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Updated: 5 days 16 hours ago

Iran, European countries hold nuclear talks in Vienna

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 01:37

VIENNA: Officials from Iran and Britain, France and Germany were due Thursday to hold nuclear talks in Vienna towards reaching a potentially historic accord by November.

The three European countries form part of a six-nation group including the United States, Russia and China due to resume negotiations with Iran in New York on September 18.

The closed-door discussions in the Austrian capital, announced by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s office, follow bilateral US-Iranian discussions in Geneva last week.

A US State Department spokesperson told reporters Tuesday that those talks in Switzerland were an “in-depth exchange on the core issues”, without giving further details.

The recent diplomatic flurry also saw Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif fly to Moscow, Brussels and Paris as well as Rome to meet Ashton’s successor from November 1, Federica Mogherini.

The P5+1 powers, all of which except Germany sit on the UN Security Council and have nuclear weapons themselves, want Iran to scale back its atomic programme to ease fears the Islamic republic gets the bomb.

Tehran, which says its nuclear programme is exclusively for electricity generation and medical uses, in return wants painful UN and Western sanctions lifted.

On July 18, two days before a deadline to get a deal and after months of intense talks, negotiators from Iran and the six powers decided to give themselves until November 24 to nail down the accord.


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China shows off new missile test on primetime television

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 01:29

BEIJING: China has unveiled its latest military hardware on primetime television, an advanced air defence system that reports said has a “high success rate” destroying incoming missiles and aircraft.

The HongQi-10 (Reg Flag 10) surface-to-air missile was shown in the evening news bulletin Wednesday being fired from ships and land-based mobile launchers, and exploding in the sky on impact with its target.

It will protect warships against rockets over a limited area, and will be used alongside an “area defence system” which covers a larger area but has a slower response time, the state-run Global Times newspapersaid Thursday.

“As a naval point defence missile system, HongQi-10 boasts a particularly quick response to low-altitude missiles that area defence systems fail to intercept,” it quoted Lan Yun, deputy chief editor of monthly journal Modern Ships, as saying.

It cited him adding that it had a high success rate in hitting its targets.

Missiles only 1.5-10 metres above sea level can be targeted with the new system, which takes only 10 seconds to launch, Lan said.

The missiles can also used to protect ground forces from air attacks by “jets, unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles”, the Global Times report said, citing an expert.

Beijing has been increasing its military might and naval reach in recent years, and President Xi Jinping regularly urges the country to strengthen its ability to “win battles”.


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Al Qaeda backed group releases video of kidnapped UN peacekeepers

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 01:28

SYDNEY: An al Qaeda-backed militant group that seized 45 UN peacekeepers two weeks ago on the Golan Heights has posted a video in which the hostages, from the South Pacific nation of Fiji, say they expect to be released soon.

The video, which was posted on the Nusra Front’s Twitter and YouTube accounts on Wednesday but was apparently recorded a day earlier, appears to show the troops in a good condition, at points smiling and waving at the camera.

On Wednesday, the head of Fiji’s army said the militant group had dropped all of its demands to free the hostages, but at least slightly back-pedalled later in the day as the situation appeared to deteriorate.

It was unclear whether the video, carried by the SITE monitoring service, was made before or after the confusion surrounding those comments, but a UN source earlier told Reuters that the militants had insisted on such a video as a condition for their release.

“By the way, we are all safe and alive, and we thank Jabhat al Nusra for keeping us safe and keeping us alive. I’d like to assure you that we have not been harmed in any way,” one hostage, who was not identified, said, using the Nusra Front’s full name.

“We understand that with the limited resources that they have, they have provided the best for us and we truly appreciate it and we thank them. We are thankful that Jabhat al Nusra has kept its word and that we will be going home.”

Syria‘s three-year civil war reached the frontier with Israeli-controlled territory last month when militants overran a crossing point in the line that has separated Israelis from Syrians in the Golan Heights since a 1973 war.

The fighters then turned on the UN blue helmets from a peacekeeping force that has patrolled the ceasefire line for 40 years. After the Fijians were captured, more than 70 Filipinos spent two days besieged at two locations before reaching safety.

The Nusra Front had demanded compensation for fighters killed during the confrontation, humanitarian assistance for its supporters and its removal from the UN list of terrorist organisations.

Since independence from Britain in 1970, Fiji has sent more soldiers on UN peacekeeping missions than any other nation, on a per capita basis, which provides its stalled economy with much-needed hard currency and helps to bolster its global image.


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Three Russian and American astronauts return to Earth: Russian space agency

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 01:16

MOSCOW: Three astronauts from the International Space Station – two Russians and an American – returned to Earth on Thursday after spending more than six months in space, Russian space agency Roskosmos said.

American Steven Swanson and Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemiev, who left on March 26, landed in the Kazakh Steppe region at 0223 GMT onboard the capsule Soyuz TMA-12M.


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Football: Palestinians determined to rise above war

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 01:08

MANILA: For goalkeeper Ramzi Saleh, representing his Palestinian homeland on the football field is about far, far more than playing the beautiful game.

The veteran keeper gives the impression that throwing his tall, powerful frame across the goal to block shots is as much a political statement as a sporting endeavour.

“We want to send a message to the world, to tell them that the Palestinian people exist despite all the Israeli obstacles, the destruction, the martyrs,” Saleh told AFP last week at a friendly tournament in the Philippines.

Saleh, who was born in Egypt to parents from Gaza, is a legend of Palestinian football, having played a record 103 internationals during a 14-year career.

The 34-year-old was also captain when Palestine won the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup in the Maldives in May, keeping a clean sheet throughout the tournament.

The victory earned Palestine a berth in next year’s Asian Cup in Australia, propelling them to a best-ever world ranking of 85 and triggering delirious celebrations in their Gaza and West Bank homelands.

Football is hugely popular in Gaza and the West Bank, where the game has been played since the 1920s during the time of the British mandate.

The Asian Cup will be the Palestinians’ first major international tournament. Their under-23 team will also play this month’s Asian Games in Incheon.

But the euphoria at reaching the Asian Cup was short-lived, as another brutal phase of the Palestinians’ decades-long land struggle with Israel erupted.

The ensuing 50-day war, in which Israeli security forces demolished large parts of Gaza, left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, mainly civilians.

Seventy-one Israelis also died before the two sides agreed to a ceasefire in late August.

Twenty-six Palestinian sportsmen and sportswomen were among those killed in the conflict, according to Amri Hannoun, the Palestinian Football Association’s press officer, who also travelled to the Philippines.

The dead included ex-midfielder Ahed Zacqut, a Gaza legend who never made it to the national team but was one of the territory’s most respected football coaches.

Palestinian coach Jamal Mahmoud, who resigned following the Peace Cup tournament in the Philippines, said the conflict had sapped team morale and distracted the players.

“Many players have families in Gaza, so maybe his home was destroyed and maybe somebody from his family is dead, or his friends may be dead. So when he plays he’s always thinking about the war in the Gaza,” Mahmoud said.

The weight of the war showed during the team’s two matches at the invitational Peace Cup in Manila.

Without any recognised strikers, they were trashed 1-4 in their first game by Myanmar, ranked 72 places below them.

In the second, they struggled to a 3-3 draw at full-time against Taiwan, who are ranked even lower than Myanmar, but then scored four goals to nil during extra time.

Mahmoud and Saleh complained that, aside from the emotional impacts of the recent war, their team had again had to endure many problems that have long prevented the Palestinians from achieving their full potential.

Mahmoud said Israeli policies made it hard for players, coaches, referees, officials and equipment to get in and out of the territories, even when there is no fighting.

He said travel restrictions had prevented him from selecting Gaza-based players, while Gazans playing for West Bank clubs as well as the national team were unable to visit their relatives back home.

For the Peace Cup, Mahmoud said his players were short of match-fitness because the conflict had delayed the start of the two Palestinian professional leagues.

Five Gaza-based players who would have been on the national team were not allowed to leave for the Philippines, according to Mahmoud.

The Palestinians were able to pull together a squad of just 13 players, mostly from the West Bank Premier League, for their match against Myanmar.

They were then reinforced by Javier Cohene, a Paraguay-born defender based in Europe who scored on his debut against Taiwan.

The Palestinians also promoted three Asian Games-bound players to their senior squad, including midfielder Ahmed Maher who scored four goals in the two games.

Israel insists its restrictions on Palestinian football are essential, alleging militants use football facilities to fire rockets at its cities and take advantage of the sport to spread anti-Israeli propaganda.

In April, Israel also detained Palestine striker Samah Maraabeh, 22, on suspicion he delivered money, messages and a mobile phone in Qatar to an exiled Hamas militant.

Nevertheless, Mahmoud said adversity could also steel his side.

“Yes, maybe the pressure allows players to show their skills, because they love sport, our people love sport, life, peace. Maybe the pressure makes their energy burst out,” the coach added.

Saleh was unequivocal.

“These obstacles just make us stronger. That’s why we’re here, because we don’t stay quiet in the face of the Israeli occupation,” he said.


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Six Pakistani artists to be present at opening of North America's first Islamic art museum

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 00:43

TORONTO: Six Pakistani artists who specialize in miniature art, music and performing arts will be present at the opening of the first Islamic art museum and cultural center in North America, which will open in Toronto next week.

Bankrolled by Prince Karim Aga Khan, the facility will feature more than 1,000 artifacts – including rare scriptures of the Holy Quran from the 7th and 8th centuries.

There are fine collections of Islamic art in museums throughout Canada and the United States, but this will be the first devoted entirely to such works when it welcomes visitors as of September 18.

The Can$300 million Aga Khan Museum and adjacent Ismaili Center are sprawled over 6.8 hectares, hoping to cater to Muslims and others interested in Islam’s rich history.

The goal is to attract up to 250,000 visitors annually.

“We hope that this museum will contribute to a better understanding of the people of Islam in all their religious, ethnic linguistic and social diversity,” the Aga Khan said in a statement.

Most of the artifacts come from the prince’s family’s trove, showcasing the achievements of Muslim civilizations from Spain to China, said museum director Henry Kim.

At a preview on Wednesday, a piece of carved marble from 10th century Spain was among the works that sparked particular interest.

The chiseled building that houses the museum measures a massive 10,500 square meters and boasts a 350-seat auditorium with carved wood panels.

Going forward, the museum plans to host traveling exhibitions, concerts, as well as international conferences and seminars.

“Canada is a model and global hub of diversity, ethnicity and inter-mingling cultures so Toronto became the natural choice for us to set up a modern cultural center showcasing Muslim civilizations,” said Luis Monreal, head of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

The Aga Khan Museum is part of the Aga Khan Development Network, which has its footprint in several countries.


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Charges of conspiracy: Washington approaches Islamabad for extradition of US citizen

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 23:02

LAHORE: The United States has formally approached Pakistan for extradition of Amer Ahmad, State of Ohio’s former deputy treasurer and Chicago City’s ex-comptroller, sources said, adding that there is a possibility that he may be handed over to the US.

Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested Amer Ahmad – a US citizen – in April, 2014 from Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport, while he was traveling on a fake Pakistani passport and visa.

Following the arrest, the FIA received numerous calls from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) demanding that the accused be handed over to them. However, the FIA had asked the US authorities to follow protocol.

Ahmad is wanted by the FBI as he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bribery charges. He is currently in jail on charges of entering Pakistan on forged travelling documents, as well as obtaining fake birth certificate and fake Pakistani identity card.

In this connection, the interior ministry has sent a letter – with the stamp and signature of Deputy Secretary (FIA) Khalil Ahmed – to Islamabad Capital Territory’s chief commissioner.

The letter provides documentary evidence [provided by the US Embassy] in respect of Amer Ahmad “to facilitate the inquiry officer to conduct Magisterial inquiry Under Section 7 of the Extradition Act, 1972.”

The letter directs the inquiry officer – Capt (retd) Abdul Sattar Ehsani, Additional Deputy Commissioner (General) Islamabad – to complete the inquiry within one week and submit a report to the ministry. The letter also directs the FIA Headquarters Director Law Malik Javid Ahmad to ask the FIA Special Investigation Unit (SIU) deputy director, the FIA Headquarters Islamabad, director FIA Punjab and Director National Central Bureau (NCB) –Interpol FIA Headquarters Islamabad to coordinate with the inquiry officer.

Extradition

No extradition treaty exists between Pakistan and the US and yet there are certain provisions under which Pakistan and the US have been able to arrange transfer of certain individuals.

“No doubt there is no formal extradition treaty between Pakistan and United States but it depends on the nature of every case,” said the FIA Punjab Director Dr Usman Anwar.

He said extradition had taken place in the case of Bank of Punjab (BoP) former president Hamesh Khan, who had dual citizenship of US and Pakistan, but who was deported to Pakistan by US authorities on Pakistan government request as well as court orders.

In the case of US citizen Amer Ahmad, the Interpol has also issued red warrants for his arrest, which may potentially be a vehicle for his transfer to the FBI jurisdiction, but it depends on Pakistan government how it decides about Ahmad’s extradition, sources said.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2014.


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Al Qaeda’s India chief ‘highly respected’

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 22:40

ISLAMABAD: Maulana Asim Umar, who has been appointed by al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri as the head of the group’s India branch, is held in ‘equally high respect’ by both local and foreign militants, say Pakistani militants who claim to have worked with him.

Urdu-speaking Umar was previously an active member of Harkatul Mujahideen – a banned outfit which has been fighting against Indian authorities in Indian Kashmir. According to militant leaders familiar with him, he once headed a Harkat training center in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Much earlier, Umar, who is said to be in his mid-40s, was a teacher at a religious school in Karachi. He is said to speak fluent Arabic, English and Pashto.

Umar developed ties with al Qaeda and other militant outfits during his time with Harkatul Mujahideen, his colleagues say. “Umar has been very close to al-Qaeda since it was launched,” a former member of the Harkat told The Express Tribune.

Harkat once hosted deceased al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden when he was living in Afghanistan, a former Harkat leader says.  The group also arranged bin Laden’s first press conference in Afghanistan’s Khost province in 1988. Al Qaeda was formally launched at this press conference.

Two militant leaders said Umar has earned the trust of Arab militants and was highly respected by Pakistani, Afghan and foreign militants.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2014.


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Obama orders US airstrikes in Syria against Islamic State

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 21:26

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama told Americans on Wednesday he had authorized US airstrikes for the first time in Syria and more attacks in Iraq in a broad escalation of a campaign against the Islamic State militant group.

Obama’s decision to launch attacks inside Syria, which is embroiled in a three-year civil war, marked a turnabout for the president, who shied away a year ago from airstrikes to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his own people.

In a widely anticipated, 13-minute White House speech, Obama said he would hunt down Islamic State militants “wherever they are” in a drive to degrade and ultimately destroy the group, which has seized broad stretches of Iraq and Syria.

“That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven,” he said, speaking on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Obama asked Congress to authorize $500 million to train and arm “moderate” Syrian rebels. The training would take place in Saudi Arabia.It is unclear whether more American weapons and training can shift the battlefield balance toward the US-backed rebels, who are badly outgunned by Islamic State, other militant groups and Assad’s forces.

A vote on the money would put lawmakers on record supporting the military action, although White House officials stressed Obama already had the authority he needed for the new moves.

Obama plans to expand the list of targets inside Iraq beyond several isolated areas.

The US military has launched more than 150 airstrikes in Iraq in the past month to help halt Islamic State advances.

The new target list will include Islamic State’s “leadership, logistical and operational capability,” as well as an attempt to “deny it sanctuary and resources to plan, prepare and execute attacks,” the White House said.

US officials have warned it will take years to destroy Islamic State, and Obama told Americans: “It will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL,” the White House’s acronym for the militant group.

Obama will send 475 more American advisers to help Iraqi forces, which will bring to 1,600 the number there. Obama, determined to avoid a repeat of the Iraq war, stressed they would not engage in combat.

The president laid out his emerging plan for tackling the group two weeks after coming under fire for saying: “We don’t have a strategy yet” for the group in Syria and six months after declaring that groups like Islamic State were minor players.

The US view of the threat from Islamic State now is that foreign fighters who have sworn allegiance to the group could return to their home countries and launch attacks against civilian targets, including in the United States.

Islamic State fighters beheaded two American captives in the past month, shocking Americans who have demanded Obama retaliate.

“Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners – including Europeans and some Americans – have joined them in Syria and Iraq.

Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks,” Obama said. Republican lawmakers welcomed what they said was a tardy recognition that Islamic State represented a threat to the United States.

“A speech is not the same thing as a strategy, however,” said House of Representatives speaker John Boehner, the top US Republican. “While the president presented a compelling case for action, many questions remain about the way in which the president intends to act,” said Boehner.

In a significant move that could help rally Gulf Arab states behind the US led coalition, key ally Saudi Arabia will host inside its territory a US training effort for Syrian rebels, senior US officials said.

The effort is dependent on the US Congress approving the $500 million for the rebels. Congress is to consider the measure next week before lawmakers adjourn to campaign for November 4 elections. The funding request generally has broad support.

The Saudi decision emerged after Obama spoke by phone earlier in the day with Saudi King Abdullah, who has pressed the American government to do more resolve the Syrian conflict.

Obama, vowing he would not send US combat forces back to the region, said he was building a broad anti-Islamic State coalition involving Sunni-led governments in the region and Western allies.

US officials want allies to join in attacks on the group as well as in training and equipping Iraqi forces and Syrian rebels, and providing humanitarian relief and intelligence.

What specifically each nation will do in the coalition remains to be hammered out. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting Gulf allies in the region and Obama is to host a leaders’ security conference at the UN General Assembly in two weeks with the aim of fleshing out duties of the coalition.

Before the focus on Islamic State, Obama for months had been cool to the notion of arming the poorly organized Syrian rebels, fearing weapons provided they could end up in the wrong hands.

But he now needs the rebels to become strong enough to hold ground cleared by U.S. airstrikes, just as Iraqi forces are doing in Iraq. US officials pushed back hard against the notion that striking Islamic State strongholds in Syria would unintentionally help Assad.

They said the Sunni-majority areas in the eastern part of the country the militants hold were not places where Assad loyalists would be able to take advantage to regain control.

Obama’s speech included a dollop of election-year politics as he seeks to rally Democratic voters to prevent Republicans from seizing control of the US Senate.

He said his policies had helped bring back the US economy from a severe economic crisis that greeted him when he took office in 2009. “America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth,” he said.

 


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Google launches tool to locate those caught in Kashmir floods

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 14:45

Google has reintroduced its web and SMS-based tool to help people locate their friends and family stranded in Indian Kashmir, which is currently facing one of the worst floods in 60 years.

Google Person Finder, available in both English and Hindi, is an open source web application that allows individuals to post the details of, and search for the status of family members or friends who have been affected by the disaster.

The application has been used time and again in disaster-hit areas to post and search for information about each other’s status and whereabouts, and was created by volunteer Google engineers in response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

According to Google India Blog, if someone is worried about their loved ones in a disaster affected area, they can use the “I’m Looking for Someone” option on the web tool by typing in the name of the person they want to find.

Alternatively, if someone wants to provide information about themselves or someone they have information about, they can use the “I have information about someone” option in the web application and provide names and details.

With over 4,500 records, search can also be accessed by sending a text message from the cell phone with “search <name>” to 9773300000.

The application was made available in Pakistan during the 2010 floods. However, it was not know whether the service has been made available in Pakistan as floods once again ravage through upper Punjab.


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India arrests Sri Lankan national who allegedly spied for 'Pakistan'

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 14:13

India on Wednesday said it had arrested a Sri Lankan national on the charges of allegedly spying for a neighbouring country.

According to a statement issued by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA), Arun Selvarajan, a Sri Lankan National was arrested by the agency for his involvement in Thameem Ansari case.

The arresting authorities claimed to have recovered two passports from Selvarajan’s possession, Indian and Sri Lankan.

He had allegedly gained access to certain vital Indian installations under the guise of managing events and then had allegedly passed on information regarding these installations using internet communication tools.

Tamil Nadu intelligence on September 17, 2012 claimed to have arrested Ansari, an activist, on charges of spying at the instigation of Pakistan. He was later let go only to be charged for abusing an official of the secret police.


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No Nawaz-Modi meeting scheduled on sidelines of UN General Assembly: Aziz

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 13:20

ISLAMABAD: Advisor to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz on Wednesday told a Senate panel that no meeting was scheduled between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of UN General Assembly meeting later in September.

Speaking at the meeting of Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Aziz cast a shadow over bilateral ties between Pakistan and India.

Briefing participants of the meeting about Indo-Pak relations, including situation at Line of Control (LoC), Foreign Office officials clearly stated that at the moment, there is no back channel diplomacy with India.

The senators were also told that despite Pakistan remains committed to a meaningful dialogue process despite cancellation of foreign secretary level talks by India.

In connection with the prevailing flood conditions in the country, provisions of Indus water treaty were  also discussed.

Commenting on Pakistan-Afghan relations, Aziz said that both sides need to agree that neither will let its territories be used against the other.

On the issue of official and diplomatic passports with United Arab Emirates (UAE), the advisor said that he had held a meeting on the said issue and the problem will be resolved soon. He further said that a draft agreement was in process regarding shifting of prisoners in Pakistani and Saudi Arabian jails.

The meeting was chaired by Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel, while it was attended by Leader of the house in the Senate senator Raja Muhammad Zafarul Haq, Leader of the opposition in the Senate Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, Senator Farhatullah Babar, Senator Sehar Kamran, Senator Dr Muhammad Jahangir Bader, Senator Col (Retd) Syed Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, Senator Syed Muzafar Hussain Shah, Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed and Senator Baz Muhammad Khan.


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Iranian soldier killed in rebel attack near Pakistan border

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 11:15

TEHRAN: An Iranian soldier was killed and two pro-government militiamen wounded in a rebel attack on a border post near the international border with Pakistan in southeast Iran, state news agency IRNA reported Wednesday.

Commander Ramezan Sharif of the Revolutionary Guards, quoted by IRNA, said a soldier of the elite force was killed and two bassiji militia volunteers were wounded.

He identified the assailants as members of Jaishul Adl (Army of Justice), an extremist group, and said they suffered “heavy losses” in the attack in the Saravan region on Tuesday.

The Iranian officer claimed that the militants fled towards Pakistan.

The same group had claimed responsibility for kidnapping five Iranian soldiers in February, four of whom were released within Iranian territory in April. The fate of the other man remains unknown.

The border province of Sistan-Baluchistan, which has a large Sunni Muslim community in an otherwise predominantly Shia country, is the scene of frequent attacks by Sunni extremists and is a major drug smuggling route.


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Afghan officials say US air strike kills 11 civilians

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 07:53

KABUL: A US air strike in eastern Afghanistan killed 11 civilians, local officials said Wednesday, sparking condemnation from President Hamid Karzai who has often criticised the conduct of Nato forces now leaving the country.

Civilian casualties caused by the US-led military coalition during the war against Taliban insurgents have been one of the most contentious issues in the 13-year combat campaign that will end by December.

“As a result of a US aerial bombardment… 11 civilians, including two children and two women, were killed, and 12 more injured,” said a statement from the presidential palace.

“President Hamid Karzai condemns in the strongest terms the bombardment by American forces.”

It added the strike on Tuesday occurred in the Narang district of Kunar, one of the country’s most volatile provinces.

Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which often stresses that avoiding civilian casualties is a major priority, said it was “currently looking into the circumstances” of the operation.

It added that a separate “precision strike” elsewhere in Kunar on Tuesday resulted in the death of one armed militant and no civilian casualties.

Abdul Hadi Sayedkhil, the police chief of Kunar, told AFP that a joint Afghan-Nato patrol was ambushed in Narang by militants.

“The foreign forces called for air support and as a result of bombardment a number of militants and civilians were killed. We are investigating the incident,” he said.

Saleh Mohammad, a survivor being treated in hospital in the provincial capital Asadabad, said there had been two waves of bombings.

“Four of our villagers were on their way back home from work when airplanes bombed them,” he told AFP.

“When people went to the area to collect their bodies or take the wounded people to hospital, we were bombed again. Dozens of people, including women and children, were killed or wounded.”

While misguided US air strikes have often triggered Karzai’s fury and occasional street protests, the UN mission in Afghanistan says Nato is now responsible for only one per cent of all civilian deaths in the conflict.

Karzai, who has served since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, is due to step down as soon as a prolonged dispute over the presidential election result is resolved.

The inauguration was due on August 2, but has been repeatedly delayed as both Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah claim victory in the fraud-tainted vote.

Karzai has used his last days in office to take populist stances on issues such as civilian casualties and in calling for the hanging of gang-rapists who were given a summary trial before being sentenced to death on Sunday.

The UN is leading efforts to save Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power by trying to persuade the two poll rivals to agree on a power-sharing deal.

About 40,000 Nato combat troops are deployed in Afghanistan, with 12,000 expected to remain into 2015 on a training and support mission as local soldiers and police take on the Taliban.


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260 more Pakistanis evacuated from Libya

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 04:45

ISLAMABAD: A special chartered flight on Wednesday brought 260 more Pakistanis stranded in Libya back home, according to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement.

The flight, the seventh so far since August 13 and the second in the past two days, landed in Lahore from Tripoli this morning, bringing the total number of Pakistanis evacuated from Libya to 1,987.

According to the statement, around 1,500 Pakistanis housed in relief camps set up by the Pakistan Embassy in Tripoli are still awaiting evacuation.

Additional flights are planned during the coming weeks to ensure that all stranded Pakistanis are brought back home at the earliest, as directed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Of a total 18,000 Pakistani expatriates, 8,000 were severely affected by the outbreak of violence in Libya.


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Comedian Joan Rivers dies at age 81, daughter says

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 15:17

NEW YORK: The comedian Joan Rivers died in New York on Thursday, a week after she suffered cardiac arrest during an outpatient medical procedure, her daughter said in a statement.

She was 81.

“It is with great sadness that I announce the death of my mother, Joan Rivers. She passed peacefully at 1:17 pm, surrounded by family and close friends,” Melissa Rivers said. Rivers stopped breathing and suffered cardiac arrest in New York last week during a procedure on her vocal cords, and was placed on life support at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. The comedian, who was known for her acerbic brand of humor, had a lengthy career and most recently was host of E!’s “Fashion Police,” commenting on the unfortunate red carpet choices of Hollywood celebrities.

“My mother’s greatest joy in life was to make people laugh. Although that is difficult to do right now, I know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon,” Melissa Rivers added.


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Heavy rains kill 65 in Indian Kashmir, including wedding party

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:53

Sixty-five people were killed after heavy rains caused flash floods in Indian-administered Kashmir, including a wedding party on a bus that was swept away, officials said on Thursday.

Authorities declared a disaster alert in the northern region after two days of heavy rain hit villages across the Kashmir valley, causing the worst flooding in two decades.

“At least 40 members of a marriage party are feared dead when their bus was washed away due to flash floods,” senior police superintendent Mubassir Latifi told Reuters.

The bus accident occurred in Rajouri, 170 km (110 miles) south of the region’s main city of Srinagar. Latifi, who was monitoring the rescue operation, said five passengers had swum to safety.

“The administration has a rescue team and helicopters ready to evacuate villagers and move them to safer ground, but heavy rain is making the rescue process very difficult,” he said.

Heavy rain is expected for the next 48 hours.

The state’s main river, the Jhelum, and its tributaries are flowing several feet above the danger mark. The river flows into the Pakistani side of the disputed region.

At least 15 people, including a border guard, were killed in separate rain-related incidents.

All schools and colleges were closed and exams postponed.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh held a meeting in New Delhi to review the flood situation and has dispatched members of the National Disaster Response Force to assist the state government.

Singh had been due to visit the Himalayan region on Friday but had to cancel his trip due to the bad weather.


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India on alert after al Qaeda opens South Asia front

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 10:27

NEW DELHI: A day after al Qaeda announced a new branch to “wage jihad” in the Indian subcontinent, India has asked its security apparatus to study Wednesday’s video message.

Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri said in a video message on Wednesday (Sep 3) that the new operation would take the fight to Myanmar, Bangladesh and India, which has a large but traditionally moderate Muslim population.

The group once attracted extremists from around the world to training camps on the Afghan-Pakistan border, but has seen its global influence eclipsed by the Islamic State militant group fighting in Iraq and Syria.

India said it had asked security agencies to study the Zawahiri announcement, which experts said appeared to be a reaction to IS’ growing dominance.

“This is just a publicity stunt, it shows their desperation because IS is now showing that they are the real threat in the world right now,” said Ajit Kumar Singh, research fellow at the New Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management. “It’s a fight for supremacy between al Qaeda and the IS.”

In a video statement on Wednesday, Zawahiri singled out Assam, Gujarat and Kashmir – Indian regions with large Muslim populations – along with Bangladesh and Myanmar as territories the new organisation would target. “This entity was not established today but is the fruit of a blessed effort of more than two years to gather the ‘mujahideen’ in the Indian sub-continent into a single entity,” he said.

Al Qaeda has no role in Kashmir struggle

Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, has a long history of violence between the locals and security forces. But Kashmiris said al Qaeda has no role to play in their struggle against Indian rule of the disputed territory.

“They [al Qaeda] have no scope here. Kashmir is a local political dispute and al Qaeda has nothing to do with it,” Ayaz Akbar, spokesman for separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani told AFP.

Millions of Muslims fled India for what is now Pakistan in 1947 when the British Empire partitioned the two countries at independence, and tensions persist between those who remain and the Hindu majority.

Indian Muslims have also been the victims of violence led by Hindu extremists. Hundreds died during the 2002 Gujarat riots, at a time when India’s now Prime Minister Narendra Modi was chief minister of the state. 

Opening a new front

While still regarded as a threat to the West, al Qaeda’s most destructive strike remains the September 11, 2001 attacks by hijacked airliners on New York and Washington. It is active in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where its surviving leadership are thought to be hiding out, but has been significantly weakened there by a decade-long campaign of Pakistani security forces and US drone strikes on its hideouts.

After the death of its figurehead Osama bin Laden in May 2011, it was eclipsed first by its own offshoots in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and now by IS.

Zawahiri on Wednesday called on the “umma,” or Muslim nation, to unite around “tawhid,” or monotheism, “to wage jihad against its enemies, to liberate its land, to restore its sovereignty and to revive its caliphate.” He said the group would recognise the overarching leadership of the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and be led day-to-day by senior Pakistani militant Asim Umar.

A senior Afghan Taliban commander told AFP that Asim Umar – not his real name – was a Pakistani national who has written books on the history of Islamic military struggles and predictions for future conflict. Local officials say many of the Arabs once drawn to al Qaeda in Pakistan have moved to join the fight in Syria and Iraq, and there is anecdotal evidence of Pakistanis joining them, though numbers are hard to ascertain.

But there have been very few reports of young Indian men leaving to fight Muslim extremist causes abroad, which experts say is because local grievances have kept them at home. “We don’t know about any active Al-Qaeda cell or members in India until now,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Pakistani expert on militant movements.

“Now they are trying again. It could be due to the rise of IS and the drop in support for al Qaeda, defections in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere – now they are trying to open a new front. But the problem is that if your support base is shrinking in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan – these were al Qaeda strongholds – if al Qaeda is losing there, you can’t hope that it will get some new recruits in India or Burma (formerly Myanmar).”

Muslims are a minority in Myanmar, and the stateless Rohingya have complained of persecution by the Buddhist majority, but the country has not seen violence linked to hard line interpretations of Islam. Bangladesh has only limited history of involvement with Muslim extremist causes abroad, although local militant groups that count Afghan-trained militants among their members have carried out a series of attacks in the country since 1999. Bangladeshi authorities said they were looking into the video.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Security clearance: Uncertainty surrounds Chinese president’s visit to Pakistan

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 09:23

ISLAMABAD: Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Pakistan has been postponed after his security team denied giving him clearance to visit the country, Express News reported quoting sources. However, the Foreign Office and the Chinese embassy refused to comment on the President’s trip.

When asked during the weekly briefing whether the Chinese president’s impending visit was being reviewed owing to the political crisis in Islamabd, the Foreign Office spokesperson said ”both sides are closely monitoring the situation in Islamabad.”

However, she refused to comment further.

“There has been no formal announcement of the visit or dates,” spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said adding that discussions were still going on for the visit.

“You mentioned the arrival of a team; this is a normal procedure to discuss the administrative arrangements whenever such visits are planned.”

The Chinese embassy too did not offer any comment on the impending visit.

Jinping’s security delegation arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday to review the situation on the ground in light of protests, and it was reported that they were allegedly not satisfied with the arrangements.

President Jinping’s visit is seen as crucial for Pakistan, during which a number of economic and defence deals are expected to be signed between the two countries.

Last month, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa also cancelled his visit to Pakistan in the wake of the country’s political situation.

The cancellation of Rajapaksa’s visit was seen as a major blow to the government at a time when the country was deep in the throes of political turmoil and uncertainty.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

India, Australia to sign nuclear deal as Abbott visits

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 08:13

MUMBAI: Australia’s prime minister on Thursday hailed a uranium deal he is due to sign with India as a “sign of trust”, following a long-standing ban on selling the fuel to the nuclear-armed nation amid proliferation fears.

Tony Abbott is expected to sign the agreement allowing uranium sales to India when he meets the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a fellow conservative, in Delhi on Friday, during a visit aimed at boosting trade ties.

Australia, the world’s third biggest uranium producer, had previously ruled out such exports to energy-starved India because it has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But Abbott said his government has now received the necessary commitments from New Delhi about only using the ore for its civilian nuclear programme.

“India has an absolutely impeccable non-proliferation record and India has been a model international citizen,” he told reporters in Mumbai, on the first leg of his two-day visit.

“India threatens no one, India is the friend to many, it is the world’s emerging democratic superpower. This is an important sign of the mutual trust that exists between Australia and India.”

India and Australia kick-started negotiations on uranium sales in 2012 after Canberra lifted a long-time ban on exporting the valuable ore to Delhi to meet its ambitious nuclear energy program.

Both India and its neighboring rival Pakistan are nuclear-armed, and along with Israel and North Korea are the only countries not signed up to the non-proliferation treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Australia’s nuclear cooperation agreement for peaceful power generation will potentially ramp up India’s plans for more nuclear power stations, with only 20 small plants at present and a heavy dependency on coal.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

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