World Read World News on Onmanorama to know about the latest International events and Breaking News 🌏 en Sun, 07 Apr 2019 11:07:09 GMT PM Modi did not ask Trump to mediate on Kashmir: India rejects US president's claim Washington: US President Donald Trump on Monday offered to be the "mediator" between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue as he met Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House where the two leaders discussed a host of issues, including the Afghan peace process. The Indian government has denied President Trump's astonishing claim that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate. "We have seen @POTUS's remarks to the press that he is ready to mediate, if requested by India; Pakistan, on Kashmir issue. No such request has been made by PM @narendramodi to US President," Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar tweeted. "It has been India's consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally. Any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross border terrorism. The Shimla Agreemen; the Lahore Declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India & Pakistan bilaterally," he said. Trump, who is known to make inaccurate statements, claimed that Prime Minister Modi asked him to mediate on the Kashmir issue. "If I can help, I would love to be a mediator. If I can do anything to help, let me know," Trump said in response to a question. Trump said that he is ready to help, if the two countries ask for it. India has not been engaging with Pakistan since an attack on the Air Force base at Pathankot in January of 2016 by Pakistan-based terrorists, maintaining that talks and terror cannot go together. Trump claimed that Modi and he discussed the issue of Kashmir in Osaka, Japan on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit last month, where the Indian prime minister made an offer of a third-party arbitration on Kashmir. "I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago and we talked about this subject (Kashmir). And he actually said, 'would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?' I said, 'where?' (Modi said) 'Kashmir'," Trump said. "Because this has been going on for many, many years. I am surprised that how long. It has been going on (for long)," he said, with Khan responding 70 years. "I think they (Indians) would like to see it resolved. I think you would like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator. It should be....we have two incredible countries that are very, very smart with very smart leadership, (and they) can't solve a problem like that. But if you would want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that," Trump said. "So all those issues should be resolved. So, he (Modi) has to ask me the same thing. So maybe we'll speak to him. Or I'll speak to him and we'll see if we can do something," Trump said. "We have a very good relationship with India. I know that your relationship (with India) is strained a little bit, maybe a lot. But we will be talking about India (it's) a big part of our conversation today and I think maybe we can help intercede and do whatever we have to do. It's something that can be brought back together. We will be talking about India and Afghanistan both," Trump told Khan. Khan, who was sitting by Trump's side in the Oval Office of the White House, said that he is ready and welcomed such a move by the US. "Right now, you would have the prayers of over a billion people if you can mediate (on Kashmir)," Khan told Trump. Khan was accompanied by Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi among others. Early this year, tensions flared up between India and Pakistan after a suicide bomber of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) killed 40 CRPF personnel in Kashmir's Pulwama district. Mon, 22 Jul 2019 19:10:28 GMT Triad gangsters attack Hong Kong protesters, opposition alleges police apathy Hong Kong: Hong Kong police on Monday defended their actions and the lack of arrests after opposition lawmakers said police had failed to protect a train full of anti-government protesters from a triad gangster attack on Sunday. The attack came in a night of violence that opened new fronts in Hong Kong's widening political crisis over an extradition bill to send people to China for trial. Some politicians and activists have long linked Hong Kong's shadowy network of triad criminal gangs to political intimidation and violence in recent years. On Sunday night, men in white t-shirts, some armed with poles, flooded into the rural Yuen Long station and stormed a train, attacking passengers, according to footage taken by commuters and Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting. Eye-witnesses said they appeared to target black-shirted passengers who had been at an anti-government march and the attack came after several thousand activists surrounded China's representative office in the city, later clashing with police. Lam, who was injured in the attack, said he was angry about a slow police response after he alerted them to the trouble, government-funded broadcaster RTHK reported. Lam said it took police more than an hour to arrive after he alerted them and they had failed to protect the public, allowing the triads to run rampant. The party is now investigating. "Is Hong Kong now allowing triads to do what they want, beating up people on the street with weapons?," he asked reporters. One government worker, aged 22, described chaotic scenes as people ran in disarray off the train, despite word that gangsters were attacking people on the street as well. "People started to run in all directions, just avoiding the gangsters," he said. Police said early on Monday they had not made any arrests at the station or during a follow-up search of a nearby village but were still investigating. Yau Nai-keung, Yuen Long assistant district police commander, told reporters that an initial police patrol had to wait for more reinforcements given a situation involving more than 100 people. Groups of men in white were seen by eye-witnesses with poles and bamboo staves at a nearby village but Yau said police saw no weapons when they arrived. "We can't say you have a problem because you are dressed in white and we have to arrest you. We will treat them fairly no matter which camp they are in," Yau said. Hong Kong's anti-triad police units in 2014 investigated the role of triad gangs attacking protesters on the streets of Mong Kok during the 'Occupy' pro-democracy demonstrations that shut down parts of the city for 79 days. Police have yet to respond to Reuters' questions whether they are specifically investigating triad involvement in Sunday's violence. Police fire rubber bullets Hong Kong has been rocked by a series of sometimes violent protests for more than two months in its most serious crisis since Britain handed the Asian financial hub back to Chinese rule in 1997. Protesters are demanding the full withdrawal of a bill to allow people to be extradited to mainland China for trial, where the courts are controlled by the Communist Party, fearing it would undermine Hong Kong's judicial independence. They are also demanding independent inquiries into the use of police force against protesters. On Sunday police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse activists on the edge of Hong Kong's glittering financial district after they had fled China's Liaison Office, its main representative branch in the city. The Chinese government, including office director Wang Zhimin, condemned the acts, which saw signs and a state symbol daubed with graffiti and eggs thrown against walls and windows. Wang said that a damaged symbol had been replaced overnight. The unrest in Hong Kong marks the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. The Hospital Authority said 45 people were injured in the Yuen Long attack, with one in a critical condition. Some 13 people were injured after the clashes on Hong Kong island, one seriously, the authority said. Some police had been injured in the clashes after protesters hurled bricks, smoke grenades and petrol bombs, said a police statement. Mon, 22 Jul 2019 06:48:46 GMT Baloch youth raise anti-Pak slogans, demand freedom during Imran's address in US Washington: A group of Baloch activists raised anti-Pakistan slogans during Prime Minister Imran Khan's address at an indoor stadium here, demanding freedom for the country's southwestern Balochistan province. Khan was addressing a gathering of Pakistani-Americans when the Baloch youths suddenly stood up from their seats and started raising slogans. Balochs living in the US have been raising their voice against alleged atrocities, disappearance and human rights violations in Balochistan by Pakistani security forces. For the last two days, they have been running a mobile billboard campaign urging President Donald Trump to help end "enforced disappearances" in Pakistan. The three Baloch youths who were raising anti-Pakistan slogans were far away from the main podium, where Khan was speaking. He could continue his address uninterrupted. About two minutes-and-half later, local security personnel forced them to leave the indoor auditorium. A few supporters of Imran were seen pushing them from behind and asking them to leave the arena. Meanwhile, members and supporters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) held a peaceful protest against Imran in front of the US Capitol on Sunday. Khan is currently on a three-day visit of the US and is scheduled to meet President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday. The group of MQM supporters raised slogans against Imran and Pakistan and alleged that Mohajirs are being subjected to grave human rights violations in Karachi and other parts of the country. They alleged that the Pakistan Army and ISI are indulging in atrocities against Mohajirs in Pakistan. MQM founder leader Altaf Hussain is now seeking right to self-determination. Mohajir (MQM), Baloch, Pashtoon, Sindhi, Giligit Baltistan and Saraiki communities have scheduled another round of protest in front of the White House on Monday. Mon, 22 Jul 2019 06:12:40 GMT Four Keralites onboard tanker held by Iran, Pinarayi Vijayan writes to Centre Kochi/London: Four Keralites are among the 23 crew members of the British-flagged tanker 'Stena Impero' seized by Iran in Omani waters on Friday. According to Manorama News, Stena Bulk, the Sweden-based owners of the tanker, contacted the family of Dijo Pappachan who hails from Kalamassery, Kochi, and informed that he was onboard the tanker. Reports also claim that the captain of the vessel is also a Keralite, a native of Fort Kochi. Another person from Thrippunithura, Kochi, is also among the crew members. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan Sunday urged the Centre to take all possible efforts to secure the release of Indian nationals including four Keralites on board a British-flagged oil tanker seized by the Gulf country in the Strait of Hormuz. In a letter to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, he asked the ministry to share the details of the persons aboard the ship so that their families could be helped. "I request that all possible efforts to ensure the safety of the crew be made and the relevant details of persons may be shared with the state government so that their family members can be contacted and we can be of help in their hour of crisis," Vijayan said in the letter, the copy of which was released to the media here. Congress MP Hibi Eden, representing Ernakulam constituency, also sought urgent intervention of the Central government for release of the Indian nationals. Eden visited the family of Dijo Pappachan, a crew member on board the seized tanker, here. Family of Pappachan hailing from Kalamassery here said the tanker owners have informed them that Dijo was onboard the seized oil tanker. Asked about the reports that two more people from Ernakulam district were among the crew, Eden said there was no official information so far. Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan had said on Saturday diplomatic efforts were on to secure the release of Indian nationals on board the tanker. "We are waiting for response from Iranian authorities," Muraleedharan had told reporters in Kuthiran in Thrissur district Saturday evening. Iran said on Sunday that all 23 crew members of the seized tanker were "safe and in good health." "All the 23 crew members are aboard the ship are safe and in good health in Bandar Abbas port," Allahmorad Afifipour, the head of the Ports and Maritime Organisation of Iran in Hormozgan Province told state TV on Sunday. Britain has denounced Iran's seizure of the oil tanker in the Gulf on Friday as a "hostile act", rejecting Tehran's explanation that it had seized the vessel because it had been involved in an accident. The vessel, carrying no cargo, was taken to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. It will remain there with its crew - 18 of them Indians - while the accident is investigated, Iranian news agencies quoted Afifipour as saying. The oil tanker was impounded off Bandar Abbas port hours after a court in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar said it would extend by 30 days the detention of Iranian tanker 'Grace 1' seized by British authorities in the Mediterranean two weeks ago on allegations of breaching EU sanctions against Syria. "They see this as a tit-for-tat situation," British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said following talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and a meeting of the UK's emergency response committee. In a letter to the UN Security Council, Britain said the tanker was approached by Iranian forces when it was in Omani territorial waters exercising its lawful right of passage, and the action "constitutes illegal interference." Another oil tanker, the Mesdar, was also boarded by Iranian personnel on Friday and temporarily forced to divert toward Iran, but later was allowed to continue on its route through the Strait. On Saturday Algeria's APS news agency said the Mesdar was owned by Algeria's state oil company Sonatrach. The rest of the crew members on 'Stena Impero' include three Russians, one Latvian and one Filipino. The IRGC released footage allegedly showing the capture operation. Filmed from a ship and a helicopter, it shows small craft sailing alongside the ship, troops in balaclavas inside a chopper, and six people descending down a rope onto the vessel. France, Germany and the European Union joined Britain in condemning the seizure. India had said Saturday that it was in touch with Iran to secure release of the Indians on board the British-flagged oil tanker seized by the Gulf country in the Strait of Hormuz. "We are ascertaining further details on the incident. Our Mission is in touch with the Government of Iran to secure the early release and repatriation of Indian nationals," External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said in response to a question on the detention of Indian crew members along with the oil tanker Stena Impero by Iranian authorities. Sun, 21 Jul 2019 16:11:55 GMT NASA marks golden jubilee of maiden Moon landing London: Thousands of people are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. On July 20, 1969, the Eagle module from Apollo 11 landed at Tranquility Base. Hours later, Neil Armstrong made history by becoming the first person to walk on the moon. Originally inspired by the US' Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union, the mission is now remembered as an iconic moment for stargazers all over the world. Nasa marked the anniversary by streaming footage of the launch online, giving a new generation a chance to see the historic moment that was watched by half a billion people 50 years ago, the BBC reported. At the moment the spacecraft landed, Apollo 11 commander Armstrong said: "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." Charlie Duke, the capsule communicator, responded from mission control in Houston: "Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again." Hours later, as he first stepped onto the moon's surface, he uttered the historic phrase: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong was joined by his crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. All three were born in 1930, and although Aldrin and Collins are still alive, Armstrong died in 2012 at the age of 82. Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon, tweeted on Saturday: "Today, America put the big question to rest: We got there first. We landed on the moon with 250 million Americans watching our backs. "The truth is: that mission belongs to all of them, and to future generations of Americans who dream to reach the moon once more." Michael Collins, the third crew member, told Fox News that it's "not very often" he thinks about the mission. Cities globally have held events to celebrate the landmark anniversary - including at Nasa's visitor centre Space Centre Houston, near the site of the Apollo 11 launch. Military personnel put on a parachute display, and live bands performed. A New Year-style countdown will also mark the moment of Armstrong's first steps. Artefacts from the mission have been exhibited at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Virginia, including the space suit Armstrong travelled in. The Museum of Flight in Seattle also screened the original footage of the landing, recreating a 1969 living room complete with a contemporary TV. Astronauts hailed as heroes Capping a week of celebrations over the historic Apollo 11 mission, US Vice President Mike Pence joined astronaut Buzz Aldrin on Saturday at the launch pad in Florida that sent the moonwalker and his two crew mates to space for humankind's first steps on the lunar surface 50 years ago. Pence joined NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon behind his fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center for a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing that enthralled people around the world in 1969. "If Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins are not heroes, then there are no heroes," Pence told a crowd of dozens of space industry executives and NASA staff in the Operations and Checkout building, the 58-foot-tall (18 meters) chamber that once housed the Apollo 11 command module for testing. "We honor these men today, and America will always honor our Apollo astronauts." "Apollo 11 is the only event in the 20th century that stands a chance of being widely remembered in the 30th century," Pence said. The building is now home to NASA's Orion crew capsule, the spacecraft designed to carry astronauts back to the moon by 2024 in what Bridenstine calls the Artemis program, named after the Greek goddess and twin sister of Apollo. The capsule on deck for the program's first operational mission in 2022 was sitting beside the stage. "The Orion is in the same cell as where Apollo was stacked 50 years ago. So we've come full circle," said Glenn Chin, deputy manager at the Orion productions operations office. Pence, chairing the White House's National Space Council, announced in March an accelerated schedule for NASA to return astronauts to the moon by 2024, halving the US space agency's previous timeline to get there by 2028 and requesting from Congress a $1.6 billion boost to NASA's fiscal 2020 budget request. "The American space program is coming back. It's coming back with a vengeance," Bridenstine said at Saturday's ceremony. "We all love Apollo. But in the Artemis program we go to the moon sustainably, and this time we have a very diverse, highly qualified astronaut corps that includes women." US President Donald Trump on Friday indicated he was not interested in a mission going back to the moon, despite his administration's plans for it. Trump instead repeated his interest in a NASA mission that would take astronauts directly to Mars, a vastly more challenging and costly endeavor. "To get to Mars, you have to land on the moon, they say. Any way of going directly without landing on the moon? Is that a possibility?" the Republican president asked Bridenstine during an event in the White House Oval Office. Bridenstine responded, "Well, we need to use the moon as a proving ground, because when we go to Mars, we're going to have to be there for a long period of time, so we need to learn how to live and work on another world." But Collins, attending the event, said he favored going directly to Mars. The Artemis program's objective is to conduct a series of manned and unmanned missions to the moon, using its surface as a proving ground for technologies that could lay the ground work for the longer and more complex missions to Mars as soon as 2033, Bridenstine has said. Sun, 21 Jul 2019 06:20:31 GMT Parts of US sizzling under intense heat wave New York: A gargantuan heat wave hunkered down over the central and eastern United States on Saturday, sending residents to cooling centres and inflicting on Washington a heat index of 106 degrees F (41 C) with even steamier conditions in the forecast. "It's pretty hot right now from the Plains states all the way through the Mississippi Valley to the East Coast," said Alex Lamers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Centre. Heat is the deadliest of all weather phenomena, according to the weather service, and cities from Chicago to New York urged residents to seek refuge at cooling centres set up in locations ranging from libraries to shopping malls. Tourists visiting the monuments and museums on the National Mall in Washington endured temperatures approaching 100 degrees F (37.8 C). About 250 senior citizens returned home on Saturday a day after having to leave a retirement community in Philadelphia when a power failure disabled the air conditioners, forcing many of them into a shelter at West Philadelphia High School, said city spokeswoman Deana Gamble. Nighttime temperatures have remained so high in the heat wave, which started midweek in the Midwest, that Rockford, Illinois, for the first time since 1918 matched its all-time record by failing to fall below 80 degrees F (27 C) on Friday. High temperatures combined with high humidity make it feel even hotter, called the heat index. "Heat stress tends to have a cumulative effect so if you're not recovering at night, especially if you don't have an air conditioning unit, you'll accumulate more heat stress," Lamers said. "When it stays warm overnight, it provides a higher launch for temperatures the next day," he added. By midday Saturday, Boston's heat index was 102 F (39 C) and forecast to rise to 105 F (40 C) by late afternoon. New York's heat index was 100 F (38 C) and forecast to rise to 110 F (43 C), and Washington's was 106 F (41 C), expected to climb to 111 F (44 C), Lamers said. Some outdoor activities, including the New York City Triathlon and a running race outside Washington, were cancelled. Others bent their rules to keep attendees cool and safe, including Yankee Stadium, which allowed fans to bring their own bottled water and shading umbrellas and offered hydration stations on all levels of the ballpark. Sizzling temperatures were expected to persist through Sunday, but relief is in sight, Lamers said. "A cold front north of us will start shifting south and by Sunday evening, it will make progress toward Boston, Pittsburgh, St. Louis. By Monday morning, it might be reaching Washington, Cincinnati with some rain and thunderstorms," he said. Sun, 21 Jul 2019 04:54:10 GMT China opens up finance sector to more foreign investment Beijing: China lifted some restrictions on foreign investment in the financial sector Saturday, as the world's second-largest economy fights slowing growth at home and a damaging trade war with the US. China will remove shareholding limits on foreign ownership of securities, insurance and fund management firms in 2020, a year earlier than originally planned, the Financial Stability and Development Committee said in a statement posted by the central bank Saturday. Foreign investors will also be encouraged to set up wealth management firms, currency brokerages and pension management companies, the statement said. Beijing has long promised to further open up its economy to foreign business participation and investment but has generally dragged its feet in implementing the moves -- a major point of contention with Washington and Brussels. Saturday's announcement followed a Friday meeting chaired by economic czar Liu He where policymakers focused on tackling financial risk and financial contagion and pledged new steps to support growth, according to a state council statement. Additional measures include scrapping entry barriers for foreign insurance companies like a requirement of 30 years of business operations and cancelling a 25 per cent equity cap on foreign ownership of insurance asset management firms. Foreign-owned credit rating agencies will also be allowed to evaluate a greater number of bond and debt types, the statement said. US President Donald Trump has launched a damaging tariff war in an attempt to force Beijing to further open up its economy and limit what he calls its unfair trade practices. The US and China have hit each other with punitive tariffs covering more than USD 360 billion in two-way trade. Trump and Xi Jinping agreed to revive fractious trade negotiations when they met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan on June 29 and the top US and Chinese negotiators have held phone talks this month. Sat, 20 Jul 2019 14:20:05 GMT Bid to release Indian crew of British tanker seized by Iran New Delhi: India Saturday said it was in touch with Iran to secure the release of the Indians on board a British-flagged oil tanker seized by the Gulf country in the Strait of Hormuz. "We are ascertaining further details on the incident. Our Mission is in touch with the Government of Iran to secure the early release and repatriation of Indian nationals," External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in response to a question on the detention of Indian crew members along with the oil tanker Stena Impero by Iranian authorities. According to a media report, 18 Indian nationals are among the 23 crew members of the British-flagged oil tanker seized by Iran amid a fresh escalation of tensions in the Gulf region. The Stena Impero was seized on Friday by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Iran's seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker was allegedly due to a collision with an Iranian fishing boat, Iran's official news agency IRNA said. "There are 18 Indian and five crew members from Russia, Philipines, Latvia and other countries on board of Stena Impero. The captain is Indian, but the tanker is UK-flagged," the news agency quoted Allahmorad Afifipour, director-general of Ports and Maritime Affairs of Hormuzgan province, as saying. Stena Bulk, a Swedish company which owns the vessel, said they have been unable to contact the ship, which was seized in the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway in the region. "Soon after the vessel was approached by unidentified small naval craft and a helicopter during her transit of the Strait of Hormuz in international waters...the vessel suddenly deviated from her passage to Jubail and headed north towards Iran," the company said in a statement. The vessel was in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations, it said. Erik Hanell, President and Chief Executive, Stena Bulk, said: "There are 23 seafarers onboard of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationality. There have been no reported injuries and the safety and welfare of our crew remain our primary focus." "We are in close contact with both the UK and Swedish government authorities to resolve this situation and we are liaising closely with our seafarers' families," Hanell said. In early July, British marines and Gibraltar police seized an Iranian tanker off the Southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Gibraltar claimed that the ship was transporting crude oil to Syria "in violation" of the EU sanctions placed on Damascus, escalating tensions in the Gulf. Sat, 20 Jul 2019 11:31:56 GMT Indians too among 23 crew onboard British tanker seized by Iran Dubai/Washington: Indian nationals are among the 23 onboard a British oil tanker allegedly seized by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran on Fridaysaid it had seized the oil tanker but denied Washington's assertion that the US Navy had downed an Iranian drone nearby this week, as tensions in the Gulf region rose again. Britain said it was urgently seeking information about the Stena Impero tanker, which had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait at the mouth of the Gulf. The tanker's operator, Stena Bulk, said in a statement the ship was no longer under the crew's control and could not be contacted. "There are 23 seafarers onboard of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationality," said Erik Hanell, president and chief executive of Stena Bulk. He said there had been no reported injuries. Iran's state news agency IRNA quoted a military source as saying the vessel had turned off its tracker, ignored warnings from the Revolutionary Guards and was sailing in the wrong direction in a shipping lane. "We will respond in a way that is considered but robust and we are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences," British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told reporters. Hunt said Britain was "not looking at military options, we are looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation." Stena Bulk said the ship was "in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations." The Revolutionary Guards did not capture a second tanker - the British-operated, Liberian-flagged ship Mesdar - in the Gulf, Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, quoting regional military sources. The Mesdar had turned sharply north towards Iran's coast on Friday afternoon but then changed course again and headed westward away from Iran, according to Refinitiv tracking data. Relations between Washington and Tehran worsened last year when US President Donald Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran. Under the pact, Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work, long seen by the West as a cover for developing atomic bombs, in return for lifting sanctions. But sanctions have been imposed again, badly hurting Iran's economy. Trump said he would talk to Britain about Friday's seizure, which drove oil prices up above $62 a barrel. The United States has blamed Iran for a series of attacks since mid-May on shipping around the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran rejects the allegations. The incidents have increased international concern that both sides could blunder into a war in the strategic waterway, which is vital to world oil supplies. Drones Iran shot down a US drone in the Gulf in June and British naval forces seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria. The US military said on Friday that unarmed surveillance aircraft were in international airspace, monitoring the Strait of Hormuz and had been in contact with US ships in the area. "We have patrol aircraft operating in international airspace monitoring the situation within the Strait of Hormuz," said Lieutenant Colonel Earl Brown, a US Central Command spokesman. A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said about 500 US military personnel would be deployed to Saudi Arabia, part of an increase in troops to the Middle East announced by the Pentagon last month. Iran refuted a US assertion that it shot down an Iranian drone on Thursday in the Strait of Hormuz because it had come too close to a US warship. Trump said on Thursday that the US Navy warship Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, had destroyed an Iranian drone because it had flown to within 1,000 yards (914 meters) of the ship in a "provocative and hostile action." A US official said the drone was brought down by electronic jamming. “No doubt about it, no. We shot it down,” Trump said. He said the United States hopes "for their sake they don’t do anything foolish. If they do they will pay a price like nobody has ever paid a price." But Iran said all of its drones were accounted for. "All drones belonging to Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz ... returned safely to their bases after their mission of identification and control," Abolfazl Shekarchi, a senior Iranian armed forces spokesman, was quoted by Tasnim as saying. He said there was no report of any "operational response" by the Boxer and Iran's state television broadcast a video showing aerial views of ships that it said disproved the US claim. The television station said the footage, which came from the Revolutionary Guards, and the timing notations indicated the pilotless aircraft was still filming after Washington said it had been downed. US officials briefed members of the Washington diplomatic corps on Friday about a multinational maritime security initiative being developed to de-escalate tensions in the Gulf. A senior Pentagon told Reuters earlier this week the United States was not aiming to set up a military coalition against Iran but simply "shining a flashlight" in the region to deter attacks on commercial ships. Sat, 20 Jul 2019 06:06:17 GMT Wesley Mathews, foster dad of Sherin, challenges life term Houston: Wesley Mathews, the Indian-American foster father, sentenced to life after his 3-year-old daughter Sherin Mathews was found dead in a culvert in 2017, has filed a motion for a new trial, US media reported, less than a month after he said he would accept any punishment jurors chose. In a case that attracted much international attention, Mathews, 39, who hails from Kochi in Kerala, pleaded guilty on June 24 to a lesser charge of injury to a child in Sherin's death. He was originally charged with capital murder by authorities in the US state of Texas after they discovered Sherin's highly decomposed body after a massive search that lasted 15 days. Mathews, sentenced to life in prison on June 26 in the death of Sherin, has appealed the sentence and his attorney also filed a motion for a new trial, The Dallas Morning News reported. Mathews and his wife Sini Mathews, both hailing from Kerala, adopted Sherin from an orphanage in Bihar's Nalanda district in 2016. In a motion for a new trial, Wesley's appeal attorney, Brook Busbee, states that Mathews should be granted a new trial because the "photographs of the remains of the decedent, both where her body was discovered and in the autopsy suite" were so prejudicial as to deny Mathews a fair trial. At least two jurors were visibly affected when shown the graphic images, NBC News reported. The images were not shown to the audience in the courtroom. Busbee also stated that jurors were shown evidence that Sherin suffered "fractures from before she died. There was no evidence" that linked Mathews to the injuries and "introduction of that evidence unfairly prejudiced the jury." Mathews' legal team will not go into details at this time as to what reason or evidence they have to petition a new trial, simply that they are "looking at all options," the NBC report said. Mathews has also been appointed a new attorney in his appeal process. Attorney Michael Casillas has requested all records pertaining to the case and trial, it said. After telling the 12-member jury how much he regretted dumping Sherin's body in a culvert near their home in Richardson city, Mathews testified that he would accept life in prison. "I'm more than happy to take it," Mathews had said. He initially told police that Sherin went missing on October 7, 2017, after he put her outside their home at 3 am because she would not drink her milk. When he checked in on her 15 minutes later, Mathews said Sherin was missing. He later admitted she died when he "physically assisted" her in drinking the milk and got chocked. He said fear prevented him from waking his wife, Sini, a registered nurse, or calling 911 for help. Instead, he drove Sherin's body to the culvert and dumped it there. Her body was found by a cadaver dog two weeks later, severely decomposed. Police charged Sherin's foster mother Sini with child abandonment in November 2017, after Mathews told officials that the couple left the toddler alone the night of her death while they went to dinner with their biological daughter. Sini's case was dismissed in March this year after prosecutors said they could not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. (With inputs from PTI) Sat, 20 Jul 2019 03:05:11 GMT Indian warships to stay longer in Persian Gulf, but won't join US coalition Indian warships escorting merchant vessels in the Persian Gulf will remain deployed for the longer term, officials with direct knowledge of the matter said, as tensions between Iran and Western powers rise. But the two ships, backed by surveillance aircraft, will not be part of a military coalition that the United States is assembling to safeguard the waters off Iran near the Straits of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world's oil moves, the two officials said. Since June following attacks on tankers that the United States blamed on Iran and Iran-aligned fighters, a charged Tehran denies, the Indian navy ships have been escorting Indian-flagged vessels in and out of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. "This is not going to stop, the situation being what it is, we will be there for the foreseeable future," said an official with knowledge of naval deployments. India's navy, which has traditionally operated closer to home waters, has over past year or so begun deployments across the Indian Ocean stretching from the Malacca Strait in Southeast Asia to waters off Africa, largely as a response to China's expanding weight across the region. But the maritime operation in the Gulf is also to heed US President Donald Trump's call that major buyers of Middle East oil protect their own tankers, a second Indian official with knowledge of India's policy on the region said. The issue figured during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's meeting with Trump on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Japan last month and Modi told the US leader he had sent ships to protect Indian-flagged vessels, the official said. Trump has been putting pressure on European and Asian allies to shoulder security responsibilities and not depend on the United States alone. Deepening regional tensions, Iran said on Thursday it had seized a foreign tanker smuggling fuel in the Gulf, and the U.S. military commander in the region said the United States would work "aggressively" to ensure free passage of vessels. Refuelling On Friday, U.S. officials will speak to members of the Washington diplomatic corps about the new initiative to promote freedom of navigation and maritime security around the Strait of Hormuz, the State Department said. New Delhi will not be formally joining such a force, in large measure because that would pit it directly against Iran, with which it has had historical political and energy ties. It also has never been part of foreign military task forces, preferring to work under the United Nations flag instead, the first official said. India is the biggest buyer of Iranian oil after China. "We will be carrying out the force protection measures on our own for Indian-flagged vessels. So far, nearly two dozen ships have been provided security," the official said. But there is coordination with the U.S. military with which India has a logistics support agreement, the official said. Indian naval ships operating in the Gulf have been fuelled by the large fleet of U.S. tankers and such assistance will remain because of the indefinite length of operation, the official said. There have been no incidents so far involving Indian commercial shipping in the vital waterways. "I surmise in a conflict we will be neutral. We will be drawn into it only if our shipping is hit," said former Indian naval officer Abhijit Singh, who heads the Maritime Policy Initiative think-tank at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. Singh said Indian navy ships had sailed in the Persian Gulf earlier though never exclusively to escort merchant marine. About 15 Indian ships - destroyers, frigates, corvettes and large patrol vessels - are operating at the entry and exit points of the Indian Ocean, stretching from the Malacca Strait, through which much of China's trade and fuel is routed, to the Gulf of Aden in the west. Fri, 19 Jul 2019 01:12:42 GMT US senator calls for investigation into Russia-made FaceApp New York: The chart-topping Russian-made FaceApp, which allows users to see how they will look as they age, found itself in the eye of a political storm in the US on Wednesday, with one senator urging an FBI investigation into its "national security and privacy risks". A celebrity favourite, the app deploys artificial intelligence to modify users' photos, adding wrinkles or subtracting years from their faces. On Wednesday, US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sounded the alarm over FaceApp's Russian developer, calling for the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission to "look into the national security & privacy risks" connected to the application. "FaceApp's location in Russia raises questions regarding how and when the company provides access to the data of US citizens to third parties, including potentially foreign governments," the New York senator said in a letter to the FBI. "It would be deeply troubling if the sensitive personal information of US citizens was provided to a hostile foreign power actively engaged in cyber hostilities against the United States," he added. Currently the most downloaded free app on Google Play with more than 100 million users, FaceApp was launched two years ago and went viral after its latest editing tool, an ageing filter, sparked a flood of celebrity selfies. Its developers, Wireless Lab, are based in the Skolkovo high-tech hub near Moscow, often called Russia's Silicon Valley - a fact that has stirred concern within the US Democratic Party. The Washington Post has reported that the Democratic National Committee has warned campaigners in the primaries ahead of the 2020 presidential election to "delete the app immediately." The party is particularly sensitive to any possibility of surveillance involving Moscow after some Democratic officials were targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential election campaign. Fears of cyber espionage have flared in recent years, with US authorities worried about foreign governments having access to and potentially misusing personal data belonging to millions of Americans. In May a Chinese mobile gaming company that bought top gay dating app Grindr said it would sell it by June 2020 following pressure from US authorities. US officials reportedly feared that people with American security clearances who use Grindr could be blackmailed if China's government demanded user data from Beijing-based Kunlun Tech. With millions of users in the US, FaceApp's Russian backers have not responded to Schumer's letter. But its CEO told the Post that Russian authorities did not have any access to any user data. Yaroslav Goncharov also told the newspaper that most photos are deleted from its servers within 48 hours and said the app did not use the pictures for any other purpose. Goncharov and Wireless Lab could not immediately be reached by AFP for comment. FaceApp is no stranger to controversy. Soon after its launch, a 'hot' filter that automatically lightened faces sparked accusations of racism. The same year, FaceApp's developers were forced to remove a feature that allowed users to change their ethnicity, prompting some to liken the practice to 'digital blackface'. But the controversies have done little to dim the app's allure among selfie-lovers and celebrities including music superstar Drake, rapper Cardi B and NBA champion Steph Curry. Last week Goncharov commented on his application's viral success in a rare Facebook post. "Overtake Instagram and WhatsApp once again? A small thing but feels good," he wrote. Thu, 18 Jul 2019 14:50:43 GMT US amphibious group patrols Arabian Sea as Iran tensions simmer Aboard USS Boxer, Arabian Sea: At a thumbs-up sign from a sailor, a US Harrier fighter jet takes off from the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer in the Arabian Sea as an oil tanker passes, a nautical mile away. The patrol is "standard" but the situation - growing tension between the United States and Iran - is not. Soon after the roar of the Harrier fades, two combat helicopters and two unmistakable Osprey aircraft with their tiltable rotors land back on the flight deck. "We want to make sure that we assure allies in the region and to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce," says Colonel Fridrik Fridrikson, commanding officer of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Attacks on tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, which the United States blames on Iran, have unsettled crucial shipping lanes that link Middle Eastern oil producers to markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond. Iran denies involvement, but has threatened to respond robustly to US sanctions that have followed President Donald Trump's abandonment of a major 2015 treaty, in which Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work in return for the lifting of sanctions. The United States has beefed up its military presence and is asking allies to help protect the strategic waters off Iran and Yemen. The US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, says Gulf Arab states have stepped up patrols. Captain Jason Burns, commander of the Boxer, flagship of the Amphibious Ready Group, said it had left San Diego in May on a Middle East mission planned a year ago, related to "our usual partnerships with our allies in the region". The group includes the USS John P. Murtha, the USS Harpers Ferry and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which has around 4,500 sailors and Marines. On the Boxer, officers stand on a viewing gallery known as Vulture's Row, using binoculars to follow a traditional Arab dhow sailing by and report its movements. In the hangar bay below, Marines test machine guns. Three hovercraft, each loaded with three Light Armoured Vehicles, stand ready to launch, with trucks, Humvees and other gear lined up behind. Daily training spans the ship's main roles, "whether it’s aviation, ground combat or combat support", says Brigadier General Matthew Trollinger, commander of the Fifth Fleet's Naval Amphibious Force 51. Burns insists the deployment is nothing unusual: "We do our standard presence operations and provide stability to the region, as the Navy has done since World War Two." Thu, 18 Jul 2019 12:13:23 GMT Pakistan to handle Jadhav case as per law: PM Imran Khan Islamabad: Prime Minister Imran Khan Thursday said that Pakistan will proceed further "as per law" in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case after the ICJ ordered an "effective review and reconsideration" of his conviction and sentence by a Pakistani military court. Jadhav, 49, a retired Indian Navy officer, was sentenced to death by the Pakistani military court on charges of "espionage and terrorism" after a closed trial in April 2017. His sentencing evoked a sharp reaction in India following which New Delhi moved the world court. The International Court of Justice bench headed by Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf on Wednesday ordered an "effective review and reconsideration" of the conviction and sentence of Jadhav. The bench, however, rejected some remedies sought by India, including annulment of the military court's decision convicting Jadhav, his release and safe passage to India. Reacting for the first time to the verdict, Khan tweeted: "Appreciate ICJ's decision not to acquit, release and return Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav to India. He is guilty of crimes against the people of Pakistan. Pakistan shall proceed further as per law." Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said "Jadhav shall remain in Pakistan. He shall be treated in accordance with the laws of Pakistan. "This is a victory for Pakistan," he claimed. He said India wanted acquittal of Jadhav, but that was not accepted. "They wanted (his) release, that's not been accepted. They wanted (his) return, that has been rejected," he said. "If they still want to claim victory... Good Luck!" he tweeted. The Pakistan military spokesperson termed the verdict as another "February 27" for India as it surprised the Indians. "It's another February 27 for India because they have been surprised again. They thought that the kind of political capital they have, they can manipulate justice too but that did not happen," Military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told ARY News on Wednesday night. He was referring to Pakistan's downing of an IAF fighter jet and captured its pilot on February 27 after India bombed a terror training camp of JeM in Balakot the previous day. On the issue of implementing the judgment, the spokesman said that "Pakistan will follow the law" as it was a law-abiding nation. "For the verdict to be upheld by an international court where there is no concept of capital punishment is a big victory for Pakistan," he said. He said the ICJ verdict also put confidence in the judicial system of Pakistan because it said that "the review and reconsideration can be done by means of our own choosing is great validation for our judicial system." Pakistan's leading newspapers also hailed the ICJ's decision in the case as a victory for Pakistan. The ICJ in a verdict on July 17 turned Indian pleas for acquittal and repatriation of Jadhav while upholding its stance on the issue of granting consular access, according to Dawn. "The ICJ, however, rejected all other remedies sought by India, which included the annulment of the military court decision convicting Jadhav, restricting Pakistan from executing the sentence, securing Jadhav's release and ordering his return to India," the paper reported. The Express Tribune newspaper on its front page reported that the judgement allowed India consular access to Jadhav but its hopes for acquittal were not fulfilled. The News in its main report wrote that the ICJ found that India's submission pertaining to the acquittal and release of Jadhav could not be upheld. "The ICJ rejected all remedies sought by India, which included the annulment of the military court decision convicting Jadhav, securing his release and ordering his return to India," according to the paper. But the paper acknowledged that the court ruled that Jadhav be allowed consular access immediately and asked Pakistan to ensure "effective review and reconsideration of his conviction and sentences" Thu, 18 Jul 2019 08:02:33 GMT 30 feared killed in arson attack on Japanese animation studio Tokyo: Thirty people were feared dead in an arson attack on a Japanese animation studio on Thursday, authorities said, after a man was seen shouting "die" as he doused the building with fuel in the nation's worst mass killing in nearly two decades. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the fire in the city of Kyoto - the latest grisly killing in a country known for its low crime rates - "too appalling for words" on Twitter and offered condolences to the victims' families. Police arrested a 41-year-old man who had shouted "die" as he poured what appeared to be petrol around the three-storey Kyoto Animation building shortly after 10 a.m. (0100 GMT), public broadcaster NHK reported. Twenty people were confirmed dead and about 10 were showing no vital signs, an official for the Kyoto City Fire Department said, a term authorities often use before a death has been confirmed by a doctor. White and black smoke billowed from the building's charred windows, television footage showed. It was Japan's worst mass killing since a suspected arson attack on a Tokyo building in 2001. "I heard the sound of fire engines and stepped outside my house and saw big flames spewing out of the building," NHK quoted a 16-year-old boy as saying. "Fire department officials were trying to rescue the injured in a nearby park but it seemed like there weren't enough of them," he said. The prime minister said the cause was arson. "Today, many people were killed and wounded in an arson murder case in Kyoto," Abe said in a post on Twitter. "It is too appalling for words." Popular series The studio produces popular series such as the "Sound! Euphonium". Its "Free! Road to the World - The Dream" movie is due for release this month. The 10 people without vital sounds were found in the studio, some on third floor and others in a staircase leading up to the roof, the fire official said. Another 36 were injured, 10 of them seriously, the official said. The suspected arsonist was injured and was being treated in hospital, so police could not question him, NHK said. Kyoto police declined to comment. There was an outpouring of support for the studio on Japanese-language social media, with some users posting pictures of animation. Many posted with the hashtag "#PrayForKyoani" - using an abbreviation for Kyoto Animation. Violent crime is relatively rare in Japan but occasional high-profile incidents have shocked the country. Less than two months ago, a knife-wielding man slashed at a group of schoolgirls at a bus stop in Kawasaki, just south of Tokyo, killing one girl and the father of another, while injuring more than a dozen children. In 2016, a man armed with a knife broke into a facility for the disabled in a small town near Tokyo and killed 19 patients. Thu, 18 Jul 2019 11:22:17 GMT President Trump 'walked the talk' in maintaining pressure on Pak, curb terrorism New York: US President Donald Trump on Wednesday claimed credit for the arrest of Hafiz Saeed by Pakistan government, saying great pressure has been exerted over the last two years to find him. Terming Saeed as "so-called mastermind" of the Mumbai terror attacks, Trump said he has been arrested after a ten-year search. Saeed was arrested Wednesday on terror financing charges by the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of Punjab Province. A UN designated terrorist on whom the US has placed a 10 million dollars bounty was travelling to Gujranwala from Lahore to get pre-arrest bail in terror financing cases registered against him there when he was arrested. After Saeed's arrest, Trump tweeted, "After a ten year search, the so-called 'mastermind' of the Mumbai Terror attacks has been arrested in Pakistan. Great pressure has been exerted over the last two years to find him!" The arrest of Hafiz Saeed came ahead of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) verdict in favour of India on staying the death sentence of Kulbhushan Jadhav. President Donald Trump has "walked the talk" in maintaining pressure on Pakistan to end terrorism emanating from its soil, India's envoy to the US has said, insisting that Islamabad's actions against terror outfits should be "irreversible" and not a "revolving door" where terror masterminds are arrested from one door and taken out through the other. India sees Pakistan government's action with suspicion and the so-called crackdown against terrorists is seen as diversionary tactics. India's Ambassador to the US Harsh Vardhan Shringla was responding to a question on the strong cooperation between India and the US on security issues as well as in multinational fora such as the UN that saw the designation of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist in May this year. "I have to say that President Trump has done what previous presidents have not done. He has walked the talk, as I have said before. He has ensured that financing for Pakistan has been withdrawn because of its association with terrorism. He has withdrawn all aid and all military assistance to Pakistan," Shringla told PTI in an interview here on Monday. He expressed hope that the policy is consistently maintained and it does not get eroded in the light of developments as they unfold. "It is important that pressure on the Pakistani State is maintained so that we don't step back into terrorism emanating out of Pakistan," he said. Referring to the "excellent cooperation" between India and the US in the security and counter-terrorism fronts, he said, "We are partners in making the world a better and safer place, a world that believes in the values, systems and ideologies that we do - democracy, rule of law, vibrant media, independent judiciary. We have the same values and we need to continue to work together." India and the US, along with allies France and the UK, worked relentlessly to get Azhar designated as a global terrorist by the UN Security Council, after a decade-long effort during which China repeatedly blocked bids to sanction the JeM chief. US role is very important in continuing to hold Pakistan accountable on terrorism, ensuring that it does not encourage any support to terrorism from its territories that can affect not just India but the region and the world on the whole, Shringla added. Thu, 18 Jul 2019 07:09:29 GMT As holidays begin, UK looks out for forced marriages London: With summer holidays beginning in Britain this week, officials are redoubling efforts at the border to stop young people being dragged into forced marriages. At a Heathrow Airport arrivals gate, an AFP reporter watched as officials from a special task force comprising police, immigration agents and charity workers intercepted a family disembarking a flight from Bangalore, India. A young woman in the group raised red flags because of bruises on her arm, while a 13-year-old girl appeared especially timid -- both indicators of potential coercion. After speaking to family members individually, officials were satisfied that the family was travelling to Britain for a funeral and the bruising was due to a traffic accident. But the officials also learned that the young woman's parents had recently found her a fiance in their home state of Kerala and that he, too, may travel to Britain. Trained task force officers took the woman aside to brief her on her rights and to press upon her that forced marriage is illegal in Britain. "She's (now) aware of consent, and that she can withdraw her consent at any time," Detective Sergeant Kate Bridger of the Metropolitan Police told her team after they questioned 72 of the 250 people on the Air India flight. Britain outlawed forced marriage in 2014, with a maximum jail term of seven years for offenders. Figures from the interior ministry's forced marriage unit show 1,764 reported cases in 2018 -- a 47 per cent increase from the year before. The reported cases are thought to be the tip of the iceberg. Most cases involve Britons being married against their will overseas, mainly in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. So the task force targeted passengers on flights to and from the Indian sub-continent as well as Middle East hub airports. "It's not just a South Asian problem... it cuts across lots of different cultures and communities too," task force member detective sergeant Trudy Gittins told AFP. Men were also affected, she said, as well as members of the LGBT community -- with cases of gay men forced to marry members of the opposite sex by their conservative families. Cases in Britain have ranged from a two-year-old promised in a religious ceremony to marry into another family, to an 80-year-old Alzheimer's sufferer whose carer forced him into marriage to inherit his estate. A third of the victims are younger than 18, and three-quarters are girls or women. West Midlands Police last year secured the first conviction in England for forced marriage, with a woman jailed after her 13-year-old daughter was raped by her "fiance", a relative in Pakistan. "There are no winners here -- this was her mum," said Gittins. Senior officers said the emphasis of this week's operation was on prevention rather than prosecution. "Our focus is not to criminalise parents or members of the extended family," said the Met's acting chief superintendent Parm Sandhu. "Our focus is to safeguard young people." The task force is targeting Britain's busiest airports, stations and ports as the school holiday season get underway -- a time when cases typically spike. As team members gathered in a windowless room in the bowels of Heathrow, Gittins told them that victims have described being forced into marriage as being "buried alive". "I want you to feel that statement today," she urged her colleagues. Some of those greeted by the task force on arrival at Heathrow welcomed the initiative. "We were very surprised, it's not something we've come across before," said Karan Shah, 31, with his wife on a three-week visit to Britain. The couple had an arranged marriage to which both had agreed, he said, adding that in many parts of rural India forced marriages do still occur. "It's very unfortunate so I give this a big thumbs up," said Shah. Thu, 18 Jul 2019 04:08:00 GMT US judge blasts Mexican drug lord El Chapo's 'overwhelming evil,' imposes life sentence New York: Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, the Mexican drug lord who twice escaped maximum-security prisons in that country, will spend the rest of his life in a US penitentiary, a federal judge said on Wednesday after accusing him of 'overwhelming evil.' Guzman, 62, berated the US justice system, and a former associate described how he had paid a gang $1 million to try to kill her before US District Judge Brian Cogan imposed the mandatory sentence of life plus 30 years. Cogan also ordered Guzman to forfeit $12.6 billion in a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn. The judge said that even if the law had allowed him any leeway, he would have imposed the harshest sentence available, adding that any redeeming qualities Guzman might have were erased by his "overwhelming evil" actions. A jury in February convicted Guzman of trafficking tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana and engaging in multiple murder conspiracies as a top leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, long known as one of Mexico's largest, most violent drug trafficking organizations. Guzman, whose nickname means "Shorty," developed a reputation as a Robin Hood-like figure that made him a folk hero to many in his home state of Sinaloa, where he was born in a poor mountain village. He has been held in solitary confinement in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a fortress-like jail in lower Manhattan. Cogan last month rejected Guzman's request for more time to exercise on the jail's roof, after prosecutors said that would risk an escape. Guzman, who recently grew a moustache, complained about the terms of his confinement before his sentence was handed down. "It has been psychological, emotional, mental torture 24 hours a day," said Guzman. He alleged that the jurors on his case allowed media accounts of the trial to influence their thinking - an argument his lawyers have also made. "Since the government of the United States is going to send me to a prison where my name will not ever be heard again, I take advantage of this opportunity to say there was no justice here," he told the court. 'NEVER AGAIN' Before he was finally captured in 2016, Guzman twice escaped maximum-security prisons in Mexico. He was extradited to the United States to face trial in January 2017. "Never again will Guzman pour poison over our border, making billions while innocent lives are lost to drug violence and addiction," US Attorney Richard Donoghue told a news conference outside the Brooklyn courthouse. "We can ensure that he spends every minute of every day of the rest of his life in prison." Guzman made a name for himself as a trafficker in the 1980s by digging tunnels under the US-Mexico border that allowed him to smuggle drugs more quickly than his rivals. He amassed power during the 1990s and 2000s through often-bloody wars with rivals, eventually becoming the Sinaloa Cartel's best-known leader. His 11-week trial, which featured testimony from more than a dozen former associates who had made deals to cooperate with prosecutors, offered an unprecedented look at the cartel's inner workings. Andrea Velez, a former associate of Guzman, said on Wednesday that Guzman had paid the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang $1 million to have her killed, and that she had escaped with the help of US authorities. "I confess that I sinned, but I paid a high price for my faults," Velez said of her work with the cartel. The trial witnesses, who included some of Guzman's top lieutenants, a communications engineer and a onetime mistress, described how he built a sophisticated organization resembling a multinational corporation. He sent drugs northward with fleets of planes and boats, and had detailed accounting ledgers and an encrypted electronic communication system run through secret computer servers in Canada, witnesses said. US prosecutors have claimed that Guzman sold more than $12 billion worth of drugs, and Forbes magazine once listed him as one of the world's richest men. Guzman often lived on the run. Imprisoned in Mexico in 1993, he escaped in 2001 hidden in a laundry cart and spent the following years moving from one hideout to another in the mountains of Sinaloa, guarded by a private army. He was seized again in 2014, but pulled off his best known escape the following year when he disappeared into a ventilated, mile-long (1.6-km) tunnel dug into his cell in a maximum-security prison. He was finally recaptured in January 2016. The Mexican government says he blew his cover through a series of slip-ups, including an attempt to make a movie about his life. Guzman's lawyers have said they intend to appeal his guilty verdict, citing a report that jurors disobeyed court rules by reading news reports about the case during the trial. Despite Guzman's downfall, the Sinaloa Cartel had the biggest U.S. distribution presence of Mexican cartels as of last year, followed by the fast-growing Jalisco New Generation Cartel, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Wed, 17 Jul 2019 16:37:50 GMT Pakistan arrests Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed Lahore: Mumbai terror attack mastermind and JuD chief Hafiz Saeed was arrested Wednesday on terror financing charges by the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of Punjab Province, just days ahead of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's maiden visit to the US. Saeed, a UN designated terrorist whom the US has placed a USD 10 million bounty on, was travelling to Gujranwala from Lahore to get pre-arrest bail in terror financing cases registered against him there when he was arrested, a CTD official told PTI. "The JuD chief was going to Gujranwala from Lahore on Wednesday morning when a CTD team intercepted him near Gujranwala city (some 80-km from Lahore) and arrested him on terror financing charges," the official said. Saeed was presented before an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Gujranwala that sent him on judicial remand for seven days. He was subsequently shifted to Lahore's high-security Kot Lakhpat jail where former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is serving seven years imprisonment in a corruption case, the official said. In a statement, the CTD said Saeed was arrested in a case registered in Gujranwala and he will face the trial in ATC, Gujranwala. The CTD on July 3 had registered 23 FIRs against 13 top leaders of Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) including Saeed on the charges of "terror financing" in different cities of Punjab province. On Monday, Saeed and his three aides were granted pre-arrest bail by an anti-terrorism court in Lahore, which stopped police from arresting them till August 3 in a land grabbing case and setting up a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) seminary over there. Saeed-led JuD is believed to be the front organisation for the LeT which is responsible for carrying out the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people. He was listed under UN Security Council Resolution 1267 in December 2008. The US Department of the Treasury has designated Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, and the US, since 2012, has offered a USD 10 million reward for information that brings Saeed to justice. Under pressure from the international community, Pakistani authorities have launched investigations into matters of the LeT, the JuD and its charity wing the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) regarding their holding and use of trusts to raise funds for terrorism financing. Saeed's arrest comes just ahead of Prime Minister Khan's maiden visit to the US on July 21 during which he will hold talks with President Donald Trump. Trump has repeatedly asked Pakistan to abide by its UN Security Council commitments to deny terrorists safe haven and block their access to funds. Saeed's arrest is also being seen as a pressure on Pakistan in connection with its commitment to the Financial Act Task Force (FATF) whose next deadline is in October. Since the Khan government has taken control of the JuD and the FIF properties including seminaries and mosques across the country following international pressure built up after the deadly Pulwama attack, Saeed was keeping a low profile at his Lahore's Jauhar Town residence. He was even barred from entering the JuD headquarters in Lahore and Muridke. According to officials, JuD's network includes 300 seminaries and schools, hospitals, a publishing house and ambulance service. The Pakistani government had also recently arrested the JuD's second-in-command Abdul Rehman Makki, who is brother-in-law of Saeed, on the charges of making a public speech and terror financing charges. The CTD said it booked Saeed and his 12 aides for 'terror financing' in 23 cases after "irrefutable evidence against them was detected. The cases have been registered in Lahore, Gujranwala and Multan for collection of funds for terrorism financing through assets/properties made and held in the names of Trusts/ Non Profit Organisations (NPO) including Al-Anfaal Trust, Dawatul Irshad Trust, Muaz Bin Jabal Trust, etc. The CTD said investigation launched into financing matters of proscribed organisations - JuD and LeT - in connection with implementation of UN Sanctions against these Designated Entities and Persons as directed by NSC (National Security Committee) in its Meeting of 1st January 2019 chaired by Prime Minister Khan for implementing National Action Plan. "These suspects made assets from funds of terrorism financing. They held and used these assets to raise more funds for further terrorism financing. Hence, they committed multiple offences of terrorism financing & money laundering under Anti Terrorism Act 1997. They will be prosecuted in ATCs (Anti Terrorism Courts) for commission of these offences," the CTD said. Makki, MaliK Zafar Iqbal, Ameer Hamza, Muhammad Yahya Aziz, Muhammad Naeem Sh, Mohsin Bilal, Abdul Raqeeb, Ahmad Daud, Muhammad Ayub, Abdullah Ubaid, Muhammad Ali and Abdul Ghaffar are other suspects. The other suspects reported to have been hiding since the government took over the properties of these banned organisations. Saeed and others had challenged in the Lahore High Court (LHC) the CTD FIRs on which the court issued notices to the federal government, the Punjab government and CTD and sought a reply from the respondents till July 30. On January 31, 2017, Saeed and his four aides were put under house arrest by the Punjab government under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997. Saeed was released from the house arrest in November, 2017 after the Pakistan government decided against detaining him further in any other case. He was also put under house arrest after the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008 but he was freed by court in 2009. Wed, 17 Jul 2019 11:54:46 GMT Review Kulbhushan Jadhav's death sentence, World Court tells Pakistan The Hague: In a huge victory for India, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Wednesday ordered Pakistan not to execute Kulbushan Jadhav and asked it to reconsider the sentence awarded to him by a military court. The world court also directed Pakistan to grant consular access to Jadhav, while holding that it had "breached" the Vienna Convention in this regard by denying him this right. The court rejected all the objections of Pakistan, including one unanimously on the admissibility of the case and also the claims by Islamabad that India had not provided the actual nationality of Jadhav. The ICJ, in its detailed judgement read out by its president said it was satisfied that Jadhav, who was arrested in March 2016 and sentenced to death by a military court on charges of spying in April 2017, was an Indian national. It observed that even Pakistan, along with India, had acknowledged the fact that Jadhav was an Indian national. The court, in its ruling by 15-1, declared "a continued stay of execution" on Jadhav, saying it "constitutes an indispensable condition for the effective review and reconsideration of the conviction and sentence" of the accused. ICJ said it "finds that the appropriate reparation in this case consists in the obligation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to provide, by the means of its own choosing, effective review and reconsideration of the conviction and sentence of Mr Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav, so as to ensure that full weight is given to the effect of the violation of the rights set forth" of the Vienna Convention on consular access. The court had in May 2017 ordered a stay on Jadhav's execution till the final verdict in the case after India approached it against the Pakistani military court's award of death sentence in an opaque trial. The court found that Pakistan deprived India of the "right to communicate with and have access" to Jadhav to "visit him in detention and to arrange for his legal representation, and thereby breached the obligations incumbent upon it under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The world court said that by not notifying the appropriate consular post of India in Pakistan without delay of Jadhav's detention, India was deprived of the right to render assistance provided for by the Vienna Convention to the individual concerned. Pakistan "breached the obligations incumbent upon it" under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, it observed. The court said Pakistan is "under an obligation" to inform Jadhav "without further delay of his rights and to provide Indian consular officers access to him" in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Wed, 17 Jul 2019 14:40:34 GMT Pakistan opens airspace post Balakot strikes, relief for Air India New Delhi: Pakistan opened its airspace for all civilian traffic on Tuesday morning, sources said, effectively removing the ban on Indian flights that were not allowed to use majority of its airspace since the Balakot air strikes in February. The move is expected to give a major relief to Air India, which suffered a huge financial loss of around Rs 491 crore as it had to re-route its various international flights due to the closure of the Pakistan airspace. "Pakistan has permitted all airlines to fly through its airspace from around 12.41 am today. Indian airline operators will start using normal routes through Pakistan airspace soon," the sources told PTI. Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) at around 12:41am Indian Standard Time, stating that "with immediate effect Pakistan airspace is open for all type of civil traffic on published ATS (air traffic service) routes". Pakistan had fully closed its airspace on February 26 after the Indian Air Force (IAF) struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist training camp in Balakot in retaliation to the Pulwama attack on February 14. Since then, the neighbouring country had only opened two routes, both of them passing through the southern region, of the total 11. On its part, the IAF had announced on May 31 that all temporary restrictions imposed on the Indian airspace post the Balakot strike had been removed. However, it did not benefit most of the commercial airliners and they were waiting for Pakistan to fully open its airspace. In India, the biggest pain was suffered by Air India that conducts various international flights from Delhi to Europe and the US. The national carrier had lost Rs 491 crore till July 2 due to the closure of the Pakistan airspace. Private airlines SpiceJet, IndiGo and GoAir lost Rs 30.73 crore, Rs 25.1 crore and Rs 2.1 crore, respectively, according to the data presented by Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri in the Rajya Sabha on July 3. Post the air strike, Air India had to re-route, merge or suspend many of its international flights that connect India with European and US cities. IndiGo, India's largest airline by domestic market share, was unable to start direct flights from Delhi to Istanbul due to the closure of the Pakistan airspace. The low-cost carrier started the Delhi-Istanbul flight in March. Till date, this IndiGo flight had to take the longer route over the Arabian Sea and make a stop at Doha in Qatar for refuelling. Tue, 16 Jul 2019 03:32:30 GMT Floods maroon parts of India, Nepal; millions displaced Guwahati/Kathmandu: Floods have forced more than four million people from their homes across India, Nepal and Bangladesh and killed more than 100 people as torrential rains in the initial days of monsoons wreaked havoc. The states of Assam and Bihar have been among the worst hit in India. Some 4.3 million people have been displaced from their homes in Assam in the last 10 days due to rising waters across the mostly rural North Eastern region, according to a government release on Monday. Television channels showed roads and railway lines in Bihar submerged, with people wading through chest-high, churning brown waters, carrying their belongings on their heads. Floods in South Asia cause mass displacement and deaths annually, and the death toll and damage from the current monsoon season, which has just begun, is likely to increase in coming weeks. Floods in Nepal, India and Bangladesh during the 2017 monsoon killed at least 800 people and destroyed food crops and homes. An impoverished agrarian province with rickety infrastructure and poor healthcare services, Bihar has a history of flooding in its northern areas bordering Nepal. Flood waters in Assam rose overnight with the Brahmaputra River, which flows down from the Himalayas into Bangladesh, and its tributaries still in spate. Most of the Kaziranga National Park, home to the rare one-horned rhino, was underwater, authorities in Assam said, adding that four people drowned on Monday. "The flood situation has turned very critical with 31 of the 32 districts affected," Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal told reporters. "We are working on a war footing to deal with the flood situation." Assam, known for its tea industry, is hit by seasonal flooding each year, and the state and federal governments have spent millions of rupees on flood control. Army and paramilitary personnel have been deployed across the state for rescue and relief operations and makeshift shelter camps have been set up, while the airforce is on standby, Keshab Mahanta, Assam's water resources minister, told Reuters. The Indian weather office has forecast widespread rains across Assam and Bihar over the next two days. Landslides sweep homes away In neighbouring Nepal, 64 people were killed and 31 were missing, with around a third of all districts hit by heavy rains, authorities said. Many of the deaths were caused by landslides that swept away houses. In Southeast Nepal, water levels on the Kosi River, which flows into Bihar, had receded, an district official said. In 2008, the Kosi broke its banks and changed course, inundating huge tracts of land and killing 500 people. “Our analysis is that the danger is over now that the water level has come down,” Chiranjibi Giri, assistant district administrator of Sunsari district, told Reuters. In Bangladesh, floods forced an estimated 190,000 people out of their homes, government officials said. In Cox's Bazar district, shelter to some 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled violence in neighbouring Myanmar, more than 100,000 people have been displaced. Since early July, flooding and landslides have damaged thousands of shelters at the refugee camps, killing two people, including a child, Human Rights Watch said in a release last week. Tue, 16 Jul 2019 05:31:55 GMT Europe touts its military prowess on Bastille Day as ties with US sour Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday sought to showcase European military cooperation in the annual Bastille Day parade at a time of growing tensions between Europe the United States. Key EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, joined Macron to watch the parade down the Champs-Elysees that marks the July 14, 1789 storming of the Bastille fortress in Paris in the French Revolution. Over 4,000 members of the armed forces, including regiments from other European armies, marched down the famed cobbles of the avenue in a tradition that dates back to the aftermath of World War I. Army dogs festooned with medals, members of France's celebrated Foreign Legion and mounted cavalry in glittering uniforms brandishing ceremonial sabres all paraded in front of the high-ranking guests. Meanwhile, French inventor and entrepreneur Franky Zapata showed off his futuristic flyboard, soaring above the Champs Elysees and the assembled leaders. Standing in an open-top command car alongside France's chief of staff General Francois Lecointre, Macron inspected the waiting forces and waved to the crowds. But in a reminder of the domestic troubles the president has faced in the last months, he met jeers and whistles from supporters of the "yellow vest" movement who have staged weekly protests against the government. Two prominent members of the movement Jerome Rodrigues and Maxime Nicolle, were both detained by the police, sources told AFP. Closer European defence cooperation has been one of Macron's key foreign policy aims and the president shows no sign of wavering despite growing political turbulence in Germany and Britain's looming exit from the European Union. At the 2017 parade, Macron's guest of honour was the freshly-inaugurated US President Donald Trump as the young French leader sought to take the initiative in forming a bond with his counterpart. But since then ties between Trump and Macron have soured over the US pullout from the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, as well as France's new law for a tax on digital giants, mostly US companies. Macron, who pushed the idea of the European Intervention Initiative (E2I) to undertake missions outside of existing structures like NATO, says European defence cooperation is crucial. "Never, since the end of World War II has Europe been so important," Macron said in a statement to mark July 14. He said the aim of the E2I was to "act together and reinforce our capacity to act together," adding: "Our security and our defence pass through Europe." Forces from all nine countries taking part alongside France in the E2I -- including Britain and Germany -- were represented at the parade. In a sign of France's ambition to be a leading modern military power under Macron, the president Saturday announced the creation of a national space force command that will eventually be part of the air force. Highlighting France's continued commitment to NATO, the alliance's secretary general Jens Stoltenberg was also present at the parade. A German A400M transport plane and a Spanish C130 took part in fly-bys, as well as two British Chinook helicopters. The Chinooks are a major symbol of British-French defence cooperation even as Brexit looms, with Britain deploying three of the aircraft and 100 personnel for France's operation in the African Sahel region. Outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May had been expected to attend but Britain was instead represented by senior cabinet minister David Lidington, the Elysee said. Also present were members of the 5,000-strong Franco-German Brigade (BFA), which was created in 1989 as a symbol of postwar unity between France and Germany, and celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Merkel, who is battling to keep her grand coalition together at home, was again under close scrutiny after she suffered three episodes of shaking at official events in recent weeks. Some 4,300 members of the armed forces, 196 vehicles, 237 horses, 69 planes and 39 helicopters were mobilised for the event in the heart of the French capital. Sun, 14 Jul 2019 12:37:36 GMT To the Moon and back: 50 years on, a giant leap into the unknown Washington: The first four days of Apollo 11's journey to the Moon had gone according to plan, but just twenty minutes before landing, the atmosphere grew tense as the crew encountered a series of problems. It was July 20, 1969, and as the world followed the spacecraft's progress, it briefly lost radio contact with mission control in Houston. Then, as the lunar module Eagle was in the middle of its descent, piloted by Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and mission commander Neil Armstrong, an alarm bell began ringing. Eagle had detached two hours earlier from the main part of the vessel, the command module, Columbia, where the third crew member Michael Collins remained in orbit. It was an anxious moment for Armstrong. "Give us a reading on the 1202 Programme Alarm," he radios to mission control. They are told to keep going. Houston realizes the onboard computer is experiencing an overflow, but all systems are functional. Below them, the Moon's craters are zipping by fast. Too fast, realizes Armstrong: at this rate, they will overshoot the landing site by several miles. He switches to manual control and starts to scope out a new landing site from his porthole. But there's trouble finding the perfect spot, and it's going to be tight. Aldrin continues to tell him speed and altitude readings from the computer. "Coming down nicely," he says. Meanwhile, the fuel is rapidly depleting. Houston continues to announce the number of seconds left to the "Bingo fuel call" - the point at which Eagle will have 20 seconds left to land, or abort the mission. It is now 30 seconds left to Bingo. Armstrong, summoning all his experience, is silent as he concentrates. The module comes to a rest on the ground. "Contact Light," says Aldrin, meaning one of the leg's foot sensors has touched down. The engines are switched off. "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed," announces Armstrong. "We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot," replies Charlie Duke, the CapCom or capsule communicator on the ground. In 1961, President John F Kennedy called upon his vice president Lyndon Johnson to beat the Soviets in space. Johnson reaches out to the godfather of NASA's space program: Wernher von Braun. The former card-carrying Nazi was the inventor of the V-2 rockets that rained destruction on London in World War II. Toward the end of the war, he surrendered himself to the Americans, who brought him and a hundred of his best engineers to Alabama, as part of the secret "Operation Paperclip." Braun told Johnson that while the US was well behind, they could conceivably beat the Russians if they immediately started work on a giant booster rocket. Eight years later, Richard Nixon was president when the goal was realized. Between October 1968 and May 1969, four preparatory Apollo missions were launched. Armstrong was chosen in December 1968 to command the eleventh. Months from launch, Armstrong told Aldrin he was pulling rank and would be the first to set foot on the lunar surface. When the monstrous rocket designed by Braun launched with the Apollo 11 capsule at its summit on July 16, 1969, one million people flocked to the beach to watch. But many had doubts that they'd succeed in landing on the Moon on the first attempt. For those in America, the final descent would take place on Sunday evening. In Europe, it was already nighttime, but everyone was glued to their televisions, though they could only hear crackling radio communications until Armstrong set up his black and white camera ahead of his first step. As he climbed down to the foot of the ladder, he observed that Eagle's footpads had sunk into the ground by only an inch or two, and the surface appeared very fine grained. "It's almost like a powder," he recalled. Then, over the radio: "Okay. I'm going to step off the LM now." A pause, and then the immortal words: "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind." According to Armstrong, the line wasn't scripted. "I thought about it after landing," he would say in an oral history recorded by NASA in 2001. One problem: without the indefinite article ("a man"), it wasn't grammatically correct. Armstrong said he meant to say it, but agreed it was inaudible. What does the Moon look like, up close? Its colour varies with the angle of the Sun: from brown to grey to black as coal. And the lower level of gravity takes getting used to. "I started jogging around a bit, and it felt like I was moving in slow motion in a lazy lope, often with both of my feet floating in the air," Aldrin wrote in a book in 2009. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, Armstrong picks up piles and piles of Moon rocks and takes photographs. Aldrin installs a seismometer and two other scientific instruments. They plant the US flag, and leave behind a host of items including a medal honouring the first man in space, Russia's Yuri Gagarin. Happily, the lunar module's engine worked, it rendezvoused back with Columbia, and the trio began the long journey home. On July 24, it enters the atmosphere, becoming for a while a fireball in the sky before deploying three parachutes and splashing down safely into the Pacific. At their first press conference, three weeks later, reporters asked the three men, now global heroes, whether they would ever consider returning to the Moon. "In the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, we had very little time for meditation," replied Armstrong, ever to the point. None of them would go back to space ever again. After six more missions, the Apollo programme was terminated in 1972. It was not until Donald Trump came to office that the US would decide to return to the Moon, under the Artemis program, named for Apollo's twin sister. Sun, 14 Jul 2019 05:10:58 GMT Parts of Manhattan plunge into darkness after transformer blast New York: A blackout hit more than 40,000 customers in Manhattan on Saturday, plunging subway stations and shops into darkness and sending thousands of people into the streets after a transformer explosion on New York's West Side. A Reuters witness in the area reported hearing an explosion around 7 pm. (2300 GMT), and a city Fire Department spokesman said firefighters were on the scene of a transformer fire. "Members are responding to reports of numerous stuck elevators that are occupied, but there are currently no patients reported," the department said on Twitter. The outage extended from Fifth Avenue west to the Hudson River, and from the West 40s north to 72nd Street, authorities said. "We expect this to be a very short-term situation" New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo told CNN. "We don't yet have a good estimate for how long it should take to restore the power." Utility Con Edison said shortly after 10 p.m. ET (0200 GMT) on Twitter that it had begun restoring power. "Power is being restored on Manhattan's Upper West Side and we're estimating most customers will be restored at midnight," the utility said. Sidewalks in Times Square that are usually crowded with tourists on a balmy summer Saturday night were overflowing as at least some Broadway theaters canceled performances. The lights of Radio City Music Hall were dark. In an attempt to cheer customers, the cast from the musical "Come From Away" performed a song in front of the stage door. "Hadestown" cast members also staged a street-side performance. With traffic lights out, cars and taxis jammed intersections as emergency vehicles and fire engines with sirens blaring tried to pass. Cuomo said he was sending 100 State Police and some National Guard personnel to the city to help with traffic control. As darkness fell just before 9 p.m. (0100 GMT), people on the Upper West Side had to use their mobile phone flashlights to negotiate normally brightly lit streets, while there were reports of people trapped in building elevators without power. The Con Edison utility said it was working to restore power to 42,000 customers and would provide updates as it got them. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wrote on Twitter that the ConEd substation on the West Side had a "major disturbance" and that the utility was working on fixing it. Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN said he had spoken with the police commissioner and the deputy commissioner responsible for counterterrorism. "From what we're seeing at this moment, this is simply a mechanical problem and one, again, that sounds like it is addressable in a reasonable period of time," de Blasio said. New York has endured large-scale blackouts before, most recently following Superstorm Sandy in 2012 as well as the widespread 2003 blackout across the U.S. Northeast that left most of the city without power for a day. Saturday's outage occurred on the 42nd anniversary of a New York blackout that crippled the city during a heat wave on July 13, 1977. Power was not restored until the next day. Emerging from a subway station next to Central Park, Jeff O'Malley, a consultant who lives in Manhattan, said he was stuck in a subway car for more than an hour. "We were stuck for about 75 minutes," said O'Malley, 57. "It's completely dark. People had to use the flashlights on their phones to see their way out." The city's subway system said it was working with the utility and that the outage was affecting Midtown and the Upper West Side. "Several stations are currently without power and are being bypassed by all trains," it posted on Twitter. "People were having fun at first when the lights went out; it was something different," said the manager on duty at the Oxbow Tavern on Columbus Avenue and 71st Street, who declined to give his name. With some stations and traffic lights dark, many residents and visitors alike took to the streets and walked, according to social media posts, many of which had the hashtag #blackoutnyc. Sun, 14 Jul 2019 03:47:09 GMT Life-threatening tropical storm Barry grinds toward Louisiana New Orleans: City officials warned New Orleans residents on Friday to secure their homes, stock up on supplies and prepare to huddle indoors with Tropical Storm Barry poised to make landfall as the first Atlantic hurricane of 2019. Barry's maximum sustained winds were clocked at 65 miles per hour (100 kph) as it churned through the northern Gulf of Mexico toward Louisiana. Meteorologists warned that torrential rains - as much as 2 feet (60 cm) in some places - are likely to unleash severe flooding. While New Orleans authorities refrained from ordering evacuations and advised residents to shelter in place instead, tourism officials reported an exodus of hotel guests checking out early on Friday. Some airlines, including British Airways, have cancelled outbound flights from the city through Saturday. Mandatory evacuations were imposed in flood-prone coastal areas of two neighbouring parishes south of the city. US President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for Louisiana, and the region's oil production was scaled back by nearly 60 percent as energy companies evacuated offshore drilling facilities. A performance scheduled for Sunday by the Rolling Stones at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, which served as an emergency shelter during the Hurricane Katrina flood catastrophe of 2005, was postponed until Monday. The impending storm was widely seen as a key test of the fortified flood defences put in place following Katrina, which inundated much of the city and killed some 1,800 people. Barry is expected to cross the coastline southwest of New Orleans on Saturday morning. It is forecast to reach Category-1 hurricane strength by then, with winds of at least 74 mph (119 kph), the National Weather Service said. Dangerous and life-threatening The storm's flood potential, rather than its high winds, posed the greatest danger to the low-lying metropolitan landscape of New Orleans, a city virtually surrounded on all sides by rising waters. "Tropical Storm Barry is a dangerous and life-threatening storm," Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Schott said at a news conference. "Major to ... record flooding will be possible." Authorities were keeping a particularly watchful eye on the levee system built to contain the lower Mississippi River, which winds through the heart of New Orleans and was already well above flood stage from months of heavy upstream rainfall over the Midwest. A coastal storm surge into the mouth of the Mississippi is expected to push its crest to 19 feet (5.79 m) in New Orleans on Saturday, the highest level since 1950 and dangerously close to the top of the city's levees. The brunt of Barry was expected to skirt the western edge of New Orleans, avoiding a direct hit. But Mayor LaToya Cantrell said 48 hours of heavy downpours could overwhelm pumps designed to purge streets and storm drains of excess water. "There is no system in the world that can handle that amount of rainfall in such a short period," Cantrell said on Twitter. New Orleans was already saturated after thunderstorms drenched the city with a foot of rain on Wednesday. "If it's worse than the other day, it'd be the worst week since Katrina," said musician Robert Harris, 61, polishing his trombone while sitting in a folding chair on a sidewalk. Floodgates and leaves While street flooding seemed probable, officials from the US Army Corps of Engineers insisted that significant breaching of the 20-foot-tall levees in New Orleans was unlikely. All levee floodgates were being closed, along with a giant surge barrier erected after Katrina. The chance of overtopping levees seemed greater farther downstream, where the levee walls are lower. The level of Lake Pontchartrain, an estuary on the city's northern flank, rose by 3 feet on Friday, triggering the closure of a flood gate on a canal that breached during Katrina, said Derrick Boese, chief administrator for the local flood control agency. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for areas of Plaquemines Parish beyond the levees southeast of the city and for low-lying communities in Jefferson Parish, to the southwest. New Orleans residents planning to ride out the storm flocked to supermarkets for bottled water, ice, snacks and beer, thronging grocery stores in such numbers that some ran out of shopping carts. Throughout the city, motorists left cars parked on the raised median strips of roadways hoping the extra elevation would protect them from flood damage. City residents were asked to remain indoors after 8pm on Friday. Larry Gumpert, the 74-year-old owner of a pest-control company, said he planned to hunker down at home, cooking and catching up on household chores. "If all the predictions come true, we're going to see major street flooding," Gumpert said. "The Army Corps has spent time, money and energy trying to fortify the city. This is a good test of what they have accomplished since Katrina. We'll see." Sat, 13 Jul 2019 02:55:20 GMT Hafiz Saeed challenges terror financing charges against him Lahore: Mumbai attack mastermind and JuD chief Hafiz Saeed and his six aides on Friday challenged the charges of terror financing and money laundering against them in a Pakistani court. The Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of Punjab Police on July 3 registered 23 FIRs against 13 leaders of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) including its chief Saeed on the charges of "terror financing" in different cities of Punjab province. Despite the Punjab Police's claim that all those nominated in the terror financing FIRs will be arrested, no action has been taken against them so far. On Friday Saeed, who is reportedly living at his Jauhar Town residence in Lahore, challenged these FIRs in the Lahore High Court (LHC). Saeed and other six JuD made the federal and the Punjab governments, and CTD respondents in the case. "Hafiz Saeed and other (petitioners) are not members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) as per the (earlier) judgement of the LHC. The petitioners have no nexus with LeT or Al-Qaeda. They belong to JuD and they are not involved in any terrorist activity and they are only working for social welfare like 'Edhi' and more than that they are also educating the poor and the needy," the petition said. "The Indian lobby made allegations against them (Saeed and others) that they are involved in Mumbai attacks but there is no such evidence or even any linkage born out from the said documents against the petitioners. There is no evidence that the petitioners are involved in anti-state activities and security risk," it said. The petitioners prayed to the LHC to declare that they (petitioners) are not linked with the LeT and therefore the CTD's FIRs be declared illegal. Fri, 12 Jul 2019 16:07:51 GMT Deadly Dubai bus accident: Omani driver sentenced to 7 years Dubai: The Omani bus driver, who rammed the vehicle into a height barrier in Dubai that killed 17 people, including eight Keralites, has been sentenced to seven years in jail followed by deportation and ordered to pay USD 925,000 as blood money, according to media reports. Twelve Indians were among the 17 people killed in the horrific bus accident on June 7 when the bus, coming from Oman, wrongly entered a road not designated for buses and crashed into a height barrier that cut the left side of the bus and killed passengers sitting on that side. The other deceased include two Pakistanis, one Omani and one Filipina. According to The Gulf News, the Dubai Traffic Court has ordered that the 53-year-old bus driver be deported after his jail term is over and in addition he should pay USD 13,000 (dirham 50,000) fine. He will also have to pay USD 925,00 (dirham 3.4 million) in blood money for the families of the victims and his licence was also suspended for one year, the report said. After the court pronounced its judgement, families of the crash victims said that the "justice is served," the Khaleej Times reported. Many families are glad that the judgement came so fast. "We think the judgement is fair, and we expected it. We are happy that it came so fast. We predicted it would take a few more months. Now, we can start the procedural work," one of the relatives said. "The family is back home in Thalassery, Kerala. We're still unclear on what to do next, but I think the logical next step is to be appointing a lawyer to help us get the amount. They are in extreme financial distress, and this amount would really help," he was quoted as saying by the report. On June 6, the Muscat-to-Dubai Mwasalat bus service struck an overhead height barrier at 94 km/h at the turn off from Mohammad Bin Zayed Road leading onto Rashidiya Road, where it was due to make a scheduled stop at Rashidiya Metro. According to the Traffic Prosecution, the speed limit on that road is 40 km/h. The driver took a wrong left turn not designated for buses which led to the height restriction, instead of going right, the authorities said. Fri, 12 Jul 2019 06:42:56 GMT Hubble telescope finds mysterious black hole disc Washington: Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered a disc very close to a starving black hole - something that should not be there - based on current astronomical theories. The unexpected thin disc of material was found encircling a supermassive black hole at the heart of the spiral galaxy NGC 3147, located 130 million light-years away, according to a study published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The presence of the black hole disc in such a low-luminosity active galaxy has astronomers surprised. Black holes in certain types of galaxies such as NGC 3147 are considered to be starving as there is insufficient gravitationally captured material to feed them regularly. It is therefore puzzling that there is a thin disc encircling a starving black hole that mimics the much larger discs found in extremely active galaxies, the study said. The disc's material was measured by Hubble to be whirling around the black hole at more than 10 per cent of the speed of light. At such extreme velocities, the gas appears to brighten as it travels toward Earth on one side, and dims as it speeds away from our planet on the other. This effect is known as relativistic beaming. Hubble's observations also show that the gas is embedded so deep in a gravitational well that light is struggling to escape, and therefore appears stretched to redder wavelengths. The black hole's mass is around 250 million times that of the Sun. "This is an intriguing peek at a disc very close to a black hole, so close that the velocities and the intensity of the gravitational pull are affecting how we see the photons of light," explained the study's first author Stefano Bianchi of Roma Tre University in Italy. Of particular interest, this disc of material circling the black hole offers researchers a unique opportunity to test Albert Einstein's theories of relativity. "We've never seen the effects of both general and special relativity in visible light with this much clarity," said Marco Chiaberge of the European Space Agency, and the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore, Maryland. Fri, 12 Jul 2019 14:13:08 GMT At Vatican, empty tombs add new twist to missing girl mystery Vatican City: The Vatican opened two tombs on Thursday to see if the body of a girl missing since 1983 was hidden there and ran into a new mystery when nothing was found, not even the bones of two 19th century princesses supposed to be buried there. Experts were looking for the remains of Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican clerk who failed to return home following a music lesson in Rome. Her disappearance has been the subject of wild speculation in the Italian media for years .Exhumation work began after morning prayer in the Teutonic Cemetery, a burial ground just inside the Vatican walls used over the centuries mainly for Church figures or members of noble families of German or Austrian origin. Officials were expecting to find at least the bones of Princess Sophie von Hohenlohe, who died in 1836, and Princess Carlotta Federica of Mecklenburg, who died in 1840, but there was no trace of either. "The result of the search was negative. No human remains or funeral urns were found," Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said. Gisotti said the Vatican would now examine records structural work done in the cemetery at the end of the 19th century and again about 60 years ago to see if they could shed any light on the new mystery. Princess Sophie's tomb led to a large empty underground room and no human remains were found in Princess Carlotta's tomb, he said. "They went down and found a room measuring 4 metres by 3 metres (13 feet by 10 feet), which was the first surprise...There was absolutely nothing inside," Emanuela's brother, Pietro Orlandi, told reporters outside the Vatican. The two tombs were opened in the presence of the Orlandi family and descendants of the princesses. The Orlandi family had received an anonymous letter saying Emanuela's body might be hidden among the dead in the Teutonic Cemetery where a statue of an angel holding a book reads "Requiescat in Pace," Latin for "Rest in Peace". Theories about Orlandi's disappearance have run the gamut from an attempt to secure freedom for Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk jailed in 1981 for trying to assassinate Pope John Paul II, to a connection to the grave of Enrico De Pedis, a mobster buried in a Rome basilica. His tomb was opened in 2012 but nothing was revealed. Last year, bones found during ground work at the Vatican embassy in Rome sparked a media frenzy suggesting they might belong to Orlandi or to Mirella Gregori, another teenager who disappeared the same year. DNA tests turned out negative. Police in 1983 did not exclude the possibility that Orlandi may have been abducted and killed for reasons with no connection to the Vatican or been a victim of human trafficking. Fri, 12 Jul 2019 05:13:55 GMT Small leak found from nuclear Soviet sub that sank in 1989 Copenhagen: A small radiation leak from a Soviet nuclear submarine that sank 30 years ago has been found, Norwegian researchers said Thursday, but it poses no risk to people or fish. Hilde Elise Heldal of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research said that levels "weren't alarmingly high." The institute said that findings were around 100 Becquerel (Bq) per litre as opposed to around 0.001 Bq per litre elsewhere in the Norwegian Sea. Several samples taken in and around a ventilation duct on the wreck of the submarine contained far higher levels of radioactive caesium than you would normally find in the Norwegian Sea, the institute said in a statement. However, other samples from the same duct didn't contain elevated values. "We took water samples from inside this particular duct because the Russians had documented leaks here both in the 1990s and more recently in 2007," said Heldal, the expedition leader."So we weren't surprised to find high levels here." "What we have found during has very little impact on Norwegian fish and seafood," she added. "In general, caesium levels in the Norwegian Sea are very low, and as the wreck is so deep, the pollution from Komsomolets is quickly diluted." The institute said there is not much fish in the area where the submarine is located. The joint Norwegian-Russian expedition set off Saturday from Tromsoe, northern Norway, to the Arctic Barents Sea where the Komsomolets submarine sank at about 1,700 metres in 1989. Forty-two of the 69 crewmen died in a fire, and the submarine's nuclear reactor and two nuclear warheads are still on board. The Norwegian research vessel G O Sars arrived on location Sunday and sent down a remote-controlled submersible, which made the measurements that will be analyzed further at a later stage, the institute said. Thu, 11 Jul 2019 14:45:41 GMT US House passes bill to remove 7% country-cap on Green Card Washington: The US House of Representatives has passed by an overwhelming majority a legislation to remove the seven per cent country-cap on Green Card applicants, a development which could end the agonising wait of tens of thousands of talented professionals from countries like India who have sought permanent residency. The bill, when signed into law, increases the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas from seven per cent of the total number of such visas available that year to 15 per cent and eliminates the seven per cent cap for employment-based immigrant visas. A Green Card allows a non-US citizen to live and work permanently in America. Indian IT professionals, most of whom are highly skilled and come to the US mainly on the H-1B work visas, are the worst sufferers of the current immigration system which imposes a seven per cent per country quota on allotment of the coveted Green Card or permanent legal residency. The bill titled 'Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019' or 'HR 1044' to eliminate the per-country numerical limitation for employment-based immigrants, to increase the per-country numerical limitation for family-sponsored immigrants, and for other purposes, was passed on Wednesday by an overwhelming 365-65 votes in a 435-member House. Lifting the per-country cap would mainly benefit professionals from countries like India, for whom the wait for Green Card is more than a decade. Some of the recent studies have said the waiting period for Indian IT professionals on H-1B visas is more than 70 years. The bill also establishes transition rules for employment-based visas from Financial Year 2020-22 by reserving a percentage of EB-2 (workers with advanced degrees or exceptional ability), EB-3 (skilled and other workers), and EB-5 (investors) visas for individuals not from the two countries with the largest number of recipients of such visas. Of the unreserved visas, not more than 85 per cent shall be allotted to immigrants from any single country, Congressional Research Service (CRS) said. The bill, however, has to be passed by the Senate, where the ruling Republican Party enjoys a majority, before it can be signed into law by US President Donald Trump. A similar bill being supported by a bipartisan group of senators, including Indian-origin Senator Kamala Harris, is slated to come up for consideration soon in the Senate. Congressman John Curtis, speaking on House floor, said that bill will create a first-come, first-serve system providing certainty to workers and families and enabling US companies to flourish and compete in a global economy as they hire the brightest people to create products, services, and jobs - regardless of where they were born. "This bill would do nothing to move the current employment-sponsored system toward a more merit-based system," said Joseph S Joh, Assistant Director and Senior Advisor in the Office of Legislative Affairs, Department of Homeland Security. The passage of the bill was welcomed by Indian professionals from across the country, in particularly in the Silicon Valley in California, Seattle area in Washington State, the Greater Washington DC Area and the tri-State area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Top American IT companies also welcomed the passage of the bill and urged the Senate to pass it at earliest so that the President can sign it into law. "Today the US House passed legislation to ensure people from all countries are treated the same in the green card process. This promotes a fair high-skilled immigration system that's good for business and our economy," said Microsoft president Brad Smith. Todd Schulte, president, an advocacy organisation representing top Silicon Valley companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and DropBox, said that "this bill will help ensure that those seeking permanent residency will not have to face extraordinary wait times - projected at 50 years or more for people from countries like India and China - simply because of their country of origin." "Eliminating 'per-country' caps for employment-based green cards and raising caps for family-based green cards will make the system fairer for immigrant families while also strengthening the United States' ability to recruit and retain top global talent by establishing a fair and predictable path to permanent legal status," he said. The bill which was championed by Sunayana Dumala, the wife of Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla who was shot dead in a hate crime shooting, said that it was an important day and "a moment we have been waiting for years. Finally, our hard work and tireless efforts have come into fruition," The Kansas City Star reported. Kuchibhotla was killed in a shooting at restaurant in Olathe in Kansas in February 2017. His wife Sunayana made multiple visits to Washington to advocate for the legislation. "After the tragic murder of my husband, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, I lost my status to stay in the country and the immigration struggle took over my grief," Dumala said in a statement on Wednesday. "And today, with HR 1044 getting passed, I can finally find peace and no words can express my happiness," she said. Thu, 11 Jul 2019 14:16:30 GMT 34 killed, over 120 injured in two accidents in Pakistan Lahore/Islamabad: At least 16 passengers were killed and more than 80 others injured on Thursday when an express train rammed into a stationary freight train in Pakistan's Punjab province, officials said. The Quetta-bound Akbar Express collided with the stationary freight train at the Walhar Railway Station in Sadiqabad Tehsil of the province, Dawn quoted officials as saying. The freight train was on the loop line when the speeding passenger train instead of running on the main line entered the wrong track. "Sixteen people have been killed and over 80 others injured in the collision between two trains," according to a police official. All passengers, onboard the train headed to Quetta, have been removed from the train and track clearance operations were underway, Deputy Commissioner Rahim Yar Khan, Jamil Ahmed Jamil said. He said that heavy machinery was being used to rescue passengers who were stuck in the train, adding that they were being provided with food and water. Authorities said the Pakistan Army was also taking part in the rescue efforts. The engine of the Akbar Express was completely destroyed in the accident while three compartments were also damaged, police said. The injured have been shifted to nearby hospitals of Sadiqabad and Rahim Yar Khan for treatment where an emergency has been declared, Geo news reported. A child and a man have been rescued from the train, the report said. Officials say they fear more casualties in the accident. Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi have expressed deep sorrow over the loss of lives in the train accident. In a tweet, Prime Minister Khan said he has asked Railways Minister to take emergency steps to counter decades of neglect of railway infrastructure and ensure safety standards. Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed has ordered an investigation into the accident. He said that the accident appeared to have occurred due to human negligence. He announced compensation of Rs 15 lakh for the families of the deceased and Rs 5 lakh each for the injured, Dawn reported. Fri, 12 Jul 2019 05:03:14 GMT Iran attempted to block our oil tanker: Britain London: Three Iranian vessels tried to block the passage of a BP-operated tanker through the Strait of Hormuz but withdrew after warnings from a British warship, the British government said on Thursday. The stand off followed a warning by U.S. President Donald Trump that U.S. sanctions on Iran would soon be "substantially" increased as part of Washington's drive to curb Iran's nuclear activities and regional behaviour. Britain urged Iran to "de-escalate the situation in the region" after the incident involving British Heritage, which is operated by BP under an Isle of Man flag. "HMS Montrose was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away," a British government spokesman said in a statement. The incident came almost a week after British Royal Marines boarded an Iranian tanker, the Grace 1, off Gibraltar and seized it on suspicion that it was breaking EU sanctions by taking oil to Syria. Iran's armed forces chief of staff, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, had said the British seizure would not go unanswered but the Islamic Republic denied it had sought to stop the British Heritage. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed the British report as "worthless", according to the semi-official Fars news agency. Key shipping lane A BP spokesman said the oil major's top priority was the safety and security of its crews and vessels, adding: "While we are not commenting on these events, we thank the Royal Navy for their support." BP CEO Bob Dudley, asked about the tensions in the Gulf at an event at London's Chatham House on Wednesday evening, said: "We've got to be super careful about our ships". The world's most important oil artery links Middle East oil producers with markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond. It is just 21 miles (33 km) wide at its narrowest point but the shipping lane is just two miles (three km) wide in either direction. Shipping tracker data showed the UK-flagged crude oil tanker Pacific Voyager operated by Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd took a similar route to the British Heritage on Wednesday through the Strait of Hormuz. Refinitiv data shows four other UK registered tankers are currently present in the Gulf. Tensions in the Gulf have been rising over recent weeks as Iran began to move away from the terms of the 2015 nuclear accord it struck with world powers. The United States withdrew from the pact last year and extended sanctions against Iran, effectively driving Iran from mainstream oil markets and forcing it to find unconventional ways to sell crude, it's main revenue earner. That has deprived Tehran of the economic benefits Iran was to accrue in return for curbing its nuclear program, and the Islamic Republic says it will only return to full compliance once sanctions are lifted and Washington rejoins the pact. Clash of wills The long-time foes say publicly they want to avoid war but the risk of direct confrontation has been rising. Last month, Iran shot down a U.S. drone near the Strait of Hormuz. Trump aborted a retaliatory military strike, saying it could have killed 150 people, and signalled he was open to talks with Tehran without preconditions. The United States hopes to enlist allies over the next two weeks or so in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday. European parties to the nuclear accord - Britain, France and Germany - have sought to keep the deal alive but Iran has said it will take further steps away from the accord unless it is allow to resume normal oil sales. Francois Lecointre, the French armed forces chief, described the friction between the United States and France as a "clash of wills". "I think it is under control now... I don't think it can spiral out of control but there can be escalation," he told CNews television. Thu, 11 Jul 2019 11:25:32 GMT Trump violates US Constitution by blocking his Twitter critics, rules court New York/Washington: US President Donald Trump violated the Constitution by blocking people whose views he disliked from his Twitter account, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday. In a 3-0 decision, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the First Amendment forbids Trump from using Twitter's "blocking" function to limit access to his account, which has 61.8 million followers. "The First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees," wrote Circuit Judge Barrington Parker, citing several Supreme Court decisions. Kelly Laco, a spokeswoman for the US Department of Justice, which argued the appeal, said: "We are disappointed with the court's decision and are exploring possible next steps." The White House declined to comment. White House social media director Dan Scavino was also a defendant. Twitter declined to comment. Trump has made his @RealDonaldTrump account, which he opened in 2009, a central and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his agenda and to attack critics. His blocking of critics was challenged by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, as well as seven Twitter users he had blocked. "The decision will help ensure the integrity and vitality of digital spaces that are increasingly important to our democracy," said Jameel Jaffer, Knight's executive director. Tuesday's decision upheld a May 2018 ruling by US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan, which prompted Trump to unblock some accounts. The Justice Department had called her ruling "fundamentally misconceived," saying Trump used Twitter to express his views, not to offer a public forum for discussion. Parker, however, said Trump's account bears "all the trappings of an official, state-run account" and is "one of the White House's main vehicles for conducting official business." He said Trump and his aides have characterized the president's tweets as official statements, and that even the National Archives considers them official records. Parker also found it ironic that Trump censored speech at a time the conduct of the US government and its officials is subject to intense, passionate and wide-open debate. "This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing," he wrote. "We remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavoured speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less." The case is Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University et al v Trump et al, 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 18-1691. Wed, 10 Jul 2019 04:36:32 GMT China urges US to withdraw arms sales to Taiwan Beijing: China on Tuesday urged the US to immediately withdraw a $2.2 billion arms sales to Taiwan and sever military ties with the island nation. "China urges the US to honour its commitment to the one-China principle and the three China-US joint communique, immediately withdraw arms sales to and sever military ties with Taiwan to avoid further damage to bilateral relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait," Xinhua news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang as saying here. Geng's remarks come after the Pentagon on Monday night confirmed the US President Donald Trump's administration's approval of the sale of 108 Abrams tanks, 250 Stinger missiles and related equipment. The Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said that the sale would not alter the basic military balance in the region and that it has notified Congress of the move. Meanwhile, the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry in a statement on Tuesday said the approval of the arms sale by the US was proof of Washington's support in the face of growing intimidation from China as well as it's firm determination to fulfil its security commitments, Efe news reported. China often objects to US arms sales to Taiwan as Beijing considers the island part of Chinese territory and wants it reunited with the mainland. Last month, China's Foreign Ministry had urged the US to halt the sale, calling it an "extremely sensitive and damaging" decision. Even if the US severed its diplomatic channels with Taiwan in 1979 and established ties with China, it is bound by law to sell arms to Taipei for its defence. This has long been a sore point in Washington-Beijing ties and becomes more contentious after US Trump came to power. After taking office in 2016, Trump spoke to Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen by phone, breaking an almost four-decade protocol that rattled China. Tue, 09 Jul 2019 15:41:30 GMT 'No longer acceptable,' Donald Trump attacks India on tariffs Washington: President Donald Trump on Tuesday said India has long had a "field day" imposing tariffs on American products, which is "no longer acceptable" to the US. Trump's terse comment came days after his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 28 where the two leaders aired their concerns over the bilateral trade disputes and agreed for a meeting of their commerce ministers to sort out the issues. "India has long had a field day putting Tariffs on American products. No longer acceptable!" Trump tweeted on Tuesday. Later this week, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Energy Secretary Rick Perry are scheduled to address a major India centric conference in Washington DC. President Trump, championing his 'America First' policy has been a vocal critic of India for levying "tremendously high" duties on US products, has described the country as a "tariff king". Though trade is an important part of the booming bilateral relationship, a row over market access and tariffs has escalated in recent months, leading to fears of a protracted dispute. Before his meeting with Modi, Trump tweeted, "I look forward to speaking with Prime Minister Modi about the fact that India, for years having put very high Tariffs against the United States, just recently increased the Tariffs even further. This is unacceptable and the Tariffs must be withdrawn!" India has raised tariffs on 28 items, including almond, pulses and walnut, exported from the US in retaliation to America's withdrawal of preferential access for Indian products. Trump has also criticised India's high import tariff on the iconic Harley Davidson motorcycles as "unacceptable". President Trump terminated India's designation as a beneficiary developing nation under the key GSP trade programme from June 5 after determining that New Delhi has not assured the US that it will provide "equitable and reasonable access" to its markets. The Generalized System of Preference (GSP) is the largest and oldest US trade preference programme and is designed to promote economic development by allowing duty-free entry for thousands of products from designated beneficiary countries. The Trump administration wants India to lower the trade barriers and embrace "fair and reciprocal" trade. Last February, India slashed the customs duty on imported motorcycles like Harley-Davidson to 50 per cent after Trump called it "unfair" and threatened to increase the tariff on import of Indian bikes to the US. The government on June 21 last year decided to impose these duties in retaliation to the US decision of significantly hiking customs duties on certain steel and aluminium products. America, in March last year, imposed 25 per cent tariff on steel and a 10 per cent import duty on aluminium products. Many US companies like Google, Mastercard, Visa and Amazon have raised concerns over the issue of data localisation and its impact on their operational cost. In April last year, the Reserve Bank of India had issued a directive on 'Storage of Payment System Data'. It had advised all system providers to ensure that within a period of six months, the entire data relating to payment systems operated by them is stored in a system only in India, for effective monitoring. India has also dragged the US to the World Trade Organisation's dispute settlement mechanism over the imposition of import duties on steel and aluminium. India's exports to the US in 2017-18 stood at USD 47.9 billion, while imports were at USD 26.7 billion. The trade balance is in favour of India. Tue, 09 Jul 2019 14:14:06 GMT Enrica Lexie case: Hearing begins on Italy's request to drop prosecution against marines The Hague: An international arbitration court Monday began hearing into Italy's request to direct India to drop all criminal prosecution against two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in 2012 and grant Rome jurisdiction in the case. Italy took the issue to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2015, saying the case should be tried under maritime law as the incident happened in international waters. India, however, insists that the accused should return to New Delhi for a final judgement by an Indian court. Currently, the two marines - Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone - are in Italy. Italy's representative Francesco Azzarello told the court on Monday that Rome should have jurisdiction over the case because the two marines were functionaries of the Italian state doing their duty on board an Italian flagged ship in international waters. Azzarello told the court that India already considers the marines guilty. "In India's eyes there is no presumption of innocence: the marines were guilty of murder even before the charges were laid," he was quoted as telling the court by Italian news agency ANSA. He also said, "there were unjustifiable postponements of the trial in India. Special procedures were invented in violation of the Indian Constitution." In response, India's representative G Balasubramanian told the court, "Italy maintains it has the exclusive jurisdiction in the case but one must take into account the fact that India and the two fishermen are the victims in this case." He said two fishermen aboard an Indian boat were killed by individuals who were on a merchant ship. On Italy's claims that the marines fired warning shots into the water to deter the boat, he said, "it is difficult to believe that these volleys were simply meant as warning shots...They hit two crew members, caused damage to the boat, endangering its safe navigation, and also endangering the lives of the other nine crew members." On Italy's allegations of delay in the Indian court proceedings, he said, "...the reality of the fact forces me to say that had Italy cooperated with the prosecution of the killing incident, this case would have been finally concluded long ago." He said Italy initially joined the proceedings before the Indian courts but surprisingly in a negative way, hampered them by filing multiple interlocutory applications challenging the actions of the Indian authorities. "The case proceeded in the Indian courts, first before the Kerala court and then before the Supreme Court followed by the establishment of a special court for that purpose. "Adopting a negative posture, however, Italy chose the cause of delaying it further by filing continuous applications which are nothing but designed to thwart the special court...," the Indian representative told the court. He recalled that Girone was allowed to reside at the residence of the Italian ambassador in New Delhi and said, "This clearly articulates how reasonable and cooperative India has been treating the marines and Italy during the proceedings before the Indian courts." The marines, who were aboard the Italian-flagged commercial oil tanker 'Enrica Lexie', are accused of killing two Indian fishermen off Kerala coast on February 15, 2012. The complaint against them was lodged by Freddy, the owner of fishing boat 'St Antony' in which the two Kerala fishermen were killed when the marines opened fire on them allegedly under the misconception that they were pirates. Latorre, who had suffered a brain stroke on August 31, 2014, was first granted bail and allowed by the Supreme Court on September 12, 2014 to go to Italy for four months and after that, extensions have been granted to him. In Italy, Latorre had to undergo a heart surgery after which the top court had granted him extension of his stay in his native country. On September 28, 2016, the apex court had allowed Latorre to remain in his country till the international arbitral tribunal decided the jurisdictional issue. On May 26, 2016, Girone was also granted bail and allowed by the Supreme Court to go to his country till the jurisdictional issue was decided. (With inputs from PTI) Tue, 09 Jul 2019 08:33:59 GMT Life-threatening rains pound US capital, White House basement offices leak Washington: Driving rains flooded parts of Washington, D.C., on Monday, shattering a daily record in just an hour, forcing 15 swift-water rescues from stranded cars and causing an undeniable leak in the White House. "This is a life-threatening situation. Seek higher ground now!" the National Weather Service warned amid torrential rains that dropped 3.3 inches (8.4 cm) at Reagan National Airport from 9 a.m. through 10 a.m. ET (1200-1300 GMT), shattering in one hour the previous record of 2.2 inches (5.6 cm) set in 1958. It was the seventh-wettest July day since record-keeping began in 1871, said NWS meteorologist Marc Chenard. "They broke their daily record in an hour," he said. Even more rainfall was recorded further northwest, in Arlington, Virginia, where about 5 inches (12.7 cm) fell from 9 to 10 a.m., Chenard said. The rains eased by late morning and were expected to end by midday, Chenard said. Torrents of water streamed through the ceiling of Metro stations, and major arteries serving Washington's top museums and memorials shut down due to high water as local emergency personnel reported rescuing several people from cars. By midday, DC Fire and EMS said it had saved 15 drivers. Firefighters used yellow rubber lifeboats to rescue those trapped by the flood waters. Twitter images showed a photograph of a very wet floor beneath office chairs and desks on the basement level of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "White House is leaking," CNN journalist Betsy Klein tweeted with the picture. Tue, 09 Jul 2019 05:18:28 GMT Facebook, Twitter not invited to White House social media summit: Report Washington: Facebook and Twitter have apparently not been invited by the White House to a social media summit hosted by President Donald Trump for a robust conversation on the challenges of the online environment, according to a media report. The summit, set for Thursday, is to address issues relevant to social media, all the more important as Trump utilizes the platforms like no other president before him. The two prominent social media companies were not extended invitations, CNN was quoted the sources familiar with the matter as saying. The people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, suggested it was not surprising. They said they believe the summit would amount to a right-wing grievance session and was not aimed at seriously discussing some of the issues facing large technology companies, the report added. The White House, however, refused to comment, the report said. A Social Media Summit without representation from the giants like Facebook and Twitter cannot be thought of but President Trump has frequently blasted them for not respecting Republicans views on their platforms. The White House announced the summit in June, describing it as an event to bring together "digital leaders for a robust conversation on the opportunities and challenges of today's online environment." The White House has not made public the various companies that will be attending Thursday's event. In his last meeting with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Trump reportedly questioned the former specifically on why he was losing followers the microblogging platform. The White House recently launched a new tool for people to report if they have been wrongly censored, banned or suspended on Facebook and Twitter. The tool comes in the wake of several Republicans slamming Facebook and Twitter for censoring conservative speech on both the platforms. A Twitter spokesperson responded to the tool: "We enforce the Twitter Rules impartially for all users, regardless of their background or political affiliation. We are constantly working to improve our systems and will continue to be transparent in our efforts." Led by Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's panel that ripped apart Facebook and Twitter over concerns of bias against conservatives in April this year. Cruz has often alleged that Silicon Valley giants were biased against conservatives and routinely censor right-wing voices. Trump in a March tweet accused Facebook, Google and Twitter of being "on the side of the Radical Left Democrats". "Social media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices. Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won't let that happen," Trump said last year. "They are closing down the opinions of many people on the right, while at the same time doing nothing to others," he added. Mon, 08 Jul 2019 10:17:50 GMT Maryam Nawaz demands PM Imran Khan's resignation Islamabad: Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has severely criticised Prime Minister Imran Khan and demanded his resignation, the media reported on Monday. In a post-midnight rally on Sunday in Mandi Bahauddin, the 45-year-old opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Vice President, raised slogans against Khan and said that the 66-year-old cricketer-turned-politician does not have any legitimate right to rule Pakistan. Addressing Khan in her speech, she said: "Give your resignation! Go home!" and urged the crowds to chant along with her, Dawn news reported. Maryam also said that keeping her 69-year-old ailing father Sharif in jail will be a crime now, following Saturday's "evidence" alleging that his sentencing had been given under "immense pressure from hidden hands", a claim rejected on Sunday by the presiding judge, Arshad Malik. In her address, which was held on Jail Road, she claimed that Sharif "will be released, and will become prime minister once more - but this time more powerful than ever before". At a press conference in Lahore on Saturday, Maryam said that the entire judicial process regarding the trial that led to her father being convicted and sentenced to prison was severely compromised. She also played a secretly recorded video that she claimed featured a conversation between Nasir Butt, a man she described as a loyal fan of Sharif, and Malik, who had in December last year sentenced Sharif to seven years in jail in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference and acquitted him in the Flagship Investment case. But on Sunday, Malik rejected Maryam's allegations, saying that Sharif was convicted on the basis of evidence. Mon, 08 Jul 2019 05:06:02 GMT Iran to raise uranium enrichment beyond nuclear deal limits Tehran: Iran announced Sunday it will raise its level of uranium enrichment, breaking another limit of its unravelling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and further heightening tensions with the US. Officials also said the next step impacting Iran's compliance with the deal would be taken in 60 days. They did not elaborate. At the same time, Iran was signalling openness to last-minute efforts to save the faltering deal. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said Sunday that discussions with European powers are continuing and that ministerial-level talks are planned later this month. On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron told his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, in a phone call that he is trying to find a way by July 15 to resume the dialogue between Iran and Western partners. Sunday's announcement about uranium enrichment came a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal. Iran has repeatedly warned Europe in recent weeks that it would begin walking away from an accord neutered by a maximalist American campaign of sanctions. Hopes for saving the faltering deal appear increasingly dim, as the Europeans have been unable to offer Iran any effective way around US sanctions that block Tehran's oil sales abroad and targeted its top officials. At the same time, Iran's recent measures, while of concern to nuclear non-proliferation experts, could be easily reversible if Europeans offer Iran the sanctions relief it seeks. Iran has ruled out re-negotiating the 2015 deal in any new diplomatic efforts. Iran's deputy foreign minister said Sunday that the US can join any renewed talks, but must lift sanctions on Iran first. Tensions began rising in May when the US rushed thousands of additional troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Mideast. Mysterious oil tanker blasts near the Strait of Hormuz, attacks by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Saudi Arabia and Iran shooting down a U.S. military drone have raised fears of a wider conflict engulfing a region crucial to global energy supplies. In Sunday's news conference, Iranian officials said the new level of uranium enrichment would be reached later in the day, but did not provide a percentage. Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said the new level "will be based on our needs." Under the nuclear deal, the cap for enrichment had been set at 3.67 per cent. Officials said details of Iran's plan for going beyond the 3.67 per cent limit will be sent in a letter by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. The United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said it was aware of Iran's comments and "inspectors in Iran will report to our headquarters as soon as they verify the announced development." The decision to ramp up uranium enrichment came less than a week after Iran acknowledged breaking the deal's 300-kilogram limit on its low-enriched uranium stockpile. Experts warn higher enrichment and a growing stockpile narrow the one-year window Iran would need to have enough material for an atomic bomb, something Iran denies it wants but the deal prevented. The deputy foreign minister also signalled Iran's intention to take further steps impacting compliance with the deal. "We prefer to announce the third step after a 60-day deadline and in an appropriate time," Aragchi said without elaborating Enriched uranium at the 3.67 per cent level is enough for peaceful pursuits but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent. Iran denies it seeks nuclear weapons, but the nuclear deal sought to prevent that as a possibility by limiting enrichment and Iran's stockpile of uranium. The spokesman for Iran's nuclear department, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said Sunday that technical preparations for the new level of enrichment will be completed "within several hours and enrichment over 3.67 per cent will begin." He says monitoring will show the increased level by Monday morning. International reaction came swiftly, including from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who long has described Iran and its nuclear program as a threat to his country. He called on world powers to impose "snapback sanctions" on Iran. Sun, 07 Jul 2019 12:36:25 GMT Russian-led assault in Syria leaves over 500 civilians dead: rights groups Amman: At least 544 civilians have been killed and over 2,000 people injured since a Russian-led assault on the last rebel bastion in northwestern Syria began two months ago, rights groups and rescuers said on Saturday. Russian jets joined the Syrian army on April 26 in the biggest offensive against parts of rebel-held Idlib province and adjoining northern Hama provinces in the biggest escalation in the war between Syrian President Bashar al Assad and his enemies since last summer. The Syrian Network for Human Rights,(SNHR), which monitors casualties and briefs various UN agencies, said the 544 civilians killed in the hundreds of attacks carried out by Russian jets and the Syrian army include 130 children. Another 2,117 people have been injured. "The Russian military and its Syrian ally are deliberately targeting civilians with a record number of medical facilities bombed," Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman of SNHR, told Reuters. Russia and its Syrian army ally deny their jets hit indiscriminately civilian areas with cluster munitions and incendiary weapons, which residents in opposition areas say are meant to paralyse every-day life. Moscow says its forces and the Syrian army are fending off terror attacks by al Qaeda militants whom they say hit populated, government-held areas, and it accuses rebels of wrecking a ceasefire deal agreed last year between Turkey and Russia. Last month US-based Human Rights Watch said the Russian-Syrian joint military operation had used cluster munitions and incendiary weapons in the attacks along with large air-dropped explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated civilian areas, based on reports by first responders and witnesses. Residents and rescuers say the two-month-old campaign has left dozens of villages and towns in ruins. According to the United Nations, at least 300,000 people have been forced to leave their homes for the safety of areas closer to the border with Turkey. "Whole villages and towns have been emptied," said Idlib-based Civil Defence spokesman Ahmad al Sheikho, saying it was the most destructive campaign against Idlib province since it completely fell to the opposition in the middle of 2015. On Friday, 15 people, including children, were killed in the village of Mhambil in western Idlib province after Syrian army helicopters dropped barrel bombs on a civilian quarter, the civil defence group and witnesses said. The heads of 11 major global humanitarian organizations warned at the end of last month that Idlib stood at the brink of disaster, with 3 million civilian lives at risk, including 1 million children. "Too many have died already" and “even wars have laws" they declared, in the face of multiple attacks by government forces and their allies on hospitals, schools and markets," the US-endorsed statement said. Last Thursday an aerial strike on Kafr Nabl hospital made it the 30th facility to be bombed durng the campaign, leaving hundreds of thousands with no medical access, according to aid groups. "To have these medical facilities bombed and put out of service in less than two months is no accident. Let's call this by what it is, a war crime," Dr. Khaula Sawah, vice president of the US-based Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, which provides aid in the northwest, said in a statement. Sun, 07 Jul 2019 08:49:53 GMT Indian-origin woman cop sues Scotland Yard over racism London: One of Britain's senior-most Indian-origin female police officers is taking legal action against Scotland Yard over allegations of racial and gender discrimination within the UK's largest police force. Parm Sandhu, currently serving as Temporary Chief Superintendent with the Metropolitan Police, claims she was denied promotions and opportunities at work due to her race and gender. The first hearing in her case is set to take place at an employment tribunal next week. At this early stage, we are unable to comment further around defending the claim, the Met Police said in a statement. Sandhu is being backed by the Metropolitan Black Police Association, which says it is concerned about the lack of senior female ethnic minority officers. The 54-year-old officer took the legal step at the end of an internal Met Police investigation which exonerated her of gross misconduct last month. The inquiry, launched in June 2018, focussed on whether Sandhu encouraged her colleagues to support her nomination for a Queen's Police Medal (QPM), which is awarded twice a year by Queen Elizabeth II as part of her honours' lists. The medals are given to serving police officers in the UK in recognition of distinguished service or outstanding courage in the line of duty. "A temporary chief superintendent currently attached to human resources was served with a gross misconduct notice on Wednesday 27 June and has been placed on restricted duties, said a Met Police statement at the time. The UK's National Police Chief Council guidelines say that "any person can nominate any other person for an honour". However, as with other honours, people are not expected to nominate themselves and are not meant to contribute to or know about the process. The internal Met Police investigation concluded last month that Sandhu had "no case to answer" and would face no further action, with restrictions on her duties at work being lifted. Mick Creedon, the former chief constable of Derbyshire Police, who acted as her mentor and submitted a statement to the misconduct inquiry, has offered support for her legal battle, according to the BBC. Sandhu, who joined the police service in 1989, rose through the ranks to become Borough Commander in Richmond-upon-Thames. She is one of the most senior ethnic minority female officers in the Met Police and in 2006 received an Asian Women of Achievement Award for her achievements in the police force. Sun, 07 Jul 2019 03:21:07 GMT Archie, baby son of UK's Prince Harry and Meghan, christened at Windsor Windsor: Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, the two-month-old son of Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, was christened on Saturday, in a small private ceremony at Windsor Castle. The ceremony was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in the castle's Private Chapel, Buckingham Palace said. In accordance with royal tradition, the Lily Font and water from the River Jordan were used during the christening, and Archie, who was born on May 6, wore the handmade replica of the royal christening robe. On their official Instagram page, Harry and Meghan, known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, shared two official photographs of the occasion taken in the Green Drawing Room and the Rose Garden at Windsor Castle. One family portrait included Harry's father, Prince Charles, Meghan's mother Doria Ragland as well as Harry's older brother Prince William and his wife, Kate. Harry and William's maternal aunts, Sarah McCorquodale and Jane Fellowes, also posed for the picture. A second black and white photograph showed Archie in his parents' arms in the Rose Garden. Buckingham Palace has not disclosed who Archie's godparents are. Several newspapers have carried reports criticising Harry and Meghan for accepting public funds for their wedding and for renovations for their new house but denying the public a view of the baby and his parents arriving at the ceremony. William and Kate organised media facilities for the christenings of their three children, in which arrivals at the church were filmed. Royal fans gathered near Windsor castle on Saturday, some with banners and flags, despite the well-publicised private nature of the occasion. "I think it's very hurtful to the fans, very, very hurtful," said Anne Taley, 63, from Cardiff. "We've had the fingers, we've had the toes. When are we ever going to see the baby?" she added referring to previous discreet pictures posted by the royal couple. Cheryl Bolson, 53, from Southampton, said she accepted the christening was a private, family event but added: "It would be nice if they were to come out afterwards and just maybe show the public that the baby’s been christened." Harry and Meghan married at Windsor Castle, west of London, last year. Archie is seventh-in-line to the British throne. Sun, 07 Jul 2019 02:26:06 GMT 7.1 quake jolts California buildings Los Angeles: Some building damage was reported after the US Geological Survey (USGS) said a powerful magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit Southern California on Friday, a day after the strongest quake in the region in 25 years. The quake hit the town of Ridgecrest on the edge of Death Valley National Park 202 km northeast of Los Angeles. It was also measured at 7.1 by the European-Mediterranean Seismological Agency. The San Bernadino County Fire Department reported that the quake had caused some damage to buildings. "Homes shifted, foundation cracks, retaining walls down," the department said on Twitter. "One injury (minor) with firefighters treating patient. No unmet needs currently." A swarm of strong aftershocks have jolted the high desert region since a 6.4 quake on Thursday. Only a few injuries were reported in Thursday's quake but two houses caught fire from broken gas pipes, officials said. The Los Angeles commuter rail service Metrolink said on Twitter it has stopped service in the city of 4 million people for the time being. Pools in Los Angeles sloshed wildly and TV cameras at baseball's Dodger Stadium were shaking as they filmed the night game with the San Diego Padres. Thursday's quake during America's Independence Day celebrations was the largest in Southern California since the 1994 magnitude 6.6 Northridge earthquake, USGS geophysicist Paul Caruso said. That quake, which was centred in a heavily populated area of Los Angeles, killed 57 people and caused billions of dollars of damage. Sat, 06 Jul 2019 04:58:15 GMT More than 80 migrants feared drowned off Tunisia coast Tunis: Dozens of African migrants are feared to have drowned after their boat capsized off the coast of Tunisia after setting of for Europe from Libya, a government source and the Tunisian Red Crescent said on Thursday. The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement more than 80 were feared drowned. Tunisian fishermen rescued four people but one later died in hospital, the UNHCR said. "The status quo cannot continue," Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Mediterranean, said in a statement. "Nobody puts their lives and the lives of their families at risk on these desperate boat journeys unless they feel they have no other choice. We need to provide people with meaningful alternatives that stop them from needing to step foot on a boat in the first place." Some of the four initial survivors told the Tunisian coast guard on Thursday that the boat had sunk off the town of Zarzis, Red Crescent official Mongi Slim told Reuters. A government source said that some of a group of African migrants who were rescued nine miles off the town of Zarzis had informed coastguards that they had set out from Zuwara in Libya and that dozens had drowned. At least 65 migrants heading for Europe from Libya drowned last May when their boat capsized off Tunisia. Libya's west coast is the main departure point for African migrants hoping to reach Europe, though numbers have dropped due to an Italian-led effort to disrupt smuggling networks and support the Libyan coast guard. Although the fighting in Libya has made the situation more difficult for people-smugglers, international aid officials have warned that it could also prompt more Libyans to flee their country. Libyans who are picked up by the Libyan Coast Guard are routinely brought back to Libya and detained. The United Nations has pleaded with Libya's government to free the detainees, some of whom have been locked up for years. In May, 108 migrants and refugees were sent to the Tajoura detention centre near Tripoli, which was hit by air strikes on Tuesday night, killing at least 53 people. Fri, 05 Jul 2019 07:20:39 GMT Putin and pope hold 'substantive' talks in shadow of Ukraine crisis Vatican City: Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked Pope Francis for "very substantive" talks on Thursday, a day before Ukraine's Catholic leaders were due at the Vatican. Putin, who has met with Francis twice before, arrived an hour late. He had been 50 minutes late for their first meeting in 2013 and more than an hour late for their second in 2015 - highly unusual for world leaders meeting the pope. "Thank you for the time you have dedicated to me," Putin said at the end of 55 minutes of talks, helped by two interpreters. "It was a very substantive, interesting discussion," he told the pope within earshot of reporters as they were exchanging gifts in the frescoed private papal study, which Francis uses only for official occasions. A Vatican statement said the talks concentrated on the situations in Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela. Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who did not join the talks, later held a separate meeting with the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and its foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher. Francis gave Putin a signed copy of his peace message for this year and a large 18th century etching of St. Peter's Square, "so you don't forget Rome". Putin gave the pope a DVD of a movie about the Renaissance master painter and sculptor Michelangelo by the Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky and a large painted Orthodox icon of the apostles Peter and Paul. Putin is scheduled to see both the Italian president and prime minister later on, and is expected to return to Moscow in the evening after an official dinner. Ukraine, which remains a bone of contention between the Vatican and Russia, was expected to be a main topic of the men's discussion, held in the official papal library in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace. When they last met in 2015, the pope urged Putin to make a "sincere and great effort" to achieve peace in Ukraine and help bring an end to fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels in the east. Tensions in Ukraine On Friday, leaders of Ukraine's Catholic Church begin two days of meetings at the Vatican to discuss various problems in their former Soviet republic. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which had for centuries been effectively under the control of the Russian Orthodox Church, declared its independence and set up a national Church. Putin has aligned himself closely with the Russian Orthodox Church and Moscow strongly opposed the move, saying it had been done for political rather than religious motives. Three years ago, Francis held brief talks with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Cuba -- the first such meeting in history and a landmark step in healing the 1,000-year-old rift between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity. The meeting took place amid speculation that Putin's visit could be a prelude to the first trip by a pope to Russia. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, and Boris Yeltsin, the first president of post-Soviet Russia, had invited the late Pope John Paul to visit. But a trip was not possible because of tensions between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest and most influential in world Orthodoxy, with 165 million of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians. Since meeting Kirill, Francis visited a number of countries with predominantly Orthodox populations, including, this year, Romania, Bulgaria and North Macedonia. Fri, 05 Jul 2019 04:02:11 GMT US drags India to WTO over duty hike on 28 American goods New Delhi: The US on Thursday dragged India to the WTO by filing a complaint against New Delhi's move to increase customs duties on 28 American goods, alleging the decision is inconsistent with the global trade norms. According to a communication of the Geneva-based World Trade Organisation (WTO), the US said that the additional duties imposed by India "appears to nullify or impair the benefits accruing to the US directly or indirectly" under the GATT 1994. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is a WTO pact, signed by all member countries of the multi-lateral body, aims to promote trade by reducing or eliminating trade barriers like customs duties. The US has alleged that the duties imposed by India appears to be inconsistent with two norms of GATT. The US has stated that India does not impose these duties on like products originating in the territory of any other WTO member nation. "India also appears to be applying rates of duty to US imports greater than the rates of duty set out in India's schedule of concessions," the communication said quoting the US application. The duties are inconsistent because "India fails to extend to products of the US an advantage, favour, privilege or immunity granted by India with respect to customs duties and charges of any kind imposed on or in connection with the importation of products originating in the territory of other members...," the US has alleged. As part of the dispute, the US has sought consultations with India under the aegis of the WTO's dispute settlement mechanism. "We look forward to receiving your reply to the present request and to fixing a mutually convenient date to hold consultations," it said. As per the WTO's dispute settlement process, the request for consultations is the first step in a dispute. Consultations give the parties an opportunity to discuss the matter and find a satisfactory solution without proceeding further with litigation. After 60 days, if consultations fail to resolve the dispute, the complainant may request adjudication by a panel. This case assumes significance as officials of both the countries would be meeting next week here to discuss trade related issues. The two countries are also at loggerheads at the WTO on other issues. The US has challenged certain export promotion schemes of India, while India has challenged USA's unilateral hike on customs duties on certain steel and aluminium products. The US has rolled back export incentives from India under its GSP programme and New Delhi has imposed higher customs duties on 28 American products including almond, pulses, walnut, chickpeas, boric acid and binders for foundry moulds. The other products on which duties were hiked include certain kind of nuts, iron and steel products, apples, pears, flat rolled products of stainless steel, other alloy steel, tube and pipe fittings, and screws, bolts and rivets. The duties were hiked as retaliation to the US move to impose the highest customs duties on certain steel and aluminium goods. India's exports to the US in 2017-18 stood at $47.9 billion, while imports were at $26.7 billion. The trade balance is in favour of India. Thu, 04 Jul 2019 17:11:17 GMT Argentine soccer giant River opens stadium to homeless as winter bites Buenos Aires: Argentine soccer club River Plate opened the doors of its Monumental stadium on Wednesday to give shelter to people living on the streets, as temperatures fell during the Southern Hemisphere winter and a biting economic recession exacerbates poverty in the South American country. "From 6pm on Wednesday at River Plate, all night until Thursday morning, they'll receive blankets and shelter," Juan Carr, the creator of the community organization Red Solidaria which is helping coordinate donations, said on Twitter. "Solidarity with people living on the street!" The volunteer group has been carrying out a campaign called Cold Zero for seven years, helping people on the street in the Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires' central square. Now they are working with River, one of the country's most famous teams. "River, in a huge gesture, is opening its doors so people do not die of cold. It is so simple yet so complex. People will have dinner and somewhere to sleep," said Martin Giovio, one of the members of the organization that will attend the event. "Being indoors saves lives," he added. The National Meteorological Service has warned of a cold snap and temperatures getting down to freezing for the next few days, a situation that has raised concerns about rising poverty in Argentina and the number of people living on the street. A 52-year old person was found dead several days ago in the city of Buenos Aires after spending the night in the street and another four reportedly died in the centre of the country, according to Red Solidaria. Thu, 04 Jul 2019 05:04:14 GMT Pakistan books Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed for terror financing Lahore: Mumbai attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed and 12 of his close associates were "booked" by Pakistani authorities on Wednesday for "terrorism financing" in 23 cases, amidst growing global pressure on Islamabad to act against militant groups launching deadly attacks in India. Pakistan's counter-terrorism department (CTD) said the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and his aides used five trusts to "raise funds for terrorism financing". "Hafiz Saeed of JuD and other leaders were booked in cases of terrorism financing," a CTD statement said. Twenty-three cases have been registered against the leadership of JuD, Lashkar-e-Taiba and FIF (Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation) in Lahore, Gujranwala and Multan for collection of funds for terrorism financing through assets made and held in the names of trusts, including Al-Anfaal, Dawat ul Irshad and Muaz Bin Jabal, it said. The two other trusts are Al Hamd Trust and Al Madina Foundation. The CTD said investigations have been launched into matters of JuD , LeT and FIF regarding their holding and use of trusts to raise funds for terrorism financing. "They made these assets from funds of terrorism financing. They held and used these assets to raise more funds for further terrorism financing. They will be prosecuted in Anti Terrorism Courts for commission of these offences," it said. The Hafiz Saeed-led JuD is believed to be the front organisation for the Lashkar-e-Taiba which is responsible for carrying out the Mumbai attacks. It had been declared as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US in June 2014. The Hafiz Saeed-led JuD is believed to be the front organisation for the LeT, which is responsible for carrying out the Mumbai attacks. It had been declared as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US in June 2014. The US Department of the Treasury has designated Saeed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, and the US, since 2012, has offered a USD 10 million reward for information that brings Saeed to justice. Pakistan authorities in March sealed the Lahore headquarters of JuD and FIF and detained over 120 suspected militants as part of an ongoing crackdown on banned groups. Thu, 04 Jul 2019 04:44:40 GMT Trump orders tanks for Independence Day parade, critics call it political ploy Washington: President Donald Trump has asked the Pentagon to marshal tanks and fighter jets to showcase America's military might during the July 4th Independence Day parade, alarming many who feel that he is using the armed forces for his 2020 re-election bid. Unlike other countries, the annual celebration of the American Independence Day on July 4 is traditionally not marked by any military parade. Previous presidents have taken a low profile at independence commemorations. The last time tanks and troops rolled through Washington was in June 1991, when 8,000 soldiers marched in the so-called 'National Victory Celebration' marking the end of the first US invasion of Iraq. "Big 4th of July in D.C. 'Salute to America.' The Pentagon and our great military leaders are thrilled to be doing this & showing to the American people, among other things, the strongest and most advanced military anywhere in the world," Trump said Tuesday. The White House and the Pentagon have been preparing this military parade for months now. Trump had expressed his desire to have a military parade on the occasion of Independence Day celebration soon after his inauguration in January 2017. According to the Department of Interior, this year's annual Independence Day celebration on the National Mall will feature music, flyovers, fireworks, and an address by President Trump. "Salute to America will honour each of the nation's five service branches with music, military demonstrations, multiple flyovers including a flight demonstration by the Blue Angels, and much more," it said. However, several former military leaders and those from the opposition Democratic Party were critical of the display of American military might in a parade on July 4. "This looks like it's becoming much more of a Republican Party event a political event about the president than a national celebration of the Fourth of July, and it's unfortunate to have the military smack dab in the middle of that," retired Army Lt Gen David Barno, who commanded US troops in Afghanistan under President George W Bush, told Politico. "The president is using the armed forces in a political ploy for his reelection campaign and I think it's absolutely obscene, retired Army Maj. Gen William Nash, a veteran of Vietnam, the Gulf War and peacekeeping operations in the Balkans told the media outlet. Congressman Tim Ryan from Democratic Party demanded answers regarding the costs associated with President Trump's "Salute to America" event. In a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Mark T Esper, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, and Secretary of Transportation Elaine L Chao, he expressed worry that the Trump administration is wasting scarce national park, infrastructure and defence funding on a military-style vanity project that some warn could cause damage to the National Mall and other infrastructure. "What is supposed to be a day to celebrate our country has turned into a Trump political rally. The President is showboating and wasting taxpayer funding just to inflate his ego. Our Armed Forces and military assets are not political props. President Trump's insistence on using them to advance his own political agenda is an insult to the brave men and women who put politics aside in service to our country," Ryan said. Democratic Party Congressman Don Beyer, who represents DC suburbs in Virginia including Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon, said that Trump's attempts to make the annual Independence Day celebration in the National Capital Region about himself are appalling. "Even worse, the authoritarian-style trappings he demands, including tanks, will come at a great cost to taxpayers, and threaten significant harm to local roads and bridges, he said. "I am deeply concerned by the suggestion that the President's insistence on displaying tanks could subject Arlington Memorial Bridge to strains grossly exceeding its weight restrictions," Beyer said. "Trump is hijacking the celebration and twisting it into a taxpayer-funded, partisan political rally that's more about promoting a Trumpian cult of personality than the spirit of American independence and freedom," said Congresswoman Betty McCollum, Chair of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee and Vice Chair of Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. The fact that the Republican National Committee is selling VIP tickets to the event only proves that in the Trump era, nothing is sacred and everything is available for sale, she said. "But most shameful of all is that our military is being co-opted for a gratuitous display of strength by a Commander-in-Chief who relishes the attention of dictators and despots. The American people should never allow any President of the United States to behave this way," the Congresswoman said. Thu, 04 Jul 2019 04:02:29 GMT Pope to declare Kerala nun Mariam Thresia as saint on October 13 Kochi: Pope Francis will declare Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, an Indian nun, a saint on October 13, her congregation said here Tuesday. The Pope has formally approved the canonisation of Mariam Thresia, foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family, at an ordinary public consistory of cardinals on causes of canonisation at the Vatican on July 1, it said. He has decreed that the canonisation will take place in St Peters Square on October 13 this year, the congregation said. The nun from Kerala will be canonised during a Mass along with John Henry Newman from England, Italian Josephine Vannini, Swiss Marguerite Bays and Brazilian Irm Dulce Pontes, it said. The nun belongs to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. She was born in Puthenchira in Thrissur district on April 26, 1876, and died in Kuzhikkattussery on June 8, 1926. The nun was declared venerable on June 28, 1999, and beatified on April 9, 2000, by Pope St John Paul II in Rome. She was professed in 1914. The foundress and the first member of the Congregation of the Holy Family, Mariam Thresia, "with indomitable energy and utter trust in divine providence", built, in less than 12 years, three new convents, two schools, two hostels, a study house, and an orphanage, a Vatican document said. "Education of girls was Mariam Thresia's liberation theology in action, without the slogan. Several young girls were attracted to her by her simplicity, humility and shining sanctity. At the time of her death at the age of 50, there were 55 Sisters in the congregation, 30 boarders and 10 orphans under her care," a Church document said. The Congregation of the Holy Family has over 1,500 professed sisters, serving in Kerala, in the mission areas of North India, in Germany, Italy and Ghana, with a total of 176 houses in seven provinces and 119 novices, it said. The Vatican had earlier declared three Kerala-born Indian Catholics as Saints. While Fr Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sister Euphrasia were canonised into the league of saints by Pope Francis in 2014, sister Alphonsa was declared a saint in 2008. Wed, 03 Jul 2019 14:38:00 GMT India asks Indonesia to urgently repatriate detained seafarers Jakarta: India on Tuesday asked Indonesia to take urgent steps to allow detained Indian crew members of commercial vessels to return home. Indonesian officials have promised to treat the matter on high priority "in view of humanitarian aspect and excellent bilateral relations", according to the Indian Embassy here. As per media reports, at least 87 Indian seafarers are under detention in Indonesia since months for "illegal anchoring". The issue was raised by Sanjiv Arora, Secretary, Consular, Passport and Visa (CPV) and Overseas Indian Affairs (OIA), in the Ministry of External Affairs, during the first consular dialogue held here in the framework of bilateral Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) established during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Indonesia in May last year. "During the interaction, the Secretary (CPV & OIA) requested the Indonesian side, inter alia, to urgently take necessary measures to permit Indian crew, who have been detained onboard commercial vessels, to return to India," said a press release issued by the Indian Embassy in Jakarta. "He handed over an aide memoire to the Director General Andri Hadi, who assured to accord this matter high priority in view of humanitarian aspect and excellent bilateral relations," it added. The dialogue, held in Yogyakarta, also focused on furthering mechanisms to ensure the well-being and welfare of Indian and Indonesian nationals residing in and visiting each other's countries, the release said, adding that both sides arrived at a common understanding on the steps to be taken in this direction. The discussions also pertained to ensuring the well-being of Indian and Indonesian prisoners and facilitating mechanisms to ensure smooth and regular consular access. Both delegations expressed confidence that their deliberations would make a positive contribution in further strengthening the multi-dimensional people-to-people contacts and exchanges to the mutual benefit of both countries, it said, adding that they agreed to regularly convene the consular dialogue alternately in India and Indonesia. The discussions, held in a "highly friendly and constructive spirit", covered wide ranging issues pertaining to consular, immigration, visas and related issues of mutual interest. "Both sides agreed to take steps to further facilitate, expand and strengthen people-to-people contacts in diverse areas that underpin the CSP between the two countries," the release said. Wed, 03 Jul 2019 10:05:50 GMT Two women likely to be in the hot seat at top EU bodies Brussels: EU leaders on Tuesday struck a hard-fought summit deal to put women in two of the bloc's most important jobs for the first time. After three days of bitter wrangling, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen was named to replace Jean-Claude Juncker at the head of the European Commission for the next five years. Once confirmed, von der Leyen will lead a commission facing a host of challenges, ranging from climate change to disinformation, populism and Brexit. Former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, who has led the International Monetary Fund since 2011, is to take charge at the European Central Bank. Summit host and European Council President Donald Tusk confirmed the appointments on Twitter, ending difficult talks that had dragged on since Sunday evening, dogged by division and infighting. The 60-year-old conservative von der Leyen's name came in the frame for the commission after an earlier proposal to name Dutch social democrat Frans Timmermans ran into insurmountable opposition. The package agreed by the 28 EU leaders also sees Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel take over from Tusk at the European Council of member states, while Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell becomes foreign policy chief, replacing Federica Mogherini. Von der Leyen, a minister for the past 14 years under German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has been an advocate for closer EU integration, calling for a "United States of Europe". Except for Michel, the package still needs the blessing of the European Parliament, and several senior figures in Timmermans' centre-left group tweeted their disgruntlement at the proposed ticket. Von der Leyen would take office on November 1 -- the day after Britain is currently due to leave the bloc. Both candidates vying to take over as British prime minister have vowed to leave on time come what may, so the new commission's first task in office could be to mop up the fall out from a messy "no deal" Brexit. Von der Leyen had the crucial backing of French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as the support of the Visegrad 4 bloc -- Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia. This saved von der Leyen from the fate suffered by Timmermans, who was suggested by France and Germany as commission chief instead of the early front-runner Manfred Weber. A marathon 18-hour negotiating session that began on Sunday evening broke up without agreement on Monday as the V4 plus Italy, where the populist government shares some of the Eastern Europeans' anger at Brussels over migration, refused to countenance Timmermans. As he arrived at the summit on Tuesday, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis slammed Timmermans, who pushed a softer line on migration, as "absolutely unacceptable". "He has always pushed a migration policy which is unacceptable for us, so this man is absolutely unacceptable and I can't see why the prime ministers of France, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany weren't able to understand," Babis said. Other countries -- including Ireland, Latvia and Croatia -- also objected on the grounds they had not been properly consulted about the French-German plan cooked up on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka at the weekend. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez initially stood firm behind fellow Social Democrat Timmermans on Tuesday, but after a morning of bilateral and small group meetings among leaders, the Dutchman's chances were finally buried, according to two sources close to the talks. Deciding the top jobs was complicated by the fragmentation of the EU political landscape in the May elections to the European Parliament. The centre-right EPP and centre-left socialist group, the dominant forces in EU politics for years, lost their combined majority in the assembly. The liberals, which include Macron supporters, are increasingly assertive over the choice of top jobs after they and the Greens made significant gains in the polls. Protracted wrangling to dish out the EU's top jobs is not new: in 2014 it took three summits to fill the posts. Wed, 03 Jul 2019 05:57:58 GMT Ex-police chief, former defence secy arrested for failure to prevent Lanka blasts Colombo: Sri Lanka's ex-defence secretary Hemasiri Fernando and suspended police chief Pujith Jayasundera were arrested on Tuesday, a day after the attorney general instructed the authorities to charge them for their failure to prevent the Easter terror attacks that claimed 258 lives. Jayasundera and Fernando were suspended by President Maithripala Sirisena for their alleged inaction on the intelligence shared by India, which warned of an impending attack by Islamic militants, and thereby, failing to prevent the serial blasts on April 21. Police Spokesperson Ruwan Gunasekara said that both men were at different hospitals undergoing treatment when police arrested them. Jayasundara was arrested from the Police Hospital while Fernando was taken into custody at the Colombi National Hospital. The duo were scheduled to appear before the CID. In a letter to acting police chief Chandana Wickremaratne, Attorney General Dappula de Livera on Monday said the duo should be tried for "grave crimes against humanity" for their failure to prevent the Easter Sunday bombings. De Livera also slammed Wickremeratne for not taking any action against the two as directed earlier on June 27. Wickremaratne's inaction was of a serious nature, he said. Sirisena had appointed a three-member panel to probe the negligence by the top officials despite the availability of intelligence inputs on the impending attacks. Both Jayasundera and Fernando have testified before an ongoing parliamentary probe panel on the attacks. Both of them claimed that there was discounting of the seriousness of the threat at the very highest level. Sirisena is the minister-in-charge of defence. More than 250 people were killed in eight coordinated suicide attacks carried out by local Jihadi group National Thowheed Jammath (NTJ) linked to the ISIS on April 21. Sirisena has slammed the parliamentary probe as one to pin blame on him and accused Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of being the mover behind the panel. The opposition blames the government's inability to prevent the suicide bombings due to the ongoing power struggle between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. Tue, 02 Jul 2019 14:07:59 GMT US to treat India like NATO ally, Senate gives bill nod Washington: The US Senate has passed a legislative provision that brings India at par with America's NATO allies and countries like Israel and South Korea for increasing defence cooperation. The National Defense Authorisation Act or NDAA for the fiscal year 2020, that contained such a proposal was passed by the US Senate last week. Introduced by Senate India Caucus Co-Chair Senator John Cornyn with the support of Senate India Caucus Co-Chair Senator Mark Warner, the amendment provides for increased US-India defence cooperation in the Indian Ocean in the areas of humanitarian assistance, counterterrorism, counter-piracy and maritime security. Last week, House India Caucus Co-Chair Brad Sherman, along with Congressmen Joe Wilson, Ami Bera, Ted Yoho, George Holding, Ed Case and Raja Krishnamoorthi introduced a similar legislative proposal to the House FY2020 NDAA that would greatly enhance the US-India relationship. The bill would be signed into law after both the chambers of the US Congress - the House of Representatives and the Senate - passes it. The House is expected to take up its version of the NDAA sometime in July before legislators adjourn for the month-long August recess on July 29. In a statement, the Hindu American Foundation commended Senators Cornyn and Warner for their efforts in advancing the US-India strategic partnership. "Elevating India to non-NATO status is vital, now more than ever, for the US, for India, and for the entire region," said HAF managing director Samir Kalra. "Whether we do that with freestanding legislation or whether we do that with an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act matters, I think, very little. What matters is that we recognise the importance, in a tangible way, of the US-India alliance," Congressman Sherman said at the HAF Capitol Hill Reception last week. The US recognised India as a "Major Defence Partner" in 2016, a designation that allows India to buy more advanced and sensitive technologies from America at par with that of the US' closest allies and partners, and ensures enduring cooperation into the future. Tue, 02 Jul 2019 11:15:07 GMT Pakistan foiling US extradition bid for Dawood's top aide London: Pakistani diplomats in London are making all-out efforts to prevent the extradition of D-Company's top lieutenant Jabir Motiwala to the United States. Hearing the extradition plea of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Monday at the Westminster Magistrates' Court, the D-Company's defence lawyer, backed by Pakistani diplomats, said that Motiwala was suffering from acute depression and cannot be flown to the US to face money laundering, drug trafficking and underworld crime charges. Motiwala, one of the trusted aides of Dawood Ibrahim, was arrested in London in August 2018 on money laundering and drug trafficking charges, following a tip-off from the FBI. Sources close to Indian agencies informed IANS that the Pakistan High Commission in London had earlier tried to thwart the extradition move by submitting a letter on behalf of the accused's lawyer in the court, saying Motiwala was a "well-known and respected businessman in Pakistan". In fact, Pakistan fears that once Motiwala is extradited to the US, the close aide of D-Company can reveal the entire nexus between Dawood Ibrahim's underworld network (being operated from Karachi) and the don's connection with Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The US has already declared Dawood Ibrahim a global terrorist running an international drug syndicate and sharing the gang's routes with Pakistan-based terror outfits. Sources said that Dawood's key finance aide Motiwala appeared in the magistrate's courts in London after his arrest by Scotland Yard's Extradition Unit on charges of money laundering and sharing the proceeds of narcotics money earned on behalf of the D-Company. Sources said that Barrister John Hardy, appearing on behalf of the US government, revealed to the court that Motiwala, travels extensively and conducts (underworld crimes related) meetings for his boss Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian who along with his brother Anis, are wanted for terror crimes in India. Sources said that the defence lawyer told the court that Motiwala was suffering from depression and had made several suicide attempts in the past few years. The lawyer argued that in such a situation, he cannot be extradited to the US to face trial. Sources said that contrary to the defence lawyer's claim, Motiwala has been investing D-Company's black money into various projects abroad. He is said to be involved in drug trafficking and also travels to collect money on behalf of the D-Company in Europe. Motiwala's extradition to the US, if executed would be a setback for Dawood as well as his patrons in the Pakistan establishment, the sources said. Tue, 02 Jul 2019 09:41:35 GMT Man found dead in London garden likely a stowaway fallen from Kenya Airways plane London: British police said Monday that officers were trying to identify a man they believe fell to his death from beneath a Kenya Airways plane about to land at Heathrow Airport. London's Metropolitan Police said officers were called on Sunday after the discovery of the suspected stowaway's body in a residential garden in Clapham in the southwest of the capital. "Officers are working to establish the identity of a man believed to have fallen from the landing gear compartment of an aeroplane," the force said in a statement. "The death is not being treated as suspicious. Enquiries are underway to establish the full circumstances," it added, noting a post-mortem exam would be carried out "in due course". A bag, water and some food was found in the landing gear compartment once it had landed at Heathrow, according to the Met. "Officers will be liaising with the airline and international authorities," it said. Poverty and harsh social conditions in some African countries have led some people in recent years to make the perilous attempt to reach Europe and the United States by hiding in planes. A stowaway's body was discovered in the undercarriage of an Arik Air jet flying from Lagos to New York in 2016, while another body was found on one of its flights from Lagos to Johannesburg in the same year. Meanwhile a teenager reportedly survived 12 hours hidden in the wheel compartment of a plane between Lagos and London in 2017. Tue, 02 Jul 2019 07:25:00 GMT Total solar eclipse today, Indians can only watch it live South America and parts of the Pacific region will be plunged into darkness for approximately four and a half minutes today due to a total solar eclipse. It is set to begin at 16.55 GMT (10.25 pm IST) above the Pacific. The solar eclipse will not be visible in India as it coincides with night in the South Asian country. Parts of Argentina, New Zealand, and Chile are the few places in the world that will be directly face the sun when the moon passes in front of the earth, blocking its light completely and darkening skies for several minutes. Several people have flocked to northern Chile to glimpse a rare view of the phenomenon through the region's clear skies. Total solar eclipses occur at any specific location on average every 360 years, according to the European Southern Observatory (ESO). In this phenomenon the moon passes directly in front of the sun thereby blocking the visible disk of the sun from the earth and casting a shadow on it. This is unlike the partial and annular solar eclipses where a 'bite of the sun' and 'ring of fire' are respectively seen. India will witness its next annular solar eclipse on December 26, 2019. How to watch the solar eclipse? Keep in mind that watching the solar eclipse directly can be injurious to the naked eye. Only specially made solar eclipse glasses maybe used. Though the eclipse cannot be seen from India, several online platforms are available to witness the event. The ESO, a 16-nation intergovernmental research organisation for ground-based astronomy, will air the total solar eclipse from the Atacama Desert in Chile.It will switch between three telescopes to provide a complete view of the eclipse. The webcast will begin at 1915 GMT (12.45 am IST), or 1 hours and 24 minutes before totality, and the live views will continue until the eclipse ends. The link to the web cast is Tue, 02 Jul 2019 07:24:57 GMT India pledges $5 million for UN Palestine refugee agency United Nations: India has pledged to contribute USD 5 million in 2019 to the UN Palestine refugee agency, even as it voiced concern over the agency's difficult financial situation due to voluntary contributions from a limited donor base and called for ensuring sustained financial support for its work. India's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador K Nagaraj Naidu said the Government of India has increased its annual financial contribution fourfold to the UNRWA core budget, from USD 1.25 million in 2016 to USD 5 million in 2018. He was speaking last week at a meeting of the General Assembly Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary Contributions to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) that as a mark of India's solidarity with the Palestine refugees. "We pledge to contribute $5 million in 2019, at the same level as in 2018," Naidu said. He noted that there is a projected shortfall of more than USD 200 million against a funding requirement of approximately USD 1.2 billion for UNRWA this year, causing concerns among the Agency about its ability to provide essential services to the Palestine refugees. "Almost all of the UNRWA's resources come from voluntary contributions, with a limited donor base. This arrangement is fraught with uncertainties and could cause a sudden crisis like the current one. Access to adequate predictable resources is the way forward," he said. Naidu emphasised that UNRWA's difficult financial situation has caused concern and has put to risk the Agency's core services to the Palestine refugees, notably in the fields of education, health, and assistance to the most vulnerable refugees. India made a strong appeal to other traditional donors of UNRWA to consider enhancing their contributions and non-donor member states to consider contributing to UNRWA in solidarity with the Palestine refugees. A total of 23 donors announced contributions, or their intention to contribute, to the UNRWA's 2019 budget during the meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee, established by the General Assembly as the primary forum for announcing financial support. UNRWA has been providing health, education, relief and social services, as well as emergency humanitarian assistance, across its five fields of operation Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip since 1950. The Agency currently serves 5.4 million Palestinian refugees 20 per cent of the world's refugees. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted that millions of children have benefited from a UNRWA education and the Agency has provided fundamental services for millions more but the current funding shortfall will only grow unless Member States act soon. Naidu underscored India's support for UNRWA's work which is providing assistance to about 5.4 million Palestine refugees to help them achieve their full human development potential. As part of the Government of India's ongoing assistance programmes in Palestine to strengthen capacity-building efforts focused on institutions, services and training personnel, the country is providing 150 places for Palestinian professionals every year under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme. In addition, during the last five years, under an India-Palestine development partnership, 17 agreements have been signed in the fields of agriculture, health care, information technology, youth affairs, consular affairs, women's empowerment and media. Tue, 02 Jul 2019 07:21:17 GMT Facebook evacuates 4 buildings after nerve agent sarin found on campus San Francisco: Facebook Inc evacuated four buildings and two people were being evaluated for possible exposure to the nerve agent sarin on Monday after a package at the social media company's Silicon Valley mail facility tested positive for the toxic compound. The people who came in contact with the suspicious package at about 11 a.m. PT (1800 GMT) did not show any symptoms of exposure to sarin, said Jon Johnston, fire marshal for the city of Menlo Park, California, where Facebook is based. "The (Facebook) facility tests all of the packages that come in and they had a positive test, so they just initiated their standard protocol. Now we're just waiting to verify whether that’s true or not," he said. Fire personnel were preparing to enter the mail facility at around 6 p.m. to assess the packages, Johnston said. Facebook spokesman Anthony Harrison said the company evacuated four buildings following the positive test and was cooperating with police in the investigation. "Authorities have not yet identified the substance found. As of now, three of the evacuated buildings have been cleared for repopulation," Harrison said. Agents from the San Francisco office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation were responding to the scene, a spokesman for the agency said. Sarin, a potent toxic compound that disrupts the nervous system, has been used as a chemical weapon. Exposure can be fatal. Tue, 02 Jul 2019 05:19:53 GMT Trump says Iran 'playing with fire' with uranium enrichment Dubai/Vienna: Iran announced on Monday it had amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted under its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, drawing a warning from US President Donald Trump that Tehran was "playing with fire." Tehran's announcement marked its first major step beyond the terms of the pact since the United States pulled out of it more than a year ago. However, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the move was not a violation of the accord, arguing that Iran was exercising its right to respond to the US walkout. The step, however, could have far-reaching consequences for diplomacy at a time when European countries are trying to pull the United States and Iran back from confrontation. It comes less than two weeks after Trump said he ordered air strikes on Iran, only to cancel them minutes before impact. Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported that the country's enriched uranium stockpile has now passed the 300-kg (661 lb) limit allowed under the deal. The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which monitors Iran's nuclear programme under the deal, confirmed in Vienna that Tehran had breached the limit. Trump, asked if he had a message for Iran, said: "No message to Iran. They know what they're doing. They know what they're playing with, and I think they're playing with fire. So, no message to Iran whatsoever." The White House said earlier it would continue to apply "maximum pressure" on Iran "until its leaders alter their course of action." It also said Iran should be held to a standard barring all uranium enrichment. However, there is no international standard prohibiting Iran from enriching uranium, said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "That is not the case. That is an American position," he said. European powers, who remain party to the accord and have tried to keep it in place, urged Iran not to take further steps that would violate it. But they held off on declaring the agreement void or announcing sanctions of their own. "We have NOT violated the #JCPOA," Zarif wrote on Twitter, referring to the deal by the acronym for its formal title, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. He referred to a paragraph of the accord which contains the mechanism for countries to resolve disputes over compliance. "As soon as E3 abide by their obligations, we'll reverse," he said, referring to European powers Britain, Germany and France. Iran has demanded they guarantee it the access to world trade envisioned under the deal. The move is a test of European diplomacy after French, British and German officials had promised a strong diplomatic response if Iran fundamentally breached the deal. The Europeans, who opposed last year's decision by Trump to abandon the agreement had pleaded with Iran to keep within its parameters. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain wants to preserve the pact "because we don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons. But if Iran breaks that deal then we are out of it as well." Iran has said it aims to keep the accord in place but cannot abide by its terms indefinitely, as long as sanctions imposed by Trump have deprived it of the benefits it was meant to receive in return for accepting curbs on its nuclear programme. A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said: "Such action by the Islamic Republic of Iran would not help preserve the plan, nor secure the tangible economic benefits for the Iranian people," and added that it should be resolved using the deal's mechanism. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the European countries should "stand behind their commitments" and impose sanctions on Iran. Economic war Iran said in May it would speed up production of enriched uranium in response to the Trump administration sharply tightening sanctions against it that month. Washington has now effectively ordered all countries to halt purchases of Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own, which Tehran calls "economic war" designed to starve its population. In the two months since the sanctions were tightened, the confrontation has taken on a military dimension, with Washington blaming Tehran for attacks on oil tankers, and Iran shooting down a US drone, prompting the aborted US air strikes. The nuclear deal imposes limits both on how much enriched uranium Iran can hold and on how pure its stocks can be, thresholds intended to lengthen the "breakout period" - the time Tehran would need to build a nuclear bomb if it sought one. Zarif said Iran's next move would be to enrich uranium beyond the maximum 3.67% fissile purity allowed under the deal, a threshold Tehran has previously said it would cross on July 7. Iran's moves so far appear to be a calculated test of the deal's enforcement mechanisms and the diplomatic response. "This is not an irreversible step the Iranians have taken. Iran, with the remaining partners, can decide how they’re going to proceed. There is a process in the JCPOA to try to cure breaches,” said Wendy Sherman, former President Barack Obama's lead US negotiator on the deal and now director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. "This does not in and of itself reduce the breakout time period, which is essential here," she said. The Europeans say they want to help Iran boost its economy. But so far European efforts to do so have failed, with Iran shunned on oil markets and major foreign companies abandoning plans to invest for fear of falling foul of US rules. David Albright, a former UN nuclear inspector who consults with European officials on the Iran nuclear deal, said that while the EU3 are angry that Iran has broken the 300-kilogram ceiling, the violation is not serious enough for them to seek an immediate snapback of international sanctions. They are watching, he said, for graver breaches that could indicate that Iran is returning to the nuclear weapons development track that the CIA and the International Atomic Energy Agency determined Tehran had abandoned in 2003. Iran denies it had such a program. "There will be a lot of noise, but not a lot of action on snapback," said Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a think tank. The confrontation has put the United States in the position of demanding that the Europeans ensure Iranian compliance with an agreement that Washington itself has rejected. Trump argues that the deal is too weak because some of its terms are not permanent, and because it does not cover non-nuclear issues such as Iran's ballistic missile programme and regional behaviour. Washington says sanctions are aimed at pushing Tehran back to the negotiating table. Iran says it cannot talk as long as Washington is ignoring the deal that it signed. Israel, which considers the Iranian nuclear programme an existential threat, has backed Trump's hard line, as have US allies among the rich Arab states of the Gulf, which consider Iran a foe and benefit from having its oil kept off markets. "Just imagine what will happen if the material stockpiled by the Iranians becomes fissionable, at military enrichment grade, and then an actual bomb," Joseph Cohen, head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, told a security conference. Tue, 02 Jul 2019 02:48:40 GMT Calm falls on Hong Kong after protests erupt into violence Hong Kong: A tense calm descended on Hong Kong early on Tuesday, hours after police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who had stormed the legislature in chaotic scenes to protest against an extradition bill in a direct challenge to Beijing. Debris including umbrellas, hard hats and water bottles were the few signs left of the mayhem that had engulfed parts of the Chinese-ruled city overnight after protesters stormed and ransacked the legislature. Police cleared roads near the heart of the financial centre, paving the way for business to return to normal following extraordinary violence on the anniversary of Hong Kong's 1997 return to Chinese rule. However, the former British colony's government offices, where protesters smashed computers and spray-painted "anti-extradition" and slurs against the police and government on chamber walls, were closed on Tuesday. Millions of people have taken to the streets in the past few weeks to protest against the now-suspended extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China to face trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party. Hong Kong's embattled leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill on June 15, saying she had heard the people "loud and clear", but she stopped short of protesters' demands to scrap it. Lam called a news conference at 4am (2000 GMT) to condemn what were some of the most violent protests to rock the city in decades. The Beijing-backed leader is now clinging to her job at a time of an unprecedented backlash against the government that poses the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012. The extradition bill, which would have covered Hong Kong’s seven million residents as well as foreign and Chinese nationals, was seen by many as a threat to the much-cherished rule of law in the city that returned to mainland rule under a "one country, two systems" formula. Tue, 02 Jul 2019 02:35:49 GMT First whales caught as Japan resumes commercial hunt after 30 years Kushiro, Japan: A small Japanese fleet caught their first whales on Monday in Japan's first commercial hunt in more than three decades, a move that has aroused global condemnation and fears for the fate of whales. Japan has long said few whale species are endangered and announced in December it was leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to resume hunting after years of campaigns by industry supporters and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose constituency includes a city that has long whaled. "If we had more whale available, we'd eat it more," said Sachiko Sakai, a 66-year-old taxi driver in Kushiro, a gritty port city on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, where five whaling ships were waved out of the harbour in a brief ceremony early on Monday. "It's part of Japan's food culture," said Sakai, adding that she ate a lot of whale as a child. "The world opposes killing whales, but you can say the same thing about many of the animals bred on land and killed for food." The ships, which are set to be joined by vessels from the southern port of Shimonoseki, will spend much of the summer hunting for minke and Baird's beaked whales. The crew in orange life vests took positions on the decks as the blue-hulled ships sailed out of Kushiro, some with red banners fluttering from their masts. By Monday afternoon, one ship returned with a roughly 8 metre-long minke whale. It was winched up from the vessel and taken off to be weighed and butchered. Another ship caught a whale, but the vessel had not returned by evening and no further details were available. "This is a great day. I'm really happy with the resumption of commercial whaling," said Yoshifumi Kai, head of the Japan Small-type Whaling Association. "We were able to take a splendid whale." TINY INDUSTRY Japan began whaling for scientific research a year after a 1986 ban on commercial whaling, aiming to gather what it called crucial population data, but it abandoned commercial whaling in 1988. Critics said the programme was simply commercial whaling in disguise after the meat of animals taken in scientific whaling ended up on store shelves and in restaurants. This year's quota for commercial whaling, including minkes, sei whales and Bryde's whales, is 227, the Fisheries Agency said. The quota, to be set annually, is less than the 330 whales Japan harvested in the Antarctic until recently. "We're not at all embarrassed by what we do, it's only natural," Kai said, adding that the number of whales Japan planned to hunt would not pose a threat to their population. Environmentalists said the launch was delayed until after a summit of leaders of G20 major economies that Japan hosted, but whaling proponents have denied this. "This is a sad day for whale protection globally," said Nicola Beynon of Humane Society International. "The word 'research' may have been removed from the side of the factory ship, finally ending Japan's charade of harpooning whales under the guise of science, but these magnificent creatures will still be slaughtered for no legitimate reason," Beynon, based in Australia, said in a statement. Whaling is a tiny industry in Japan. Whale makes up about 0.1 percent of all meat eaten in a year, with about 300 people directly linked to whaling. Japan's annual supplies of about 4,000 tonnes to 5,000 tonnes amount to 40 gm to 50 gm for each citizen, or about the weight of half an apple. Even whaling supporters say building demand will take time. Patrick Ramage, head of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, called the move a face-saving solution that could eventually lead Japan to abandon whaling. "It's a good decision for whales, it's a good decision for Japan, and it's a good decision for international marine conservation," he said. Mon, 01 Jul 2019 16:19:01 GMT Indian-origin Senator Kamala Harris faces racism online Washington: Kamala Harris, the first Indian-origin Senator and one of the top Democrats eyeing the White House in the 2020 presidential run, has been racially targeted online of her identity as "not an American Black", according to media reports. Harris, 54, who was born in the US to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father who were both immigrants, has directly confronted critics before who have questioned her black heritage. Harris, Senator from California, was the target of birtherism-like attack, the latest jabs to racism faced by former President Barack Obama, CNN reported. “Birtherism," promoted by some Republicans, including President Donald Trump before he assumed the presidency, was a movement that denied former President Obama was a natural-born US citizen, implying he was ineligible to be president. "Kamala Harris is *not* an American Black. She is half Indian and half Jamaican," the critic, who identified as African American, tweeted on Thursday. "I'm so sick of people robbing American Blacks (like myself) of our history. It's disgusting. Now using it for debate time at #DemDebate2? These are my people not her people. Freaking disgusting," the critic tweeted. The viral tweet by right-wing personality Ali Alexander, has also gone by the name Ali Akbar, The New York Times reported. The tweet was however, re-tweeted by President Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. Trump, a valuable Republican surrogate as his father faces a bruising 2020 race, posted the tweet of unverified information, then asked his more than three million followers: "Is this true? Wow," the report added. "Don's tweet was simply him asking if it was true that Kamala Harris was half-Indian because it's not something he had ever heard before," said the spokesman, Andy Surabian, "and once he saw that folks were misconstruing the intent of his tweet, he quickly deleted it." Harris officially launched her campaign in January for the US presidential election next year. If elected, Harris would create history by becoming the first woman in the White House. Lily Adams, the campaign communications director for Harris, dismissed the attack, explaining that people, including President Trump, used similar rhetoric to question Obama's birthplace. Obama was born in Hawaii. "This is the same type of racist attack his father used to attack Barack Obama," Adams told CNN. "It didn't work then and it won't work now." Harris has often resisted sharing her personal background on the campaign trail. But during Thursday's debate, she confronted former Vice President Joe Biden about his history opposing busing and said she herself had been bused to a public school. Biden, however, defended Harris on Saturday, saying in a tweet that "racism has no place in America." "The same forces of hatred rooted in 'birtherism' that questioned @BarackObama's American citizenship, even his racial identity, are now being used against Senator @KamalaHarris," Biden said. "It's disgusting and we have to call it out when we see it." Of the 2020 Democratic hopefuls, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren appeared to be the first on Saturday to defend Harris. "The attacks against @KamalaHarris are racist and ugly," Warren tweeted. "We all have an obligation to speak out and say so. And it's within the power and obligation of tech companies to stop these vile lies dead in their tracks." Other Democrats on the campaign trail chimed in. Washington Governor Jay Inslee accused the Trump family of "peddling birtherism," an apparent reference to the president's attacks against Obama. US Representative Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, also compared the online attacks, which claim Harris is not a black American because her father is Jamaican, to "birtherism," whose proponents claimed incorrectly that Obama was born in Kenya. "The attack on @KamalaHarris is racist and we can't allow it to go unchecked," Ryan tweeted. "We have a responsibility to call out this birtherism and the continued spread of misinformation." Indian-Americans constitute 1 per cent of the American population and are one of the fastest growing minorities in the country. Mon, 01 Jul 2019 09:50:32 GMT 10 onboard light aircraft killed as it crashes into hangar near Dallas Dallas, US: Ten people were killed when a small airplane crashed into a hangar as it was taking off from a Dallas-area airport Sunday morning, an spokeswoman for the town of Addison, Texas, said. Spokeswoman Mary Rosenbleeth said no one aboard the twin-engine plane survived at the Addison Municipal Airport, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Dallas. The Beechcraft BE-350 King Air hit an unoccupied hangar soon after 9am, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The agency said that the blaze destroyed the plane but could not confirm how many people were aboard Sunday evening. Video showed black smoke billowing from the building and a gaping hole in the hangar where the plane crashed. Officials have not released the identities of the people who died. Rosenbleeth said the Dallas County medical examiner's office confirmed the fatalities to the town and that authorities are still working to notify the families of the victims. An official with the medical examiner's office told The Associated Press they could not release any information on the crash Sunday evening. The plane crashed during takeoff and the resulting fire was quickly extinguished, said Edward Martelle, a spokesman for the town immediately north of Dallas. FAA investigators were at the crash site Sunday afternoon and the National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a crew to the scene. The plane's tail number has not yet been released. Mon, 01 Jul 2019 04:25:48 GMT Trump says China trade talks 'back on track,' new tariffs on hold Osaka: The United States and China agreed on Saturday to restart trade talks after President Donald Trump offered concessions including no new tariffs and an easing of restrictions on tech company Huawei in order to reduce tensions with Beijing. China agreed to make unspecified new purchases of US farm products and return to the negotiating table. No deadline was set for progress on a deal, and the world's two largest economies remain at odds over significant parts of an agreement. The last major round of talks collapsed in May. Financial markets, which have been rattled by the nearly year-long trade war, are likely to cheer the truce. Washington and Beijing have slapped tariffs on billions of dollars of each other's imports, stoking fears of a wider global trade war. Those tariffs remain in place while negotiations resume. "We're right back on track," Trump told reporters after an 80-minute meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies in Osaka, Japan. "We're holding back on tariffs and they're going to buy farm products," Trump said, without giving details about the purchases. Trump tweeted hours later that the meeting with Xi went "far better than expected." "The quality of the transaction is far more important to me than speed," he tweeted. "I am in no hurry, but things look very good!" The US president had threatened to slap new levies on roughly $300 billion of additional Chinese goods, including popular consumer products, if the meeting in Japan proved unsuccessful. Such a move would have extended existing tariffs to almost all Chinese imports into the United States. In a lengthy statement on the two-way talks, China's foreign ministry quoted Xi as telling Trump he hoped the United States could treat Chinese companies fairly. "China is sincere about continuing negotiations with the United States ... but negotiations should be equal and show mutual respect," the foreign ministry quoted Xi as saying. Trump offered an olive branch to Xi on Huawei Technologies Co, the world's biggest telecom network gear maker. The Trump administration has said the Chinese firm is too close to China's government and poses a national security risk, and has lobbied US allies to keep Huawei out of next-generation 5G telecommunications infrastructure. Trump's Commerce Department has put Huawei on its "entity list," effectively banning the company from buying parts and components from US companies without US government approval. But Trump said on Saturday he did not think that was fair to US suppliers, who were upset by the move. "We're allowing that because that wasn't national security," he said. CHEERS FROM CHIPMAKERS Trump said the US Commerce Department would study in the next few days whether to take Huawei off the list of firms banned from buying components and technology from US companies without government approval. China welcomed the step. "If the US does what it says, then, of course, we welcome it," said Wang Xiaolong, the Chinese foreign ministry's envoy for G20 affairs. US microchip makers also applauded the move. "We are encouraged the talks are restarting and additional tariffs are on hold and we look forward to getting more detail on the president's remarks on Huawei," John Neuffer, president of the US Semiconductor Association, said in a statement. Republican US Senator Marco Rubio, however, tweeted that any agreement to reverse the recent US action against Huawei would be a "catastrophic mistake" and that legislation would be needed to put the restrictions back in place if that turned out to be the case. Last month, Rubio and Democratic US Senator Mark Warner urged Trump to not use Huawei as a bargaining chip for trade negotiations. Huawei has come under mounting scrutiny for over a year, led by US allegations that "back doors" in its routers, switches and other gear could allow China to spy on US Communications. The company has denied its products pose a security threat. It declined to comment on the developments on Saturday. The problems at Huawei have filtered across to the broader chip industry, with Broadcom Inc warning of a broad slowdown in demand and cutting its revenue forecast. Trump said he and Xi did not discuss the extradition proceedings against Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer, who was arrested in Canada in December on charges alleging she misled global banks about Huawei's relationship with a company in Iran. RELIEF AND SCEPTICISM Scores of Asia specialists, including former US diplomats and military officers, urged Trump to rethink policies that "treat China as an enemy," warning that approach could hurt US interests and the global economy, according to a draft open letter reviewed by Reuters on Saturday. Investors, businesses and financial leaders have for months been warning that an intractable tit-for-tat tariff war between the United States and China could damage global supply chains and push the world economy over a cliff. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde on Saturday urged G20 policymakers to reduce tariffs and other obstacles to trade, warning that the global economy had hit a "rough patch" due to the trade conflict. Although analysts cheered a resumption of talks between Washington and Beijing, some questioned whether the two sides would be able to build enough momentum to breach the divide and forge a lasting deal. "Translating this truce into a durable easing of trade tensions is far from automatic ... especially as what's in play now extends well beyond economics to include delicate national security issues of both immediate- and longer-term nature," said Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz. The United States says China has been stealing American intellectual property for years, forces US firms to share trade secrets as a condition for doing business in China, and subsidizes state-owned firms to dominate industries. China has said the United States is making unreasonable demands and must also make concessions. The negotiations hit an impasse in May after Washington accused Beijing of reneging on reform pledges made during months of talks. Trump raised tariffs to 25% from 10% on $200 billion of Chinese goods, and China retaliated by raising levies on a list of US imports. Sun, 30 Jun 2019 15:07:03 GMT Japan resumes commercial whaling notwithstanding world condemnation Kushiro, Japan: Japanese whaling ships prepared on Sunday to set to sea, with crews gathering on decks in a northern port a day ahead of Japan's first commercial whaling hunt in more than 30 years. Japan announced last year it was leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and would resume commercial whaling on July 1, sparking global condemnation and fears for the world's whales. Japan has long maintained that eating whale is an important part of its culture and that most species are not endangered. A global whaling moratorium was imposed in 1986, but Japan then began what it called scientific research whaling in the North Pacific and the Antarctic. Critics said it was simply commercial whaling in disguise. "I used to eat whale when I was young, but it's been too expensive recently,” said Sachiko Sakai, 66, a taxi driver waiting for fares in Kushiro, a port town on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido. "Maybe now that commercial whaling is going to restart, it'll be cheaper and we can get our hands on it more easily.” The hunt will be confined to Japan's exclusive economic zone. The five small whaling ships due to set off early on Monday were moored at a wharf in a quiet corner of Kushiro port. On their decks were what appeared to be harpoon guns covered in tarpaulins. The vessels come from whaling ports around Japan, including one from Taiji, the town made notorious for its dolphin drive-hunts featured in the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove”. Some vessels were decorated with good luck flags, flapping in a cold wind. Some crew members carried groceries while others held towels and shampoo, apparently headed to a public bath. One wore brightly coloured shorts decorated with images of whales and other animals. All declined to talk. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose district includes the old whaling centre of Shimonoseki, has long campaigned to restart commercial whaling, but the industry's future is far from clear. Only about 300 people around Japan are directly connected to whaling, and the annual supply of whale - about 5,000 tonnes - amounts to roughly 40-50 grams per Japanese person a year. "To resume this so we can eat it - well, that's good,” said Yuya Kusakari, 37, who was fishing for flounder with his 8-year-old son not far from where the whaling ships were docked. Kusakari said he ate whale maybe once or twice a year. "It's really not all that available now, and it's expensive,” he said. Sun, 30 Jun 2019 13:51:37 GMT Trump sets foot in N Korea - a first by US Prez; meets Kim Panmunjom, South Korea: US President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas on Sunday, shaking hands warmly and both expressing hopes for peace. It was the third meeting between the two leaders in just over a year and will raise hopes for a revival of stalled nuclear talks. Trump briefly crossed a military demarcation line that had for years represented a tense Cold War border, into the North, becoming the first ever US president to set foot in the reclusive country. Moments later Kim joined Trump to step into the South Korean side. "It's a great day for the world," Trump said as he and Kim stood together amidst a throng of press photographers, aides and bodyguards. Kim looked relaxed and happy as he chatted with Trump. "This is an expression of his willingness" to work towards a new future, Kim said. Kim said it would be a great honour if Trump visited his capital of Pyongyang. Trump arrived in South Korea late on Saturday for talks with President Moon Jae-in after attending a Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, during which he made a surprise, spur-of-the-moment offer to meet Kim, who accepted it. Trump and Kim met in the so-called Joint Security Area (JSA), which is patrolled by soldiers from both Koreas. Moon joined the two after their initial handshakes. Trump and Kim met for the first time in Singapore in June last year, and agreed to improve relations and work towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. But there has been little progress since then. A second summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February broke down after the two sides failed to narrow differences between a US demand for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and a North Korean demand for sanctions relief. Trump had earlier told Moon that he had "plenty of time" and was in "no rush" to reach a deal. North Korea has pursued nuclear and missile programmes for years in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and easing tensions with North Korea is one of the US president's top foreign policy priorities. Sun, 30 Jun 2019 08:02:12 GMT Europe stifling under record heat wave amid wildfires, power cuts Paris/Madris: Hundreds of firefighters brought wildfires under control in southern France on Saturday as a stifling heatwave brought record-breaking temperatures to parts of Europe, killing at least six people. In the worst-hit Gard region, where France's highest-ever temperature was registered on Friday at 45.9 degrees Celsius, scores of overnight fires burned some 550 hectares (about 1,360 acres) of land and destroyed several houses and vehicles. "We came very close to a disaster," Didier Lauga, prefect of the Gard, told reporters. "There are still firefighters in place in case fires break out again." A psychologically unstable man was arrested after starting a blaze in one village, but the extreme heat was likely to blame for many of the fires, Lauga said. Fifteen firefighters and several police officers were injured in the Gard, where 700 firefighters and 10 aircraft were mobilised to contain the flames, emergency services said. In the neighbouring Vaucluse region, authorities said a man who had been cycling in a mountainous area had died after collapsing due to the heat. The sweltering conditions were expected to ease on Saturday in southern France but highs were still forecast at close to 40 degrees. Further north, Paris was due to experience its hottest day of the heatwave with a high of 37-38 degrees predicted. As huge crowds took to the streets of the capital for the annual gay pride parade, firefighters sprayed water on revellers, some of whom used rainbow-coloured fans and umbrellas to counter the heat. In Germany, organisers of Sunday's Frankfurt Ironman made contingency plans to keep athletes from overheating in temperatures expected to reach up to 38 degrees. "Extreme risk” The World Meteorological Organization said this week that 2019 was on track to be among the world's hottest years, and 2015-2019 would then be the hottest five-year period on record. It said the European heatwave was "absolutely consistent" with extremes linked to the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. Britain experienced its hottest day of the year so far with temperatures set to reach up 35 degrees, the Met Office said. In Spain, unusually hot conditions were registered for a fourth consecutive day. The mercury reached 43.3 degrees at a meteorological station between the Catalan towns of Vinebre and Masroig in northeastern Spain, close to an area hit by wildfires, officials said. Forty of Spain's 50 regions have been placed on weather alert, with seven of them considered to be at extreme risk, the national meteorological agency said. Two people died on Friday due to heat-related complications, and the sizzling temperatures fuelled several wildfires. New blazes started on Saturday in southern and central areas, though firefighters managed to contain 90 per cent of the wildfires that raged across 60 sq km (23 sq miles) in the northeastern Tarragona province, the Catalan government said. Two other fires in the central Castilla La Mancha and Madrid regions were still burning, affecting more than 30 sq km (11.5 sq miles) of land, officials said. At least three people died in central and northern Italy, while hospitals in the financial capital Milan saw a 35 per cent rise in emergency visits due to heat-related conditions, local media reported. Demand for power in the city surged as people cranked up air conditioning causing sporadic blackouts in stores and restaurants. Temperatures are forecast to ease in the coming days but it will remain hot. Sun, 30 Jun 2019 04:06:58 GMT Trump offers to meet Kim Jong Un this weekend Osaka/Seoul: US President Donald Trump said on Saturday he would like to see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this weekend at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, and North Korea said a meeting would be "meaningful" if it happened. Trump, who is in Osaka, Japan, for a Group of 20 summit, is due to arrive in South Korea later on Saturday. He is scheduled to return to Washington on Sunday. If Trump and Kim were to meet, it would be for the third time in just over a year, and four months since their second summit, in Vietnam, broke down with no progress on US efforts to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Trump made the offer to meet Kim in a comment on Twitter about his trip to South Korea. "While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello (?)!" he said. Trump later told reporters his offer to Kim was a spur-of-the-moment idea: "I just thought of it this morning." "We'll be there and I just put out a feeler because I don't know where he is right now. He may not be in North Korea," he said. "If he's there, we'll see each other for two minutes, that's all we can, but that will be fine," he added. Trump said he and Kim "get along very well". A senior North Korean official said a summit between Trump and Kim in the DMZ would be "meaningful" in advancing relations. "We see it as a very interesting suggestion, but we have not received an official proposal in this regard," Choe Son Hui, North Korea's first vice-minister of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, North Korea's KCNA state media reported. "I am of the view that if the DPRK-US summit meetings take place on the division line, as is intended by President Trump, it would serve as another meaningful occasion in further deepening the personal relations between the two leaders and advancing the bilateral relations," Choe said. She was referring to North Korea by its official name - the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. US special envoy Stephen Biegun said on Friday the United States was ready to hold constructive talks with North Korea to follow through on a denuclearisation agreement reached by the two countries last year, South Korea's foreign ministry said. Biegun told his South Korean counterpart, Lee Do-hoon, that Washington wanted to make "simultaneous, parallel" progress on the agreement reached at a summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore in June last year, the ministry said in a statement. Both sides had agreed to establish new relations and work towards denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. But negotiations have stalled since their second summit in Vietnam in February collapsed as the two sides failed to narrow differences between US calls for denuclearisation and North Korean demands for sanctions relief. South Korea's presidential office said nothing was confirmed with regards to a Trump, Kim meeting. Russian President Vladimir Putin told South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit that Kim had told him in April security guarantees were key, and that corresponding measures were needed to realise denuclearisation, South Korea's presidential office said. Meeting Trump in Osaka, Chinese President Xi Jinping said he hopes the United States and North Korea can show flexibility, resume talks as soon as possible, and find a way to resolve each other's concerns, China's Foreign Ministry said. Happy birthday Trump wanted to visit the DMZ, on the border between North and South Korea, on a 2017 visit to South Korea but bad weather scuppered the plan. He said before departing for the G20 summit that he did not expect to meet Kim on this trip. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that a recent exchange of letters between Trump and Kim boosted hopes for a restart of talks, calling it a "very real possibility". Trump told reporters on Saturday Kim had sent him a birthday card and Trump sent him a letter in return. North Korea's official KCNA news agency said Trump's letter had "excellent content" and Kim would "seriously contemplate" it, without elaborating. Trump has previously said publicly he had received a very warm "beautiful letter" from Kim. He has not divulged its contents, but the White House official, who did not want to be identified, described the letter as "very flowery". "President Trump made his pitch for a short summit with Chairman Kim on Twitter as White House officials most likely have tried - and failed - to set up such a meeting through official diplomatic or South Korean channels," Harry J Kazianis of the Center for the National Interest said a short summit could set the scene for progress later. "While no major agreements will be signed, both sides can reaffirm their commitment to dialogue and diplomacy, essentially resetting the table for a future deal in the weeks and months to come," Kazianis said. Others were more sceptical. "The fundamental problem - no working-level meetings and no basic change in at least the US negotiating position - means that any meeting right now is just pointless theatre," Vipin Narang, associate professor of political science at MIT, said on Twitter. Sat, 29 Jun 2019 09:33:55 GMT G20 concludes with unanimous support for free trade Osaka: The members of the G20 bloc on Saturday concluded their two-day Summit here by declaring support for the principles of free trade and economic growth amid global trade-related tensions. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a press conference after the end of the two-day summit that the G20 leaders agreed on the need to boost economic growth and expressed concerns about globalization and the world trade system, reports Efe news. Abe said the 20-member group reaffirmed its support for "the fundamental principles backing a free trade system" and placed special emphasis on achieving open, free and non-discriminatory markets and a level-playing field. Japanese Prime Minister said even though it was difficult to find one solution to so many global challenges at once, the group had managed to show a common will in many areas. The leaders also recognized the clear "downside risks" to the global economy according to Abe, who said the member-countries had agreed to spearhead economic growth and stressed the need to reform the World Trade Organization. The final statement signed by the leaders flags the intensification of geopolitical and trade tensions, but does not include any mention of growing protectionism, in the context of the growing trade tensions between the US, China and other countries. The joint declaration said global growth was stabilizing and was expected to register a small rise later this year and in 2020, adding that the bloc was committed to confronting the risks associated with the tensions and launch more actions if needed. Established in 1999, the G20 is a central forum for international cooperation on financial and economic issues. It comprises 19 countries plus the European Union (EU). The member nations are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, Britain and the US. Sat, 29 Jun 2019 09:01:32 GMT Pakistan eyeing first Imran-Trump meeting in September Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to meet US President Donald Trump for the first time to discuss "important regional matters", according to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Quoting official sources, The Express Tribune reported on Friday that the meeting between the two leaders could take place in September when Imran will travel to US for the annual session of the UN General Assembly. Relations between Pakistan and the US have remained tense during the Trump's tenure. The US president has publicly said that Pakistan has given us "nothing but lies and deceit" and also suspended security and other assistance for backing terror groups. The US has repeatedly asked Pakistan to end its support to the militant organisations operating from within its territory against India and Afghanistan. Qureshi told reporters in Islamabad on Thursday that President Trump had extended an invitation to Premier Khan. However, the prime minister could not travel to Washington because of the budget session, the report said. He said that dates for the expected meeting are being worked out by the two sides. According to Qureshi, the US president expressed his desire to meet the premier to discuss "important regional matters". Efforts for arranging the Imran-Trump meeting have been going on for months, the report said. Some officials linked the two leaders' summit with possible positive outcome of the ongoing efforts seeking peace deal in Afghanistan. Though the bilateral ties have been hit, the US president has expressed his desire to work with the Imran-led government. Sat, 29 Jun 2019 05:24:00 GMT Indian-American teen wins popular US quiz show, pockets $100K New York: An Indian-American youth has won the 2019 Teen Jeopardy contest taking the $100,000 prize in America's most-watched individual quiz show. Avi Gupta's victory televised on Friday marks a near-clean sweep of popular student contests in the past year by Indian-Americans. He is from Portland, Oregon, and completed high school recently, although he was still a high schooler when the programme was pre-recorded several weeks ago. He beat out three other Indian-American teens in the contest, which featured a total of 15 students. During the show, he told the host, Alex Trebek, that people questioned the value of accumulating a trove of trivia when they could be googled. But he said that building a wide range of knowledge was important because arguments and ideas can be built only on facts. The 2018 College Jeopardy, which also carried a prize of $100,000, was won by Dhruv Gaur. The 2019 National Geography Bee, which tests knowledge of geography, was won by Nihar Janga. In the 2019 National Spelling Bee last month seven of the eight co-winners were of Indian descent. In the previous 10 years, only Indian-Americans had been winners. Indian-Americans have made their mark in science contests also. Although there were no winners among them, 16 of the 30 finalists in the nation's top contest, the Regeneron National Science Talent Search, were on Indian descent. In the Broadcom Masters science contest for middle school students, eight of the 30 finalists were Indian-Americans. Sat, 29 Jun 2019 04:58:00 GMT G20 summit: BRICS nations call on world states to prevent terrorism Osaka: India along with other BRICS nations on Friday called on all states to prevent financing of terrorist networks and of terrorist actions from their territories, as they pledged to combat terrorism and illicit financial flow. In a joint statement after their informal meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) leaders also reiterated their commitment to fight the exploitation of internet for terrorist purposes. "We strongly condemn terrorist attacks, including against BRICS countries, in all forms and manifestations, wherever and by whom so ever committed," they said. "We urge concerted efforts and a comprehensive approach to counter terrorism under the UN auspices on a firm international legal basis," the BRICS leaders said. Without naming any country, the five leaders -- including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping -- reiterated that it is the responsibility of all states to prevent financing of terrorist networks and of terrorist actions from their territories. While recognising that states have the leading role to ensure safety and security in the use of the information and communications technologies, they called on the technology companies to cooperate with governments, in accordance with applicable law, to eliminate the ability of terrorists to use digital platforms to encourage, recruit, facilitate or commit terrorist acts. "We remain firmly committed to fighting corruption and will continue to foster integrity in the public and private sectors," they said. The leaders of the five nations pledged to strive to promote international anti-corruption cooperation and strengthening of legal frameworks, as appropriate, to more effectively address cases of corruption especially related to assets recovery. "We will seek to enhance our mutual efforts in the prosecution of persons sought for corruption. We recognise the role of whistle-blowers in preventing and combating corruption in both the public and private sectors and the need to improve measures to protect whistle-blowers," they said. They said that corruption, including illicit money and financial flows, and ill-gotten wealth stashed in foreign jurisdictions, is a global challenge which may impact negatively on economic growth and sustainable development. "We will strive to coordinate our approach and encourage a stronger global commitment on the issue," they said. They recognised the need to strengthen cooperation, subject to domestic legal systems, in anti-corruption law enforcement, extradition of fugitives, economic and corruption offenders, and in recovering stolen assets. "We reaffirm our commitment to support international cooperation in combating illicit financial flows, including cooperation within the Financial Actions Task Force (FATF), the World Customs Organisation and other relevant multilateral mechanisms," they said. The five leaders said they recognise the crucial role of cooperation in transitioning towards cleaner, more flexible energy efficient systems that combine growth with decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, while ensuring energy security, access to energy, sustainability and affordability. "We acknowledge the importance of varied sources of energy and technological advances to achieve a low emission future, such as solar energy, sustainable bioenergy and natural gas in transportation," they said. The leaders said they were committed to the full implementation of the Paris Agreement, adopted under the principles of the UNFCCC, including the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances. "We urge developed countries to provide financial, technological and capacity-building support to developing countries to enhance their capability in mitigation and adaptation," they said. Recalling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, they reaffirmed their our strong commitment to sustainable development. "We stress the importance of fully honouring official development assistance commitments and the provision of development resources, in accordance with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. "We continue to support the G20 Action Plan on the 2030 Agenda, the G20 Initiative on Supporting Industrialisation in Africa and Least Developed Countries and the G20 Africa Partnership, including the Compact with Africa, " the five leaders said. Recognising that innovation is a key driving force behind development, they reaffirmed our commitment to maximise the benefits of digitalisation and emerging technologies, including for the population of rural and remote areas. "We encourage joint efforts to share good practices on internet-driven poverty alleviation and digital transformation of the industrial sector," they said. Fri, 28 Jun 2019 09:19:54 GMT Indian-origin Uber driver sentenced to three years on kidnapping charges in US New York: An Indian-origin Uber driver has been sentenced to three years in prison, ordered to pay over 3,000 dollars as penalty for kidnapping one of his female passengers and dropping her off on an isolated highway. Harbir Parmar, 25 of New York had pled guilty in March this year before US District Judge Vincent Briccetti, who imposed three-year sentence on charges of kidnapping and wire fraud, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said. In addition to the prison term, Parmar was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay USD 3,642 in restitution and forfeiture. "Many people rely on rideshare apps to navigate New York safely. But when a woman hailed the ridesharing car driven by Parmar, her ride home took a turn for the worst. With Parmar's lengthy prison term, he will no longer be able to take advantage of ridesharing customers," Berman said. According to the indictment and statements made during the plea proceedings, in February 2018 Parmar, who worked as a driver for the ridesharing company Uber, picked up the female passenger in New York who sought to be driven to White Plains, a suburb of New York City. After the passenger fell asleep in the backseat of the vehicle, Parmar changed the passenger's destination in Uber's mobile application to an address in Boston, Massachusetts, and proceeded to drive toward that location. When the passenger awoke, the vehicle was in Connecticut. She requested that she be taken to White Plains or to the police station, but Parmar refused. He instead dropped the passenger off on the side of a highway in Connecticut. She then went to a nearby convenience store where she sought assistance. In addition, from December 2016 through February 2018, Parmar sent false information about the destinations of Uber's customers through the company's mobile application on several occasions. At times, he also sent false information about the application of a cleaning fee to be applied to the accounts of Uber's customers. In these instances, Uber customers filed complaints with it about being overcharged for their rides. These instances have resulted in thousands of dollars in improper charges to the accounts of Uber's customers. Fri, 28 Jun 2019 06:40:05 GMT Modi-Trump meet on sidelines of G20 summit; discuss trade, Iran, defence and 5G Osaka: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday held wide-ranging talks with US President Donald Trump and discussed ways to leverage the power of technology, improve defence and security ties as well as issues relating to trade, Iran and 5G. Modi, who is in Osaka, Japan for the G20 Summit, thanked Trump for expressing his "love towards India" in a letter delivered by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week. The Prime Minister said that India stands committed to further deepen economic and cultural relations with the US. The two leaders discussed Iran, 5G, bilateral relations and defence ties on the sidelines of the summit. "The talks with @POTUS were wide ranging. We discussed ways to leverage the power of technology, improve defence and security ties as well as issues relating to trade. "India stands committed to further deepen economic and cultural relations with USA," Modi said on Twitter. The US reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers. To reduce Iran's crude oil export to zero, the US ended on May 2 waivers that had allowed the top buyers of Iranian oil, including India, to continue their imports for six months. India, complying with the US sanctions, has ended all imports of oil from Iran. Trump congratulated Modi on his election victory and said that the two countries would work together in many areas including military. "It was a big victory, you deserve it, you have done a great job. We have big things to announce. In terms of trade, in terms of manufacturing, we would be discussing 5G. I congratulate you and I look forward to talks," Trump said. "We have become great friends and our countries have never been closer. I can say that with surety. We will work together in many ways including military, we'll be discussing trade today," he said. On Iran, Trump said: "We have a lot of time. There's no rush, they can take their time. There is absolutely no time pressure". "PM @narendramodi and @POTUS held talks on the sidelines of the #G20 Summit in Osaka. Both leaders discussed various bilateral and global issues," the Prime Minister's Office said in a tweet. The two leaders met shortly after the Japan-America-India trilateral meeting during which Modi highlighted "the importance India attaches to" the grouping. The Modi-Trump meeting assumes significance as the US president, championing his 'America First' policy, has been a vocal critic of India for levying "tremendously high" duties on US products. Before his arrival in Japan on Thursday, Trump tweeted, "I look forward to speaking with Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi about the fact that India, for years having put very high Tariffs against the United States, just recently increased the Tariffs even further. This is unacceptable and the Tariffs must be withdrawn!" This was Modi's first meeting with Trump after the BJP's landslide win in the parliamentary election. India has raised tariffs on 28 items, including almond, pulses and walnut, exported from the US in retaliation to America's withdrawal of preferential access for Indian products. The Trump administration wants Prime Minister Modi to lower the trade barriers and embrace "fair and reciprocal" trade. Trump has also criticised India's high import tariff on the iconic Harley Davidson motorcycles as "unacceptable" though acknowledging that his "good friend" Prime Minister Modi has reduced it from 100 per cent to 50 per cent. Last February, India slashed the customs duty on imported motorcycles like Harley-Davidson to 50 per cent after Trump called it "unfair" and threatened to increase the tariff on import of Indian bikes to the US. The government on June 21 last year decided to impose these duties in retaliation to the US decision of significantly hiking customs duties on certain steel and aluminium products. America, in March last year, imposed 25 per cent tariff on steel and a 10 per cent import duty on aluminium products. Fri, 28 Jun 2019 05:23:03 GMT Leonardo DiCaprio laments acute water crisis in Tamil Nadu Los Angeles: Oscar-winning Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio, known for his environmental activism, has drawn attention to the ongoing water crisis in Chennai. The 44-year-old actor shared a post by news outlet BBC on Instagram with the title, "Only rain can save Chennai from this situation". "A well completely empty, and a city without water. The southern Indian city of Chennai is in crisis, after the four main water reservoirs ran completely dry. The acute water shortage has forced the city to scramble for urgent solutions and residents have to stand in line for hours to get water from government tanks. "As the water levels depleted, hotels and restaurants started to shut down temporarily, and the air con was turned off in the city's metro. Officials in the city continue to try and find alternative sources of water - but the community continue to pray for rain," DiCaprio's wrote, sharing BBC's post. Commenting on his post, the actor further wrote, "We can change the world!" Several parts of Tamil Nadu are grappling with acute water shortage. The Centre had last month issued a drought advisory to the state in the backdrop of depleting water levels in its reservoirs. DiCaprio has often spoken about environment issues concerning India. On Monday, the actor had shared a post from the World Economic Forum on the 65 metre-high Ghazipur trash mountain, which is expected to eclipse the height of Agra's Taj Mahal in the next few years. DiCaprio's environmental activism stretches as far back as 1998 when he established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to promoting environmental awareness. He had also visited India when he was shooting for his climate change documentary "Before The Flood". Thu, 27 Jun 2019 15:47:07 GMT Trump threatens additional tariffs on China Washington: US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that the US would impose "very substantial" tariffs on China if the two countries were unable to reach a trade deal during his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan. "I would do additional tariffs ... very substantial additional tariffs if that doesn't work, if we don't make a deal," the US President during an interview, the Efe news reported. Trump said: "Companies are moving out of China, by the way, some are coming back to the United States because they don't want to pay the tariff." Trump said the US was benefiting from the tariffs imposed on Chinese goods. "When tariffs go on in China we are taking in billions and billions of dollars - we never took in 10 cents - now you have another $325 billion that I haven't taxed yet - it's ripe for taxing - for putting tariffs on," Trump said. The US President, however, said he was optimistic about reaching a trade deal with Beijing, adding that China needed an agreement more than the US. Trump said the Chinese government knows "what we have to have" to cut a trade deal. "We don't have intellectual property rights protections, we don't have the opening of China," Trump said. "You know, China's not open. We're open, but China's not open. So, if we don't have the openings of China, if we don't have the things that we negotiated, and maybe even more than that." Trump said that while he hoped to reach a deal with Xi, his "plan B" could include a 10 per cent tariff on "$600 billion" worth of goods from China. "Now what's going to happen ... all of those companies will move out of China - most of them - and they'll move to other places like Vietnam and other places that take advantage of us, and we'll start working on that too ... I don't want to do too many at one time," Trump said, referring to trade deals. The US President said he had decided to use tariffs differently than his predecessors and that his policy was getting results. Trump and Xi are expected to meet on Saturday in an effort to deal with the trade tensions and amid threats from Washington to impose additional tariffs. The G20 summit will take place in Osaka, a city in southern Japan, June 28-29. In May, Trump imposed a 25 per cent tariff on Chinese imports worth $200 billion in response to the lack of progress in reaching a trade deal with Beijing. China, for its part, retaliated by slapping tariffs on US imports worth $60 billion. In 2018, the US posted a trade deficit of $419 billion with China due, largely, to the fact that US exports to Asia's largest economy totalled just $120 billion, while American imports from China reached $540 billion. Thu, 27 Jun 2019 11:59:01 GMT From cars to bullet trains, India-Japan ties have come a long way: PM Modi Kobe: Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Thursday the ties between India and Japan have become stronger from the time the two countries cooperated to make a car to coming together to manufacture the bullet trains. Addressing the Indian community in this Japanese city, Prime Minister Modi said Japan has played an important role in India's economic development. "When it comes to India's relations with the world, Japan holds an important position. These relations are not of today but date back to centuries. It has harmony and respect for each other's culture at its foundation," Modi said. He said the bilateral ties are going to become more robust as India aims to become a USD 5 trillion economy in the next five years. "There was a time when we were collaborating in building cars and today we are collaborating in building a bullet train," said Modi, who is here to attend the G20 Summit to be held in Osaka from Friday. "Today there is no such part of India where Japan's projects or investments have not left its mark. Similarly talent and manpower of India are contributing to strengthen Japan," he told the enthusiastic Indian diaspora who gave a rousing welcome to the Prime Minister at the Hyogo Prefecture Guest House. India is planning to run its first bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad with Japan's help. The first stretch of the ambitious project is expected to be completed by 2022. The National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHRSCL) is in the process of acquiring land for the 508-kilometer project. Modi said Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Justice Radhabinod Pal and many Indians strengthened India's relationship with Japan and that is why after WW-II, India and Japan's relationship reached newer heights. "After I became Prime Minister in 2014 I got an opportunity to strengthen India-Japan friendship, together with my friend PM Shinzo Abe. We took our diplomatic relations beyond the purview of capitals & ambassadors & took them directly among public," he said. The Prime Minister also heaped praise on his "dear friend" Abe. "Besides Delhi and Ahmedabad, I had the opportunity to take Prime Minister Abe to Varanasi. He visited my parliamentary constituency and participated in the Ganga aarti there. Whenever he got the opportunity, he spoke of this divine experience," he said. Modi said his government's main areas of focus were social security and infrastructure development. "We'll launch Chandrayaan-2 in few months and by 2022 we're planning to launch India's maiden human spaceflight program-Gaganyaan," he said. Thu, 27 Jun 2019 17:03:32 GMT Photo of drowned migrants stirs outrage over Trump asylum clampdown Matamoros, Mexico: A harrowing photo of a Salvadoran migrant and his young daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande at the US-Mexico border became the focus on Wednesday of a US political debate over President Donald Trump's asylum policies. The picture of Oscar Alberto Martinez, 25, and his two-year-old daughter Angie Valeria put a renewed focus on the plight of refugees and migrants who are mostly from Central America. The pair had travelled from El Salvador and were seeking asylum in the United States. US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called the image "horrific" and said the president's migration clampdown made deaths more likely. "Trump's policy of making it harder and harder to seek asylum - and separating families who do - is cruel, inhumane and leads to tragedies like this," he wrote on Twitter. In turn, Trump blamed the Democrats, whom he said were blocking his government's attempts at closing "loopholes" in US law that encourage migrants to apply for US asylum. "If they fixed the laws you wouldn't have that. People are coming up, they're running through the Rio Grande," he said, referring to the river known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico that forms a large part of the border between the two countries. "They can change it very easily so people don't come up, and people won't get killed," Trump told reporters. Record numbers of Central American migrants are reaching the United States this year despite a crackdown by Trump. Many flee their homes in Central America to escape poverty, drought and high levels of criminal violence, much of it carried out by street gangs. US border patrol agents have apprehended 664,000 people along the southern border so far this year, a 144 percent increase from last year, said Brian Hastings, chief of law enforcement operations for the US Border Patrol. "The system is overwhelmed," he said. Deaths are not uncommon, with travellers exposed to violence from criminals as well as the treacherous waters of the Rio Grande and desert heat. On Tuesday, US Border Patrol agents near Eagle Pass, Texas recovered a man's body from another stretch of the river. Several more have drowned this year. Border Patrol reported 283 migrant fatalities on the border in 2018. Activists say the number is higher as the remains of many migrants who die in rugged stretches of wilderness along the 1,950-mile (3,138-km) long border are never found. To manage asylum flows, the United States has in recent years implemented a system known as "metering" which puts daily limits on the number of asylum seekers processed at ports of entry, leading to weeks-long waiting lists in dangerous border towns. The controls have contributed to growing numbers of migrants crossing the border illegally to hand themselves in to authorities and ask for asylum. Migrant rights activists say such limits on people's access to asylum can put them in harm's way, while driving migration underground and squeezing it into new routes. Enrique Maciel, director of the migrant agency of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, said the Martinez family had decided to cross the river after being told they needed to register for a waiting list to apply for asylum at the Matamoros-Brownsville port of entry. Martinez' mother on Wednesday told Reuters she had urged her son not to leave, fearing danger would meet him on the long journey north. The photo of Martinez and his toddler daughter -- face down in the mud on the river bank, with her arm draped around his neck -- has gone viral on social media around the world. The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, put the picture on its front page and Pope Francis expressed "immense sadness." "The pope is profoundly saddened by their death, and is praying for them and for all migrants who have lost their lives while seeking to flee war and misery," Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said. Previous photo The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR compared the photograph to the picture of three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi who drowned in the Mediterranean and whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015. Kurdi was part of a Syrian refugee wave that caused panic in Europe, prompting Turkey to effectively shut down the migrant route through Greece at the European Union's behest. As with the photograph of Kurdi, the image of the drowned father and daughter has triggered debate over the ethics of publishing such shocking photographs, with some commentators arguing that Western media was less likely to publish similar images of European or US citizens. Robin Reineke, co-founder and director of the Tucson, Arizona-based Colibri Center for Human Rights said the use of such pictures did little or nothing to halt the deaths occurring daily on the border. Others said the use of the picture of Martinez and his daughter was justified because it made people face up to migrant deaths on the US southern border. "This is very sad, but it's really necessary," said Rafael Larraenza, founder and director of San Diego, California-based volunteer group Angeles del Desierto (The Desert Angels), which carries out search and rescue operations for missing migrants. "This happens every day along the border from California to Texas, at least one or two people a day," Larraenza said. Many countries have erected barriers to migrants, and the European Union and the United States have pressured their neighbours to cut the numbers of people trying to make the journey. Trump threatened Mexico with trade tariffs until it agreed to help lower the number of mostly Central American migrants reaching the United States, using increased enforcement along with and expanded program of asylum containment. With more immigrants reaching the US-Mexican border than at any time in the past decade, authorities in both countries have struggled to provide adequate care in detention, with immigration lawyers citing children being held for weeks without adequate food or hygiene in US border facilities. The US Customs and Border Protection agency said on Tuesday its acting commissioner was resigning. The US Senate on Wednesday approved a $4.6 billion bill to address the migrant surge at the border with Mexico, setting up a negotiation with the House of Representatives and President Donald Trump over the funds and how they should be spent. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Martinez and his daughter had lost their lives because they could not get the protection they were entitled to under international law. "The deaths of Oscar and Valeria represent a failure to address the violence and desperation pushing people to take journeys of danger for the prospect of a life in safety and dignity," he said in the statement. Thu, 27 Jun 2019 06:16:49 GMT Murdered 3-year-old Sherin's foster father Wesley Mathews sentenced to life Houston (US): Wesley Mathews, the Indian-American foster father of three-year-old Sherin Mathews, was sentenced to life by a judge in Dallas on Wednesday for the tragic death of the Indian toddler in 2017, in a case that attracted international attention. Wesley Mathews (39), who hails from Ernakulam in Kerala, has pleaded guilty in the trial over the death of Sherin, who was found murdered and dumped under a culvert in Texas in 2017. Mathews pleaded guilty Monday to a lesser charge of injury to a child in Sherin's death. He was originally charged with capital murder by authorities in the US state of Texas. Mathews stared ahead and did not look at jurors as the judge sentenced him to life in prison, US media reports said. The 12-member jury deliberated Wednesday afternoon for about three hours before coming to a unanimous decision to give Mathews a sentence of life in the death of Sherin. He will be eligible for parole after 30 years' imprisonment. Prosecutors argued that Mathews killed Sherin in October 2017. She was adopted by Mathews and his wife Sini Mathews from an orphanage in Bihar in 2016. Mathews claimed she accidentally choked to death on milk. Prosecutor Sherre Thomas argued that Mathews' testimony was just another lie. She said testimony and medical records show that it was "medically impossible for a child who is 3 years old to stand up and choke to death" as Mathews claimed. "It means he's still a liar. It means he killed that little girl. And when he killed her, he panicked," Thomas argued, WFAA TV reported. She said Mathews also took the time to clean up himself and turned off the location tracker on his phone to try to hide what he had done. Mathews did not tell investigators where his daughter's body was. When her body was found, it was so badly decomposed that the medical examiner could not determine an exact cause of death. "There's nothing left of her, her teeth had fallen out," Thomas said. "He covered his crime. He got away with that." While prosecutors asked the jury to hand down a life sentence, defence attorney Rafael De La Garza argued that Mathews was a good father who panicked when his daughter choked and did not call for help. He argued that prosecutors could not prove that Mathews killed his child and said he was only guilty of not calling 911, the emergency helpline. During closing arguments, De La Garza walked over to Mathews and placed his hands on his shoulders. "This is something he will live with for the rest of his life," the attorney told jurors. After the verdict was read, De La Garza called the sentence "cruel and unusual punishment," WFAA TV reported. Mathews initially told police that Sherin went missing on October 7, 2017, after he put her outside their home at 3 am in Richardson, Texas because she would not drink her milk. Her badly decomposed body was found 15 days later in a culvert near the family's home. His story evolved during the course of the investigation. He initially claimed that as punishment for not drinking her milk he sent Sherin outside at 3 am to stand by a tree outside the backyard of their home. When he checked in on her 15 minutes later, Mathews said Sherin was missing. He later admitted she died when he "physically assisted" her in drinking the milk and got chocked. On the witness stand during the sentencing trial, Mathews said he panicked after his daughter's accidental death. He said he wrapped her body in a blue trash bag and dumped her in a culvert so she would be near the home. Thomas argued that Sherin suffered abuse the entire time she lived in the US. Medical records show that she had five broken bones that were at various stages of healing. Police charged Sherin's foster mother Sini, a registered nurse, with child abandonment in November 2017, after her husband told officials the couple left the toddler alone the night of her death while they went to dinner with their biological daughter. Sini's case was dismissed in March this year after prosecutors said they could not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. Sini sat in the courtroom during closing arguments on Wednesday. After the judge read the sentence, she quickly left the courtroom without giving a comment to waiting reporters. She and Wesley Mathews were both arrested after Sherin's body was found. The couple later lost custody of their biological daughter. Sherin's death attracted the attention of the Indian government and the then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj took keen interest in the case and also instructed the Indian mission in Houston to make sure that the Indian toddler received justice. India further tightened the adoption process after Sherin's tragic death. (With inputs from PTI) Thu, 27 Jun 2019 03:06:27 GMT Sri Lanka to resume executions after 42-year hiatus Colombo: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena announced on Wednesday that he had approved the execution of four people on death row after being convicted for drug trafficking, ending a 42-year-long moratorium on the application of the death penalty in the country. "I have already signed the death penalty for four (convicts). It will be implemented soon and we have already decided the date as well," Sirisena was quoted as saying by Efe news, adding that all four were drug-related convicts. Sirisena has repeatedly said that he will go ahead with executions of people convicted of crimes related to drugs as part of a hardening stance in the drive against drug-trafficking on the island. At the beginning of the year, authorities began the extensive process of recruiting an executioner, a position that had been lying vacant for many years. Although more than 100 candidates applied for the position, authorities are yet to appoint anyone for the post. The Commissioner of Prisons TMJW Thennakoon said he had not been informed of the decision to carry out the executions. If the executions carried out, Sri Lanka would be ending a 42-year-long suspension of the death penalty, even though it voted in favour of a moratorium on it during the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in December 2018. Activist and Secretary General of non-profit Amnesty International (AI) Kumi Naidoo on Wednesday urged Sirisena in a public video message to halt his plans to resume the death penalty and the execution of the four convicts. "I reach out to you to plead for the lives of people who may soon be executed in Sri Lanka if you revive the death penalty," the South African activist said, emphasizing that the last death sentence was carried out in Sri Lanka when the current President was just 24 years old. In a statement on Tuesday, AI also expressed concerns over the lack of transparency around the decision as the details and date have been withheld. The death penalty remains in force in Sri Lanka for crimes including treason, murder and drug trafficking, although the last case that received the presidential approval necessary for its application was in 1976. Wed, 26 Jun 2019 15:09:55 GMT Maggots ate internal organs of Sherin before her body reached the morgue Houston: When the body of 3-year-old Indian toddler Sherin Mathews reached the morgue, maggots had eaten her internal organs, the doctor who performed the autopsy on the toddler in 2017 has told jurors in Dallas, Texas. The Indian-American foster father of Sherin, Wesley Mathews, in an unexpected move, pleaded guilty on Monday to injury to a child by omission, a lesser charge, at the start of what was supposed to be his capital murder trial. On the second day of the trial on Tuesday, 39-year-old Mathews said in a testimony that he raised his voice at Sherin while he was trying to get her to drink her milk in the garage. That startled her, and she began to choke on the milk. He initially claimed that as punishment for not drinking her milk he sent Sherin outside at 3 am to stand by a tree outside the backyard of their home in Richardson, Texas. When he checked in on her 15 minutes later, Mathews said Sherin was missing. Two weeks later, when Sherin's body was found in a nearby culvert by a cadaver dog, Mathews changed his story, claiming he "physically assisted" his adopted daughter in drinking the milk and that the toddler choked. Mathews and his wife Sini Mathews, both from Kerala, adopted Sherin (born as Saraswati) from an orphanage in Bihar in 2016. Dr. Elizabeth Ventura, the forensic pathologist who performed Sherin's autopsy in October 2017, testified on Tuesday about her conclusions in the toddler's death. Ventura said she could not determine how Sherin died as the body was too decomposed to get an official cause of death. She told the jurors - four women and eight men - that maggots had eaten Sherin's internal organs away as her body was discovered in a trash bag in a culvert two weeks after her death. Ventura said that due to the decomposition of the child's vital organs like the heart and lungs, she was unable to perform an internal autopsy and determine her cause of death. Complicating the issue of determining how Sherin died was the absence of other evidence, including the clothes that Mathews washed before calling to report his daughter missing. Sherin's body was too decomposed to determine any other medical conditions at the time of her death, she said. She ruled the manner of Sherin's death "homicidal violence" due to the circumstances surrounding the case, Ventura told the jurors. The pathologist also did not agree with the claim of Mathews that Sherin chocked to death on milk. "It's not a cause of death that I have run across," said Ventura. "We have yet to have a case where a child died from drinking milk," she told the jury. Apart from Dr Ventura, authorities testified that there were many red flags surrounding Mathews, that made them believe Sherin was murdered. According to Suzanne Dakil of the Referral and Evaluation of At Risk Children Clinic (REACH), Sherin was deficient in Vitamin D, had scurvy, and showed signs of physical abuse. Dakil testified the Sherin had five broken bones within eight months. Authorities said Mathews' casual and uncaring attitude, coupled with other evidence and information, was enough for them to charge him with capital murder. Mathews still faces life in prison and prosecutors urged the jury on Monday to choose that sentence. The jury could decide on a lighter sentence, US media reports said. In his testimony, Mathews said fear prevented him from asking for help, even from his wife, Sini, a registered nurse. At first, he hoped Sherin would be revived if he prayed hard enough. For a second, he said, he wanted a venomous snake to jump from the culvert and bite him so he could be with the toddler again. He said he acted alone because he was terrified that his wife or his other daughter would see Sherin lifeless and that Child Protective Services would get involved. "I keep going over and over again back to that night and I keep asking myself why was I being driven by fear," Mathews said. "I was just completely driven by fear, and I can't imagine that level of stupidity I went to driven by fear," Mathews was quoted as saying by the Dallas Morning News. Mathews said he then decided to try to find a place where he could protect her body, preserving her until he could give her a proper burial. "I refused to believe that my child had completely gone from the world," Mathews testified on Tuesday. He said he believed if he "prayed hard and strong enough" Sherin might be resurrected, like Lazarus. Police charged Sherin's foster mother Sini with child abandonment in November 2017, after her husband told officials the couple left Sherin alone the night of her death while they went to dinner with their biological daughter. Sini's case was dismissed in March this year after prosecutors said they could not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. However, Sini and Wesley lost custody of their biological daughter in 2018. The daughter currently lives with her relatives in Houston. Sherin's case had attracted international attention. The Sherin Mathews case led to demands to change laws in both the US and India. In Texas, officials planned a 'Sherin's law' to punish parents and guardians who abandon minor children. In India, the government moved to tighten adoption procedures, requiring mandatory check on adopted children. The Indian government had also revoked the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) immigration status of Wesley and Sini. Wed, 26 Jun 2019 15:40:09 GMT War of Words: Trump threatens 'obliteration', Iran calls White House 'retarded' Washington/Dubai: U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Tuesday to obliterate parts of Iran if it attacked "anything American," in a new war of words with Iran which condemned fresh U.S. sanctions on Tehran as "mentally retarded." But Trump later left the door open for talks, saying that Iran should speak to the United States "peaceably" to ease tensions and potentially lift U.S. economic sanctions. The U.S. president on Monday signed an executive order imposing additional, largely symbolic, sanctions against Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other senior figures, with punitive measures against Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expected later this week. Iran shot down a U.S. drone last week and Trump said he had called off a retaliatory air strike with minutes to spare, saying too many people would have been killed. It would have been the first time the United States had bombed the Islamic Republic in four decades of mutual hostility. In rhetoric similar to the kind of harsh words he used to aim at North Korea, Trump tweeted: "Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration." In a televised address on Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the new sanctions against Khamenei would have no practical impact because the top cleric had no assets abroad. Rouhani, a pragmatist who won two elections on promises to open Iran up to the world, said the White House's actions were "mentally retarded" - an insult that other Iranian officials have used in the past about Trump, but a departure from Rouhani's own comparatively measured tone over the years. "Tehran's strategic patience does not mean we have fear," said Rouhani, who with his cabinet runs Iran's day-to-day affairs while Khamenei, in power since 1989, is the country's ultimate authority. But Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said Iran would let the United States know what it wanted to do, including negotiate. "Whatever they want to do, I'm ready," Trump said. "Their country is not doing well economically at all. That could be changed very quickly, very easily," Trump said. "But they have to get rid of the hostility from the leadership. The leadership – I hope they stay, I hope they do a great job - but they should talk to us peaceably." Escalating US Sanctions The United States has imposed crippling financial sanctions against Iran since last year when Trump withdrew from a 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers under which Iran curbed its nuclear programme. Tension has escalated sharply since last month when the Trump administration tightened its sanctions noose, ordering all countries to halt purchases of Iranian oil. That has effectively starved the Iranian economy of the main source of revenue Tehran uses to import food for its 81 million people, and left the pragmatic wing of Iran's leadership, led by Rouhani, with no benefits to show for its nuclear agreement. Trump says the accord reached under his predecessor Barack Obama was a failure because its terms were not permanent and did not cover security issues beyond the nuclear programme, such as missiles and role in various Middle East conflicts. The downing of the U.S. drone - which Iran says was over its air space and the United States says was in international skies - followed weeks of rising tensions that had begun to take on a military dimension. Trump's hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, visiting Israel, repeated earlier offers to hold talks, as long as Iran was willing to go beyond the terms of the 2015 deal. "The president has held the door open to real negotiations to completely and verifiably eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons programme, its pursuit of ballistic missile delivery systems, its support for international terrorism and other malign behaviour worldwide," Bolton said in Jerusalem. "All that Iran needs to do is to walk through that open door." Iran says there is no point negotiating with Washington when it has abandoned a deal that was already reached. Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said imposing "useless sanctions" on Khamenei and Zarif would mark "the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the situation surrounding Iran was developing toward a dangerous scenario, the RIA news agency reported on Tuesday. The United States and some regional allies have blamed Iran for explosions that damaged tankers in the Gulf, which Tehran denies. Washington's European allies have repeatedly warned both sides of the danger that a small mistake could lead to war. Tehran has given European signatories until July 8 to find a way to shield its economy from U.S. sanctions, or else it will enrich uranium to higher levels banned under the deal to help ensure no development of a nuclear weapon results. Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he hoped to recruit support from NATO allies in Brussels this week for U.S. efforts to deter conflict with Iran and "open the door to diplomacy," as he made his first trip as Pentagon chief. Wed, 26 Jun 2019 01:46:17 GMT 'She's not my type,' says Trump on woman who accused him of sexual assault Washington: US President Donald Trump denied a new accusation of sexual violence raised by a woman who said she had to fight him off more than 20 years ago in the dressing room of a high-end New York department store. In an interview with The Hill newspaper on Monday, Trump said E Jean Carroll, a longtime advice columnist for Elle magazine, was "totally lying." “I'll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, OK?” he said. Carroll, 75, accused Trump in a New York magazine article on Friday of attacking her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the autumn of 1995 or spring of 1996. Trump, 73, also had denied the accusation in a statement on Friday, saying Carroll was just trying to boost sales of a new book, and again in remarks to reporters on Saturday. "I am so glad I am not his type," Carroll said in a Monday evening interview with CNN. In the article, which was adapted from her memoir, Carroll said Trump overpowered her in a dressing room that had a closed door and penetrated her in an encounter that lasted no more than three minutes. She said she told two friends, but did not report Trump to authorities because she feared retribution from the wealthy and connected businessman. News outlets including the New York Times said the friends corroborated her report over the weekend. She wrote Trump pushed her against the wall and put his mouth against her lips. "He seizes both my arms and pushes me up against the wall a second time, and, as I become aware of how large he is, he holds me against the wall with his shoulder and jams his hand under my coat dress and pulls down my tights," she wrote. She wrote it was a "colossal struggle" after he penetrated her. She wrote that she was finally able to push him out and off before she opened the door and fled. More than a dozen women have accused Trump of making unwanted sexual advances against them years before he entered politics. Trump has denied the accusations. Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced in December to three years in prison for crimes that included orchestrating payments to pornographic film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal shortly before the 2016 presidential election. In the article, Carroll described the experiences of other women, who received death threats from Trump supporters and denials and ridicule from the president. In subsequent television interviews, Carroll said she made the decision to go public because that would be her advice to other women in her situation. Tue, 25 Jun 2019 17:18:08 GMT Terror watchdog FATF decides to keep Pak in 'Grey' list New Delhi: The international terror financing watchdog FATF has decided to keep Pakistan on its 'Grey' list for failure to curb funnelling of funds to terror groups LeT, JeM and others and has given a September deadline to compile with its 27-point action plan, sources here said. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which concluded its week-long meeting in Florida in the US, also asked Pakistan to take credible, verifiable, irreversible and sustainable measures to address global concerns related to terrorism and terrorist financing emanating from the territory under its control. "The FATF has decided to continue to keep Pakistan on its compliance document (i.e. Grey List) for its International Co-operation Review Group (ICRG) for its failure to complete the action plan items due in January and May 2019," an FATF spokesperson said in a statement. The FATF continuing Pakistan in the 'Grey' list means its downgrading by IMF, World Bank, ADB, EU and also a reduction in risk rating by Moody's, S&P and Fitch. This will add to the financial problems of Pakistan, which is seeking aid from all possible international avenues. The FATF said, "We expect Pakistan to take all necessary steps to effectively implement the FATF Action Plan fully within the remaining time frame i.e. by September 2019, in accordance with its political commitment to the FATF and take credible, verifiable, irreversible and sustainable measures to address global concerns related to terrorism and terrorist financing emanating from any territory under its control". During the FATF meeting, the US, the UK and France were some prominent countries to have voiced concern over Pakistan's failure to do enough to contain terror funding in its soil and not registering cases against terror masterminds Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar under anti-terror laws, sources said Saturday. Pakistan continues to state that it has seized more than 700 properties of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM),Jamat-ud-Dawah (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), similar to what it did as a result of its previous grey listing in 2012. However, FATF members are concerned that there are no cases registered against the terror leadership, namely Saeed and Masood and other UN-designated terrorists. India's stand at the FATF Plenary and other related discussions have always been consistent regarding Pakistan. India has steadfastly supported the move of four nominating countries -- the US, the UK, Germany and France -- in February 2018. These countries have voiced their concern that Pakistan is not doing enough to contain terror funding on its soil. One of the key points made by these countries is the absence of a proper understanding in Pakistan of trans-national risk i.e., risk posed to neighbouring and other nations by designated terrorist organisations based in Pakistan. In June 2018, Pakistan was placed in the 'grey' list and given a 27-point action plan by FATF. This plan was reviewed at the last plenary in October 2018 and for the second time in February, when the country was again put into the 'gray' list after India submitted new information about Pakistan-based terrorist groups. In a bid to bluff the financial watchdog, Pakistani authorities have shown arrests of LeT, JeM, JuD and FiF cadres. But all were apprehended under its Maintenance of Public Order Act and not under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997. Under the MPO Act, authorities cannot hold a detainee beyond 60 days. Pakistan has detained JeM founder Azhar and LeT founder Saeed mostly under the laws that provide for detention for apprehension of breach of peace, they have never been prosecuted under anti-terror laws. The FATF implements UN designations, which do not warrant arrest. They ask only for freeze of funds, denial of access to weapons and travel embargo. The financial watchdog also wants nations to impose penalties that are proportionate and dissuasive. The FATF currently has 35 members and two regional organisations - European Commission and Gulf Cooperation Council. In the last meeting of the FATF in Paris, it said Pakistan should continue to work on implementing its action plan to address its strategic deficiencies, including by adequately demonstrating its proper understanding of the terror financing risks posed by the terrorist groups and conducting supervision on a risk-sensitive basis, demonstrating that remedial actions and sanctions are applied in cases of Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism violations and that these actions have an effect on AML/CFT compliance by financial institutions. Wed, 26 Jun 2019 01:49:34 GMT Murdered 3-year-old Sherin's foster dad Wesley from Kerala pleads guilty in US court The foster father of three-year-old Sherin Mathews, who was murdered and dumped under a culvert in Texas in 2017, has pleaded guilty in the trial over her death on Monday. Sherin's disappearance and death in October 2017 had hit headlines across the world. Sherin's adoptive father Wesley Mathews from Ernakulam in Kerala was due to start on Monday his trial for capital murder in Richardson town near Dallas. However, Wesley pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of 'injury to a child by omission'. This lesser charge eliminates the prospect of Wesley receiving the mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole, if he were found guilty in a full trial. The lesser charge carries a sentence of anything ranging from probation to life in prison with the possibility of parole. The punishment phase of Wesley's trial will now proceed. According to a report in Dallas News, Rafael De La Garza, Mathews' attorney, asked the jury for leniency in his client's punishment. He noted that Mathews doesn't have a prior criminal history and argued that he isn't a threat to the public. Wesley and Sini, both from Kerala, adopted the girl from an orphanage in Bihar in June 2016. Sherin was reported to have development issues due to malnutrition. The child disappeared on October 7, 2017, and her foster father initially told the police that he had sent her out in the wee hours as punishment for not having milk. On October 22, Sherin Mathews' body was found under a culvert in Richardson on a road about one kilometre from her home in suburban Dallas in the United States. Wesley Mathews then admitted to the police that the child choked while he assisted her in drinking milk. He also said the family had gone out for dinner and left Sherin behind, a day before she died. Her body was found in a very decomposed state that made ascertaining the cause of death very difficult. Wesley claimed Sini, a nurse, was asleep at the time. Sini was arrested in November 2017 and was released from jail two weeks ago after the child endangerment charges filed against her were dismissed due to insufficient evidence. Sini and Wesley lost custody of their biological daughter in 2018. Dr Suzanne Dakil, a paediatrician and child abuse expert, had testified before a court earlier that three-year-old Sherin had a series of broken bones and injuries and that the pattern of injuries led her to believe that the kid was abused on separate occasions. During the initial hearing for the trial on Monday, prosecutors showed video footage from the portable cameras the responding officers wore when arriving at the Mathews's home. The jury were told of the discrepancies in Wesley's story and the fact he was doing his laundry when Sherin went missing. The prosecution also called therapists who treated Sherin, who said the Mathews' had missed appointments. The Sherin Mathews case led to demands to change laws in both the US and India. In Texas, officials planned a 'Sherin's law' to punish parents and guardians who abandon minor children. In India, the government moved to tighten adoption procedures, requiring mandatory checks on adopted children. Tue, 25 Jun 2019 06:17:22 GMT Indian driver killed in hit-and-run collision in US Washington: A 26-year-old Indian driver has been killed in a major hit-and-run collision in the US State of California, according to a media report. Syed Waseem Ali, who hailed from Hyderabad and lived in Fremont, was driving the Toyota and had Sela Henriquez as the passenger via the Lyft ride-hailing service, who were pronounced dead after the crash in San Francisco's Bayview District on Sunday, the SFGate reported. The city's medical examiner's office has identified Ali and Henriquez, 49, of San Francisco, as the victims who died in the collision reported at about 1:15am Sunday at Third Street and Paul Avenue, the report added. A silver Mercedes-Benz was speeding on Third Street and did not stop at a red light at the Paul Avenue intersection, causing a collision with a silver Toyota sedan, police said. Two passengers from the Mercedes were taken to a hospital but are expected to survive. The driver fled on foot, leaving the vehicle behind, and had not been arrested till now, the police said. A description of the suspect has not been released. Lyft Inc., a transportation network company based in San Francisco, has issued a statement following the crash. "We are deeply saddened by this tragic accident and resulting loss of life. Our thoughts are with the victims' family and friends during this difficult time. We have reached out to the rider's family to offer our support and are working to contact the driver's family," the company said. A GoFundMe page has been created on behalf of the family of Ali to raise money to transport his body and belongings back to Hyderabad where he was from. Tue, 25 Jun 2019 05:48:35 GMT 'Tax us more,' say US billionaires New York: "Tax us more!" was the message on Monday from about 20 super-wealthy Americans who urged presidential candidates to back higher taxes on the wealthiest to confront climate change and other priorities. "America has a moral, ethical and economic responsibility to tax our wealth more," said the group, which included George Soros, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, descendants of Walt Disney and the owners of the Hyatt hotel chain. "A wealth tax could help address the climate crisis, improve the economy, improve health outcomes, fairly create opportunity, and strengthen our democratic freedoms. Instituting a wealth tax is in the interest of our republic." Signers pointed out that fellow billionaire Warren Buffett has said he is taxed at a lower rate than his secretary. The letter alluded to support among Democratic presidential candidates for higher taxes on the super-wealthy, including Pete Buttigieg and Beto O'Rourke. But the letter noted broad bipartisan support for taxing the super-wealthy, saying "some ideas are too important for America to be part of only a few candidates' platforms." It praised a proposal by Senator Elizabeth Warren that would lift taxes on those with more than $50 million in taxes, a measure expected to affect the 75,000 wealthiest families. The letter was signed by 18 people representing 11 families, plus one anonymous person. Many in the group have been associated with progressive initiatives on issues such as climate change and the growing wealth gap. Of about 40 countries, the United States is the sixth highest in terms of wealth concentration, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Taxing the super-wealthy "would slow the growing concentration of wealth that undermines the stability and integrity of our republic," the letter said. "Today, major policies seldom come to pass without the prior support of wealthy elites or other wealthy interests. Division and dissatisfaction are exacerbated by inequality, leading to higher levels of distrust in democratic institutions-and worse." Tue, 25 Jun 2019 03:58:21 GMT US imposes new sanctions on Iran, targets supreme leader Washington/Riyadh: US President Donald Trump imposed new US sanctions on Iran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil. Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime." "Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said. The Trump administration wants to force Tehran to open talks on its nuclear and missile programmes and its activities in the region. Iran said on Monday US cyber attacks on its military had failed, as Washington sought to rally support in the Middle East and Europe for a hardline stance that has brought it to the verge of conflict with its longtime foe. Washington has blamed Tehran for attacks on tankers in the Gulf in recent weeks, which Iran denies. On Monday, the United States said it was building a coalition with allies to protect Gulf shipping lanes. A coalition of nations would provide both material and financial contributions to the program, a senior US State Department official said, without identifying the countries. "It's about proactive deterrence, because the Iranians just want to go out and do what they want to do and say hey we didn't do it. We know what they've done," the official told reporters, adding that the deterrents would include cameras, binoculars and ships. The United States accuses Iran of encouraging allies in Yemen to attack Saudi targets. In a joint statement on Monday, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Britain expressed concern over Middle East tensions and the dangers posed by Iranian "destabilizing activity" to peace and security in Yemen and the region. The confrontation between Iran and the United States heated up last Thursday when Iran shot down an American drone, saying it had flown over its air space. Washington, which said the drone was in international skies, then appeared to come close to attacking Iranian military targets, with Trump saying that he aborted a retaliatory air strike 10 minutes before it was to go ahead. Trump said he decided the strike, to punish Iran for shooting down the drone, would have killed too many people. US media have reported that Washington launched cyber attacks last week even as Trump called off his air strike. The Washington Post said on Saturday that the cyber strikes, which had been planned previously, had disabled Iranian rocket launch systems. US officials have declined to comment. Fears of war Iran dismissed the cyber attacks as a failure. "They try hard, but have not carried out a successful attack," Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran's minister for information and communications technology, said on Twitter. "Media asked if the claimed cyber attacks against Iran are true," he said. "Last year we neutralised 33 million attacks with the (national) firewall." Allies of the United States have been calling for steps to defuse the crisis, saying they fear a small mistake by either side could trigger war. "We are very concerned. We don't think either side wants a war, but we are very concerned that we could get into an accidental war and we are doing everything we can to ratchet things down," British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo jetted to the Middle East to discuss Iran with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two Gulf Arab allies that favour a hard line. Pompeo met King Salman as well as the king's son, de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The US special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, visited Oman and was headed to Europe to explain US policy to allies. He told European reporters on a phone call ahead of his arrival that Trump was willing to sit down with Iran, but that Iran must do a deal before sanctions could be lifted. Concessions US-Iran relations have deteriorated over the past year since the United States abandoned a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers designed to curb Iran's nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions. US allies in Europe and Asia view Trump's decision to abandon the nuclear deal as a mistake that strengthens hardliners in Iran and weakens the pragmatic faction of President Hassan Rouhani. France, Britain and Germany have sent an official diplomatic warning to Iran if Tehran reduces its compliance with the accord, two European diplomats said on Monday. It was not immediately clear what consequences Iran might face for non-compliance. Washington argues that the agreement known as the JCPOA, negotiated under Trump's predecessor, President Barack Obama, did not go far enough, and new sanctions are needed to force Iran back to the table to make more concessions. Both sides have suggested they are willing to hold talks while demanding the other side move first. In the latest comment from Tehran, an adviser to Rouhani repeated a longstanding demand that Washington lift sanctions before any talks. But the adviser, Hesameddin Ashena, also tweeted a rare suggestion that Iran could be willing to discuss new concessions, if Washington were willing to put new incentives on the table that go beyond those in the deal. "If they want something beyond the JCPOA, they should offer something beyond the JCPOA; with international guarantees." Tue, 25 Jun 2019 03:02:56 GMT Yemeni rebels target Saudi airport again, 1 killed Riyadh: A Yemeni rebel attack on a civilian airport in southern Saudi Arabia killed a Syrian national and wounded seven civilians Sunday, a Riyadh-led coalition said, the latest in a series of strikes on the site. "A terrorist attack by the Iranian-backed Houthi militia took place at Abha international airport, through which thousands of civilian passengers... pass daily," the military coalition said. "A Syrian national died and seven civilians were wounded," it added, in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. The coalition did not provide details on how the airport was attacked, but Iran-aligned Houthi rebels have repeatedly struck the civilian facility this month with drones and missiles. Earlier on Sunday, the rebels' Al-Masirah TV said they had targeted Abha and Jizan airports in the south of the kingdom with drones. Abha airport authorities said on Twitter that air traffic had resumed and was functioning normally, without offering further details. On June 12, a rebel missile attack on the international airport in the southwestern city of Abha wounded 26 civilians, drawing promises of "stern action" from the coalition. Human Rights Watch denounced last week's strike as an apparent "war crime", urging the Houthis to immediately stop all attacks on civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. The attacks come amid heightened regional tensions with Iran, which Saudi Arabia has repeatedly accused of supplying sophisticated weapons to the rebels. Tehran denies the charge. Saudi state media have reported an intensification of coalition air raids on rebel positions in the northern Yemeni province of Hajjah and the Houthi-held capital Sanaa. The coalition intervened in support of the Yemeni government in 2015 when President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi fled into Saudi exile as the rebels closed in on his last remaining territory in and around second city Aden. Since then, the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say. It has triggered what the UN describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 24 million Yemenis -- more than two-thirds of the population -- in need of aid. Mon, 24 Jun 2019 06:22:25 GMT Thai soccer team marks cave ordeal anniversary with run Mae Sai: A year after they became trapped in a flooded cave at the start of a two-week ordeal, some of the 12 young Thai soccer players and their coach marked the anniversary of the drama on Sunday that propelled them into celebrities. Around 4,000 people took part in the marathon and biking event Sunday morning, organised by local authorities to raise funds to improve conditions at the now famous Tham Luang cave complex in northern Thailand. The youngsters went in to explore before rain-fed floodwaters pushed them deep inside the dark complex. Their rescue was hailed as nothing short of a miracle. Nine of the boys and their coach ran the marathon, donning the event's orange T-shirts and looking notably taller and older. The Wild Boars teammates were at the center of attention as they smiled and posed for photos. The boys and their coach have since become celebrities, represented by the 13 Tham Luang Co. Ltd ., which Thailand's government helped establish to look after their interests. Netflix has acquired the rights to their story. "I want to thank everybody who has put so much effort and sacrifices to save all of us," said Ekapol Chantawong, a former Wild Boars team coach. He stood in front of the bronze statue of Lieutenant Commander Saman Gunan, a Thai navy SEAL who lost his life rescuing the trapped boys. Abbot Prayutjetiyanukarn, a monk in the local neighborhood who interacts with the team every week, told The Associated Press that some of the boys were wary of the media and try to avoid the press whenever they can. "But they are fine, both physically and spiritually, there's nothing to worry about," he said. Last year's sensational rescue was initially led only by Thailand's navy SEALs but the task proved extremely difficult. They turned to international rescuers and cave explorers, and crucially, cave diving experts who located the boys and coach before bringing them out July 10, 2018. The operation required placing oxygen canisters along the path where the divers maneuvered dark, tight and twisting passageways filled with muddy waters and strong currents. Many local and foreign rescuers returned for Sunday's run. "Not many children could have survived the way they did, so we have to respect them for that," said Vernon Unsworth, a British diver whose advice and experience were crucial to the rescue operation. "What we should do right now is to just let them get on with their lives. Just let them grow up like normal kids," he said. The cave and the town of Mae Sai in the mountainous province on the border with Myanmar are now flooded with curious tourists. The cave's surrounding amenities, which just last year primarily featured dirt roads and thick mud, has seen some significant renovations with facilities being built, roads paved, and shops settling in. Local souvenir shopkeepers said that the boys' ordeal has increased their fortunes. "Since the kids have been rescued, the economy around here keeps getting better," said Lek Yodnum, a shop owner who sells T-shirts and memorabilia of the cave rescue. "Before the kids became trapped, there wasn't a single shop around here. It was all just farm and field," he said. "Now, Thum Luang has officially become the financial hub of Mae Sai district." The 12 kids and their coach are scheduled to attend a Buddhist merit-making ceremony at Tham Luang on Monday morning. Sun, 23 Jun 2019 14:28:33 GMT Pak PM's aide confuses Imran Khan, Tendulkar New Delhi: One of the aides to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has left Twitter in splits after he posted a picture of legendary Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar and captioned it to be that of World Cup-winning former Pakistan captain Khan. Naeem ul Haque, special assistant to the Pakistan Prime Minister, on Saturday posted a picture of the Master Blaster and captioned it: "PM Imran Khan 1969". As soon as Haque posted the photo on Twitter, the micro-blogging website broke out with hilarious comments and memes. One of the Twitter users posted a childhood picture of Virat Kohli and captioned it "Inzamam-ul-Haq 1976," while another posted Imran Khan's photo and captioned it "Sachin Tendulkar, 1988". Another user posted a scene from Bollywood movie "Lagaan" and captioned it as "Jos Buttler and Ashwin in 1980". One of the fans also tweeted a picture of a yawning baby and captioned it as "Sarfaraz 1987". Another Twitter user posted a photo of AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi and said it was former Pakistani cricketer Saeed Anwar. The goof-up from Haque comes just days after Imran Khan had attributed Rabindranath Tagore's quote to Khalil Gibran, for which he got massively trolled on Twitter. Sun, 23 Jun 2019 15:53:10 GMT Southeast Asian nations, among worst ocean polluters, aim to curb plastic debris Bangkok: Thai zero-waste advocate Thanaboon Somboon never leaves his home without what he calls a full "weaponry" of reusable shopping bags, coffee tumblers and stainless steel straws for his daily battle against single-use plastic. "I saw news of trash overflowing the world...sea animals dying from eating plastic...I felt I must do something," says the 48-year-old entrepreneur, who leads an online community of more than 20,000 people seeking to practise a waste-free lifestyle. But individual efforts alone can't fully stop the 8 million tonnes of plastic that make their way to the ocean each year, and with four of the five worst ocean polluters in Southeast Asia, the region's governments must take action, he says. "Policymaking to address the issue must be treated with urgency as well," said Thanaboon. A summit for leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) being hosted by Thailand this weekend is expected to adopt the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in ASEAN Region. Thailand, the current chair of the group, has lauded the declaration as a "big step" for the region, whose coasts have seen whales and sea turtles wash up dead in recent years with large amounts of plastic rubbish in their stomachs. ASEAN members Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand are among the five countries throwing the most plastic waste into oceans, according to a 2015 report co-authored by environmental campaigner Ocean Conservancy. China is the worst offender. "Every ASEAN country agrees that marine debris is a common problem that we must address urgently," Wijarn Simachaya, permanent secretary of Thailand's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, told Reuters. Unlike the European Union's central bans and targets, Wijarn said the ASEAN declaration will outline broad ideas but it will be up to each country what it would take home to implement. The declaration will come ahead of next week's G20 summit in Japan, which assembles 20 major economies and will also aim to tackle marine plastic pollution. WORDS ON PAPER? Environmentalists welcomed ASEAN's move to adopt the joint declaration, but there are worries that implementation will be a challenge because the group has a code of non-interference that would leave necessary policymaking in the hands of individual member countries. "This declaration will be a new milestone, but it will be just words on paper if there is no change in policies," Tara Buakamsri, director of Greenpeace Thailand, told Reuters. He said ASEAN countries should urgently all ban single-use plastic first for the declaration to be effective. "There is no other way," Tara said. Globally, up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used each year, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Of 300 million tonnes of plastic waste the world produces annually, 8 million end up in the oceans, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, it says. According to Ocean Conservancy, 60 per cent of the debris comes from China and the four ASEAN nations. "It's a good step as this is the first time ASEAN formally acknowledges the issue of marine debris," said marine biologist Thon Thamrongnawasawat. Each year, Thailand generates about 2 million tonnes of plastic waste, only about 25% of which gets recycled. The rest goes to incineration or landfill, where about 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes leaks into the ocean. Environmentalists commend initiatives by some major retailers to cut back on plastic bags, but say most businesses will not take action unless there is a stricter push from policy initiatives. CP All, which operates over 10,000 7-Eleven convenience stores across the country, said it has saved 464 million bags from circulation since December, donating more than 92 million baht saved from the process to public hospitals around the country. Thailand's largest retail conglomerate Central Group said last month it aimed to reduce plastic bags by 150 million this year by giving customers rewards incentives. Governments should "act more drastically" by introducing immediate bans on single-use plastic so that more businesses follow suit, said Nattapong Nithi-Uthai, who leads volunteer network Trash Hero that cleans up the Gulf of Thailand in southern Pattani province. He also said ASEAN should aim to significantly improve its waste management schemes, as well as hold producers of consumer goods accountable. "There should be designated places for every single item to go. If things are piled up somewhere, they can leak into the ocean," he said. "Producers should also be made responsible for taking back the single-use plastic they produce ... This might make them think twice about producing single-use packaging." Sun, 23 Jun 2019 11:45:40 GMT Military action against Iran still 'on the table': Trump Washington: President Donald Trump said Saturday he's still considering military action against Iran after it downed an unmanned US military aircraft, saying the use of force is "always on the table until we get this solved." The president said he aborted a military strike set for Thursday after learning 150 people would be killed. "I don't want to kill 150 Iranians. I don't want to kill 150 of anything or anybody unless it's absolutely necessary," he told reporters as he left the White House for a weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat. Trump said "we very much appreciate" a decision by Iran's Revolutionary Guard not to shoot down a US spy plane carrying more than 30 people. He said the downing of the US drone was "probably intentional" contradicting what he said Thursday. The president's comments came as Iran summoned the United Arab Emirates' top envoy to Tehran to protest the neighbouring Arab nation's decision to allow the US to use a base there to launch the drone that Iran says entered its airspace, state media reported Saturday. Iran issued a "strong protest" to the UAE diplomat, saying Iran does not tolerate the facilitation of foreign forces that violate its territory, the report by the official IRNA news agency said. The US said its RQ-4A Global Hawk was shot down Thursday over international waters in the Strait of Hormuz, not inside Iranian airspace. The shoot-down by elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces marked the first time the Islamic Republic directly attacked the American military amid mounting tensions over Tehran's unravelling nuclear deal with world powers. The two countries disputed the circumstances leading up to an Iranian surface-to-air missile bringing down the drone, an unmanned aircraft with a wingspan larger than a Boeing 737 jetliner and costing over USD 100 million. British diplomat Andrew Murrison planned to visit Iran on Sunday and called for the "urgent de-escalation in the region and raise UK and international concerns about Iran's regional conduct" during talks with Tehran's government, Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement Saturday. "At this time of increased regional tensions and at a crucial period for the future of the nuclear deal, this visit is an opportunity for further open, frank and constructive engagement with the government of Iran," the statement said. The announcement came a day after Trump said he had called off military strikes on Iran minutes before they were to be carried out Thursday because it would have been out of proportion to the shootdown of an unmanned American surveillance drone. The drone incident immediately heightened the crisis already gripping the wider region, which is rooted in Trump withdrawing the US a year ago from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal and imposing crippling new sanctions on Tehran. Recently, Iran quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium to be on pace to break one of the deal's terms by next week, while threatening to raise enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels on July 7 if Europe doesn't offer it a new deal. In Iraq, security measures were increased at one of the country's largest air bases, which houses American trainers, a top Iraqi air force commander said Saturday. The US military said operations at the base were going on as usual and there were currently no plans to evacuate personnel. The stepped-up Iraqi security measures at Balad air base, just north of the capital of Baghdad come amid the sharply rising tensions in the Middle East between the US and Iran. On Friday, Iran summoned Swiss Ambassador Markus Leitner to hear Iran's protest over the alleged violation. Switzerland looks after US interests in Iran. Tehran and Washing have had no diplomatic relations since 1979. Iran said the US drone was a "very dangerous provocation." Sun, 23 Jun 2019 06:29:26 GMT Iran warns US attack would imperil interests across Middle East Tehran: Tehran warned Washington Saturday that any attack would see its interests across the Middle East go up in flames after US President Donald Trump said he called off a strike at the 11th hour. The aborted US military action was to have been in response to Iran's downing of a US reconnaissance drone, which has seen tensions between the two countries soar after a series of attacks on oil tankers the US has blamed on Iran. "Firing one bullet towards Iran will set fire to the interests of America and its allies" in the region, armed forces general staff spokesman Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi told the Tasnim news agency. "If the enemy -- especially America and its allies in the region -- make the military mistake of shooting the powder keg on which America's interests lie, the region will be set on fire," Shekarchi warned. President Donald Trump said Friday that the United States was "cocked & loaded" to strike Iran but pulled back at the last minute as it would not have been a "proportionate" response to Tehran's shooting down of an unmanned drone. Under pressure to respond to the high-stakes incident near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, Trump said the US was prepared to hit "3 different sites" Thursday night but that he scrapped the strikes "10 minutes" before they were to have been launched. "I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General," the president tweeted, saying he concluded it would not have been "proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone." According to excerpts of an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press" conducted Friday morning at the White House, Trump said he had not given final approval to strikes against Iran, and that no planes were in the air. "But they would have been pretty soon. And things would have happened to a point where you wouldn't turn back or couldn't turn back," he said. He added that he did not want war with Iran, but if it came to pass, there would be "obliteration like you've never seen before." The US president had struck a combative tone in initial comments Thursday about the downing of the Global Hawk surveillance aircraft, but as the pre-dawn incident whipped up fears of open conflict, Trump moved to dial back tensions. Tehran insists that the drone violated its airspace -- something Washington denies -- but was prepared to accept on Friday that it might have done so by accident. The drone could have entered Iran's airspace over a mistake by "a general or some operators," the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' aerospace arm, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh told state news agency IRNA on Saturday. "Nonetheless, this was an act of trampling international aviation laws by a spy aircraft, which met our natural response," Hajizadeh added. The foreign ministry said it had summoned the charge d'affaires of the United Arab Emirates, from where the US drone launched, to protest against its decision to "put its installations at the disposal of foreign forces for aggression" against Iran. Britain said it was sending Minister of State for the Middle East Andrew Murrison to Tehran for talks. The US special representative on Iran, Brian Hook, accused Tehran of rejecting diplomatic overtures to deescalate the crisis, saying "Iran needs to meet diplomacy with diplomacy, not military force." Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi retorted that US "diplomacy" towards Tehran was "years of #EconomicTerrorism & war, and violating commitments". "Iranians will meet diplomacy with diplomacy, respect with respect and war with zealous defence," he said. The US Federal Aviation Administration has barred American civilian aircraft from the area "until further notice," and major non-US airlines including British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas, Emirates and Etihad said they too were altering flight paths to avoid the sensitive Strait of Hormuz. The Pentagon says the Global Hawk drone -- one of the most expensive pieces of equipment in the US arsenal, costing over $120 million apiece -- was 34 kilometres (21 miles) from Iran when destroyed by a surface-to-air missile in an "unprovoked attack." It published a map of the drone's flight path indicating it avoided Iranian waters, but Tehran provided its own map showing the aircraft inside its territory when it was downed by a domestically-manufactured Khordad 3 air defence battery. The downing came with Iran already accused by Washington of carrying out attacks on tankers in the congested shipping lanes out of the Gulf. Tehran denies any involvement. Trump has repeatedly said he does not favour war with Iran unless it is to stop the country getting a nuclear weapon -- something Iranian leaders insist they are not pursuing. But critics say his policy of "maximum pressure" -- including abandonment of an international deal to regulate Iran's nuclear activities, economic sanctions and deployment of extra troops to the region -- make war ever more likely. Sat, 22 Jun 2019 13:37:44 GMT Now, columnist accuses Trump of sexual assault Washington: A New York-based writer and longtime women's advice columnist has accused Donald Trump of sexually assaulting her more than two decades ago, a charge denied by the US president who described it as fake news. E Jean Carroll in a new book 'What Do We Need Men For?' said that President Trump sexually assaulted her in a dressing room of the Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York City in the mid-1990s. Excerpts of the forthcoming book were first published on the website of New York magazine. While Carroll does not appear to name Trump in the printed excerpt of the first-person account, he is named in the headline, which reads: "Hideous Men Donald Trump assaulted me in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room 23 years ago. But he's not alone on the list of awful men in my life." According to the book excerpt that appeared in New York magazine, Carroll bumped into then-real estate mogul Trump at Bergdorf Goodman. The two recognized each other and they had a friendly back-and-forth. But then Trump became violent, Carroll wrote, going on to describe her rape in a dressing room. Carroll, 75, a longtime advice columnist for Elle magazine, is among 16 women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct over the past several decades. Most spoke out just weeks before the 2016 election. The allegation was immediately refuted by Trump. In a statement, Trump denied that he ever met Carroll. "Regarding the 'story' by E Jean Carroll, claiming she once encountered me at Bergdorf Goodman 23 years ago. I've never met this person in my life. She is trying to sell a new book that should indicate her motivation. It should be sold in the fiction section," Trump said. "Shame on those who make up false stories of assault to try to get publicity for themselves, or sell a book, or carry out a political agenda like Julie Swetnick who falsely accused Justice Brett Kavanaugh. "It's just as bad for people to believe it, particularly when there is zero evidence. Worse still for a dying publication to try to prop itself up by peddling fake newsit's an epidemic," Trump said in a lengthy statement. He questioned why there was no video footage of the incident or witnesses in the store. "Ms. Carroll & New York Magazine: No pictures? No surveillance? No video? No reports? No sales attendants around?? I would like to thank Bergdorf Goodman for confirming they have no video footage of any such incident, because it never happened," he said. "If anyone has information that the Democratic Party is working with Ms Carroll or New York Magazine, please notify us as soon as possible. The world should know what's really going on. It is a disgrace and people should pay dearly for such false accusations, Trump said. Sat, 22 Jun 2019 07:21:25 GMT Global airlines reroute flights after Iran downs US drone Dubai: Major airlines from around the world on Friday began rerouting their flights to avoid areas around the Strait of Hormuz following Iran's shooting down of a US military surveillance drone there, as America warned commercial airliners could be mistakenly attacked. The Federal Aviation Administration warned of a "potential for miscalculation or misidentification" in the region after an Iranian surface-to-air missile on Thursday brought down a US Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk, an unmanned aircraft with a wingspan larger than a Boeing 737 jetliner and costing over USD 100 million. The US said it made plans for limited strikes on Iran in response, but then called them off. Australia's Qantas, British Airways, Dutch carrier KLM, Emirates, Germany's Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines said soon afterward that they will avoid the region as well. The FAA previously warned of a risk in the region, but Friday's warning threw into stark relief a danger that both the agency and analysts say is real 7after the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine in 2014. That could further imperil the bottom lines of Gulf long-haul carriers, which already have faced challenges under the Trump administration. "The threat of a civil aircraft shootdown in southern Iran is real," warned OPSGROUP, a company that provides guidance to global airlines. The FAA made a similar warning in May to commercial airliners of the possibility of Iranian anti-aircraft gunners mistaking them for military aircraft, something dismissed by Tehran some 30 years after the US Navy shot down an Iranian passenger jet. Iran had no immediate reaction to the US announcement. The FAA said its warning would affect the area of the Tehran Flight Information Region, without elaborating. The FAA's operations center referred questions to its press office, which did not immediately respond to queries from The Associated Press. However, that likely only extends some 12 miles off of the Iranian coast, aviation experts said. There are "heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the region, which present an inadvertent risk to US civil aviation operations and potential for miscalculation or misidentification," the FAA said. "The risk to US civil aviation is demonstrated by the Iranian surface-to-air missile shoot-down of a US unmanned aircraft system on 19 June 2019 while it was operating in the vicinity of civil air routes above the Gulf of Oman." Qantas said it would reroute its London flights to avoid the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman. British Airways, KLM, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines said their flights would avoid the strait. Lufthansa said it would avoid both the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, as well as nearby land. However, it said it would continue its flights to Tehran. The Persian Gulf is home to some of the world's top long-haul carriers, who already have been battered by Trump's travel bans targeting a group of predominantly Muslim countries, as well as an earlier ban on laptops in airplane cabins for Mideast carriers. Etihad, the Abu Dhabi-based long-haul carrier, said it had "contingency plans" in place, without elaborating. "We will decide what further action is required after carefully evaluating the FAA directive to US carriers," the carrier told The Associated Press. Emirates, the long-haul carrier in Dubai near the Strait of Hormuz, said in a statement to AP that it was "rerouting all flights away from areas of possible conflict." Its sister airline, the low-cost carrier FlyDubai, said it "adjusted some of the existing flight paths in the region as a precautionary measure." Qatar Airways did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Iran said the drone "violated" its territorial airspace, while the US called the missile fire "an unprovoked attack" in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf. OPSGROUP said the Iranian weapons system that shot down the drone was comparable to the Russian Buk system used in 2014 Malaysian Airlines shootdown in Ukraine. "Any error in that system could cause it to find another target nearby - another reason not to be anywhere near this part of the Straits of Hormuz," OPSGROUP said. President Donald Trump initially tweeted that "Iran made a very big mistake!" He later appeared to play down the incident, telling reporters in the Oval Office that he had a feeling "a general or somebody" being "loose and stupid" made a mistake in shooting down the drone. A US official said the military made preparations Thursday night for limited strikes on Iran in retaliation for the downing of a US surveillance drone, but approval was abruptly withdrawn before the attacks were launched. The official, who was not authorised to discuss the operation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the targets would have included radars and missile batteries. The New York Times reported that President Donald Trump had approved the strikes, but then called them off. The newspaper cited anonymous senior administration officials. The White House on Thursday night declined requests for information about whether Trump changed his mind. The incident immediately heightened the crisis already gripping the wider region, which is rooted in Trump withdrawing the US a year ago from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal and imposing crippling new sanctions on Tehran. Fri, 21 Jun 2019 15:55:58 GMT