Pulwama attack: Pakistan takes ‘administrative control’ of JeM headquarters.

MMNN:23 February 2019
Islamabad, Day after Imran Khan re-instated the ban on terrorist organisation Jamaat-ud-dawa and its charity wing, Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), Pakistan on late Friday took the administrative control of a mosque-and-seminary complex in Bahawalpur which is believed to be the headquarters of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). The campus has a 70-strong faculty and 600 students enrolled.The government of Pakistan while quoting an interior ministry spokesperson in a tweet said “The Government of Punjab has taken over the control of a campus comprising Madressatul Sabir and Jama-e-Masjid Subhanallah in Bahawalpur, reportedly the headquarters of Jaish-e-Mohammad, and appointed an administrator to manage its affairs.” Punjab police has taken over security of the campus, the spokesperson added. The Spokesperson added that the action was taken in line with the decision of the National Security Committee meeting held yesterday under the Chairmanship of Prime Minister Imran Khan. A local source in Bahawalpur could not confirm any physical movement or changes in the security set-up around the campus at the time of publishing of this story.

Thai Election Panel Disqualifies Princess Ubolratana As PM Candidate.

MMNN:11 February 2019
BANGKOK: Thailand's Election Commission on Monday disqualified the sister of the king from running for prime minister on Monday, ending a stunning, short-lived candidacy for a populist party after King Maha Vajiralongkorn called the bid "inappropriate". The commission released the official list of parties' candidates for prime minister without the name of Princess Ubolratana, 67, the older sister of the king. Members of the royal family should be "above politics" and therefore cannot "hold any political office," the commission said in a statement, echoing the wording of a public statement from the king on Friday. The princess had accepted the nomination of Thai Raksa Chart party, made up of supporters of ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Apple, Google Slammed For Hosting App That Tracks Saudi Women's Movements.

MMNN:9 February 2019
SAN FRANCISCO: Tech giants Apple and Google are facing criticism for hosting an app that allows men in Saudi Arabia to track and control women's movements. According to a report in Insider on Friday, the app called "Absher" lets men to give women permission to travel, and also receive an SMS when a woman uses her passport at the border. The US-based tech giants have been accused of facilitating misogyny and helping "enforce gender apartheid" for making the app available on Google Play and Apple's App Store. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and a women's rights activist urged that Apple and Google reconsider hosting the app, Insider reported, adding that the two tech giants did not respond to its requests for comment. Under Saudi law, it is essential for women to have a legal "guardian" who can restrict her travel. While Absher - a government service - offers other functions like paying parking fines, its travel features have been targeted by activists as it makes it difficult for women to leave Saudi Arabia. "Apple and Google have rules against apps that facilitate threats and harassment," Human Rights Watch was quoted as saying. "Apps like this one can facilitate human rights abuses, including discrimination against women." Amnesty International called on Apple and Google to demand changes to the app so that it can be stopped for being used to harm women. Yasmine Mohammed, a critic of Saudi Arabia, told Insider that the companies are "facilitating the most archaic misogyny" and help the Saudi government to enforce "gender apartheid".

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. COMMENT 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.

"How Dumb Do They Think Russia Is," Says Envoy On UK Couple Poisoning

MMNN:5 July 2018
MOSCOW: Britain is foolish if it believes Russia staged a new nerve agent attack in England in the middle of the soccer World Cup, Russia's embassy to the Netherlands wrote on social media on Thursday. The embassy was commenting after two Britons fell critically ill after what is thought to be a chance encounter with the poison after an attack on former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in March. The British authorities have not accused Russia of involvement in the new incident, saying their working assumption is that the Britons were poisoned by traces of nerve agent left over from the original attack. "How dumb (do) they think (Russia) is to use 'again' so-called 'Novichok' in the middle of the FIFA World Cup...The show must go on?," Russia's embassy to the Netherlands wrote on Twitter on Thursday. Russia denies any involvement in the original attack. Separately, Sergei Zheleznyak, deputy speaker of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, told state TV that the new poisoning incident in Britain looked like an attempt to spoil England soccer fans' positive perception of Russia. Russia is hosting the tournament, which ends on July 15, for the first time. Zheleznyak said Britain needed to whip up an hysteria to distract attention from what its intelligence services were doing.

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. COMMENT "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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistan As A Terrorist Safe Haven No Longer Acceptable: CIA

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

Iran Foreign Minister Ridicules Trump 'Blunder' At UN

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

Saudi Arabia Intercepts Ballistic Missile Near Yemen Border: State Media

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

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

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

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

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

US Considering Withholding USD 255 Million Aid To Pak: Reports

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

India should control its border troops: Chinese military

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

Obama Beats Trump Again As Most Admired American Man In Poll

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

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

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

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

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

Afghan Refugee On 18 Attempted Murder Charges For Melbourne Car Attack

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

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

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

Theresa May Forces Her Deputy To Resign Over Pornography Scandal

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

Facebook Launches New Tools To Prevent Harassment

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

Donald Trump Cannot Cause Collapse Of Nuclear Deal, Says Iran

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

Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump Discuss North Korea In Phone Call

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

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

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

Palestinian stabs Israeli in Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

Australia Parliament Passes Same-Sex Marriage Bill

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

Meet UN's 'Young Champions Of The Earth

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

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

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

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

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

Pope Francis Leads Dhaka Mass Before Rohingya Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

Flurry Of Activity Hints At North Korea Missile Test: Reports

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

Indian Catholics Hurt At Missing Out On Pope Francis Tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zimbabwe's Mugabe Faces Impeachment After Military Takeover

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

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

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

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

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

Smog Disrupts Over 600 Flights In Pakistan

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

Power Slips From Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe As Military Steps In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Attack Suspect, 29, Reportedly Drove For Uber

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

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

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

Ex-Employee Sues Facebook For Depriving Workers Of Overtime

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

Spain Takes Control Of 'Independent' Catalonia

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

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

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

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

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

US Targets Myanmar Military Over Rohingya Violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greenpeace Activists Set Off Fireworks At French Nuclear Plant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Nuclear Campaign ICAN Wins 2017 Nobel Peace Prize'

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

Kazuo Ishiguro Wins 2017 Nobel Prize For Literature'

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

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

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

Biological Clock' Scientists Win 2017 Nobel Medicine Prize'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scrapped Malaysian Beer Festival Faced Threat From Militants, Say Police

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amnesty says Myanmar military torching Rohingya villages.

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

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

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

North Korea Vows To Boost Weapons Programmes After Sanctions

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

Chinese Banks Halt Transactions For North Koreans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blast hits bus in Turkey’s Izmir, seven wounded

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

Pentagon Chief Lets Transgender Troops Remain In Service

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

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

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

Trump tells Mattis to indefinitely ban transgender recruits in US military

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clerical sex abuse scandal hits Argentine president’s school

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran’s Rouhani presents new male-only cabinet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MMNN:24 July 2017
Kurt Volker, who was appointed this month as the State Department's special representative for negotiations to end more than three years of fighting, was visiting Kiev on the eve of telephone talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France on how to stem a conflict that has claimed 10,000 lives. KIEV: The new US special envoy on Ukraine said Sunday that Russia is responsible for the "hot war" in the country's east, after fresh clashes between government forces and Russian-backed rebels. Kurt Volker, who was appointed this month as the State Department's special representative for negotiations to end more than three years of fighting, was visiting on the eve of telephone talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France on how to stem a conflict that has claimed 10,000 lives. "This is not a frozen conflict, this is a hot war and it is an immediate crisis that we all need to address as quickly as possible," Volker said while visiting the government-controlled city of Kramatorsk in the war-torn Donetsk region. "I wanted to come here... and to see firsthand the situation along the line of conflict," Volker, wearing a bulletproof vest, told journalists. "It is truly a high degree of suffering, there was a high human cost to this conflict and that is another reason why it is so urgent that we address it." His visit follows a fresh flare up in fighting in eastern Ukraine which has claimed the lives of 11 Ukrainian troops over the past few days, the most serious surge in bloodshed in recent months. Ukraine and the West say Moscow has funnelled troops and arms across the border to fan the flames of the war in Europe's backyard. Moscow has denied the allegations, despite overwhelming evidence that it has been involved in the fighting and its explicit political support for the rebels. Volker agreed when asked whether he considered the conflict to be the result of Russian aggression rather th