two members of the Malaysian navy as the government's representatives. It used eight autonomous drones equipped with sonars and cameras, able to operate at depths up to 6,000 metres (20,000 feet). 0 COMMENTSOnly three confirmed fragments of MH370 have been found, all of them on western Indian Ocean shores, including a two-metre wing part known as a flaperon.

Artificial Intelligence, Robots Won't Leave People Jobless, Says Satya Nadella

MMNN:29 May 2018
LONDON: Even in a "runaway Artificial Intelligence (AI)" scenario, robots will not render people completely jobless, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told The Sunday Telegraph in an interview. People will always want a job as it gives them "dignity", Mr Nadella said, adding that the focus should instead be on applying AI technology ethically. "What I think needs to be done in 2018 is more dialogue around the ethics, the principles that we can use for the engineers and companies that are building AI, so that the choices we make don't cause us to create systems with bias ... that's the tangible thing we should be working on," he was quoted as saying. According to a report in MIT Technology Review on May 25, Microsoft is building a tool to automate the identification of bias in a range of different AI algorithms. The Microsoft tool has the potential to help businesses make use of AI without inadvertently discriminating against certain groups of people. Although Microsoft's new tool may not eliminate the problem of bias that may creep into Machine-Learning models altogether, it will help AI researchers catch more instances of unfairness, Rich Caruna, a senior researcher at Microsoft who is working on the bias-detection dashboard, was quoted as saying by MIT Technology Review. "Of course, we can't expect perfection -- there's always going to be some bias undetected or that can't be eliminated -- the goal is to do as well as we can," he said. 0 COMMENTSIn the interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Nadella also said that as Microsoft's business model was based on customers paying for services, he believed the company was on "the right side of history". "Our business model is based on our customers being successful, and if they are successful they will pay us. So we are not one of these transaction-driven or ad-driven or marketplace-driven economies," the Microsoft chief was quoted as saying.

South Korean President Calls For More Impromptu Talks With North Korea

MMNN:28 May 2018
SEOUL: South Korea's President Moon Jae-in said on Monday there could be more impromptu talks with North Korea including summits between pre-arranged dialogue. Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a surprise meeting on Saturday at the border village of Panmunjom, during which they agreed that a North Korea-U.S. summit must be held. U.S. President Donald Trump last week pulled out of a meeting with Kim, planned for June 12 in Singapore, before floating its reinstatement. "What's more important than anything from the latest inter-Korean summit was that the leaders easily got in contact, easily made an appointment and easily met to discuss urgent matters, without complicated procedures and formalities, just like a casual meeting," Moon told a meeting with senior secretaries. 0 COMMENTS"If we could hold working-level, back-to-back talks on both sides of Panmunjom if urgently necessary in addition to formal summits, it would expedite faster advancement of inter-Korean relations."

NASA Camera Melted While It Captured SpaceX Launch, Grass Fire To Blame

MMNN:26 May 2018
WASHINGTON: As photographs of NASA's "melted camera" spread like wildfire on the Internet, triggering assumptions of many kinds, the space agency has explained that a grass fire started by the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket this week toasted the camera. SpaceX launched two new Earth-observing satellites for NASA and five commercial communications satellites for Iridium on a used Falcon 9 rocket in a ride-share mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Tuesday. The launch went off without a glitch, but a fire sparked by the launch destroyed a camera which belonged to NASA photographer Bill Ingalls. The camera captured its own demise and people got a chance to view the images captured by it as the memory card was found to be intact. Many people assumed that the camera was too close to the launchpad and got burned by the power of the Falcon 9 rocket, CNET reported on Friday. NASA said that only part of the camera's story has been exposed so far, stressing that Mr Ingalls, who has been shooting for the agency for 30 years, knows where to set up his cameras. "I had six remotes, two outside the launch pad safety perimeter and four inside," said Mr Ingalls. "Unfortunately, the launch started a grass fire that toasted one of the cameras outside the perimeter," Mr Ingalls added. Ironically, the four cameras set up inside the perimeter were undamaged, as was the other remote, NASA said. The damaged camera was one of the furthest from the pad, a quarter of a mile away. Once the fire reached the camera, it was quickly engulfed. The body started to melt. When Mr Ingalls returned to the site, firefighters were waiting to greet him. Recognising the camera was destroyed, Mr Ingalls forced open the body to see if its memory card could be salvaged. It could, which is why people could see the fire approaching the camera. The "toasty" camera, as Mr Ingalls calls it, is likely headed for display somewhere at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC, NASA said. 0 COMMENTSMeanwhile, Mr Ingalls himself will soon travel to Kazakhstan to photograph the June 3 landing of the International Space Station's Expedition 55 crew. He expects that will be a completely normal assignment.

No Nobel Peace Prize For Trump": South Koreans Slam Cancellation Of Summit

MMNN:25 May 2018
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA: Many South Koreans were fuming on Friday after U.S. President Donald Trump cancelled a historic summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, feeling they had been cheated of a chance of a lifetime to live in peace. Trump called off the unprecedented meeting, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, after months of diplomatic progress had silenced bellicose rhetoric from the two sides and eased fears of a return to war. "North Korea was in the process of doing everything that had been demanded of it. They even detonated their nuclear test site," said Eugene Lim, a 29-year-old office worker in Seoul. "Trump has no interest in peace in our country. Why can't he just let us, the two Koreas, live in peace?" North Korea on Thursday "completely dismantled" its Punggye-ri nuclear test ground to "ensure the transparency of discontinuance of nuclear tests", after blowing up tunnels at the site, it said. The detonation, which took place in the presence of dozens of international journalists but no independent experts, came after Kim Jong Un pledged to cease all nuclear and long-range missile tests last month. Kim also released three American prisoners as a gesture of goodwill. Dozens of university students and women's rights activists protested in different rallies in Seoul on Friday to denounce Trump, with some punching his face printed on a picket sign and tearing his photograph apart. Kim Dong-ho, a 38-year-old employee at a blockchain company, said it wasn't right to isolate North Korea again when it was making efforts to join the international community. "After all, those of us living on the Korean peninsula suffer the consequences of your action, you Yankee!," Kim said. South Korea's Moon Perplexed Trump also warned North Korea the U.S. military was ready in the event of any reckless acts, and when asked if the summit cancellation increased the risk of war, he replied: "We'll see what happens." South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who worked hard to help set up the summit and urged Trump at a White House meeting on Tuesday not to let a rare opportunity slip away, said he was "perplexed" by the cancellation. North Korea said it remained open to resolving issues with the United States, "regardless of ways, at any time". South Koreans' perception of North Korea, especially those in their 20s and 30s, has visibly softened after Kim Jong Un and Moon pledged no more war in their inter-Korean summit in April, according to several polls. A Gallup Korea survey in early May suggested 88 percent of South Koreans thought that the inter-Korean summit held was a success, while only five percent said it was a failure. The remainder declined to comment. A survey of 106 university students at Kookmin University in Seoul showed 57.3 percent had a positive image of Kim Jong Un after the summit, compared to 19.8 percent beforehand. North and South Korea are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The United States stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the war. "It feels like Trump just knocked down all the efforts the two Koreas have put forward for the U.S.-North Korea summit. For me, it feels like North Korea is more of a normal country, saying it would give the U.S. time and wait," said Yun Hae-ri, a 25-year-old office worker. "I don't think Trump is doing the right thing if he wants to win the Nobel Peace Prize." Other South Koreans had concerns closer to home. 0 COMMENTS"What I'm most worried about are my stock holdings," said Chon Jin-young, a 25-year-old Seoul office worker. "I hope they're not hammered too much."

Change In Kim Jong-Un's Attitude After His Meeting With Xi: Trump

MMNN:23 May 2018
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said today that he was "little surprised" at North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's "different attitude" after his second meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi and Kim met in the northeastern city of Dalian in an unannounced visit by the North Korean leader on May 8. Trump said the meeting between the two leaders was not a great meeting as there has been a change in North Korea's attitude after that. "I think that President Xi is a world class poker player. I probably maybe doing the same thing that he would do. But I will say this, there was a somewhat different attitude after that meeting, and I'm a little surprised," Trump told reporters at the White House. "Now maybe nothing happened, I'm not blame anybody. But I'm just saying maybe nothing happened and maybe it did. But there was a different attitude by the North Korean folks after that meeting. So I don't think it was a great meeting," Trump said. Nobody knew about the meeting and all of a sudden it was reported that he was in China a second time, he said. "The first time everybody knew about, the second time was like a surprise. And I think things changed after that meeting. So I can't say that I'm happy about it," Trump said in presence of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He also asked Moon for his views on the Xi-Kim meeting, "Now President Moon may have a different opinion, I'd like to have your opinion on that. What you thought of the second meeting with President Xi, what is your feeling? You may have an opinion," Trump asked. "I don't want to get him in trouble, he lives next to China. You know, he's not too far away," he said. "The second meeting I think there was a little change in attitude from Kim Jong-un", he said. "Hope that's not true, because I have a great relationship with President Xi. He's a friend of mine, he likes me, I like him. I mean that was two of the great days of my life being in China. I don't think anybody's ever been treated better in China in their history," he said. 0 COMMENTS "It was an incredible thing to see. We built a very good relationship, we speak a lot. But there was a difference when Kim Jong-un left China the second time. And I think they were dedicating an aircraft carrier that the United States paid for," Trump said.

Pakistan Heatwave Kills 65 People In Karachi In 3 Days: Report

MMNN:22 May 2018
ISLAMABAD: A heatwave has killed 65 people in Pakistan's southern city of Karachi over the past three days, a social welfare organisation said on Tuesday, amid fears the death toll could climb as the high temperatures persist. The heatwave has coincided with power outages and the holy month of Ramadan, when most Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. Temperatures hit 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit) on Monday, local media reported. Faisal Edhi, who runs the Edhi Foundation that operates morgues and an ambulance service in Pakistan's biggest city, said the deaths occurred mostly in the poor areas of Karachi. "Sixty-five people have died over the last three days," Edhi told Reuters. "We have the bodies in our cold storage facilities and their neighbourhood doctors have said they died of heat-stroke." A government spokesperson could not be reached for comment. But Sindh province's Health Secretary Fazlullah Pechuho told the English-language Dawn newspaper that no one has died from heat-stroke. "Only doctors and hospitals can decide whether the cause of death was heat-stroke or not. I categorically reject that people have died due to heat-stroke in Karachi," Pechuho was quoted as saying. Nonetheless, reports of heat stroke deaths in Karachi will stir unease amid fears of a repeat of a heatwave in of 2015, when morgues and hospitals were overwhelmed and at least 1,300 mostly elderly and sick people died from the searing heat. In 2015, the Edhi morgue ran out of freezer space after about 650 bodies were brought in the space of a few days. Ambulances left decaying corpses outside in sweltering heat. The provincial government has assured residents that there would be no repeat of 2015 and was working on ensuring those in need of care receive rapid treatment. Edhi said most of the dead brought to the morgue were working class factory workers who came from the low-income Landhi and Korangi areas of Karachi. "They work around heaters and boilers in textile factories and there is eight to nine hours of (scheduled power outages) in these areas," he said. 0 COMMENTSTemperatures are expected to stay above 40C until Thursday, local media reported.

Hawaii Volcano's Gassy, Glassy 'Laze' New Threat For Residents

MMNN:21 May 2018
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: Authorities in Hawaii have warned of dangerous "laze" fumes as molten lava from the erupting Kilauea volcano reached the Pacific Ocean. Two lava flows "reached the ocean along the southeast Puna coast overnight," on Hawaii's Big Island, the US Geological Survey, which monitors volcanoes and earthquakes worldwide, said in a statement Sunday. A crack however opened in the ground under one of the lava channels, "diverting the lava... into underground voids," the statement said. When the hot lava flow hits the water it produces acid fumes known as "laze" - lava and haze. The plume is an irritating mixture of hydrochloric acid gas (HCl), steam, and tiny volcanic glass particles," the USGS said. "This hot, corrosive gas mixture caused two deaths immediately adjacent to the coastal entry point in 2000, when seawater washed across recent and active lava flows." The USGS also warned that volcanic gas emissions "have tripled as a result of the voluminous eruptions." Moderate winds means that areas downwind from the volcano "may experience varying levels of vog," or volcanic smog, a haze created when emissions react to oxygen, moisture, dust, and sunlight, the USGS said. One giant lava flow grew to 20 feet (six meters) in height and blocked a portion of Highway 137, seriously impacting area residents, Hawaii News Now reported. Kilauea is the world's most active volcano and one of five on Hawaii's Big Island. It started erupting on May 3, prompting about 2,000 people to flee from their mountainside homes. Scientists believe the volcanic activity may be a precursor to a major eruption similar to the one that shook the island in the mid-1920s. But they say they expect no loss of life given that the most exposed residential areas have been evacuated and the region where the volcano is located -- on the southeastern part of the island -- is lightly populated. 0 COMMENTSAuthorities have warned residents to stay away from the evacuated neighborhoods, warning that toxic sulfur dioxide seeping out of nearly two dozen fissures could prove deadly.

Royal Wedding Live Updates: Meghan Markle, Prince Harry To Be Known As Duchess And Duke Of Sussex

MMNN:19 May 2018
The red carpets are rolled out and the stage is set at the St. George's Chapel of Windsor Castle, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's big royal wedding is to begin a few hours from now. The wedding spectacle will be witnessed by as many as 100,000 Brits and foreign visitors, apart from those watching around the globe. The Royals are to be wed in front of family, friends and a few celebrities. The couple will read their wedding vows at the St George's Chapel, which also saw the weddings of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011 and of Princess Diana and Prince Charles in 1981. After buzz around who would walk Ms Markel down the aisle, the American actress had confirmed that her father will not be present at the wedding and that Prince Charles will walk her down the aisle. Prince Harry and his bride to be, will be known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex after their wedding, the Buckingham Palace announced hours before the ceremony.

Muslims Add Richness To American Life: Donald Trump's Ramzan Message

MMNN:18 May 2018
Offering warm greetings on Ramadan and hosting an iftar meal have been standard White House behavior for decades during the major Muslim holiday - but not during the Trump presidency. That appears to be changing. Ramadan last year featured a White House holiday statement focusing on terrorism, including President Donald Trump's comment that the sacred holiday tens of millions observe "strengthens awareness of our shared obligation to reject violence." The White House and the State Department broke with tradition and didn't hold a celebratory iftar (the ceremonial break-fast meal each sunset during Ramadan). But Tuesday, the White House released a statement with a markedly different tone, saying Ramadan "reminds us of the richness Muslims add to the religious tapestry of American life." The month-long holiday begins this week. The White House is also exploring working with the State Department to host an iftar in early June, said Ray Mahmood, a prominent Muslim real estate developer who has long been involved in interfaith diplomacy in the Washington area. I think they are doing one, from what we've heard," Mahmood said. Asked about the weight of such a ritual event at a time when the country is experiencing a rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions, and as the White House continues in court to press what candidate Trump called the "Muslim ban," Mahmood said these steps are significant. "I think they are very important to the Muslim community. At least they feel the president at the White House is doing this, which shows some tolerance and acceptance," he said Wednesday. Deputy White House press secretary Lindsay Walters said Wednesday that the White House had "no update at this time." Relations between most Muslim Americans and Trump soured during his candidacy after he proposed banning all Muslims from the United States as a security measure against terrorism. In 2016, he began advocating mosque surveillance, saying that "we have to go and we have to maybe check, respectfully, the mosques." Most Republican voters supported Trump's proposals, but polling this month shows that a majority of Americans think Trump's policies "have further disadvantaged Muslims," according to research done in February by AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Why the moves are happening isn't clear, and the White House wouldn't comment on that question, but some longtime observers of the way presidents have engaged with Muslim issues noted that last year Stephen Bannon was still chief strategist at the White House. Bannon has long sharply criticized Islam in various ways and many considered him hostile to Muslims. Bannon left the White House in August. "I'd argue there is a sense of urgency that's more acute because anti-Muslim sentiment has become so mainstream. There is a feeling these types of events are needed even more," said one of those observers. The White House is exploring holding a relatively small iftar June 6, with a few dozen people invited, according to some who had heard of the planning. Attendees primarily would be ambassadors from countries with large Muslim populations, and some U.S. Muslim leaders. Although the Muslim American community is small, its voting power has in recent decades been very concentrated in one party or the other for president. President George W. Bush got 78 percent of the Muslim American vote, but the GOP bond began to nose-dive after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Iraq War, and the subsequent rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton won huge majorities of Muslim Americans. Even so, for many, these events that may seem to most Americans like simple social happenings can reflect symbolic and even policy and political implications. Even with wide Muslim American voting support for Obama, for example, some Muslims urged boycotts of Obama's iftars to protest what they considered improper U.S. surveillance of mosques, and also U.S. support of Israel in its engagement in Gaza. 0 COMMENTSA former State Department official said that such parties are carried out by protocol officials but that the events' existence is driven by policymakers and thus should be viewed through that lens.

Donald Trump Earned Income From Real Estate Ventures In India In 2016

MMNN:17 May 2018
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump received some income in the form of royalty from his real estate ventures in India, according to his latest annual financial disclosure form for the year 2016. Trump has listed assets of at least USD 1.4 billion and income of more than USD 452 million, according to the form, a copy of which was released by the US Office of Government Ethics yesterday. Trump submitted his disclosure on Tuesday. As per the financial disclosure form, Trump had two incomes from his India real estate ventures. Both the income has been put in category of royalties. Trump had an income in the range of USD 1 million-USD 5 million from DT Marks Worli LLC under a license deal with Jawala Real Estate Private Ltd and Lodha Developers Private Ltd. Notably the location of the deal has been mentioned as New York. Similarly, Trump had an income in a range of USD 100,000- USD 1 million from the DT Tower Kolkata LLC under a license deal with Concast Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, Tribeca Creators LLC, Regent Hirise Private Limited, Raj Construction Projects Private Limited, and Rob Realty and Infrastructure Limited. The location of this deal has been mentioned as Kolkata. Trump, however, had negligible (less than USD 201) from DT Tower Gurgaon LLC venture. His other ventures in India, as listed in the forms, include DT India Venture Managing Member Corp, DT India Venture LLC, Trump Marks Mumbai LLC, Trump Marks Mumbai Member Corp, DT Marks Pune LLC, DT Marks Pune Managing Member Corporation, DT Marks Pune II LLC, DT Marks Pune II managing corporate, and DT Tower Gurgaon Managing Member Corporation. 0 COMMENTSThe financial disclosure form does not reveal any income from these ventures.

Prince Harry, Meghan Markle's Royal Wedding News: Who Will Be The Bridesmaids And Page Boys?

MMNN:16 May 2018
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM: With just three days to go before the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Kensington Palace on Wednesday revealed the list of page boys and bridesmaids who will attend the nuptials. Here is a round-up of the latest news: Bride's little helpers Markle's bridesmaids on Saturday will include three-year-old Princess Charlotte, the daughter of her soon-to-be brother-in-law Prince William. Remi Litt, 6, and Rylan Litt, 7, the daughters of close friend Benita Litt and also her goddaughters will also be taking part in the wedding. Ivy Mulroney, 4, the daughter of another close friend, Canadian socialite, Jessica Mulroney, is another bridesmaid, the palace said in a statement. Four-year-old Prince George, who is third in line to the British throne after his grandfather Prince Charles and father Prince William, heads up the list of page boys. Twins Brian Mulroney and John Mulroney, who are seven, also make the exclusive list. 'Mini stroke' Andrew Morton, who is best known as the author of a best-selling biography of Harry's mother Diana, suffered a stroke while giving a speech in London. Morton, who has also written a biography of Markle entitled "Hollywood Princess", was speaking at a literary lunch for The Oldie magazine on Tuesday. Morton took to Twitter on Tuesday to thank well-wishers. "Seems that I had a mini stroke, but am doing well & on the mend", he said. Homeless removals The Daily Mail reported that police were clearing away sleeping bags and other possessions belonging to homeless people in Windsor ahead of the wedding. Simon Dudley, the Conservative leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council, caused an uproar in January when he urged local police to take action against "aggressive begging" and said homeless people were there out of "voluntary choice". Dudley said homeless people were creating "a concerning and hostile atmosphere" ahead of the wedding. 'Glossy Canadian socialite' Jessica Mulroney, a close friend of Markle's whose three children will be page boys and bridesmaid at the wedding, has arrived in London, according to the Daily Mail, which published pictures of the family arriving at Heathrow Airport. 0 COMMENTSThe paper described Mulroney as a "glossy Canadian socialite" who is married to Ben Mulroney, son of the country's former prime minister Brian Mulroney.

US diplomat involved in road accident in Pakistan returns home amid controversy

MMNN:15 May 2018
A US diplomat, who killed a Pakistani motorcyclist in a road accident last month, has left the country amidst controversy over his immunity from prosecution. Defence attache Colonel Joseph Hall killed a motorbike rider and injured another on April 7 in Islamabad after jumping a red signal. A case was registered but he was never formally arrested due to diplomatic immunity. The government reportedly took the decision after the US government assured that Colonel Hall will be tried under US laws, the diplomatic sources were quoted as saying by Dawn News. The diplomat has since left for Afghanistan on a special flight. The US Embassy in Islamabad also confirmed that the US diplomat has left Pakistan, the report said. Diplomatic sources further confirmed that Colonel Hall was a US diplomat who held absolute immunity as per the Vienna Convention of 1972 and the privileges Pakistan extends to diplomats. Relatives of the victims had asked the government to prosecute Colonel Hall for murder. The Islamabad High Court ruled on Friday that Hall’s immunity was not absolute and ordered the government to add his name to the list that bars anyone from leaving Pakistan. Washington refused to withdraw the immunity of the diplomat but promised to hold him accountable under its domestic laws, the sources said. After the assurance, Hall was allowed to leave yesterday and apparently flew to Afghanistan initially to go to America, according to sources.

With Eye On China, Tesla Sets Up Company In Shanghai

MMNN:14 May 2018
SHANGHAI, CHINA: Tesla has set up a company in Shanghai focusing on technology development in China, a crucial market for the US firm as the country plans to scrap ownership limits for foreign automakers. The US firm's Hong Kong subsidiary established Tesla (Shanghai) Limited on May 10 with a registration capital of 100 million yuan ($15.8 million), filings on the National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System showed on Monday. Its business range includes technology development, import and export of electric cars and components, it said, adding Tesla Motors HK Limited is the sole shareholder of the Shanghai company with an operation period of 30 years. Production of electric cars is not included in the business scope though. Tesla already exports cars to China, one of the California firm's top markets. Tesla has long eyed manufacturing its cars in China, the world's biggest electric market. Its CEO Elon Musk said earlier this month that the company will announce a China location for a new "Gigafactory" that will produce batteries as well as vehicles. The announcement of the Shanghai firm came after China in April announced that it would to open up its manufacturing sector, including scrapping ownership limits for foreign automakers. China currently restricts foreign auto firms to a maximum 50 percent ownership of joint ventures with local companies. 0 COMMENTSBut the policy changes will end shareholding limits for new energy vehicle firms as soon as this year, followed by commercial vehicles in 2020 and passenger cars in 2022. The automaker reported a less-than-expected net loss of $784.6 million on revenue of $3.4 billion in the first three months of this year.

House of Windsor Decked Up For Prince Harry, Meghan Markle Wedding

MMNN:12 May 2018
WINDSOR: Britain's Prince Harry weds American actress Meghan Markle next Saturday in a union of youthful royalty and Hollywood glamour expected to reinvigorate the venerable House of Windsor. Harry, grandson of Queen Elizabeth and sixth-in-line to the throne, and Markle, star of U.S. TV drama "Suits" will tie the knot next Saturday at Windsor Castle, home to the British royal family for nearly 1,000 years. With celebrities expected to join the queen and senior royals for the ceremony and reception, thousands of journalists from across the globe will descend on the picturesque town of Windsor. "It's absolutely marvellous. It's going to be a very special day for everybody," Harry's father Prince Charles said during a visit to France this week. Harry, 33, a former army officer and one-time royal wild child, met his bride-to-be on a blind date in July 2016 after being set up through a mutual friend. Markle, 36, said she knew little about her royal date while Harry said he had never heard of Markle or watched her TV series. However, it was love at first sight, and after just two dates, he whisked her off to Botswana for an intimate holiday, camping under the stars. "The fact that I fell in love with Meghan so incredibly quickly was confirmation to me that all the stars were aligned, everything was just perfect," Harry said in an interview to mark the engagement last November. "This beautiful woman just tripped and fell into my life, I fell into her life." Saturday's wedding will take place at St George's Chapel of Windsor Castle, the queen's home west of London and the oldest and largest inhabited fortress in the world. Some 40 monarchs have called the castle home and the chapel contains the remains of 10 kings, including Henry VIII and George VI, Elizabeth's father. Set against all this tradition, Markle is a stark contrast in modernity. As a divorcee, with a white father and African-American mother, her background has provided a source of huge interest and comment, not all positive. Harry's Kensington Palace office issued a rebuke to the media in November 2016, decrying the sexism and racism Markle had suffered in some press reports. Markle's family has continued to come under scrutiny, with her half-siblings criticising her in newspapers and saying they had been snubbed after not receiving invitations to the wedding. However, both her divorced parents, mother Doria Ragland, a clinical therapist, and father Thomas Markle, a former TV lighting director for soaps and sitcoms, will play "important roles" on the day. Markle is due to arrive at the chapel in a car with her mother, while her father will escort her down the aisle. Perspective This wedding has drawn comparisons with some remarkable episodes of recent royal history: Edward VIII's relationship with American divorcee Wallis Simpson, which led him to abdicate in 1936, and the queen's late sister Margaret's decision to call off her marriage to an equerry Peter Townsend. "Meghan will bring a new perspective to the royal family," royal biographer Claudia Joseph said. "Obviously she comes from a very different background and ... that's hugely important to take the royal family into the future." The younger son of the late Princess Diana, Harry has always been a hugely popular figure member of the royal family. A cheeky child who stuck his tongue out at photographers, he left a lasting memory in the minds of many when aged just 12, he walked solemnly behind his mother's coffin as her funeral cortege made its way through London after her death in a car crash in 1997. "I don't think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don't think it would happen today," he said in an interview published last June. The impact of her death threw the prince off the rails, and his teenage years were overshadowed by negative headlines. In 2002 he admitted smoking cannabis and getting drunk when underage in a pub near the royal family's country estate. He later scuffled with paparazzi outside a London nightclub and caused outrage by dressing as a Nazi officer at a party. He began to get his life back on track after joining the army, serving two tours of duty in Afghanistan and escaping the media scrutiny and other trappings of his gilded upbringing. Popular Now a campaigner on mental health issues, he says he was close to a breakdown in his 20s. Such frank admissions of frailty has resonated with Britons as has his natural ease when mingling with the public. One of the reasons why Prince Harry is so popular is when he was young he was something of a wild child, he got himself into a number of scrapes," said royal historian Hugo Vickers. "All that has served to do is make him even more popular." A poll last week found 71 percent of respondents had a favourable view of Harry. That made him the second-highest rated members of the royals, just behind his brother but ahead of the 92-year-old queen. Markle, who was born in Los Angeles, made her first TV appearance in a 2002 episode of the medical drama "General Hospital" and has appeared in other TV shows and films. In 2011, she married film producer Trevor Engelson but they divorced two years later. She achieved greatest fame as an actress for her starring part as Rachel Zane in the legal drama "Suits". She bowed out of the series last month, after her character married her long-time love interest. Meghan will not become a princess in her own right, but her unlikely marriage to Harry has led many to describing it as a magical children's story. "The Americans love the British royal family and when you have an American actress marrying a British royal prince, it is the stuff of fairy tales," biographer Joseph said. However, certainly not everyone in Britain agrees and an opinion poll this week suggested more than half the country would not watch the wedding. "The idea that someone's aspiration should be to marry into someone else's wealth and status, the idea that Meghan Markle wasn't already successful in her own right, I don't think that's ok," Graham Smith, the chief executive of the anti-monarchist campaign group Republic, told Reuters.

Malaysia's King Agrees To Pardon Jailed Opposition Figure After Mahathir's Election Win

MMNN:11 May 2018
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's king has agreed to pardon jailed opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim, the newly installed prime minister said Friday, in the latest dramatic development after the opposition toppled the long-ruling regime. Anwar's expected release paves the way for him to be handed power by Mahathir Mohamad, 92, who was sworn in as the world's oldest leader Thursday following his alliance's stunning election victory. Mahathir, who has said he plans to give the premiership to Anwar -- his former nemesis -- came out of retirement after he was angered at a massive corruption scandal that ensnared ex-prime minister Najib Razak. The former strongman teamed up with parties that had fought him vehemently during his two decades in power in a bid to oust the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which had led Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957. Anwar, from the People's Justice Party, was a key leader of the opposition alliance. One of Malaysia's most charismatic politicians, he was heir-apparent to the premiership until Mahathir sacked him in 1998 and he was subsequently jailed for sodomy and abuse of power. But in a remarkable turnaround, the pair reconciled and joined forces as they sought to eject Najib, who was accused of stealing billions of dollars from a state investment fund that he set up and oversaw. Anwar was jailed again in 2015 during Najib's rule, in a case widely condemned as politically motivated. He was due out in June but Mahathir told a press conference that King Sultan Muhammad V, during a meeting Thursday with opposition leaders, had indicated he was willing to grant him a royal pardon immediately. The royal pardon would mean he can participate in politics again straight away. Without it, he would be banned from political life for five years. "We will begin the... proper process of obtaining a pardon," Mahathir told reporters. "He should be released immediately when he is pardoned." Mahathir's reconciliation with Anwar has been one of the most remarkable aspects of an electrifying election race. Mahathir also announced that 10 cabinet positions would be filled on Saturday. The opposition faced an uphill battle at the election due to what critics said were no-holds-barred attempts by Najib to hang on to power. His government was accused of gerrymandering while activists said he hurled cash and gifts at voters and there was a litany of problems with the electoral roll, including dead people appearing on the list. 0 COMMENTSBut voters turned out in droves, determined to push out the scandal-plagued government, with the opposition boosted by the presence of standard-bearer Mahathir, who has a huge following among the country's Muslim Malay majority.

Donald Trump, Wife Melania Greet Three Americans Freed by North Korea

MMNN:10 May 2018
ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, UNITED STATES: President Donald Trump personally greeted three Americans freed from imprisonment by North Kprea after they arrived near Washington early Thursday. Trump, who is preparing for a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, greeted the men at Joint Base Andrews in the middle of the night. He and First Lady Melania boarded the light blue and white government plane shortly after it touched down to meet privately with the men. The release by Kim, a much needed diplomatic win for Trump, was a stepping stone to his historic upcoming meeting with the North Korean leader.

China Vows To 'Safeguard' Iran Nuclear Deal

MMNN:9 May 2018
BEJING: China on Wednesday voiced regret over President Donald Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal and vowed to "safeguard" the agreement. "China regrets this decision made by the US," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing. Geng said China will maintain "normal economic and trade exchanges" with Iran despite Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 accord and reimpose sanctions on Tehran. "China calls on all relevant parties to assume a responsible attitude" in order "to return at an early date to the right track of implementing the deal," he said. "China will continue to uphold an impartial, objective and responsible attitude, remain in dialogue with all parties and continue to devote itself to safeguard and implement the deal." The spokesman reiterated Beijing's opposition to unilateral sanctions and "long-arm jurisdiction". 0 COMMENTSSlapping aside more than a decade and a half of diplomacy by Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and past US administrations, Trump called for a "new and lasting deal".

Communist Party of China leader Sun Zhengcai jailed for life on graft charges

MMNN:8 May 2018
A Communist Party of China (CPC) official tipped until last year for a top leadership post in the party has been jailed for life on corruption charges, state media reported on Tuesday. Sun Zhengcai, former secretary of the Chongqing Municipal Committee of the CPC and member of the powerful party, was handed life sentence taking bribes of over 170 million yuan (26.7 million US dollars). Sun, 54, is the latest senior CPC leader to be indicted under graft charges under the ongoing anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi Jinping. The sentence was announced Tuesday by the First Intermediate People’s Court of Tianjin Municipality. Sun had confessed to his crimes during a court hearing in April. Official news agency Xinhua said Sun’s illegal gains would be confiscated. “He was deprived of his political rights for life, and all his personal property was confiscated. His illegal gains and relevant yields they generated will be retrieved,” the court was quoted as saying by state media. Giving details of the investigation launched against Sun, the court said “…between 2002 and 2017, Sun had taken advantage of various posts to provide help for certain units and individuals in project bidding, project approval, enterprise operation and personnel promotion and arrangement, and accepted money and property worth over 170 million yuan, either by himself or with certain affiliated persons”. Sun had occupied several high positions during his political tenure. Sun’s posts included CPC chief of Shunyi District in Beijing, standing committee member and secretary general of the CPC Beijing municipal committee, agriculture minister, secretary of the CPC Jilin provincial committee, political bureau member of the CPC Central Committee and Party chief of Chongqing Municipality. It was his elevation as CPC chief of Chongqing city, a sprawling municipality of more than 30 million people, that catapulted Sun to his most politically high profile. The court said that Sun, as a senior official, should have set an example in observing the law. However, by accepting “extremely huge amounts of bribes”, Sun had seriously undermined the work of state organs, violated integrity rules for state officials and tarnished the reputation of state officials. Last October, another top CPC official had claimed that Sun was among party leaders who had plotted a coup against President Xi Jinping. In September, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) — then CPC’s top discipline body had announced the expulsion of a rising Sun who was then chief of the Chongqing Municipal Committee. “In the fight against all corruption from the low-level “flies” to the high-ranking “tigers,” Sun joins several other senior Party officials who have been punished for discipline violation including Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai, Guo Boxiong, Xu Caihou and Ling Jihua,” the Xinhua report had then said. Xi’s critics claim that the anti-graft crackdown was used as a pretext to purge the powerful president’s opponents and to consolidate power — more than one million officials have been jailed or arrested in the crackdown which began soon after he took over in 2012.

Hawaii eruption destroys homes, lava threatens residents

MMNN:7 May 2018
At least five homes have been destroyed after the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island erupted, spewing molten rocks and high levels of sulfur dioxide into neighborhoods, said a CNN report. The eruption drove hundreds of people from their homes Thursday. It was followed by a magnitude 6.9-magnitude quake Friday — the most powerful on the island since 1975, the US Geological Survey said. At least eight volcanic vents have opened in Leilani Estates, according to the USGS. All residents of Leilani Estates, a community of about 1,700 people near the Big Island’s eastern edge, and nearby Lanipuna Gardens have been ordered to evacuate. “The area continues to be unstable with volcanic venting and related hazards of earthquake and poisonous gases ongoing,” the Hawaii Civil Defense Agency said Saturday night. New photos released by the USGS showed a wall of molten lava from the seventh fissure in Leilani Estates and a new crack in one of the subdivision’s roads. Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator Talmadge Magno told CNN affiliate KHON that the vents had quietened Saturday, “but we’re pretty certain that we’re not done yet.” “Vents continue to open up, so we lost a few more structures,” he said. “I’m pretty happy that we did evacuated the whole neighborhood and unfortunately some people are still in there and we need to get them out. The gases are still high.” Magno said authorities are working on a plan that would allow residents temporarily back in to retrieve additional belongings if conditions allowed. The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park said on Twitter Saturday that “if volcanic and seismic activity remain at current levels,” some areas of the park could reopen Sunday afternoon. Timothy Trun was among a dozen who evacuated from his farm Thursday as he and others were about to sit down to a goodbye dinner for a friend. “It’s been a real shocker,” he told CNN on Saturday. “We’re about to enjoy eating dinner, and the cops show up and tell us you have to go, and everything changes in an instant. You have five minutes to pack your bags with what you think you’re going to need and you’re off.” “Just basically heartbreak,” he said of the scene. “My wife and I have been married going on 26 years. It was pretty much our dream home that we’ve been looking for all this time. Just knowing that we’re not going to have a house, my wife is still in tears.” Harry Kim, mayor of Hawaii County, said the government will support residents who want to go back to their homes to pick up some belongings. Cracks in Kilauea volcano’s rift zone — an area of fissures miles away from the summit — erupted Thursday and early Friday, spurting lava near the island’s eastern edge. Sulfur gas levels in some areas are too high, which can be life-threatening, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Volcanic eruptions can release the gaseous compound, and Hawaiian fire department personnel have detected high levels of it in the evacuation area, the civil defense agency said. Breathing large amounts of sulfur dioxide can result in burning of the nose and throat, and breathing difficulties. Senior citizens, the young and people with respiratory issues are especially vulnerable to the gas, the state’s Emergency Management Agency said. Magno said the gases had affected first responders: “The officers and firefighters that were out there on the first night, the gasses were really high,” he told the affiliate. “Usually it’s not long lasting. You can recover from it, but they went home with headaches and so forth, but that’s part of the exposure.” Governor David Ige said he’s activated the Hawaii National Guard to help with evacuations and security.

Big Differences," Says Beijing, After Critical US-China Trade Talks End

MMNN:4 May 2018
BEIJING: China and the US ended the second day of high-stakes trade talks Friday with "big differences", Beijing said, leaving the world's two largest economies on the brink of a trade war that could have knock-on effects on the global economy. The talks were aimed at forestalling momentum towards the looming conflict, with both sides prepared to pull the trigger on tariffs that could affect trade in billions of dollars of goods. "Both sides recognise there are still big differences on some issues and that they need to continue to step up their work to make progress," China said in a statement released by the official Xinhua state news agency. The discussions promised a potential off-ramp for the trade conflict -- US President Donald Trump has threatened to levy new tariffs on $150 billion of Chinese imports while Beijing shot back with a list of $50 billion in targeted US goods. "The two sides exchanged views on expanding US exports to China, trade in services, bilateral investment, protection of intellectual property rights, resolution of tariffs and non-tariff measures," Xinhua said. It added that they had reached "a consensus in some areas", without elaborating. The countries agreed to establish a "working mechanism" to continue talks, it said. The announcement followed comments by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin earlier in the day that the two sides were having "very good conversations". However, American officials declined to give further details of the discussions. Detailed List China is confused about what the US actually wants, said Zhang Monan, a researcher at the influential think-tank China Center for International Economic Exchanges. The American pressure on Beijing has heightened, she said, even as Beijing has taken several steps to liberalise its markets. Those reforms include a timeline to lift foreign ownership restrictions for automakers, permitting foreign investors to take controlling stakes in some financial firms, and on Friday, allowing foreign companies to trade iron futures on domestic exchanges. But a list of demands presented to Beijing before the negotiations got under way showed such piecemeal reforms fell far short of US expectations. The document, divided into eight sections, was presented as a starting point for negotiations, according to Bloomberg News. The asks included cutting China's trade surplus with the US by at least $200 billion by the end of 2020, lowering all tariffs to match American levels, eliminating technology transfer practises, and cutting off support for some industries fostered by China's industrial policies, Bloomberg reported. Industrial Policy Liu He, vice premier in charge of the economy, led the discussions for China. Known as President Xi Jinping's right hand man on economic matters, Liu was noticeably absent from Xi's speech Friday morning commemorating the birth of Karl Marx and the continued relevance of his theories to China. The speech alluded to Beijing's determination to keep true market capitalism at arm's length -- a key area of concern for the American delegation that has balked at China's state-led industrial policy and fostering of domestic industry. Friction is highest over China's "Made in China 2025" programme, designed to spring China from a maker of sports shoes and denims into high-tech goods. For Beijing, recent moves by Washington to ban US sales of telecom giant ZTE and the reported opening of a similar probe into goliath Huawei, have reinforced the wisdom of the policy. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce said China had taken up the ban with the US delegation. "The Chinese side made solemn representations with the US in respect of the ZTE Corporation case" the commerce ministry statement said, adding that the Americans said they would relay the issue to Trump. "The trade friction between the US and China is a longterm issue, this is not something that can be solved in the short term," Zhang said. Trade Data The talks may have received some tailwinds from the latest trade data out of Washington, showing the US global trade deficit narrowing in March. The goods deficit with China fell 11.5 percent from February to $25.8 billion, but analysts cautioned seasonal factors like China's New Year holidays were likely at play. Bilateral trade in coming months could be hurt by US and Chinese buyers planning to avoid tariffs, with news this week that China may already be downsizing its soybean imports from the US. "Whatever they're buying is non-US," said Soren Schroder, CEO of agricultural giant Bunge Limited. "They're buying beans in Canada, in Brazil, mostly Brazil, but very deliberately not buying anything from the US," Schroder said in the interview with Bloomberg News on Wednesday. 0 COMMENTSSoybeans were China's largest import from the US last year, worth $14 billion.

Nawaz Sharif Owned London Properties While In Office: Investigator Tells Pak Court

MMNN:3 May 2018
ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif owned Avenfield properties in London when he was holding public office, an Investigation Officer (IO) in the corruption reference case told the Islamabad accountability court on Wednesday. Imran Dogar, the Investigation Officer, said that Mr Sharif was the actual owner of the Avenfield properties since 1993, adding that he purchased them through offshore companies - Nielsen and Nescoll Ltd, The Dawn reported. He underscored that the Mr Sharif's family was unable to disclose their sources of income during the investigation. According to the report, Mr Dogar said the trust deeds submitted by Mr Sharif's daughter Maryam Nawaz were proven to be fake, alleging that in acting as "benamidars" (title deed of the property in the name of another person) for Mr Sharif, his children Maryam, Hassan and Hussain helped their father in committing the crime. "Investigations reveal that the accused were found involved in corruption and corrupt practices," he said, adding that the accused had failed to appear before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), despite being notified twice - on August 18 and December 28 last year. Mr Dogar disclosed that the NAB had received two letters for the same, dated August 22 and December 30 last year, sent by Advocate Amjad Pervaiz, Khawaja Harris and Nazeer Ahmed Bhutta. Mr Harris, however, had criticised the delay in the revealing of the letter during the corruption proceedings. The report noted further that most of the findings presented were also mentioned in the joint investigation team (JIT) report presented to the Pakistan Supreme Court in regards to the Panama Papers case last year. This led to the apex court of ordering the filing of references against Mr Sharif, his children and former Pakistan Finance Minister Ishaq Dar respectively. The Pakistan SC had, on July 28 last year, disqualified Mr Sharif from holding the office of the prime minister and had asked the NAB to file references against the Sharif family in connection with corruption cases against them. The references against the Sharif family pertain to the Al-Azizia Steel Mills, offshore companies including Flagship Investment Ltd, and Avenfield properties of London. Mr Sharif, his sons Hussain and Hasan are accused in all three cases, while his daughter Maryam and son-in-law Captain (retd.) Mohammad Safdar are accused in the Avenfield case only. A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was formed last year to probe the allegations on Mr Sharif's family. In February, the Pakistan Supreme Court had disqualified Mr Sharif from the post of ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party chief, saying all the decisions made by him as head of the party stood "null and void." Last month, the country's top court disqualified Mr Sharif from standing for elections for the rest of his life.

France’s Macron does not know what Trump will decide on Iran deal

MMNN:2 May 2018
Sydney: French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said he did not know whether U.S. President Trump would stick with a 2015 nuclear deal that many in the West see as the best hope of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. “I don’t know what the U.S. president will decide on the 12th May,” Macron told reporters in Sydney after meeting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Macron urged Trump to continue with the deal when the two met in Washington last week, but the White House has sounded unconvinced. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the agreement on limiting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons was reached under false pretences because the country’s nuclear program was more advanced than it indicated at the time. Macron said he had pushed the idea of a much broader Iran agreement with Trump, which was received “very positively”. “I just want to say whatever the decision will be, we will have to prepare such a broader negotiation and a broader deal because I think nobody wants a war in the region, and nobody wants an escalation in terms of tension in the region,” Macron added. Macron also condemned rioting by anarchists at Tuesday’s annual May Day rally in Paris. Police arrested more than 200 people in the French capital after anarchists hijacked the rally by labour unions against Macron’s economic reforms.

Iran calls Benjamin Netanyahu ‘infamous liar’ over nuclear allegations

MMNN:1 May 2018
Iran on Tuesday branded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an “infamous liar” over his allegations of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons programme. Foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi called the accusations that Tehran lied about its nuclear ambitions “worn-out, useless and shameful”. Netanyahu’s comments came from a “broke and infamous liar who has had nothing to offer except lies and deceits,” Ghasemi said in a statement. “Netanyahu and the notorious, child-killing Zionist regime must have reached the basic understanding that the people of the world have enough awareness and cognisance,” he added. Netanyahu said in an elaborate televised presentation on Monday that he had new “proof” of an Iranian nuclear weapons plan that could be activated at any time. But he did not provide evidence that Israel’s main enemy had actively worked to obtain an atomic weapon since the 2015 agreement between Tehran and six world powers. His accusations came as the United States considers whether to pull out of the atomic accord with Tehran. Iran has always denied it sought a nuclear weapon, insisting its atomic programme was for civilian purposes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire at Trump Tower leaves man dead and 6 firefighters injured

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

South Korean Fighter Jet Crashes, Two Pilots Presumed Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook’s value plunged $58bn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Economic Challenges Facing Vladimir Putin

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

China Meddling In Our Internal Affairs: Maldives' Opposition Leader

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

Iran, Pakistan seek Chahbahar, Gwadar link

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forbes Keeps Saudis Off Billionaires List After Corruption Purge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vladimir Putin Honours Russian Military On Fatherland Defender's Day

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

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

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

In Mexican Cartel Country, Priests Have Uneasy Ties With Narcos

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

US Disappointed Over Extension Of Maldives Emergency

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

Oxfam Bosses To be Questioned Over Haiti Sex Scandal: Reports

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

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

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

KP Sharma Oli sworn in as PM of Nepal

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

SA’s Zuma resigns after pressure from party

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

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

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

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

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

Investigators Brave Snow In Hunt For Clues Over Russian Plane Crash

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

Olympic message of peace is universal: UN chief

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

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

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

Rescuers Brave Aftershocks To Pull Bodies From Tilting Taiwan Tower

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

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

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

Truck Advertisement Using Martin Luther King Jr Speech Draws Backlash

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

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

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

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

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

Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan questioned in Paris over rape claims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saudi Billionaire Prince Alwaleed Released From Detention: Family Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pregnant with first child"

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

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

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

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

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

Rohingya Deal Aims To Repatriate Refugees "Within Two Years"

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

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

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

At UN, Diplomats Are Watching Candidate Nikki Haley

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

What To Expect When PM Modi Meets Netanyahu This Weekend

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

Scientists Zoom In On Fast Radio Bursts, The Most Mysterious Signals In Space

MMNN:11 January 2018
Nobody knows what causes fast radio bursts - brief, bizarre radio wave beams that emit more energy in a fraction of a millisecond than the sun does all day. But scientists just got closer than ever before to the source of one of these enigmatic signals. In research presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, an international team of astronomers traced a repeating fast radio burst to a region of star formation in a dim dwarf galaxy 3 billion light-years away. There, they said, the high energy beam is being savagely twisted by a powerful magnetic field amid a dense cloud of hot, ionized gas. The finding helps illuminate the extreme environment these radio bursts call home. But scientists are still scratching their heads over what could cause such a mighty blast. "It's a mystery," said Cornell astronomer Shami Chatterjee, one of the co-authors of a study on the findings published Wednesday in Nature. Then he laughed. "I say that as if I am disappointed, but let's be real - there is nothing like a good mystery to try to figure out. And this is such a tantalizing mystery and as time goes on we're getting more clues." Scientists have been befuddled by fast radio bursts, or FRBs, since the first one was discovered in 2007. They are far more powerful than anything in our own galaxy, and so fast and focused they seem to have shot out the barrel of some cosmic gun. They are also dispersed - high frequency wavelengths arrive earlier than lower frequency ones, indicating that the burst travel long distances across vast expanses of space to reach Earth. Research suggests that as many as 10,000 of these bursts occur every day, but so far astronomers have only spotted a few dozen. Of those, just one has gone off more than once: a signal called FRB 121102, captured in 2012 by the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. In research published last January, astronomers described how they took advantage of the repeating nature of FRB 121102 to trace the burst back to its host galaxy. Many of those same astronomers have been gazing at that galaxy ever since, ready to catch FRB 121102 whenever it flares. Their patience paid off on Dec. 25, 2016. In a space of about half an hour, the telescope at Arecibo witnessed more than a dozen bursts. "We called it our Christmas present," said Jason Hessels, an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam and a co-author of the new research. Subsequent observations by fleet of powerful telescopes working in a wide range of wavelengths captured dozens more bursts (FRB 121102 has now been seen flaring more than 200 times) and revealed some surprising characteristics of this far-off flashbulb. Chief among these quirks is the dramatic twisting of the signal's polarization - the plane on which the waves oscillate. The flares from FRB 121102 are 500 times more twisted than any other burst scientists have seen, suggesting they were warped by a potent magnetic field. The only known source of such intense magnetism in our o