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Florida jury awards record $23 billion against RJ Reynolds

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 05:29

ORLANDO: A Florida jury has awarded the widow of a chain smoker who died of lung cancer 18 years ago record punitive damages of more than $23 billion in her lawsuit against the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, the nation’s second-biggest cigarette maker.

The judgement, returned on Friday night, was the largest in Florida history in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a single plaintiff, according to Ryan Julison, a spokesman for the woman’s lawyer, Chris Chestnut.

Cynthia Robinson of the Florida Panhandle city of Pensacola sued the cigarette maker in 2008 over the death of her husband,  Michael Johnson, claiming the company conspired to conceal the health dangers and addictive nature of its products.

Johnson, a hotel shuttle bus driver who died of lung cancer in 1996 at age 36, smoked one to three packs a day for more 20 years, starting at age 13, Chestnut said. “He couldn’t quit. He was smoking the day he died,” the lawyer told Reuters on Saturday.

After a four-week trial and 11 hours of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict granting compensatory damages of $7.3 million to the widow and the couple’s child, and $9.6 million to Johnson’s son from a previous relationship.

The same jury deliberated for another seven hours before awarding Robinson the additional sum of $23.6 billion in punitive damages, according to the verdict forms.

Lawyers for the tobacco company, a unit of Reynolds American Inc whose brands include Camel, Kool, Winston and Pall Mall cigarettes, could not immediately be reached for comment. But J Jeffery Raborn, vice president and assistant general counsel for RJ Reynolds, said in a statement quoted by the New York Times that the company planned to challenge “this runaway verdict.”

Such industry appeals are often successful. Chestnut countered, “This wasn’t a runaway jury, it was a courageous one.” He said jurors appeared to have been swayed by evidence of the company’s aggressive marketing of tobacco products, particularly promotions aimed at young people, and by its claims that it was Johnson’s choice to smoke.

“They lied to Congress, they lied to the public, they lied to smokers and tried to blamed the smoker,” he said.

Robinson’s lawsuit originally was part of a large class-action litigation known as the “Engle case,” filed in 1994 against tobacco companies. A jury in that case returned a verdict in 2000 in favour of the plaintiffs awarding $145 billion in punitive damages, which at the time was the largest such judgement in US history.

That award, however, was tossed out in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court, which decertified the class, agreeing with a lower court that the group was too disparate and that each consumer had smoked for different reasons. But the court said the plaintiffs could file lawsuits individually. Robinson was one of them. The Florida high court also let stand the jury’s findings that cigarettes are defective and cause disease, and that Big Tobacco was negligent, meaning those issues did not have to be re-litigated in future lawsuits.

The US Supreme Court last month declined to hear a series of tobacco company appeals, mainly from RJ Reynolds, seeking to overturn Florida court judgements totalling more than $70 million.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Malaysia Airlines to refund cancellations after MH17

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 04:51

KUALA LAMPUR: Malaysia Airlines said it would offer full refunds to customers who want to cancel their tickets in the wake of the MH17 disaster, just months after the carrier suffered another blow when flight MH370 disappeared.

Passengers can change or cancel their tickets without financial penalty until Thursday for travel throughout the rest of the year, the struggling national airline said.

“In light of the MH17 incident, Malaysia Airlines will be waiving any change fees for passengers who wish to make changes to their itinerary to any MH destinations,” it said in a statement.

“Passengers who wish to postpone or cancel their travel plans can obtain a refund, including for non-refundable tickets.”

A spokesperson Sunday confirmed Malaysia Airlines would refund cancelled tickets in full, with the costs borne by the carrier.

She said she could not reveal how many customers had already taken up the offer.

Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur is believed to have been shot out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile, crashing in strife-torn eastern Ukraine Thursday with 298 people from a dozen countries on board.

The disaster came four months after the disappearance of Flight MH370, which lost contact with air controllers on March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

The plane is believed to have mysteriously gone off course and crashed into the southern Indian Ocean, but an extensive search has so far found no sign of the wreckage.

Both planes were Boeing 777-200s.

Whereas Malaysia Airlines and the government were widely slammed for their handling of the MH370 crisis, some Malaysians rallied behind the national flag carrier and its staff after the latest tragedy, saying they would still fly with it.

“I admire how they chinned up after mh370 to soldier on n serve with a smile. Yes let’s stand behind them,” one user posted on Face book.

Shares in Malaysia Airlines sank Friday with analysts warning of the firm’s collapse without government help.

The airline said in May that MH370′s disappearance had a “dramatic impact” on its first-quarter results, with cancelled bookings helping push the company to a loss of $140 million.

State fund Khazanah Nasional, which holds the airline’s purse strings, said in June it would announce a plan to revive the carrier within six to 12 months.

Malaysia Airlines had already mounted up losses totalling $1.3 billion over the previous three years.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Ukraine rebels refuse access to Malaysia jet crash site until truce

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 04:45

UKRAINE: Ukraine’s pro-Russian rebels defied mounting world outrage on Sunday and said they would allow international monitors to safely access the site of a downed Malaysia jet only if Kiev agreed to a truce.

The tough terms were set as global anger rose at an increasingly isolated Russia over its perceived failure to pressure the insurgents into opening passage to where the remains of 298 victims whose lives were cut short on Thursday lay scattered in stifling heat along wheat and sunflower fields.

Insurgents who have been in control of Ukraine’s eastern rustbelt since early April had allowed only limited freedom of manoeuvre to a 30-member team of monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who have been trying to assure respectful treatment of the remains since Friday.

Ukraine accuses Russia of helping the gun-toting militias of hiding and destroying vital evidence that could prove their alleged involvement in the downing of the Malaysia Airline Boeing 777 on Thursday afternoon.

But top Russian officials and Moscow’s state media have suggested that the new Kiev leaders staged the attack to blame the rebels and convince their Western allies to deploy troops and help seal Ukraine’s porous border with its giant eastern neighbour.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that Washington was “deeply concerned” that investigators were being denied “proper access” to the wreckage of MH17 that was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed.

And Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte – his shocked nation flying flags at half mast over the weekend in mourning over 192 lost compatriots — said he had urged Russian President Vladimir Putin during a “very intense” call to “take responsibility” for a credible probe.

Investigators from the Netherlands were set to arrive in eastern Ukraine Sunday.

Moscow released a terse statement after Kerry’s talks with Lavrov calling for “material evidence, including black boxes” to be handed over to international inspectors so that they could take immediate charge of an independent probe.

But Putin firmly denies exerting any control over the uprising and a top rebel commander sent an email to the media on Sunday putting conditions on unfettered access to the grisly site that Kiev has rejected for weeks.

“We declare that we will guarantee the safety of international experts on the scene as soon as Kiev concludes a ceasefire agreement,” the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic’s deputy premier Andrei Purgin wrote.

The rebel added in explosive language that has characterised the public relations battle being waged amid the crisis that Kiev’s failure to strike a deal would give the impression that the government was made up of “dangerous lunatics (and) bloodthirsty maniacs”.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko – a 48-year-old chocolate baron who won a May election following the ouster of a Kremlin-backed regime – ripped up a shaky truce on July 1 and has refused to announce a new one until the separatists give up their arms.

Poroshenko spent much of the day Saturday pressing world leaders to recognise the militias as a terrorist organisation that should be put on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

He told French President Francois Hollande that the downing near Ukraine’s Russian border of flight MH17 was similar to such atrocities as the 2001 attacks on the United States.

“We see no difference between the events in Ukraine and what happened on September 11 in the United States or the tragedy over Scotland’s Lockerbie,” Poroshenko said in reference to the 1988 bombing for Pan Am Flight 103 that claimed nearly 300 lives.

The MH17 disaster came less than a day after the United States unleashed punishing sanctions against some of Russia’s most important energy and military firms – most of them with links to Putin – and urged more hesitant European leaders to follow suit.

The European Union – many of its member states dependent on Russian gas – took the far less punitive step on Friday of curbing some future investments in Russia and leaving the option open for broader sanctions.

But British Prime Minister David Cameron raised the prospect on Saturday of fresh EU sanctions against Russia over the Malaysian plane crash, saying the West must “fundamentally change our approach” unless Moscow alters course in Ukraine.

“Russia can use this moment to find a path out of this festering, dangerous crisis. I hope it will do so. But if that does not happen then we must respond robustly,” he wrote in an article in The Sunday Times.

Cameron added that confirmation of the plane being blown out of the sky at 33,000 feet by a surface-to-air missile fired from an area held by the rebels would place the responsibility firmly on Russia.

“If it is the case, then we must be clear what it means: this is a direct result of Russia destabilising a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias, and training and arming them,” Cameron wrote.

The Kremlin has accused Western leaders of assigning responsibility before any firm conclusions from an independent probe were reached.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Lebanon arrests two over horrific child beating video

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 04:43

BEIRUT: Lebanon has arrested a man who spurred his two-year-old son to beat up a Syrian child after a video of the shocking blows went viral, state media reported on Sunday.

The cousin of the boy named Abbas, who taped the video which was posted online overnight Friday, was also arrested, the National News Agency said, quoting a police statement.

It identified the victim as a nine-year-old boy from Syria named Khaled. In the footage posted by Ya Sour website, Abbas swings a club at Khaled, beating him on various parts of his body, slapping him and kicking him, as adults who are heard but not seen urge him on.

Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi ordered an investigation and late on Saturday police arrested “Abbas’s father and his cousin who taped the video after a probe involving online activists,” the news agency said.

The video caused outrage across Lebanon with angry comments posted on Facebook and Twitter, and one user saying she was “ashamed of being Lebanese”.

In the video, Abbas clutches a club with his pudgy hands, hitting the other boy, punching him in the face, slapping him and kicking him in the shin.

Adults and children off screen demand a tougher beating and order the boy, who tries repeatedly to shield himself with his arms, to stay still.

“Abbas hit him, don’t be afraid,” a male voice says.

Abbas, who has a pony tail and fine features like a girl, is told to slap the boy and does so, then is told to kick him in the stomach and again complies as if it is a game.

The victim whimpers, gets on his knees, implores God and tries again to shield himself.

Another voice, seemingly a young boy, is heard saying: “That wasn’t too hard,” referring to the blows.

The male adult comments: “No it isn’t strong” and urges Abbas to give the other child “a boxing”. “Yalla Abbas,” he says using an Arabic word that means ‘go on’.

“When I saw this shameful video I felt, for the first time, ashamed of being Lebanese,” said one Facebook user.

Another commentator accused the parents of Abbas of “raising the child to be a racist from his early age.”

Lebanon hosts more than a million refugees from Syria’s civil war and Rifi told AFP the boy was probably Syrian from the eastern Bekaa Valley where many Syrians have found refuge.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

China typhoon death toll rises to 17 as more rain expected

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 04:38

BEIJING: The death toll from the strongest storm to hit China in decades has reached 17, state media said Sunday, as forecasters issued warnings of more extreme weather.

Typhoon Rammasun has left eight people dead in the island province of Hainan and another nine in Guangxi, official news agency Xinhua reported.

At least two people are missing, Xinhua added citing local authorities, as the strongest typhoon to hit south China since 1973 headed north.

State media said Saturday evening that eight people had been killed in the storm.

Television pictures Sunday showed waterlogged roads and heavy rain in the south-western province of Yunnan. Online pictures showed uprooted trees, destroyed crops and deserted, rain-soaked streets across much of southern China.

The typhoon first made landfall in China on Friday afternoon as a super typhoon, packing winds exceeding 200 kilometres an hour.

Weather authorities in China issued a “red” alert warning for Rammasun on Saturday – the most severe of China’s four colour-code warnings.

But the storm has since been downgraded “as it is abating and affecting fewer Chinese localities”, Xinhua added.

All the airports on Hainan had re-opened on Sunday, as ferry, rail and bus services resumed, it said.

Meanwhile, China’s National Meteorological Centre was warning that downpours triggered by the typhoon were expected in northern parts of China in the coming days.

Rammasun – meaning “Thunder God” in Thai – has caused at least 94 deaths in the Philippines, where it hit before lashing China.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Palestinian leadership slams Israel 'massacre' in Shejaiya

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 04:18

GAZA CITY: The Palestinian leadership on Sunday condemned a blistering Israeli attack on Gaza’s Shejaiya neighbourhood as a “massacre” after more than 60 people were killed.

In a statement, the newly-inaugurated Palestinian government described the attack as a “war crime” which required immediate international intervention.

“The Palestinian consensus government condemned in the strongest terms the heinous massacre committed by the Israeli occupation forces against innocent Palestinian civilians in the neighbourhood of Shejaiya,” it said.

The office of president Mahmud Abbas also issued a similar statement condemning the attack as a “massacre.”

Humanitarian truce collapses

The humanitarian truce in a neighbourhood in the Gaza Strip collapsed only an hour after it started, as Israel “responded to Hamas fire”, the army said on Sunday.

According to the health ministry, the death toll from the 13-day assault has gone past 400.

According to an Israeli military spokesperson, Israel had earlier agreed to a two-hour humanitarian truce, which Hamas had also agreed to abide by.

The ceasefire, requested by the International Committee of the Red Cross, was scheduled to last from 1:30pm to 3:30pm (local time) in the Shejaia district, where health officials said at least 50 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. However, the truce collapsed short after it was scheduled to start.

“The ICRC contacted (us) and offered to broker a three-hour humanitarian truce to enable ambulances to evacuate the dead and wounded and Hamas accepted it,” spokesperon Sami Abu Zuhri had said in a statement.

“Hamas agreed on it but the occupation refused it,” he had claimed, although Israeli public radio reported that the Israeli government was studying the proposal.

Contacted by AFP, an ICRC spokesperson said: “We have been making every effort to ensure ways to evacuate the dead and the wounded.”

Thousands were fleeing northern Gaza on Sunday after a night of fierce bombardment as Israel expanded a ground assault on day 13.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon was to arrive in the region to add his weight to truce efforts.

On the ground, the streets of the northern district of Shejaiya were filled with thousands of civilians fleeing for their lives after heavy shelling left casualties lying in the streets, an AFP correspondent reported.

Ambulances were unable to reach much of the area along the border because of heavy fire, and emergency services told AFP there were reports of dead and wounded trapped by the bombardment.

At Shifa hospital, casualties were being brought in by the minute, some in ambulances, but others in cars and trucks.

Emergency services spokesperson Ashraf al Qudra said at least 20 bodies had been retrieved from the eastern Shejaiya district, but ongoing fire was preventing the evacuation of many more.

Sabah Mamluk, 40, arrived at the hospital with her mother and her two daughters, both of them barefoot.

“The shelling was non-stop, it was everywhere,” she told AFP.

“We ran into the streets and started to walk. It was terrifying. We got split up and found an ambulance that could bring us, but my husband is still there with the rest of the children and I can’t reach him by telephone.”

Early on Sunday, the army confirmed two more soldiers had been killed overnight, raising to seven the overall Israeli toll.

Four soldiers were killed on Saturday, among them two who died in a raid inside Israel. Another was killed by an anti-tank missile while the fourth died in a firefight with a militant, the army said.

Israel said its ground operation to destroy the network of tunnels used by militants to stage deadly cross-border attacks was to “expand” later Sunday.

“This evening, the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge expands, as additional forces join the effort to combat terror in the Gaza Strip and establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security,” the army said.

Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said that since the ground operation began late on Thursday, 70 militants had been killed, and 190 rockets had hit Israel.

Before dawn, an intensive artillery barrage struck areas east of Gaza City, killing at least two children, medics said.

The increasing number of children killed in the conflict is causing a growing outcry, with a joint statement from NGOs War Child and Defence for Children International saying more children had been killed than militants.

Figures provided by the UN children’s agency on Sunday showed that at least 73 of the victims were under the age of 18.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas was entirely responsible for any civilian casualties, accusing the group of “using innocent civilians as human shields.”

Earlier this week, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees expressed outrage after finding 20 rockets stored in one of its empty schools in Gaza.

UNRWA has opened 49 of its schools to shelter those fleeing the most heavily bombarded areas. So far, more than 60,000 Gazans have sought sanctuary at UN institutions, the agency said.

Meanwhile, Hamas confirmed Meshaal had received an invitation for talks in Cairo on an Egyptian peace initiative.

Although the mlitant movement had made its position clear, it was “ready to cooperate with a move by any party that will achieve the specific Palestinian demands,” a statement said.

The Egyptian foreign ministry was not able to confirm or deny the new invitation.

Earlier this week, an Egyptian truce proposal was accepted by Israel, but snubbed by Hamas which said it had not been consulted.

Hamas’s relations with Cairo have soured significantly since the military ousted its ally, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But it is close to both Turkey and Qatar, where Meshaal is based.

Abbas and Meshaal were to meet in Doha later Sunday to discuss the Egyptian-proposed truce, an official close to Abbas said.

Hamas is demanding a complete end to the Israeli blockade on Gaza, that the Rafah crossing with Egypt be opened, and that Israel free scores of veteran prisoners who were re-arrested in recent weeks.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

India rains halt exhumation of bodies of gang-raped girls

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 04:14

LUCKNOW: India’s monsoon rains Sunday halted the exhumation of the bodies of two girls who were gang-raped and lynched, crimes that reignited fury over sexual violence in the country, an official said.

Authorities began digging up the bodies of the cousins, aged 12 and 14, on Saturday after local police cast doubt on whether they were sexually assaulted in northern India in late May.

Local police have claimed the girls may have been the victims of an honour killing. But the families of the girls have accused officers of failing to act quickly in the case because they are from a lower caste.

India’s federal Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) ordered a new autopsy after taking over the inquiry into the deaths of the girls who have been buried on the banks of the Ganges River in Uttar Pradesh state.

The CBI was now mulling whether to resume the exhumation after the graves were submerged by rising water levels caused by the rains.

“The CBI team is on the site reviewing the situation to plan the future course of action as the river is in spate,” local police senior superintendent LR Kumar told AFP.

“The process can practically resume only when the water level recedes,” said local district magistrate Shambhu Nath.

India has been trying to restore its battered reputation for violence against women, but public outrage was reignited by the deaths of the girls who were found hanging near their homes in Baduan district.

The girls had gone outside at night to relieve themselves because like most homes in their impoverished village theirs did not have a toilet when they were attacked.

Five men have been arrested over the incident.

India brought in tougher laws last year against sexual offenders after the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi in December 2012, an attack that drew international condemnation of India’s treatment of women.

But the legislation, which was also designed to educate and sensitise police on rape cases, has failed to stem the tide of violence.

A women was raped and murdered in the Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow last week, with her battered, naked body found dumped near a school.

In the southern city of Bangalore, thousands of demonstrators marched on Saturday to demand arrests in the case of a six-year-old girl allegedly raped in a school.

Parents accused school authorities of trying to shield suspects and “hush up the criminal act”.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

LoC violation: Indian firing kills one Pakistani

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 00:39

SIALKOT: One person was killed in Mirajke area along the Pakistani side of the Line of Control after India’s Border Security Force (BSF) allegedly opened fire, Express News reported on Sunday.

According to sources in Pakistan Rangers, the BSF has been firing mortars across the border in Charwa sector since 12:30am.

Spokesperson for Punjab Rangers said troops have responded to BSF’s “unprovoked firing”.

The firing also left three women and a child injured, who were shifted to Combined Military Hospital, Sialkot for medical assistance.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Paris Principles: Two decades after pledge, govt fails to form rights panel

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 00:08

ISLAMABAD: 

The federal government has failed to constitute the National Commission for Human Rights for the promotion and protection of rights in the country in view of the National Commission for Human Rights Act, 2012. Though the law was promulgated in May 2012, the federal government has yet to start the process of appointing members of the commission.

According to the Paris Principles which were adopted at the first International Workshop on National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights held in Paris in October 1991, and endorsed by the UN General Assembly, member states must establish national rights institutions.

Nearly 100 national human rights institutions have been subsequently constituted by member states. However, even after nearly 21 years, Pakistan has failed to constitute a national human rights commission.

However, PPP MNA Nafisa Shah told The Express Tribune that a meeting is being held tomorrow (Monday) to finalise the names of members of the commission, adding that there are names from the government and the opposition.

According to the National Commission for Human Rights Act 2012, the commission must consist of 10 members, including a chairperson and a member each from the four provinces, Fata and Islamabad Capital Territory, minority communities and the chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women. Two seats must be allocated to women within the commission.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Special emissary: Fear of Afghan action prompted Achakzai’s trip

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 23:54

ISLAMABAD: 

Leader of Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party Mehmood Khan Achakzai revealed on Saturday that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had flown him to Kabul as his special emissary last month in the wake of credible information that the Afghan government was “likely to take some action against Pakistan”.

On June 19, the foreign ministry confirmed Achakzai’s Kabul sojourn amid speculation that the PkMAP leader was seeking Mullah Fazlullah’s extradition and eliciting its cooperation in Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

However, in an interview with BBC Pashto, Achakzai said, “The government received intelligence from very credible sources that Kabul is planning something against Pakistan.” He added, “The Pakistani leadership insisted that they do not want any misunderstanding or a dangerous situation between the two friendly countries.”

Achakzai said the government asked him to discuss the issue with President Hamid Karzai and the foreign secretary accompanied him on the trip. Achakzai had two meetings with the Afghan president, and the Pakistani foreign secretary and close aides to President Karzai were present at one meeting.

Achakzai did not discuss Karzai’s reaction to Pakistan’s concerns. Pakistan had shared the information of a possible ‘plan’ with ambassadors of the US, China and other countries, he added.

Achakzai said Kabul is mulling a response to the alleged cross-border attack by Pakistani forces that left three Afghan National Army soldiers dead in Kunar in June. President Karzai reportedly instructed his security forces to prepare for a response to the attacks, according to a statement issued in Kabul last month.

Afghan foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmad Shakib Mustaghni had also claimed that Pakistani forces entered Dangam district in Kunar province in civilian clothes and attacked Afghan soldiers, a charge denied by Pakistan.

“If Pakistan and Afghanistan want to end terrorism, they will have to make a commitment that they will not shelter armed opponents in their respective countries,” said Achakzai, referring to Karzai’s claims that Islamabad supports Afghan Taliban. Discussing Operation Zarb-e-Azb, he said the operation was launched ‘in a hurry’ and no one had prior information. “The ill-planned operation uprooted hundreds of thousands of people when there was no settlement mechanism for the IDPs,” he said.

Achakzai questioned why many Uzbek, Arab, Chechen and militants from other countries entered Waziristan. “Who supplied dangerous weapons, food and other facilities to these foreign militants who have launched attacks on the GHQ and other sensitive installations?” he asked.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Putin must take responsibility for crash site access: Dutch PM

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 23:52

THE HAGUE: 

The Netherlands on Saturday called upon Russian President Vladimir Putin to ‘take responsibility’ for access to the MH17 crash site, as Malaysia said evidence at the location was being compromised.

“Vladimir Putin must act to allow access to the crash site so bodies can be removed,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Saturday after a ‘very intense’ conversation with the Russian president. The premier told journalists he was ‘shocked’ by news images of ‘shameless’ rebels handling passenger possessions and walking around the crash site.

Rutte’s statement came as Kiev accused pro-Russian insurgents of destroying evidence at the crash site.

“Terrorists with the support of Russia are trying to destroy proof of this international crime,” a furious statement issued by the Ukrainian government said. It accused rebels of refusing to hand over the plane’s black box and moving 38 bodies to a morgue in insurgent-controlled Donetsk.

Rebel leader Oleksandr Borodai told reporters that militias had never recovered the data recorders and denied tampering with any evidence.

Malaysia’s transport minister also expressed alarm over “indications that vital evidence has not been preserved in place” by militias guarding the site. “Failure to stop such interference would be a betrayal of the lives that were lost,” Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said. 

Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2014.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Diplomatic effort intensifies as Gaza death toll reaches 350

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 21:22

GAZA CITY: Fresh Israeli bombardments killed five people in Gaza Sunday, hiking the death toll from the assault to over 350, as diplomatic efforts to end the conflict picked up with UN chief Ban Ki-moon due in the region.

As Israel pressed its air, sea and ground offensive against the besieged coastal territory, Hamas refused to yield, continuing assaults and reiterating its demands for any ceasefire to take place.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal was to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Qatar to discuss an Egyptian-proposed truce on Sunday, and the movement said it had received an invite to Cairo for ceasefire talks.

On day 13 of the bloodiest Gaza conflict in several years, early morning Israeli strikes in the southern city of Rafah killed five men, medics said, raising the total death toll to 348 Palestinians.

Five Israelis have been killed, including two soldiers in a Saturday commando-style raid inside Israeli territory by Hamas militants.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon departed New York on Saturday and was due in the region on Sunday to bolster intense diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the bloodshed, which has included a high civilian toll.

#UNSG's #MiddleEast travels to take him to Doha, Kuwait City, Cairo, Jerusalem, Ramallah & Amman http://t.co/PJpukCusOL

— UN Spokesperson (@UN_Spokesperson) July 19, 2014

Israel says its operation aims to stamp out militant cross-border rocket fire, and violence has intensified since it launched a ground operation in Gaza on Thursday.

Among some 47 Palestinians killed Saturday – one of the bloodiest days of the conflict – were two six-year-olds and a toddler, emergency services spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said.

The increasing number of children killed in the conflict is causing a growing outcry, with a joint statement from NGOs War Child and Defence for Children International saying more children had been killed than militants.

Figures provided by the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, indicate 73 of the victims were under the age of 18.

Total death toll since 8 July has reached 314 people & about 2,260 injured. At least 70 children are amongst the total dead.

— UNRWA (@UNRWA) July 19, 2014

“Children should be protected from the violence, and they should not be the victims of a conflict for which they have no responsibility,” UNICEF’s Catherine Weibel told AFP.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu absolved Israel of all responsibility Saturday for civilian casualties, laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of Hamas.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office cited him as telling Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a phone call that Hamas was “using innocent civilians as human shields for its terrorist activities; it is responsible if civilians are inadvertently hit.”

#Gaza: 900,000 people affected by lack of adequate access to water and sanitation services http://t.co/tIw7imm12v pic.twitter.com/xxdQ5Tus7D

— UNOCHA (@UNOCHA) July 19, 2014

The UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, said earlier in the week it found 20 rockets stored in one of its schools in Gaza, condemning the “group or groups” involved.

UNRWA has opened 49 of its schools to shelter those fleeing the most heavily-bombarded areas.

So far, more than 60,000 Gazans have sought sanctuary at UN institutions, the agency said.

As Ban headed for the region to help Israelis and Palestinians “end the violence and find a way forward”, Hamas said it had received an invitation to Cairo to discuss a ceasefire proposed by Egypt.

Hamas “received an invitation, through mediators, for a delegation headed by Khaled Meshaal to visit Cairo and discuss the Egyptian initiative,” it said in a statement.

It said the extremist movement’s “response was that its position on the initiative is known, but it is at the same time ready to cooperate with a move by any party that will achieve the specific Palestinian demands.”

Hamas earlier in the week rejected an Egyptian proposal for a truce – which was accepted by Israel – saying that it had not been consulted and demanded a full settlement before it ceased firing.

An Egyptian foreign ministry official said he could not confirm or deny the new invitation.

Hamas relations with Egypt have hit a low since Cairo’s military regime took power last July, ousting Hamas ally the Muslim Brotherhood.

Turkey and Qatar, where Meshaal is based, are more sympathetic to the movement.

Abbas and Meshaal will meet in Qatar Sunday to discuss the Egyptian-proposed truce, an official close to Abbas said.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum told AFP his movement had given “the demands of the resistance to all the parties concerned, including Qatar, Turkey and the Arab League” as well as Abbas and Egypt.

The demands included an end of the “war on the Gaza Strip,” a complete lift of the siege on it, opening the Rafah crossing with Egypt, freedom of movement in the border areas, cancelling the buffer zone and expanding the freedom to fish 12 nautical miles from shore.

In addition, Hamas demanded the release of its members who had been freed in a 2011 deal and recently re-arrested in an Israeli crackdown on the West Bank.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Border violation: Heavy Indian shelling, firing in Sialkot sector injures three

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 19:15

SIALKOT: The Indian Border Forces carried out intense mortar shelling and firing in the Sialkot sector along the international border early on Sunday morning, Express News reported.

According to details, Indian army resorted to heavy firing in the Akhnoor sector in Sialkot.

“As a result of the firing three people were injured including a woman,” said Rescue 1122.

The injured were shifted from their native Pamal village to Allama Iqbal civil hospital for treatment.

Pakistani border forces, the Chenab Rangers, retaliated to the attacks in kind.

Sunday’s border violations follow similar Indian violations from earlier in the week which had left at least two Pakistani civilians had been were injured in those cross-border violations.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

US 'deeply concerned' Ukraine crash investigators denied access

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 16:51

WASHINGTON: Top US diplomat John Kerry told his Russian counterpart Saturday that Washington was “deeply concerned” that international investigators were being denied access to a passenger jet’s crash site in Ukraine.

President Barack Obama and other world leaders have expressed outrage and demanded Russia’s full cooperation with what is becoming a monumentally challenging probe into the shooting down of a Kuala Lumpur-bound Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam with 298 people from a dozen countries on board.

In a telephone call, Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that “the United States remains deeply concerned that for the second day in a row, OSCE monitors and international investigators were denied proper access to the crash site,” the State Department said.

“The United States is also very concerned about reports that the remains of some victims and debris from the site are being tampered with or inappropriately removed from the site.”

Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe spokesperson Michael Bociurkiw said earlier that the Vienna-based group’s monitoring team on the ground had been “unable today, for the second day, to gain any answers” about the fate of the plane’s critical black box flight data recorders.

In Moscow’s account of the Kerry-Lavrov conversation, it said it had demanded that “material evidence, including black boxes” must be immediately handed over to inspectors.

Gunmen backed up by muscular diplomatic support from the Kremlin have shown few signs of being ready to cooperate with an investigation that could blame them for blowing apart the Boeing 777 jet.

Kiev said armed fighters were hours away from loading vital clues aboard trucks that would be rushed across the Russian border before a full team of experts inspected the expansive site where remains of flight MH17 hit the ground.

Kerry urged Russia, in his call with Lavrov, to take “immediate and clear actions” to reduce tensions in neighboring Ukraine that have pushed the country into an escalating civil war and East-West standoff.

Those steps include to “call on pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine to lay down arms, release all hostages and engage in a political dialogue toward peace with the Ukrainian government; to halt the flow of weapons and fighters into eastern Ukraine and to allow OSCE observers to help secure the border,” the State Department added.

“The secretary (Kerry) particularly stressed the international call for investigators to receive full, immediate and unfettered access to the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site.”

Earlier, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by phone with Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, whose country lost 192 citizens aboard Flight MH17.

The pair stressed “the difficulty investigators are experiencing in gaining unimpeded and secure access to the crash site,” Pentagon spokesperson Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

Hennis-Plasschaert “highlighted the Netherlands’ desire to have the victims returned to their families as soon as possible, balanced with the need to support and complete a credible investigation,” Kirby added.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Arms race: India approves defence procurements worth $3.5 bn, says report

Sat, 07/19/2014 - 15:42

NEW DELHI: India’s new government on Saturday cleared proposals worth nearly $3.5 billion in a desperate bid modernise the nation’s ageing Soviet-era military hardware and boost its fledgling domestic defence industry, a report said.

The move underscored the desire of the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to move quickly to update the country’s military as India looks to defend itself against an increasingly assertive China and from traditional rivals Pakistan and an increasing scepter of terrorism in the region.

The government earlier this month announced a 12 per cent rise in military spending in the annual budget as part of efforts to overhaul its armed forces, declaring “there can be no compromise” with defence.

The Defence Acquisition Council on Saturday approved defence procurement proposals worth INR210 billion ($3.48 billion), many of which were longstanding, at a meeting chaired by Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, the Press Trust of India said.

“There are many proposals in the pipeline for the defence forces,” Jaitley said at the first council’s first meeting since the Bharatiya Janata Party government took office in May after scoring a landslide election victory.

“Today, we have tried to expedite quite a few of them,” Jaitley, who is also the finance minister, was quoted by the PTI as saying.

Defence ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

India is one of the world’s biggest arms importers, traditionally relying on Russia and in more recent years the United States and Europe for equipment and technology due to weaknesses with its own industry.

But slow procurement over decades and the collapse of a string of defence deals during the previous centre-left Congress party government’s rule has left the military short of key equipment.

The BJP has been pushing for greater indigenisation of the military industry as India imports around 70 per cent of its defence hardware.

Among the major proposals to receive approval was an INR90-billion tender to provide five fleet support ships for its burgeoning yet disaster-prone navy that would be open to all public and private sector shipyards, PTI said citing defence ministry officials.

In his first budget, Jaitley hiked defence spending for the current financial year to INR2.29 trillion ($38.3 billion). He also said he would further open up the military industry to foreign investment, lifting the cap to 49 per cent from 26 per cent, with Indian companies retaining overall control.

But defence analysts said the new limit would fail to lure foreign firms because it was less than 50 per cent and they feared losing rights to sensitive technology.

Western nations are wooing India’s government in hopes of clinching multi-billion arms deals while New Delhi is keen to leverage their eagerness to do business to win technology transfers.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

China braces for Super Typhoon Rammasun

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 03:07

BEIJING: China on Friday braced for a powerful super typhoon heading for its southern coast after the storm left a trail of destruction and at least 40 dead in the neighbouring Philippines.

China’s National Meteorological Center (NMC) said Super Typhoon Rammasun was on course to hit Hainan island and Guangdong province late in the afternoon.

The outer bands of the storm lashed Hong Kong overnight with heavy rain and strong winds but the city was spared a direct hit as the typhoon veered west towards Hainan.

Packing winds Friday morning of up to 198 kilometres an hour, the super typhoon was expected to bring torrential rains, the NMC said.

China’s official news agency Xinhua said Rammasun was expected to be the strongest typhoon to hit Hainan in 40 years.

On Thursday, the NMC issued its highest “red alert” for the storm, its first such declaration this year according to Xinhua.

The typhoon comes after dozens of people died in the past week as heavy rain battered swathes of China, with at least six killed by lightning, thousands of homes destroyed and more than 300,000 evacuated, state media have reported.

Earlier, Rammasun – a Thai word for “Thunder God” – hit the Philippines, slamming the capital Manila, killing at least 40 people, and leaving millions without power.

The Philippines is often the first major landmass to be struck after storms build above the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The typhoon destroyed or damaged 26,000 homes, while cutting electricity supplies to nearly all of Manila, a megacity of more than 12 million people, and surrounding urban areas.

Rammasun was the first typhoon to make landfall in the Philippines since this year’s rainy season began in June, and the first major storm since Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the eastern islands of Samar and Leyte in November last year.

Haiyan killed up to 7,300 people in one of the Philippines’ worst natural disasters, but this week’s typhoon followed a different track.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

World to celebrate 1st Mandela Day since icon's death

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 02:51

JOHANNESBURG: People around the world will celebrate “Mandela Day” Friday for the first time since the iconic South African leader’s death by doing good deeds on what would have been his 96th birthday.

For the past five years, millions have volunteered 67 minutes of their time on July 18 for the common good to mark Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of activism for South Africa’s freedom.

Mandela died on December 5 last year aged 95 after a lengthy illness. Tens of thousands of mourners, including world leaders, attended memorial services leading up to his funeral.

The call to do good deeds in his name started in Johannesburg and New York in 2009, and has expanded to 126 countries this year.

For the first Mandela Day after his passing, events are planned in Paris, New York, Dallas, London, Edinburgh and Glasgow, while a film portraying his life will premiere in China.

Meanwhile President Jacob Zuma has called on South Africans to bring out their brooms and mops and help spruce up their country.

“This year, we have decided to honour Madiba’s memory through a massive ‘Operation Clean Up for Madiba’ campaign,” he said, using a respectful tribal name to refer to the country’s first black president.

“We should demonstrate our love for our beautiful country by cleaning our surroundings, together.

“In this way, we will be promoting working together to build our beautiful country, which is what Madiba taught us as South Africans,” he added.

Authorities have encouraged citizens to clear litter from clinics and schools, though some taxpayers grumble that that is the government’s job.

Mandela spent 27 years in prison during his struggle against white-minority rule, but forgave his former oppressors when the apartheid regime ended with free elections in 1994.

His actions to reconcile his country’s divided people earned him global respect and the Nobel Peace prize.

“His extraordinary compassion after 27 years in prison showed that human rights and equality are stronger than discrimination and hate,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this week.

In the days leading up to Mandela Day on July 18, people have been urged to ask friends and colleagues to post pictures of their good deeds on social media.

Politicians have also capitalised on the event to polish their own image, announcing where they will be rolling up their sleeves in the hope of media coverage.

President Zuma will clean up a school in Mvezo, the village in the eastern Cape where Mandela was born.

Another theme for this year is food security in a nation where a quarter of the population goes hungry.

Citizen activist group LeadSA encouraged South Africans to plant vegetable gardens and donate food to feeding schemes “in the true spirit of active citizenship”.

Newspapers have also weighed in with suggestions to volunteer in orphanages, donate books to schools or blankets to the homeless, or even to sterilise stray cats.

In a country notorious for high crime rates, one person even offered a 67-minute course in self-defence


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Libya warring militias agree truce at main airport

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 02:45

TRIPOLI: Powerful militias battling for the Libyan capital’s airport have agreed a ceasefire, Tripoli said Friday, after the government sought UN help to stop the country from becoming a “failed state”.

Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz asked the UN Security Council to dispatch experts to train Libya’s defence and police forces to ensure they can protect oil fields, airports and other vital sites.

The call came amid a surge of violence in the country with clashes between rival militias sparking fears of all-out civil war.

Tripoli’s mayor and leaders of battling militia said overnight that a truce had been agreed and that control of the international airport would be handed over to neutral forces.

The airport has been closed since fighting erupted on Sunday, when gunmen from the city of Misrata launched an attack on the facility, which has for the past three years been held by liberal, fighters from Zintan, southwest of the capital.

Mokhtar Lakhdar, a commander for the Zintan forces, told AFP that a truce had been agreed under the authority of the city’s government council.

Dozens of rockets have been fired at the airport, badly damaging planes as well as the main terminal, but Lakhdar confirmed this had halted Thursday night.

Ex-rebel fighters from Zintan and Misrata, east of Tripoli, both played a key role in the Nato-backed uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

But they have become fierce rivals in the deadly power struggle between armed groups that followed and which is now wracking the North African country.

Ahmed Hadeia, a spokesperson for the rival Misrata fighters, said the ceasefire was “only around the airport” and did not include other sites controlled by the Zintan forces.

Misrata leaders said in a statement read out Thursday on television that the fighting at the airport was a “battle of revolutionaries… against followers of the old regime” of Kadhafi.

The clashes revived fears of the conflict spreading inside Tripoli itself, with official results still awaited from a June 25 election to the parliament previously dominated by conservatists.

“Should Libya become a failed state, kidnapped by radical groups and warlords, the consequences would be far-reaching and perhaps beyond control,” Abdelaziz warned the Security Council as he requested UN help.

“We are not asking for military intervention,” he said. “We are asking for a team from the UN specialised in the field of security.”

Libya could become a “hub for attracting extremists,” feeding radicalism and the arms flow in the region and further afield in Syria, said Abdelaziz.

“Don’t you think that such patterns that are indicative of heading toward a failed state would justify a stronger, more strategic engagement from the Security Council?”

In a statement, the 15-member Security Council said it condemned the recent violence in Libya and said it made “it even more difficult for the Libyan authorities to govern effectively”.

The Council would ask UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to look at the Libyan request for aid and present “options,” said Eugene-Richard Gasana, the Rwandan chair of the UN body.

Last week, the United Nations evacuated its staff from Libya after the latest upsurge in fighting.

Abdelaziz said a new UN mission to help train the security forces would ensure Tripoli keeps control of vital oil revenue after militant groups seized oil terminals last year.

The blockades of the oil facilities that finally came to an end this month deprived Libya of more than $30 billion in revenue over 11 months, said the foreign minister.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Shoulder to shoulder: Hundreds protest against Israeli aggression

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 02:39

LAHORE: 

Hundreds of protestors on Thursday staged a demonstration against Israeli aggression against Palestinians in Gaza at Liberty roundabout.

The protest was organised to express solidarity with the people of Gaza. The demonstrators carried placards condemning the United Nations and denouncing the use of force in Gaza.

The protestors chanted slogans against Israel. People from all walks of life attended the protest.

Maiza Hameed, a National Assembly member from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz termed Israeli atrocities in Gaza as genocide. She urged the international community to put an end to Israeli aggression. Maiza said that this conflict was not about race or religion but simply about humanity and barbarity.

Ali Reza, a human rights activist, said, “We have gathered here to express solidarity with the people of Gaza. Hundreds of people have been killed. The Arab-Israeli conflict has displaced millions of people. Similar concern should be shown for the thousands of Iraqis killed by militants.”

Farooq Hassan, another protestor said that killing people in the name of eliminating terrorism had become common.

He accused Arab governments of being hand in glove with Israel. He said that Israeli aggression had rendered the entire world speechless. Hassan said, “Israeli jets remain airborne with fuel supplied by Arab countries.”

“The agony, torture and fear inflicted on children in Palestine cannot be justified as collateral damage,” Kehkashan Farooq, another demonstrator, said. She said that wars only fostered destruction.

Farooq said that the leaders of Israel and Hamas should resolve the issue through political means for the future of the children of Israel and Palestine.

Moeed Ashraf, another protestor, said that Pakistani representatives at the United Nations and other international forums should highlight the situation.

Mobeen Chughtai, another demonstrator said that the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict was the tragedy of two nations being unable to live in peace.

Chughtai said that the level of hatred among Israelis and Palestinians could be gauged from the fact that children were considered legitimate targets. He said that the situation could not be left to fester irrespective of political, religious and national affiliations.

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


Categories: Pakistan & World News

MH17 crash in Ukraine no coincidence, say MH370 relatives

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 02:03

KUALA LAMPUR: Relatives of missing MH370 passengers said the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet in Ukraine was no mere coincidence, adding Friday that it lends weight to their harsh criticism of the carrier.

Flight MH17, a Boeing 777-200, went down in strife-torn eastern Ukraine on Thursday carrying 298 passengers and crew, mostly Dutch citizens.

Vocal relatives of passengers on MH370 – which went missing in March -have repeatedly accused the airline and Malaysian government of withholding information and of suspicious conduct in handling the probe into the disaster.

Sarah Bajc, partner of American passenger Philip Wood, said “it was only a matter of time” that a new tragedy hit the struggling flag carrier because “when symptoms of a disease are ignored, the disease festers”.

US officials said MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, a possible casualty of a violent rebellion by pro-Russian insurgents.

“Another (Malaysia Airlines) flight has gone down. Another 777… Far too much coincidence for the two situations to not be linked in some way,” Bajc said in an email to AFP.

“How do we know a similar thing didn’t happen to MH370?” she said.

Flight MH370 vanished March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard – about two-thirds of them Chinese citizens.

The Boeing 777-400 is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, but an extensive search has turned up no sign of wreckage so far, leaving frustrated and anguished families alleging a cover-up.

Stephen Wang, leader of a group of relatives of Chinese passengers on MH370, said the latest tragedy has stirred deep sympathy among them for the pain felt by MH17 relatives.

“That the same airline can suffer these incidents is very upsetting,” said Wang, whose 57-year-old mother was on MH370.

Malaysian national Intan Maizura Othman, who gave birth two months after losing her fellow MAS flight attendant husband on MH370, said her tears “still pouring for hubby” were now flowing for her friends on MH17 as well.

“How you expect me to fly ??? I think I will hang my uniform very soon,” she said on Twitter.

Malaysia Airlines and the country’s government have defended the use of the flight path over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, saying international air travel authorities had deemed the route secure.

However, South Korea’s two main airlines, Korean Air and Asiana, as well as Australia’s Qantas said they all rerouted flights from as early as the beginning of March when Russian troops moved into Crimea, triggering the strife in Ukraine.


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