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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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: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).
COMMENTSOnly three confirmed fragments of MH370 have been found, all of them on western Indian Ocean shores, including
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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
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"
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.
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.
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 newsroom.co.nz. "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.
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)
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
NORTH KOREA ISSUE
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
South Korea suspects female assassins killed half-brother of North Korea leader
Seoul/kuala Lumpur:MMNN:15 Feb. 2017
South Korea's spy agency suspects two female North Korean agents assassinated the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Malaysia, lawmakers in Seoul said on Wednesday, as Malaysian medical authorities sought a cause of death. U.S. government sources also told Reuters they believed that North Korean assassins killed Kim Jong Nam. Malaysian police said he had been assaulted on Monday in Kuala Lumpur International Airport and died on the way to hospital.
South Korean intelligence believed Kim Jong Nam was poisoned, lawmakers said after being briefed by the spy agency. They said the spy agency told them that the young, unpredictable North Korean leader had issued a "standing order" for his half-brother's assassination, and that there had been a failed attempt in 2012.
Kim had been at the airport's low-cost terminal to catch a flight to Macau on Monday, when someone grabbed or held Kim's face from behind, after which he felt dizzy and sought help, Malaysian police official Fadzil Ahmat told Reuters.
According to South Korea's spy agency, Kim Jong Nam had been living, under Beijing's protection, with his second wife in the Chinese territory of Macau, the lawmakers said. One of them said Kim Jong Nam also had a wife and son in Beijing.
Portly and gregarious, Kim Jong Nam was the eldest son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and had spoken out publicly against his family's dynastic control of the isolated state. "If the murder of Kim Jong Nam was confirmed to be committed by the North Korean regime, that would clearly depict the brutality and inhumanity of the Kim Jong Un regime," South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is also acting president, told a security meeting.
The meeting was called in response to Kim Jong Nam's death, news of which first emerged late on Tuesday. South Korea is acutely sensitive to any sign of instability in isolated North Korea, and is still technically in a state of war with its impoverished and nuclear-armed neighbour, which carried out its latest ballistic missile test on Sunday.
TICKET TO MACAU
Malaysian police said the dead man held a passport under the name Kim Chol, with a birth date that made him 46. Kim Jong Nam was known to spend a significant amount of time outside North Korea, travelling in Macau and Hong Kong as well as mainland China, and has been caught in the past using forged travel documents.
His body was taken on Wednesday morning to a second hospital, where an autopsy was being performed. North Korean embassy officials had arrived at the hospital and were coordinating with local authorities, police sources said.
One of the South Korean lawmakers said Seoul's spy agency expected the body would be returned to Kim's family in Macau. A Malaysian police source who had seen closed-circuit TV footage from the airport said a woman was involved in the attack. "So far from the CCTV we can confirm it's a woman," the source said.
Asked during a news briefing if the murder of Kim Jong Nam was confirmed, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said: "Yes, I have said it is confirmed." Officials at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur would not speak to reporters gathered outside its gate and refused them entry. A few cars were seen leaving the embassy. There was no mention of Kim Jong Nam's death in North Korean state media. In Beijing, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing that he noted media reports of Kim's death and understood the Malaysian authorities were investigating.
Michael Madden, a U.S.-based expert on the North Korean leadership, cast doubt on the notion that Kim Jong Un had personally ordered the killing of his half-brother. Doing so would further feed the perception that Kim Jong Un was engaged in a "reign of terror" and is insecure about his leadership, and would also irritate China and Malaysia, two of the few countries with which North Korea has relatively good relations, he said. "It does not serve Kim Jong Un's political interests to have Jong Nam assassinated," Madden said. "It is likely that if he was killed by North Korean operatives, then someone else pushed the button."
South Korea's Unification Ministry urged North Korean defectors in South Korea and abroad to be mindful of their security. Numerous North Korean officials have been purged or killed since Kim Jong Un took power following his father's death in 2011. Those include his uncle Jang Song Thaek, who was considered the country's second most-powerful person and was believed to have been close to Kim Jong Nam. Jang was executed on Kim Jong Un's orders in 2013. Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said that given Kim Jong Nam's family connection, it was "difficult to imagine" an assassination would be carried out without the leader's consent.
"Kim Jon Un may have been worried about more and more of North Korean elites turning against him after Thea Yon Ho defected to the South," he said, referring to last year's defection by North Korea's deputy ambassador in London.
Chinese media warns India against playing Taiwan card or challenging 'One China' policy
Beijing:MMNN:15 Feb. 2017
China's official media on Wednesday warned India against playing the 'Taiwan card', saying New Delhi will suffer losses by challenging Beijing over the sensitive issue. The warning came after a Taiwanese women Parliamentary delegation visited India.
"By challenging China over the Taiwan question, India is playing with fire," state-run Global Times said in an op-ed article titled 'New Delhi will suffer losses if it plays Taiwan card'.
"At a time when new US President Donald Trump has put the brakes on challenging China over the Taiwan question, agreeing to change course and respecting the "one China" policy, India stands out as a provocateur," the tabloid daily, which is a part of Communist Party of China's publications, said.
"High-level visits between India and Taiwan are not very frequent, so why did India invite the Taiwan delegation to visit at this time?" the article asked referring to Taiwanese MPs delegation. It is the first such visit since the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen administration took office, it said.
Tsai, who won on elections last year is a strong supporter of Taiwan's independence from China.
"Some Indians view the Taiwan question as an Achilles' Heel of the mainland. India has long wanted to use the Taiwan question, the South China Sea and Dalai Lama issues as bargaining chips in dealing with China," the article said.
India may be looking to use the Taiwan card against China out of its suspicions with China specially over the USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project with Pakistan, it said. "With the advancement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in recent years, India's strategic suspicions about China have been growing," it said.
"It stubbornly misinterprets the flagship project of the One Belt, One Road Initiative that will benefit countries along the route, including India. As the corridor passes through the disputed Kashmir, some Indian strategists have advised the Modi government to play the Taiwan card," it said.
To India, the island can not only help realise some of India's development goals, but also, strategically, check the mainland.
Growing Taiwanese investment in India, including in steel, telecom and information technology sectors, are important to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Made in India" campaign, it said.
"Although the mainland is a major trading partner of India, political discord and the historical feud make economic cooperation between the two difficult," the article said.
"Tsai is exploiting India's vigilance and strategic suspicions against China. The pro-independence leader came up with the new southbound policy" to ramp up trade and economic interactions in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Oceania, in which India is considered not one of the, but the most" important country," it said.
Quoting Taiwan's representative to India Chung Kwang Tien, the article said "Tsai hopes to put pressure on the mainland by tying India and Taiwan closer".
"India wants benefits from the development of trade with Taiwan and Taiwanese investment. But it should be wary of Tsai's political intentions and avoid being used to confront the mainland," it said.
Russia throws its weight behind China-Pakistan corridor, keeps India on tenterhooks
MMNN:19 Dec. 2016
Russia's nebulous public position on its growing ties with Pakistan continues to give sleepless nights to Indian policymakers who have sought to isolate Islamabad on the issue of terrorism.
After it officially denied reports that it had shown any interest in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Moscow has not just declared strong support for the China-funded project but also announced its intention to link its own Eurasian Economic Union project with CPEC.
CPEC, which will link Gwadar in Pakistan's restive Balochistan province to Xinjiang in China, remains a major bugbear for Indian foreign policy as it passes through the Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan administered Kashmir claimed by India. Beijing has shown scant regard for India's concerns despite PM Narendra Modi himself having taken up the issue of Chinese involvement in the disputed territory with President Xi Jinping.
Moscow last month emphatically denied Pakistan media reports that it was looking to involve itself in CPEC by acquiring access to the port built by China at Gwadar . Russia's ambassador to Pakistan Alexey Y Dedov has now been quoted as saying that Russia and Pakistan have held discussions to merge Moscow's Eurasian Economic Union project with the CPEC.
Dedov said Russia "strongly" supported CPEC as it was important for Pakistan's economy and also regional connectivity.
The mixed signals emanating from Moscow, as strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney said, are injecting uncertainty in the direction of the Russia-India relationship whose trajectory long epitomized constancy and stability.
"It is as if Moscow no longer sees India as a reliable friend or partner. Indeed, by seeking common cause with India's regional adversaries - including by supporting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor through internationally disputed territory and engaging with the Pakistan-backed Taliban - Russia is challenging India's core interests," said Chellaney.
India continues to officially maintain that it doesn't see any "downward trend" in relations with Russia even as it works behind the scenes to convince Moscow that Pakistan remained the fountainhead of terrorism in the region. For India though, Russia further queered the situation in Afghanistan by declaring that it regarded Afghan Taliban as a national military-political movement. Russia is looking to engage the Taliban apparently to defeat IS but, as the MEA spokesperson warned last week, India wants any engagement with Taliban to respect the internationally recognized red lines, including giving up violence and severing ties with al-Qaida.
The comments made by Dedov are only the latest in a series of Russian doublespeak on Pakistan this year. As it officially conveyed to Moscow, India was disturbed by Russia's decision to hold its first ever joint military exercise with Pakistan days after Uri terror strike which left 19 Indian soldiers dead. The Russians justified it by saying that the exercise was meant to help Pakistan deal with terrorism.
At the Brics Goa summit in October, Russia chose not to help India publicly name Pakistan based terrorist outfits like Lashkar and Jaish in the official declaration in the face of Chinese resistance.
Russia continues to insist that its ties with Pakistan will not come at India's cost. Asked about the Russia-Pakistan military exercise though, at the recent Heart of Asia conference, Russia's presidential envoy to Pakistan Zamir Kabulov said Moscow didn't complain about India's close cooperation with the US and so India also shouldn't complain about "much low level" of cooperation between Russia and Pakistan. India may or may not complain, but it's certainly watching with eyes wide open.
Ban Ki- Moon criticises South Korea president, expresses concerns over lack of good governance
Seoul:MMNN:19 Dec. 2016
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has criticised South Korean president Park Geun-hye's administration over a corruption scandal involving her longtime friend, voicing concerns over the country's "lack of good governance", the media reported on Monday.
Ban on Friday said South Korea has never experienced such political turmoil except during the 1950-53 Korean War, Yonhap news agency reported.
Ban's remarks sparked speculation that the Secretary General, long considered a potential presidential candidate, has started distancing himself from the impeached president.
"(South Koreans) were very much frustrated and angry about the complete lack of good governance," he said on Friday.
Addressing the scandal that has gripped South Korea over the past two months, Ban said the political turbulence in the country is "surprising and unexpected".
"When her father President Park Chung-hee was assassinated in 1979, those were the times when Koreans were going through a turbulent process. But this time, in a very peaceful society, very democratic, economically well-to-do society, this has happened," he said.
Pointing to South Koreans' resilience and respect for democratic institutions, Ban expressed hope that the country will soon get over the political crisis.
"I am convinced that soon they will be able to overcome this crisis. I hope that this will give good lessons to those in leadership in Korean society, whether political, economic or social," he said.
Although the outgoing UN chief has yet to declare his intention to run in the presidential election next year, his name has long been bandied about as a formidable presidential candidate.
China Should Build More Nuclear Arms To Prepare For Donald Trump: Chinese Media
BEIJING:MMNN:8 Dec. 2016
China should "significantly" increase military spending and build more nuclear weapons as a response to US President-elect Donald Trump, an editorial in the nationalistic Global Times newspaper said Thursday.
China should "build more strategic nuclear arms and accelerate the deployment of the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile" to protect its interests, should Trump attempt to corner the country in an "unacceptable way", it said.
"China's military spending in 2017 should be augmented significantly," it added in the print article run in both English and Chinese.
The paper is not part of the official state media, but has close ties to the ruling Communist Party.
Chinese officials are sometimes thought to use it as a rhetorical hammer, but have also admonished it for its often bombastic language.
The president-elect frequently savaged China on the campaign trail, even calling it America's "enemy" and pledging to stand up to a country he says views the US as a pushover.
But he has also indicated he is not interested in projecting US power away from home, saying America is sick of paying to defend allies like Japan and South Korea -- even suggesting they should develop their own nuclear weapons.
The editorial follows a Twitter tirade by Trump earlier in the week blasting China's trade and foreign policies, as well as a protocol-shattering decision to accept a congratulatory phone call from Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen.
Beijing regards Taiwan as a rogue province awaiting unification.
In the editorial, the Global Times said: "We need to get better prepared militarily regarding the Taiwan question to ensure that those who advocate Taiwan's independence will be punished, and take precautions in case of US provocations in the South China Sea."
On Wednesday, Trump selected Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who has close ties to Chinese President Xi Jinping dating back to the mid-1980s, as ambassador to China -- potentially welcome news for Beijing, which called him an "old friend" upon receiving reports of his nomination.
Nevertheless, the state-owned China Daily newspaper remained pessimistic about the future of relations with the US.
A Thursday editorial said that though the Asian giant had thus far responded to Trump with "laudable" prudence, further provocations from the unpredictable politician would jeopardize Sino-US ties.
"China has to prepare for the worst," it said. "What has happened over the past weeks tends to suggest that Sino-US relations are facing uncertainty as never before, as Trump's words are not necessarily more bark than bite."
Probe launched into Pakistan plane crash, PIA blames engine failure
Peshawar:MMNN:8 Dec. 2016
Pakistan International Airlines on Thursday blamed engine failure for the horrific plane crash which claimed 48 lives, even as the country's top civil aviation body launched a probe into the tragic accident. The PIA plane PK-661 with 48 people, including famous pop singer-turned-Islamic preacher Junaid Jamshed, his wife and Deputy Commissioner Chitral
Osama Warraich, on board crashed yesterday in Saddha Batolni village near Havelian while en route to Islamabad from Chitral in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
According to the airline, the plane was an ATR-42 turboprop aircraft, which lost contact with the Air Traffic Control (ATC) at Islamabad's Benazir International Airport en route from Chitral.
PIA Chairman Azam Saigol blamed engine failure for the deadly crash.
"Around 4:15 PM the ATC received an emergency call from the pilot who informed them about the engine failure. A few minutes later, a mayday distress call was received from the pilot," Saigol told reporters.
The ATR-42 aircraft involved in the crash had undergone regular maintenance, including an 'A-check' certification in October, Saigol said.
"I want to make it clear that it was a perfectly sound aircraft," Saigol said, ruling out technical or human error.
Pakistan authorities were conducting DNA testing to identify the victims of plane crash as most of the dead bodies were charred beyond recognition.
According to rescue official Ghayoor Mushtaq, all bodies had been retrieved by 02:00 AM this morning and shifted to Ayub Medical Complex in Abbottabad.
A military official said three helicopters have been deputed to transport the bodies to Islamabad. They will be then moved to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad and Combined Military Hospital in neighbouring Rawalpindi.
Dr Junaid of Ayub Medical Complex said only six bodies were recognised while others will be identified through DNA matching.
Jamshed, two Austrians, and a Chinese national were on the ill-fated PIA flight.
The pilot of the ill-fated ATR-42 made his first call to the air traffic control soon after the flight took off. He said the plane's left engine was not functioning and moments later followed with a panicked, 'Mayday! Mayday'.
Minutes before the plane crashed at 4.15 PM, the pilot made the emergency call requesting permission for an emergency landing. The plane vanished from the radar screen and soon after and the communication system stopped.
Aviation Division Secretary Irfan Elahi said the Civil Aviation Authority's investigation board, headed by Air Commodore Munir, would lead the inquiry into the cause of the deadly crash.
"We hope the black box will be found soon which can help investigators. At the moment, there is no other reason for the plane crash other than the failure of the left engine," he said.
US: White man allegedly harasses hijab-clad 'hero' Muslim cop, calls her 'ISIS'
NEW YORK: MMNN:5 Dec. 2016
An off-duty hijab-clad Muslim police officer was called "ISIS" and told to go back to her "country" by a white man who also pushed her 16-year-old son, the latest in a series of incidents in which headscarf-wearing women have been targeted in the US following Donald Trump's win. Officer Aml Elsokary, who was off duty and wearing her hijab, dropped off her son in Brooklyn. After parking her car, she returned to the scene to find her son being shoved by the suspect, a white man in his 30s.
When the officer - a native New Yorker - approached, the man said, "ISIS (expletive), I will cut your throat, go back to your country!" Elsokary did not identify herself as a police officer, and was unarmed, the New York Daily News reported, citing police sources.
The suspect then fled the scene. Police were trying to track him down. The NYPD Hate Crimes Unit is probing the episode as a bias incident which took place on Saturday. Officer Elsokary - who proudly wears her hijab on duty -- was touted as a hero by the New York city mayor after she ran into a burning building to save an elderly man and baby girl in April 2014.
Responding to a call about a fire over the police radio, Elsokary and her partner had rushed to a smoke-filled building. The decorated officer had joined the force shortly after the September 11 terror attacks to "show people that the terrible acts of that day contradicted the teachings of Islam," Mayor de Blasio had said at a 2014 dinner.
The mother-of-five had received a medal for her bravery. Saturday's incident comes amid a slew of intimidation and assault cases that have been reported across the country against hijab-clad women following Trump's win.
On Thursday, a Muslim student was allegedly assaulted aboard a subway train by three drunk white men who repeatedly screamed "Donald Trump!" and hurled anti-Islam slurs before trying to rip her hijab off. Earlier this month, a Hijab-clad Muslim student was allegedly struck in the face with a glass bottle in broad daylight at the University of Washington campus in Seattle.
In another incident, a hijab-clad woman was allegedly accosted at a US store by another customer who called her a "terrorist" and told her to "get out" of the country. Also, a Muslim student's hijab was allegedly ripped off and her hair pulled down by a classmate at a school in Minnesota.
Judge Orders Michigan Vote Recount To Begin At Monday Noon
DETROIT: MMNN:5 Dec. 2016
Michigan must begin its Presidential recount at noon Monday, a federal judge ruled in a late-night order that could make it more likely the state will complete the count ahead of a December 13 deadline.
In his ruling Sunday night, Judge Mark Goldsmith rejected an effort by state officials to delay the hand-counting of about 4.8 million ballots.
Green Party Presidential nominee Jill Stein argued that a law is unconstitutional that requires a break of at least two business days after the Board of Canvassers' final action on a recount request.
Goldsmith found that Stein had "shown the likelihood of irreparable harm" if the count was delayed even by two days and rejected the state's arguments about the cost to taxpayers.
Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by 10,704 votes, or two-tenths of a percentage point, in Michigan. Stein received about 1 percent of the vote.
Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, the Trump campaign and super PACs have filed separate lawsuits asking state courts to prevent the recount, arguing that Stein, as the fourth-place finisher, is not "aggrieved" because she has no chance of winning in a recount.
The Green Party also wants recounts in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Stein has argued, without evidence, that irregularities in the votes in all three states suggest that there could have been tampering with the vote, perhaps through a well-coordinated, highly complex cyber attack.
Elections officials in the three states, all narrowly won by Trump, have expressed confidence in their results. Even if all three recounts happen, none were expected to give Clinton enough votes to emerge as the winner.
Donald Trump Says Will Step Away From Business, Focus On White House
NEW YORK: MMNN:1 Dec. 2016
US President-elect Donald Trump vowed on Wednesday to step back from running his global business empire to avoid conflicts of interest, as concern over his dual role mounts ahead of the Republican's inauguration on January 20.
Trump, a real estate magnate who owns hotels and golf resorts from Panama to Scotland, said he will spell out at a December 15 news conference how he will separate himself "in total" from his worldwide business holdings, which include a winery, modelling agency, and a range of other businesses.
His company, the Trump Organization, had previously said it was looking at new business structures with the goal of transferring control of his portfolio to his Donald Trump Jr, Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump - three of his adult children who are involved with the company.
His children are also on the executive committee of his White House transition team.
Trump gave few details in a series of early morning tweets on Wednesday, but said "legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations" and said his children will attend the news conference.
A brand name around the globe, Trump had previously argued that he had no need to separate himself from the Trump Organization, which includes a hotel down the street from the White House, a Manhattan tower where he lives and is running his transition to office, and a New Jersey golf course where he interviewed cabinet candidates earlier this month.
Trump said on Wednesday he is not required by law to alter his relationship with his business, but added: "I feel it is visually important, as president, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses."
As the Republican heads toward taking over the White House from President Barack Obama, scrutiny of potential conflicts has grown.
Trump's businesswoman daughter Ivanka joined her father's telephone call with Argentine President Mauricio Macri earlier this month and attended a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, raising questions of possible conflicts of interest.
Rules on conflict of interest for executive branch employees do not apply to the president, but Trump will be bound by bribery laws, disclosure requirements and a section of the US Constitution that prohibits elected officials from taking gifts from foreign governments.
Wall Street Picks
Trump, a former reality TV star, has spent much of the last few weeks setting up his new cabinet and interviewing candidates for top jobs in his administration.
On Wednesday, Trump said he will nominate his chief campaign fundraiser Steven Mnuchin to lead the US Treasury. Mnuchin said the administration would make tax reform and trade pact overhauls top priorities as it seeks a sustained pace of 3 percent to 4 percent economic growth.
Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker, also signalled a desire to remove US mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from government ownership, a move that could have wide-ranging ramifications for how Americans pay for their homes, and said banking regulations should be eased to spur lending.
Trump named Wilbur Ross, a billionaire known for his investments in distressed industries, as his nominee for commerce secretary. Both nominees will require confirmation by the US Senate.
Trump also on Wednesday asked Preet Bharara, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan appointed by Obama in 2009, to stay in his role.
Bharara is known for pursuing a series of high-profile cases targeting public corruption and crime on Wall Street, and has won praise in New York for pursuing corruption investigations involving state and city politics, as well as financial crime.
Trump is considering Goldman Sachs President and Chief Operating Officer Gary Cohn, a former commodities trader, to head his White House budget office or to fill another position, a Trump transition official said.
The Wall Street picks were panned by regulatory watchdog groups. Trump's spokesman defended giving top economic jobs to Wall Street figures despite an election campaign pledge to "drain the swamp" of establishment figures in government.
"There's nobody else who understands the challenges that American workers and businesses face," Trump spokesman Jason Miller said.
Trump was also working to fill out his foreign policy team, but no decision appeared imminent on who the next secretary of state will be.
He met on Tuesday with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani about the top diplomatic post, a transition aide said, and later dined with 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, at a French restaurant near Central Park on Tuesday night.
Romney, who had slammed Trump during the campaign, made an impassioned statement in support of the president-elect after their meal.
Miller said Trump had told him that "he thought the dinner went really well" and that there was good chemistry between the men, who are still getting to know each other.
Trump was to meet on Wednesday with another potential secretary of state pick, retired Marine General John Kelly.
UN slaps new sanctions on North Korea
MMNN:1 Dec. 2016
The UN Security Council has imposed new sanctions on North Korea aimed at cutting the Asian country's annual export revenue by a quarter in response to Pyongyang's fifth and largest nuclear test in September.
The 15-member council unanimously adopted a resolution to slash North Korea's biggest export, coal, by about 60 per cent with an annual sales cap of $US400.9 million ($A540.8 million), or 7.5 million tonnes, whichever is lower.
The US-drafted resolution also bans North Korean copper, nickel, silver and zinc exports - and the sale of statues.
Pyongyang is famous for building huge, socialist-style statues, which it exports mainly to African countries.
The US was realistic about what the new sanctions on North Korea would achieve, its UN ambassador, Samantha Power, told the council after the vote.
"No resolution in New York will likely, tomorrow, persuade Pyongyang to cease its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. But this resolution imposes unprecedented costs on the DPRK regime for defying this council's demands," she said.
That $US800 million is 6.5 times the amount the World Food Program said it needed in 2016 to fund its North Korea operations, or 1.2 million tonnes of rice at market prices.
North Korea needs 5.2 million tonnes of rice annually to meet its stated target of providing people with 573g of rice a day.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said South Korea welcomed the new resolution and would pursue additional unilateral sanctions against North Korea with the US and Japan.
Tokyo Hit By First November Snow In 54 Years
TOKYO:MMNN:24 Nov. 2016
The Japanese capital of Tokyo on Thursday was hit by its first November snow in 54 years, slowing rush hour trains as residents slogged to work wearing heavy coats and boots in a city far more accustomed to earthquakes than to snow.
The last time snow fell in November in Tokyo, John F. Kennedy was President of the United States and singer Bob Dylan - who this year won the Nobel Literature Prize - had released his debut album just months before.
The snow, which began as sleet around dawn but turned to snow soon after, was sparked by an unusual cold front spreading over the Tokyo area that sent temperatures down to near zero C (32 F).
Average temperatures at this time of year are highs of 14 C (57 F) and rose as far as 20 C (68 F) as recently as Sunday.
"I was shocked," said Masaru Machida, who had just finished night shift work and was walking home. "It's too early."
Though Tokyo, which is on roughly the same latitude as the U.S. city of Raleigh, North Carolina, does see snow at least once a year, it usually falls in January or February and rarely accumulates for long.
As much as 2 cm of snow was predicted for central Tokyo by the time the snow stops, likely by early afternoon, according to the Japanese Meteorological Agency.
Donald Trump Declining Intelligence Briefings
WASHINGTON: MMNN:24 Nov. 2016
Donald Trump has received just two classified intelligence briefings since winning the presidency earlier this month, far less than his immediate predecessors, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
The Republican's limited engagement with his team of intelligence analysts has some officials questioning the real estate mogul's commitment to national security or international affairs, arenas in which he has no significant experience.
The Trump transition team has brushed off those concerns, saying the president-elect has simply been busy appointing his administration members.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence, in contrast, has received intelligence briefings nearly every day since the November 8 vote, the paper reported.
Within days of his win Trump received his initial briefing, and met once more with top US intelligence analysts before heading to Florida for the US Thanksgiving holiday.
The billionaire has turned away other opportunities to meet with intelligence officials, according to the Post.
Trump's last three predecessors regularly received intelligence briefings during their transitions, often on a daily basis. President Barack Obama took regular briefings as well as scheduled "deep dives" on major security issues such as Iran's nuclear program.
As a candidate Trump had voiced skepticism of the US intelligence community, and brushed off intelligence findings throughout the campaign.
Prior to his first classified intelligence briefing -- a privilege reserved for presidential candidates from the two main political parties -- Trump told Fox News he had scant trust in the experts he was slated to meet with.
"Not so much from the people that have been doing it for our country. Look what's happened over the last 10 years. Look what's happened over the years. It's been catastrophic," he told Fox News.
Following Trump's shock victory, the White House had said in a fact sheet on the transition process that "the president-elect and other senior officials will begin receiving daily intelligence briefings from the intelligence community".