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Updated: 2 days 8 hours ago

British teenager killed in Syrian battle: father

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 09:57

LONDON: A British teenager was killed in a battle in Syria, his father said on Friday, as he revealed that two of his other sons have also gone to fight in the conflict.

Abdullah Deghayes, 18, whose uncle is a former detainee of the Guantanamo Bay camp, died earlier this month after leaving Britain in January.

Abubaker Deghayes, who learned of his son’s death via Facebook on Monday, said 20-year-old Amer suffered a bullet wound to his stomach in the battle in which his brother was killed.

He said he had travelled to Turkey earlier this year to meet two of his sons, Abdullah and 16-year-old Jafar, in an apparently unsuccessful attempt to stop them going to Syria to fight.

Speaking to reporters outside his home in Brighton, southeast England, Deghayes said: “As far as I know, Abdullah went to Syria – without my consent or his mother’s consent – to fight in Syria against the dictator (Bashar al-Assad).

“He was killed in a battle, as far as I know.

“His brother, who is also there, is injured. The third brother who is also there is OK. He is fine.”

“I never encouraged them, nor anybody, as far as I know, who is around them encouraged them. They went of their own free will.

“Of course I think, as a Muslim, that my son is a martyr. Anyone who dies for a just cause is a martyr.”

Deghayes insisted his three sons were not “terrorists” but had travelled to Syria to defend “those who are weak”.

He said they had been “stubborn” about travelling to Syria after viewing videos of the atrocities online.

The dead man’s uncle is Omar Deghayes who was held by the United States as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo between 2002 and 2007 after he was arrested in Pakistan.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are aware of the death of a British national and are urgently looking into it.”

Abdullah was due to begin studying at the University of Brighton.

He has a twin brother, Abdur-Rahman, who is in Britain. His father said Abdur-Rahman had taken the news of the death hardest. “He has been crying so much… and it’s not like him to isolate himself and cry,” he said.

Around 400 Britons are believed to have gone to Syria over the last two years, authorities believe. Around 20 have died.

It is believed around 250 have now returned to Britain.

British intelligence services have expressed concern about the risk of aspiring jihadis going to Syria to learn how to fire guns and build bombs before using their training to launch attacks on Britain.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Rescued South Korean school vice-principal in apparent suicide

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 08:08

JINDO: A high school vice-principal rescued from a sinking South Korean ferry that sank with hundreds of his students on board was found dead Friday, police said, in an apparent suicide.

Local police on Jindo island said the body of vice-principal Kang Min-Kyu, 52, was found near the gymnasium where relatives of the 268 people still missing from the ferry disaster have been staying.

Police said the cause of death was still under investigation, but multiple local media reports said he had been found hanging by his belt from a tree.

Yonhap news agency said police found a suicide note in Kang’s wallet that cited his sense of guilt at having survived the disaster.

“Surviving alone is too painful… I take full responsibility. I pushed ahead with the school trip,” Yonhap quoted the note as saying.

Of the 475 people on board the ferry when it capsized Wednesday morning, 352 were students from Danwon High School in Ansan city just south of Seoul.

They were taking the ferry for a school excursion to the popular southern resort island of Jeju.

The vice-principal was among 179 people who managed to escape the ferry in the few hours before it capsized and sank.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Four Taliban prisoners escape Afghan jail: officials

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 08:05

MAZAR-I-SHARIF: Four Taliban prisoners escaped from a northern Afghanistan jail and killed two guards using weapons that had been smuggled inside, officials said Friday.

The incident occurred in the relatively peaceful Faryab province on Thursday night, provincial spokesperson Ahmad Jawed Deedar told AFP.

The inmates used smuggled tools to break through their cell wall, later attacking a security watch tower with at least two grenades and a pistol, he said.

“Unfortunately two members of our security forces were killed and one injured, while one of the attackers was also killed trying to escape,” Deedar said.

The account was confirmed by the provincial deputy police chief Mohammad Naeem Andarabi, who said they suspected the weapons and tools were provided through visitors.

He added that a manhunt was underway.

“This is unacceptable to see the prisoners manage to attack our security men from within the prison, we will get to the bottom of this and hunt the fugitives down,” he said.

Prison breaks are not uncommon in Afghanistan.

In March, a dozen Taliban fighters managed to walk free out of the main jail in Kandahar after forging a letter from Afghanistan’s Attorney General ordering their release.

In April 2011, around 500 prisoners, most of them Taliban inmates, tunnelled for a quarter-of-a-mile under the walls of fortified prison in southern Kandahar province.

It was the biggest prison break in Afghanistan since a US-led invasion in late 2001 toppled the hardline Taliban regime following 9/11 attacks in US.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

India lifts campaign ban on scandal-hit Modi aide

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 06:58

NEW DELHI: Authorities have lifted a campaigning ban imposed on a key aide to India’s likely next prime minister Narendra Modi after he allegedly told Hindu community leaders to seek “revenge” in the country’s elections.

Amit Shah, who has been running the campaign for Modi’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the pivotal Uttar Pradesh state, has been in the eye of a public storm after allegedly making the comments in an area where Hindu-Muslim clashes left some 50 people dead in September.

India’s powerful Election Commission on Friday barred Shah from holding public rallies, meetings and road shows, but decided late Thursday to lift the ban after he promised not to “use abusive or derogatory language in the campaign”.

Shah, 50, is a key confidant to hardline Hindu nationalist Modi, the frontrunner in mammoth multi-stage elections that are set to vault the BJP to power, ousting the ruling Congress party. Results are due May 16.

Shah has been dogged by scandals — facing murder and extortion charges which date back to his time serving under Modi in Gujarat state — and is seen as a potential liability to the party leader, who is running on a platform of clean government.

The aide’s alleged comments had been seen as an attempt to polarise voters on the religious lines for electoral gains, with critics worried that the BJP’s Hindu nationalist rhetoric could stoke religious tensions in a country where 13 percent of the 1.2-billion population is Muslim.

Shah — one of the most important campaign players for the BJP — has maintained a low profile since the controversy over his alleged remarks, and told the media it was never his intention to violate the electoral code of conduct.

He is not the only politician to have landed in hot water over campaign speeches.

The Electoral Commission has also ordered a probe into statements by Azam Khan, a prominent Muslim leader of the regional Samajwadi Party which is the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

12 killed in worst-ever Everest accident: officials

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 06:17

KATHMANDU: At least 12 Nepalese guides preparing routes up Mount Everest for commercial climbers were killed Friday by an avalanche in the most deadly mountaineering accident ever on the world’s highest peak, officials and rescuers say.

The men were among a large party of Sherpas carrying tents, food and ropes who headed out in bright sunshine in an early morning expedition ahead of the main climbing season starting later this month.

The avalanche occurred at around 6:45 am at an altitude of about 5,800 metres in an area known as the “popcorn field” which lies on the route into the treacherous Khumbu icefall.

“We have retrieved 12 bodies from the snow, we don’t know how many more are trapped underneath,” Nepal tourism ministry official Dipendra Paudel told AFP in Kathmandu.

Assisted by rescue helicopters, teams of climbers are still searching for survivors with at least seven people plucked alive from the ice and snow, Paudel told AFP.

A rescue team official working at the base camp of the 8,848-metre peak, Lakpa Sherpa, told AFP that the death toll could rise as high as 14.

“I have seen 11 bodies brought to the base camp, we have been told to expect three more,” the member of non-profit Himalayan Rescue Association said by telephone.

Kathmandu-based expert Elizabeth Hawley, considered the world’s leading authority on Himalayan climbing, said the avalanche was the most deadly single accident in the history of mountaineering on the peak.

The previous worst accident occurred in 1996 when eight people were killed over a two-day period during a rogue storm while attempting to climb the mountain.

That tragedy was immortalised in the best-selling book “Into Thin Air” written by US mountaineering journalist Jon Krakauer.

“This is the absolutely the worst disaster on Everest, no question,” Hawley told AFP.

Kathmandu-based climbing company Himalayan Climbing Guides Nepal confirmed that two of their guides were among the dead and four were missing.

“When our guides left base camp, there was no snowfall, the weather was just fantastic,” operations manager Bhim Paudel told AFP.

Dozens of guides from other companies crossed the icefall safely before the avalanche struck, Paudel said.

“We expected to follow them, we had no warning at all,” he said.

Every summer, hundreds of climbers from around the world attempt to scale peaks in the Himalayas when weather conditions are at their best.

The accident underscores the huge risks taken by sherpa guides, who carry tents, bring food supplies, repair ladders and fix ropes to help foreign climbers who pay tens of thousands of dollars to summit the peak.

More than 300 people have died on Everest since the first successful summit by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

Nepal’s worst-ever climbing disaster happened in 1995 when a huge avalanche struck the camp of a Japanese trekking group near Mount Everest, killing 42 people including 13 Japanese.

The impoverished Himalayan country is home to eight of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 metres.

Nepal’s government has issued permits to 734 people, including 400 guides, to climb Everest this summer.

In a bid to address concerns of overcrowding on the “roof of the world”, the government earlier announced plans to double the number of climbing ropes on congested ice walls near the summit of Everest to reduce congestion and risks for climbers.

Authorities have also stationed soldiers and police at Everest base camp starting this month so climbers can approach officers in case of any trouble following a brawl between commercial climbers and Nepalese guides last year.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Captain not at helm of capsized South Korean ferry

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 05:36

JINDO: The captain was not at the helm of the South Korean ferry that capsized two days ago, investigators said Friday, as anger spread over stalled rescue efforts for hundreds of missing passengers trapped by the submerged vessel.

More than 48 hours after the 6,825-tonne Sewol suddenly listed and then sank, a small army of more than 500 exhausted divers – battling powerful currents – have yet to obtain any real access to the ferry’s interior.

Two divers managed to partially pry open a door on the side of the ship, but did not swim inside, the coastguard said.

“Visibility is almost non-existent. You can hardly see your hand in front of you face,” said one diver when he returned to the harbour at nearby Jindo island.

The confirmed death toll stood at 28, but the focus of concern remained the 268 people still unaccounted for – hundreds of them children on a high school outing to the southern resort island of Jeju.

As the dive teams worked on accessing the ferry, two divers bored holes in the hull and began injecting oxygen into the ship.

The weather conditions were challenging, with rain and fog, and strong sea swells that covered the small keel section of the Sewol that had previously poked above the surface.

Of the 475 people on board when the Sewol capsized, 179 were rescued, but no new survivors have been found since Wednesday.

Three giant, floating cranes reached the disaster site, but regional coastguard commander Kim Soo-Hyun stressed they would not begin lifting the multi-deck ferry until they were sure there were no survivors inside.

No salvage before rescue

“I want to be clear: There won’t be any salvage work done against the will of the families,” he said.

There were 352 students on board and for the parents of those who were not rescued there was bitter resentment at what they saw as the inadequacy of the official response.

“It’s been two days but no one has been brought out alive,” complained Lee Yong-Gi, whose son was among the missing students.

“I firmly believe that the kids are alive. We need to rescue them as soon as possible. But officials are dragging their feet,” Lee told AFP.

Another father accused the authorities of indifference and deception in an appeal broadcast live on television.

“The government lied yesterday,” he said, speaking from a podium in a Jindo gymnasium where hundreds of blanket-wrapped relatives have been sleeping on the floor since the tragedy unfolded.

Disputing the official figures of hundreds of divers, vessels and aircraft being deployed, he said he and other relatives had visited the rescue site and seen only a dozen ships and helicopters.

“Everyone, is this the reality of South Korea? We plead once more, please save our children,” he said.

A coastguard official trying to brief the relatives was pushed and slapped around the face.

The initial public backlash has centred on the captain, Lee Joon-Seok, and his 28 crew, most of whom survived the disaster.

State prosecutors said preliminary investigations showed the third officer was at the helm of the ferry.

Captain not in command 

“The captain was not in command when the accident took place,” prosecutor Park Jae-Eok told a press briefing.

The captain was “in the back” he added, without elaborating.

The captain apologised Thursday to the victims and their relatives, but offered no clear explanation for what caused the Sewol to capsize.

“I feel really sorry for the passengers, victims and families,” Lee said. “I feel ashamed.”

Tracking data from the Maritime Ministry showed that the ferry made a sharp turn just before sending its first distress signal.

Some experts believe a tight turn could have dislodged the heavy cargo manifest – including more than 150 vehicles – and destabilised the vessel, causing it to list heavily and then capsize.

But others suggested the turn might have been caused by a collision with a rock or other submerged object.

Chief prosecutor Lee Seong-Yoon stressed there was “no limit” to the range of the investigation.

“We will make sure… those responsible are sternly held accountable,” Lee said.

As well as the cause of the disaster, investigators will be looking at why passengers were ordered to stay in their cabins and seats for up to 40 minutes after the ferry ran into trouble.

Furious relatives believe many more people would have escaped if they had reached evacuation points before the ship listed sharply and water started flooding in.

Newspaper editorials were scathing with the Dong-A Ilbo daily calling the rescue response “ludicrous”.

“We have the world’s finest shipbuilding industry in the 21st century, but our mindset is in the 19th century,” the newspaper said.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Science fiction no more: First Earth-sized planet found in ‘habitable zone’

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 00:22


The hunt for potential life in outer space has taken a step forward – an international team of researchers has discovered the first Earth-sized planet within the ‘habitable zone’ of another star.

The exoplanet dubbed Kepler-186f was first spotted by scientists using NASA’s Kepler telescope, according to research published Thursday in the US journal Science.

The exoplanet, located some 500 light years from Earth, orbits in what is seen as the sweet spot around its star: not too close and not too far, so it could have liquid water, considered a crucial component to possibly hosting life.

“The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

The planet is “the right size and is at the right distance to have properties that are similar to our home planet,” said Elisa Quintana of the SETI Institute at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, the lead author of the paper published in Science.

Kepler-186f is around 1.1-times the size of Earth — which researchers say is key to predicting the composition of the surface and its atmosphere.

When planets are 1.5 times the size of Earth or larger, many of them seem to attract a thick hydrogen and helium layer that makes them start to resemble gas giants like Jupiter or Saturn.

Kepler-186f is the fifth and outermost planet orbiting the Kepler-186 star, right on the far edge of that solar system’s habitable zone, meaning the surface temperature might not be warm enough to stop water from freezing.

“However, it is also slightly larger than the Earth, and so the hope would be that this would result in a thicker atmosphere that would provide extra insulation,” explained San Francisco State University astronomer Stephen Kane.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Will work with whoever forms govt in Kabul: FO

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 23:38


Pakistan will focus on ‘building and enhancing’ its bilateral relations with Afghanistan irrespective of whoever wins the presidential elections in the neighbouring country, foreign office spokesperson said on Thursday.

Addressing a weekly news briefing, Tasneem Aslam insisted that Pakistan was not supporting one party over another in Afghanistan.

Aslam was responding to questions about the possible victory of Dr Abdullah Abdullah, who is considered to have maintained close ties with India and had been part of the Northern Alliance, which had a bitter history with Pakistan.

“We deal with countries as we have repeatedly said and I would not agree with the perception that any particular Afghan leader is against Pakistan. We engage with them all. Whoever forms the government we would be working with him,” she said.

“We don’t know yet who would form the next government in Afghanistan but whoever forms the government, irrespective of that, Pakistan would focus on building and enhancing our bilateral relations with Afghanistan,” she added.

She said it was in Islamabad’s self-interest that peace and stability returns to Afghanistan because it is essential for peace and progress in Pakistan.

“Besides, it would open up the way for economic cooperation, joint-ventures and trade with Central Asia which we are very keen to enhance, she stated.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Taking jibes: Jaswant sure of Modi wave never entering Barmer, Jaisalmer

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 23:30

With the opposition already criticising Bharatia Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, former leaders have also started taking jibes at the hardline Hindu nationalist.

Former BJP leader and Independent candidate, Jaswant Singh said that L K Advani would make a better prime minister than Modi.

“Advani has the capacity to conciliate, to bring together and absorb differences which Modi does not have. If you have to have a political coalition, then Advani is infinitely better as a choice,” he said in an interview to the Times of India.

Singh stated that being a successful chief minister for state did not mean that Modi would be a successful prime minister.

“I don’t think the equation runs like that. The logic does not automatically follow that line.”

He said, “for me it’s a remarkable election. In most elections, the candidate tries to woo the constituency. I’m not exaggerating or overstating. In this particular election, electorate is ahead of the candidate. I had earlier assumed that the wound is individual, insult is subjectively individual. But it is not. It’s astonishing how across the constituency, it’s the largest constituency, almost as large as the state of Israel, the electorate of Jaisalmer and Barmer feel they’ve been played with, their aspirations not looked at. The last minute trying of a Congress discard, who contested against us few months back, was abusing the BJP,” Singh, who is contesting for the parliamentary seat from the Barmer-Jaisalmer said.

In response to a question, Singh blamed both Modi and Chief Minister of Rajasthan since 2013, Vasundhara Raje for the worsening situation in the state.

On Modi wave, he said the Modi wave is certainly not in Barmer and Jaisalmer. There is no Modi wave here. The results will prove that.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Garcia Marquez, godfather of magic realism, dies at 87

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 16:53

MEXICO CITY: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel-winning Colombian author who used magical realism to tell epic stories of love, family and dictatorship in Latin America, died Thursday at the age of 87.

Known affectionately as “Gabo,” the author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera” became one of the most popular Latin American novelists in the world and the godfather of a literary movement that witnessed a continent in turmoil.

The journalist was a colorful character who befriended Cuban leader Fidel Castro, got punched by fellow Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa and joked that he wrote so that his friends would love him.

“One thousand years of solitude and sadness for the death of the greatest Colombian of all time,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos wrote on Twitter.

The writer had made fewer public appearances in recent years and was hospitalized for pneumonia on March 31, returning to his Mexico City home a week later to recover there.

The cause of death was not immediately known. Mexican media said his wife Mercedes and two sons were by his side at home.

Born March 6, 1927, in the village of Aracataca on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Garcia Marquez was the son of a telegraph operator.

He was raised by his grandparents and aunts in a tropical culture influenced by the heritage of Spanish settlers, indigenous populations and black slaves. His grandfather was a retired colonel.

The exotic legends of his homeland inspired him to write profusely, including his masterpiece, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which was translated into 35 languages and sold more than 30 million copies.

The book, published in 1967, is a historical and literary saga about a family from the imaginary Caribbean village of Macondo between the 19th and 20th century — a novel that turned the man with the mustache and thick eyebrows into an international star.

‘Without a penny’

Garcia Marquez wrote the novel after moving to Mexico City in 1961, taking a long bus ride from New York with his wife, Mercedes Barcha, and son Rodrigo.

His second son, Gonzalo, was born a year later in the Mexican capital, where he lived for more than three decades.

He liked to say that he arrived in Mexico City “without a name or a penny in my pocket.”

The writer faced financial hardship, working for advertising agencies, penning screenplays and editing small magazines.

“As long as there was whisky, there was no misery,” Garcia Marquez quipped.

He owed nine months of rent payments when he penned “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and could only afford to send half of his manuscript to his editor in Argentina.

Later, the author realized that he had sent the final half of the book, forcing him to scramble to find more money to send the rest.

Garcia Marquez wore a white liqui-liqui, a traditional costume with a high collar from his region, to receive his Nobel prize in Sweden in 1982.

The Nobel committee rewarded him for books “in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.”

In his Nobel speech, the writer said it was the “outsized reality” of brutal dictatorships and civil wars in Latin America, “and not just its literary expression,” that got the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters.

His other famous books include “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” “The General in His Labyrinth” and his autobiography “Living to Tell the Tale.”

His final novel, “Memories of My Melancholy Whores,” was published in 2004.

Journalist, Castro friend

Garcia Marquez studied law but abandoned it to pursue journalism, which he considered “the most beautiful profession in the world.”

He founded the Iberian-American New Journalism Foundation in the Colombian port city of Cartagena in 1994.

His first job was with Bogota’s El Espectador newspaper, which published his first short story in 1947, paying him 800 pesos, or less than $0.50 per month.

He went on assignment in Europe after writing an article that angered the military regime at the time. He lived in Geneva, Rome and Paris, where he finished the book “No One Writes to the Colonel,” which was published in 1961.

An admirer of Cuba’s revolution, he became a correspondent for the communist island’s Prensa Latina news agency in Bogota and New York.

He forged a controversial friendship with Castro, who called him “a man with the goodness of a child and a cosmic talent.”

In Mexico, his circle of friends included famous Mexican writers Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes.

“I write so that my friends will love me,” the novelist quipped.

Garcia Marquez was once friends with Vargas Llosa, but they had a falling out that culminated with the Peruvian novelist punching him outside a Mexico City movie theater in 1976.

“We were completely stunned and astonished,” Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska recalled in an interview with AFP.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Biggest chunk: Turnout remains low in Muslim majority areas

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 14:57


An average 65-70 per cent turnout, despite the searing heat, marked the end of polling in 121 constituencies out of 543 going to the polls in the general elections—the largest chunk to vote on one day.

Turnout in constituencies with a higher Muslim population, like Rampur in Uttar Pradesh with 48% Muslims, was generally low.

Earlier this week, the All India Muslim Majlis e Mushawarat, an umbrella body of Muslims across India passed a resolution urging all secular voters to use their voting right wisely, with  a resolve to defeat fascist and communalist candidates by resorting to tactical voting, making sure not to allow votes to be wasted by division.

This stance was reiterated by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati on Thursday who asked voters not to waste votes by dividing them between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party because this would ensure BJP’s win.

In first overt pro-Muslim pitch, Mayawati warned that if Modi were to become prime minister, “the country would stand ruined with communal riots” akin to the one in Gujarat in 2002.

At least one Muslim candidate — Mukhtar Ansari of the Qaumi Ekta Dal in UP — has withdrawn from the polls as to not create the divide amongst Muslim voters. Ansari was to contest against Narendra Modi in Varanasi.

BJP’s stance

The BJP, highly criticised for its anti-Muslim stance, too tried to clear its name.

One of the few Muslims representing the party, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi argued that BJP’s poor reputation among Muslims was ‘undeserved’.

“The BJP’s image has been tarnished by its political opponents through malicious conspiracy,” he said. From his perspective there has been a positive shift in the mindsets of many Muslims over the past two decades.

Recent events, however, have been in stark contrast to the BJP’s stance.

During the communal violence that took place in Muzaffarnagar last year, claiming 65 lives and displacing over 50,000 people, mostly Muslims, BJP refused to condemn the incident, and avoided references to religiously motivated rioting in its campaign speeches.

With most Muslims reluctant to vote for the BJP, the question still stands to who the community will vote for.

Amitabh Kundu, a professor at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University and chairman of a government committee which has evaluated the situation of Muslims in India is of the opinion that if “Given the very limited performance of the present government, I feel there will be some level of dissatisfaction because the Muslims certainly expected a lot from Congress.”

“It is impossible to even think that 180 million people make a unanimous decision and vote along the same lines?” questioned Hilal Ahmad, who researches voting trends among Muslims in India for the Center for Developing Societies of New Delhi.

Supporting Ahmad’s stance, analyst Yashwant Deshmukh said there are about 35 constituencies where Muslims make up approximately 30 per cent of the electorate.

“Then there are another 150 constituencies where Muslim population is close to 10 per cent of the total voters,” said Deshmukh, the founder of a company called CVoter.  “Which means, in the House of 543 seats, there are about 200 seats where Muslim vote can somewhat affect the outcome.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2014.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

India appoints new navy chief

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 10:44

NEW DELHI: India appointed a new navy chief on Thursday, nearly two months after his predecessor was forced to quit over a submarine accident that killed two sailors off the Mumbai coast.

The government installed Admiral Robin K Dhowan, 59, who has been acting in the job since the previous chief resigned over the submarine fire in February, the latest in a series of accidents to hit the navy.

“He is a navigation and direction specialist who has served with distinction in an array of command(s),” said a statement announcing the appointment.

The submarine fire came six months after 18 sailors were killed when another fully-armed submarine exploded in flames and sank in a military shipyard in Mumbai.

The disaster was thought to be the navy’s worst since the sinking of a frigate by a Pakistani submarine during the war with its neighbour in 1971.

Dhowan takes over the top job at a critical time for the navy, which is attempting to upgrade its ageing mostly Russian-built fleet and is facing delays in the acquisition of new submarines.

India has been stepping up efforts to guard its territorial waters especially against China, which has been expanding its reach into the Indian Ocean.

The Indian navy has 14 submarines, but only between seven and nine are operational at any one time because of regular repairs and refitting.

The Indian Express newspaper reported on Thursday that Shekhar Sinha, a vice admiral who was overlooked for the top post in favour of Dhowan, could challenge his appointment in an Indian court.

Dhowan is slated to retire in two years.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

UAE put Taliban leader under house arrest: Peace Council

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 09:45

ISLAMABAD: Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have placed senior Taliban leader Agha Jan Mutasim under house arrest, just days after he had made contact with an Afghan peace council delegation in Dubai, the Karzai-backed negotiators said Thursday.

UAE, though, has yet to comment on Mutasim’s detention, who is a former Taliban minister and close confidant of the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

When the Afghan government and the Peace Council learnt about Mutasim’s detention, they immediately contacted the UAE authorities and called for his release.

The peace council in a statement described Mutasim as an important character in promotion of peace and reconciliation and hoped that the UAE government will set him free.

A member of the peace council, Ismail Qasimyar, said that the council is hopeful that the UAE will extend help in the peace process with Mutasim’s release.

He was quoted by sections of the Afghan media as saying that the peace council has faced problems whenever it has entered into dialogue with the Taliban.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai has tried to encourage the Taliban to hold talks with him but could not succeed as the Taliban insist that his administration has no power to make decisions.

Last week, Mutasim’s family sources and friends confirmed to The Express Tribune that they have lost contact with him in Dubai. They were concerned that the UAE authorities might have detained and shifted Mutasim to an undisclosed location.

On Monday the Afghan Foreign Ministry confirmed that Mutassim has gone missing in the United Arab Emirates.

President Hamid Karzai had personally welcomed the ‘Dubai peace initiative’ and also urged other Taliban leaders to join the process.

The Taliban disowned Mutasim after he announced launching the “Islamic Movement of Taliban”, met a team of negotiators and decided to hold more talks before he ‘disappeared’. However, confirmation of his arrest is seen as a serious setback for Kabul’s frustrated peace efforts at a time when beleaguered Karzai has just few weeks in power.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Pakistani immigrant in 'Jihad Jane' case to be sentenced on US terror charges

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 06:38

PHILADELPHIA: A US judge on Thursday is set to decide the prison sentence for Mohammad Hassan Khalid, a Pakistani immigrant high school student who pleaded guilty to providing assistance to al Qaeda. Khalid, now 20, is the youngest person ever charged with terrorism-related crimes in the United States.

He was arrested in 2011 on charges including providing material support for terrorists for working with a US woman who went by the nickname “Jihad Jane” and had plotted to kill a Swedish artist.

The woman, a suburban Philadelphia housewife whose real name is Colleen LaRose, in January was sentenced to 10 years in prison for planning to murder artist Lars Vilks, who had misrepresented Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Khalid, who pleaded guilty to committing related crimes when he was as young as 15 and living in his parents’ apartment in suburban Maryland, could have faced up to 15 years in prison but prosecutors have asked for a shorter sentence because he cooperated after his arrest. He is due in US District Court in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Khalid’s attorney Jeffrey Lindy has said his client was easily lured into committing crimes by LaRose, a much older woman. The link between LaRose and Khalid, and his double life as honour student and online fighter, were chronicled in a 2011 Reuters investigative series.

LaRose admitted to following orders in 2009 from alleged al Qaeda operatives. She traveled to Ireland that fall to meet an Algerian, Ali Damache, whom she believed would train her. The plot did not materialise and Damache is fighting extradition from Ireland to the United States on terror charges.

In court filings, prosecutors said Khalid helped Damache recruit others and helped LaRose destroy evidence. Officials said Khalid “worked tirelessly” with two other American men now serving long prison terms on terror charges in other failed plots, Emerson Begolly and Reed Stanley Berry.

Prosecutors say he helped them translate violent videos from Urdu to English. Prosecutors also cited online postings in which Khalid tried to raise money for terrorists, but there is no public evidence that anyone ever sent him any money.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Dramatic turn of events: Iranian mother spares life of son's killer with slap

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 06:33

TEHRAN: An Iranian mother spared the life of her son’s convicted murderer with an emotional slap in the face as he awaited execution with the noose around his neck, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The dramatic climax followed a rare public campaign to save the life of Balal, who at 19 killed another young man, Abdollah Hosseinzadeh, in a street fight with a knife back in 2007.

Shargh newspaper said police officers led Balal to a public execution site in the northern city of Nowshahr as a large crowd gathering on Tuesday morning.

Samereh Alinejad, mother of the victim who lost another son in a motorbike accident four years ago, asked the crowd whether they know “how difficult it is to live in an empty house.”

Balal, black-hooded and standing on a chair before a makeshift gallows, had the noose around his neck when Alinejad approached.

She slapped him in the face and removed the rope from his neck assisted by her husband, Abdolghani Hosseinzadeh, a former professional footballer.

“I am a believer. I had a dream in which my son told me that he was at peace and in a good place… After that, all my relatives, even my mother, put pressure on me to pardon the killer,” Alinejad told Shargh.

“The murderer was crying, asking for forgiveness. I slapped him in the face. That slap helped to calm me down,” she said. “Now that I’ve forgiven him, I feel relieved.”

Balal said the “slap was the space between revenge and forgiveness.”

“I’ve asked my friends not to carry knives… I wish someone had slapped me in the face when I wanted to carry one,” Balal said in a television interview.

A high-profile campaign was launched by public figures including Adel Ferdosipour, a popular football commentator and TV show host, and former international footballer Ali Daei, appealed for the victim’s family to forgive the killer.

According to the United Nations, more than 170 people have been executed in the Islamic republic since the beginning of 2014.

Under the country’s interpretation of Islamic sharia laws in force since a 1979 revolution, murder and several other crimes are punishable by death.

But the victim’s family has the right to spare a convict’s life in return for blood money, under Islamic laws.

This sequence of Tuesday’s dramatic scenes of a last-minute pardon was captured in a photo essay (you can see the images here).

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Politics plays: Cracks visible in Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 10:48

ISLAMABAD: The emerging geopolitical situation following tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran over the Syrian conflict and other Gulf issues has swallowed the most feasible gas import project – Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline.

A Muslim brotherly country – said to be Saudi Arabia – recently gave $1.5 billion as a gift to Pakistan, catching everybody off guard with many questioning why a country that refused one-year credit facility for oil imports, doled out more than a billion dollars without getting any assurances.

As if persistent US pressure on Pakistan to abandon the IP pipeline was not enough, the gift looked like a final nail in the coffin of IP pipeline, officials say. According to media reports, though vehemently denied by the government, the Saudi grant was aimed at persuading Pakistan to sell weapons to Riyadh that would eventually be sent to the rebel groups fighting the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria.

The Syrian conflict has also triggered a rift between Saudi Arabia and Qatar who are said to be supporting different groups. This disagreement between the two Gulf Arab states also appears to be taking its toll on a project for liquefied natural gas (LNG) purchase from Doha.

Pakistan is planning to bring first LNG supplies from Qatar this year and is going to award a terminal services contract to the successful bidder. Qatar had asked Pakistan to have a terminal in place before striking any LNG deal.

Insiders say the brotherly Muslim country has heaped pressure on Pakistan, which is now planning to invite tenders from private players for arranging LNG supplies.

LNG supplies at stake

“Among government circles, there is realisation that Pakistan may not ink a state-to-state LNG deal with Qatar because of outside influence,” a source said, adding the government would invite tenders after formally awarding the terminal contract.

Though the US opposes the IP pipeline due to the standoff with Iran, it is pleased with Pakistan’s efforts to strike an LNG import deal with Qatar. Doha holds a stake in an LNG terminal in America.

In a similar fashion, US companies like ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips have partnered with Qatari firms for exploring gas in Qatar.

The US has forged a strong alliance with Qatar as its companies are investing in the latter’s oil and gas industry and have also won marketing rights. On the other side, Washington is banking less on Saudi oil after discovering huge shale gas reserves in its territory.

In a predicament

Saudi Arabia is apparently not happy with the US that is negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran. At present, Pakistan is caught in disputes among different countries and with this hopes of gas imports from Iran and Qatar are gradually fading.

The geopolitical situation has proved to be the worst for Pakistan since long that has scuttled plans for getting cheaper gas from different sources.

In 1997, the US blocked the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (Tapi) gas pipeline project and consortium leader Unicol of the US pulled out of the venture, leaving Pakistan in a quandary.

Pakistan had secured gas supplies at an attractive rate with the signing of a pricing framework at the time, but the project got stuck because of the change in US stance.

Similarly, Islamabad clinched the IP pipeline deal, but Washington offered civil nuclear technology to India that led to Delhi’s withdrawal from the project, leaving Pakistan alone.

In recent years, the US has been actively promoting the Tapi project in an attempt to drive Pakistan away from the IP pipeline.

Qatar was also interested in exporting gas to Pakistan through an offshore pipeline, but Iran wanted a 50% share in it. Later, the scheme was shelved as Qatar felt that it would not be possible to lay the pipeline through Iranian waters.

Only choices

Experts are of the view that Pakistan has only one choice that is to float tenders for LNG purchase from the world market. Even better than that is to explore oil and gas reserves in the country rather than relying on imports.

For instance, the US has revolutionised its energy industry by tapping shale gas reserves and is going to be the LNG exporter from an importer. The dependence on domestic resources will not only give a boost to the economy that has been stymied by energy shortages, but Pakistan could also become an exporter of energy.

The country has significant offshore oil and gas reserves that have not been tapped because of low producer prices. Now, the government has offered handsome returns to encourage investment.

Pakistan has 51 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of shale gas reserves, according to estimates of the US Energy Information Administration, compared to conventional gas reserves of 58 tcf. If the country is self-sufficient in oil and gas, it can formulate independent policies.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2014.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Ukraine in bloody battle to oust pro-Russian gunmen

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 10:30

SLAVYANSK / WASHINGTON: At least two people were killed and nine wounded on Sunday in gun battles between Ukrainian special forces and pro-Kremlin militias that threatened to scuttle the first international talks on the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.

The clashes across the ex-Soviet state’s separatists eastern rust belt broke out a day after masked gunmen stormed a series of police and security service buildings in coordinated raids that Kiev blamed on the “provocative activities of Russian special services”.

The heavily Russified region has been riven by unrest since a team of Western-backed leaders rose to power in February on the back of bloody protests against the old regime’s decision to reject an EU alliance and look for future assistance from the Kremlin.

Russia has since massed around 40,000 soldiers along Ukraine’s eastern frontier and threatened to halt its neighbour’s gas supplies over unpaid bills — a cutoff that would impact at least 18 EU nations and threaten further retaliation against the Kremlin.

Saturday’s attacks were especially unsettling for both Kiev and Western leaders because of their remarkable similarity to events leading up to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula last month.

The balaclava-clad gunmen were armed with special-issue assault rifles and scopes most often used by nations’ crack security troops.

Many wore unmarked camouflage uniforms similar to those seen on the highly trained units that seized the Black Sea peninsula in early March. They also moved with military precision and cohesion.

But Russia denied any involvement. And it sternly warned Kiev late on Saturday that the use of force against pro-Russian protesters could ruin the chances of the two sides sitting down for US-EU mediated talks in Geneva on Thursday.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced the launch of an “anti-terrorist” operation in the eastern Donetsk region early on Sunday morning.

Crack units from Ukraine’s SBU security service first attacked an occupied police station in the eastern city of Slavyansk that was seized by about 20 militants on Saturday.

But Avakov admitted that his troops had to “regroup” after meeting stiff resistance and suffering casualties.

“There are dead and wounded on both sides. On our side – an SBU officer. The head of the SBU’s anti-terrorist centre has been wounded, as have four others,” Avakov wrote on his Facebook page.

“On side of the separatists – an unidentified number. The separatists have started to protect themselves using human shields.”

Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency cited one local protester as saying that a civilian had also been killed and two others injured.

The local administration separately reported a series of heavy clashes on a highway linking Slavyansk with the region’s capital Donetsk to the south.

The Donetsk administration said one person was killed and four wounded in an “ongoing armed standoff” on a stretch of the road connecting Slavyansk and the town of Artemivsk.

The statement added that authorities were still checking to see “whose side the casualties were on”.

Slavyansk residents meanwhile reported a run on stores and general panic among locals in the poor mining town of 100,000 people.

“By nine in the morning, the stores had run out of bread,” 47-year-old Yelena told AFP as attack helicopters hovered overhead.

“Everyone is in panic. People are waiting for a war to break out.”

Saturday’s raids drew expressions of grave concern from world leaders and Russian warnings against any use of force against the militants.

The US State Department said John Kerry phoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Saturday to make “clear that if Russia did not take steps to deescalate in eastern Ukraine and move its troops back from Ukraine’s border, there would be additional consequences”.

Britain’s Foreign Office on Sunday said the wave of occupations of government buildings was “a dangerous escalation”.

“Assumptions that Russia is complicit are inevitable as long as Moscow does not publicly distance itself from these latest lawless actions.

“Russia must desist from steps which destabilise Ukraine and undermine” the possibility of talks.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen also said he was “extremely concerned”.

“The reappearance of men with specialised Russian weapons and identical uniforms without insignia, as previously worn by Russian troops during Russia’s illegal and illegitimate seizure of Crimea, is a grave development,” Rasmussen said in a statement.

But Russia’s Lavrov warned that the Geneva talks would be in jeopardy if Kiev used force against “residents of the southeast driven to despair”.

The latest wave of unrest began last weekend when protesters seized the seat of government in Donetsk after similar actions in the eastern cities of Lugansk and Kharkiv.

The Donetsk protesters heavily fortified the building and announced the independence of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” — the flag of which has gone up over newly seized security buildings across the region.

Pro-Russian protesters in the region fear a loss of their rights to speak Russian and the collapse of an already depressed economy if their government cuts ties with their close and historical ally.

A charm offensive by embattled Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk – who promised during a visit on Friday to grant more powers to the country’s regions and protect the east’s right to use the Russian language – was seen as many as insufficient and coming much too late.

But many of the pro-Russian protests have only drawn crowds of a few hundred and local polls showed the majority of citizens in the Russian-speaking east preferred to remain part of Ukraine.

‘Signs of Moscow involvement’ in Ukraine violence

Attacks on police and security service buildings in eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian gunmen bore “tell-tale signs of Moscow’s involvement,” the US envoy to the United Nations said Sunday.

Speaking on ABC television’s “This Week” program, Ambassador Samantha Power dismissed suggestions that the attacks, which have triggered gun battles with Ukrainian Special Forces, were the work of grass-roots militia groups.

“It’s professional, coordinated. Nothing grassroots about it,” Power said.

“The forces are doing in each of the six or seven cities they have been active in exactly the same thing. So, certainly, it bears the tell-tale signs of Moscow’s involvement.”

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Four killed in rebel attack in Indian Kashmir: police

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 09:12

SRINAGAR: Suspected militants on Sunday killed two policemen guarding the home of a pro-India politician in Indian Kashmir in the first such attack in the restive region since national elections got underway, police said.

Two rebels sprayed bullets towards the home of a National Conference politician who was inside meeting party workers in the town of Khrew, 25 kilometers (15 miles) south of the main city of Srinagar, an officer and a party official said.

“The two policemen died before reaching hospital,” the officer at the scene told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The attack sparked a gunbattle with government forces on patrol in the area that left both of the militants dead, the officer said.

Yawar Masoodi, a youth leader of the National Conference which rules at state level in the disputed Muslim-majority Himalayan region, and the party workers were unharmed.

The militants fled into nearby mustard fields after snatching the police officers’ weapons. Government forces chased them, sparking the gunbattle as reinforcements from a nearby army camp also moved in, the officer said.

“Both the attackers were later neutralised and the snatched weapons also recovered,” Inspector General Nalin Prabhat from the federal Central Reserve Police Force told AFP.

At the time, Masoodi was in a “closed door meeting” with party workers discussing election campaign plans, said National Conference spokesman Junaid Azim Mattu.

“These two individuals arrived at the gate. On being stopped for frisking by the police guards they suddenly took out weapons from under their ferans (traditional Kashmiri tunic),” Mattu told AFP.

It is unclear why Masoodi, who is not an elected member of parliament nor standing in the polls, was singled out for attack.

Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, from the National Conference party, said the attack highlighted security concerns for all politicians in the region. The fighting has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead in the past 25 years.

“The attack on Yawar’s residence is evidence of the continued risk associated with being a mainstream politician in Kashmir,” Abdullah said on Twitter.

The district in the Kashmir Valley where the attack took place will go to the polls on April 24 as part of India’s mammoth elections that are staggered nationally over six weeks.

The Hindu nationalist opposition, led by hardliner Narendra Modi, is expected to sweep to power when results are announced on May 16, ending the Congress party’s decade-long national rule.

Violence has sharply declined during the last decade, but anti-India rebels regularly attack government forces and low-level pro-India political officials.

On March 28 three suspected rebels disguised in army uniforms hijacked a taxi in the region’s south near the border with Pakistan, killing two civilians and a soldier before being shot dead.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Abdullah leads Ghani in first partial results of Afghan vote: officials

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 06:51

KABUL: Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah is leading his closest rival Ashraf Ghani in the Afghan presidential election, the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) said Sunday.

“Today we announce the partial results of 26 provinces with 10 percent of votes counted, these include (provinces) in the north, south, east, west and Kabul,” said Yousuf Nuristani, the IEC chief.

“With 500,000 votes from 26 provinces Dr Abdullah is leading with 41.9 percent; Dr Ashraf Ghani has 37.6 percent and is in second; and Zalmai Rassoul has 9.8 percent in third position.”

A run-off election between the two leading candidates will be triggered if no single candidate gains more than 50 percent of the vote when the final results are announced in late May.

Of the eight provinces for which results have not been announced, two are in the north (Badakhshan and Baghlan), two in the east (Khost and Paktia), two in the south (Ghazni and Wardak), and one in the south-west (Ghor).

Abdullah, who was born to an ethnic Pashtun father and a Tajik mother, is more associated with the northern Tajiks.

More than seven million people defied bad weather and Taliban threats of violence to vote in Saturday’s first round of the election, earning praise from world leaders.

Ahead of the vote there were fears that a repeat of the massive fraud which blighted Karzai’s re-election in 2009 would undermine the winner’s legitimacy at a testing time for the war-torn country.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Malaysia says no mid-flight phone call from MH370 cockpit

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 06:01

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia on Sunday rejected claims that phone calls were made from Flight MH370 before it vanished, but refused to rule out any possibility in a so far fruitless investigation into the jet’s disappearance.

The New Straits Times, quoting an anonymous source, had reported Saturday that co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid made a call which ended abruptly, possibly “because the aircraft was fast moving away from the (telecommunications) tower”.

There had also been unconfirmed reports of calls by the Malaysia Airlines plane’s captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah before or during the flight.

Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters Sunday that authorities had no knowledge of any calls from the jet’s cockpit.

“As far as I know, no,” he said when asked if any calls had been made.

However, he added that he did not want to speculate on “the realm of the police and other international agencies” investigating the case.

“I do not want to disrupt the investigations that are being done now not only by the Malaysian police but the FBI, MI6, Chinese intelligence and other intelligence agencies,” he said at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur.

Hishammuddin also said no passenger on the plane had been cleared in the criminal investigation into the fate of the flight, clarifying an earlier indication from Malaysia’s police chief.

“The Inspector-General of Police said at that particular point in time there is nothing to find suspicion with the passenger manifesto but… unless we find more information, specifically the data in the black box, I don’t think any chief of police will be in a position to say they have been cleared.”

The police chief also clarified last week that passengers had not categorically been cleared since the investigation was ongoing.

Pilots Fariq and Zaharie have come under intense scrutiny since the plane vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board on March 8, with still no clue as to the cause of the disappearance.

Investigators last month indicated that the flight was deliberately diverted and its communication systems manually switched off as it was leaving Malaysian airspace, triggering a criminal investigation by police which has revealed little so far.

Several theories have been put forward, including hijacking, a terrorist plot or a pilot gone rogue. But authorities are grasping at straws as to the fate of the plane without crucial data from the jet’s “black box” flight recorder, which has yet to be located, and without any wreckage.

Several sonic ‘pings’ which authorities have said are consistent with a black box have been detected by ships in the search area in the remote southern Indian Ocean, off the west coast of Australia.

But Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre, which is leading the search, said Sunday that another 24 hours had passed without a confirmed signal, increasing fears that batteries in the beacons attached to the plane’s two black boxes may now have run flat.

The last pings were detected on Tuesday.

There were 12 aircraft and 14 ships combing a 57,506 square kilometre area on Sunday, 2,200 kilometres northwest of Perth. They include Australia’s Ocean Shield which is using a US Navy towed pinger locator to pick up the hoped-for black box signals.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Chinese state television the search was narrowing.

“We’re narrowing down the undersea area where we believe now with a high level of confidence the black box recorder from MH370 is located,” he said in an interview Saturday.

“The surface search area is still about 50 kilometres by 40 kilometres,” he added, saying that the object of the current hunt was to detect as many transmissions from the “fast fading” black box beacons.

“When we think we’ve got everything we can through this means we will deploy the submersible,” he said.

“By that stage we hope we will have narrowed down the search area on the seabed to as little perhaps as a square kilometre.”

Despite his confidence that the signals so far detected are from MH370, Abbott reiterated the huge challenges.

“I stress the difficulty of the task and the danger of false hope and unrealistic expectations.”

Categories: Pakistan & World News

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