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Updated: 3 days 17 hours ago

At least 20 killed in rocket attack on Ukraine's Mariupol: Minister

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 09:54

KIEV: At least 20 people died Saturday when rockets hit Ukraine’s strategic government-held port of Mariupol after Russian-backed rebels’ rejected peace talks, Ukraine’s interior minister said.

The eastern Donetsk region police chief said another 86 people were injured in the attack.

“The morgue has already received 20 bodies, but the number is constantly growing,” Vyacheslav Abroskin told a televised emergency response meeting convened by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Iran lawmakers drafting law on nuclear enrichment hike

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 09:29

TEHRAN: Iran’s parliament has started to draft a law that would allow the country’s nuclear scientists to intensify their uranium enrichment, a step that could complicate ongoing talks with world powers.

The move, announced Saturday by the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, comes after US lawmakers said they were planning legislation that could place new sanctions on Iran.

The negotiations between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany, face a June 30 deadline for a final deal.

But with two deadlines already missed last year both sides have admitted big differences remain on the hard detail of what a comprehensive agreement would look like.

Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, committee spokesperson in Tehran, told the ISNA news agency that draft legislation was underway.

“This bill will allow the government to continue enrichment, using new generation centrifuges,” he said, referring to more modern machines that would speed up production.

“The parliament’s nuclear committee is working on the technical issues and details of this draft,” he added.

A key stumbling block in any final deal is thought to be the amount of uranium Iran would be allowed to enrich and the number and type of centrifuges Tehran can retain.

Under an interim deal, Iran’s stock of fissile material has been diluted from 20% enriched uranium to five per cent in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

Experts say such measures pushed back the “breakout capacity” to make an atomic weapon, which Iran denies pursuing.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for domestic energy production and that more modern centrifuges are necessary to make fuel for a fleet of power reactors that it is yet to build.

World powers, however, are sceptical about why Iran needs such a large enrichment capability, and UN atomic inspectors say Tehran has not yet fully addressed questions about past nuclear activities.

With the talks seemingly deadlocked, the new Republican-controlled US Congress is considering fresh legislation that could level new sanctions on Iran if talks fail.

US President Barack Obama has said he will veto any move to adopt new sanctions but a White House spokesperson said Friday the “likelihood of success” in the nuclear talks is “at best 50/50.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, leader of Tehran’s nuclear negotiators, has warned that his president, Hassan Rouhani, unlike Obama, does not have veto powers over parliament.

Zarif, speaking to political and business leaders in Davos Friday, added: “Now is the time for the international community to stand firm against (the threat of new sanctions) that will unravel an extremely important achievement.”

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Sri Lanka scraps military training for teachers, students

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 08:58

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s new government said Saturday it is scrapping compulsory military training for school teachers and undergraduates.

The three-week army training, mandatory under ousted leader Mahinda Rajapakse’s administration, had resulted in at least three deaths in recent years and was deeply unpopular among student and teacher unions.

The new government that came to power following the January 8 presidential election, won by Maithripala Sirisena, has vowed to reduce the role of the military in Sri Lankan society.

Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said the government had “concluded that military training is not necessary for school teachers”.

The government has decided to remove the military ranks given to school principals, the minister told reporters.

Sri Lanka’s security forces wielded huge influence in civil society after they crushed Tamil rebels in May 2009 and declared an end to decades of ethnic conflict that had claimed 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009.

After the war ended, the military was deployed to run even the country’s main performing arts centre, while army officers replaced civil servants at key institutions.

The previous government also used the military in retail trade, including the sale of vegetables and fish and in the operation of hotels, travel companies and even barber saloons.

Former president Rajapakse and his immediate family members, including his retired colonel brother Gotabhaya Rajapakse who was the then defence secretary, face allegations of abuse of power and huge corruption.

Gotabhaya Rajapakse has been accused of killing dissidents, including a prominent editor of a publication that was highly critical of the then ruling family.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

US teen sentenced over support for IS

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 08:55

LOS ANGELES:  A US court has jailed a “radicalised” Colorado teenager, intercepted by the FBI when she attempted to join her fiance in the Islamic State (IS) group to fight in Syria.

Shannon Conley, 19, will serve four years in prison for providing and attempting to provide material support and resources to IS fighters and other extremist groups including al Qaeda, the US justice department said.

Conley, who struck a plea bargain with prosecutors, had expressed a desire to wage violent jihad, or holy war, after meeting a man on the Internet who claimed to be an active member of IS in Syria.

The duo got engaged and worked together to have Conley travel to Syria to join her new fiance.

Before going, Conley trained to be able to fight and even joined the US Army Explorers (USAE) to learn about military tactics and firearms. She also had first-aid training.

FBI special agents met her several times to persuade her not to carry out her plans to travel overseas to fight but she refused to listen and was arrested when she attempted to board a flight to Turkey from Denver on April 8.

A search of Conley’s home revealed books and articles about terrorist groups.

“The defendant in this case got lucky,” said US Attorney John Walsh.

“The FBI arrested her after determining that she had been radicalized and planned to travel to Syria to support the brutal foreign terrorist organizations operating there.

“Had she succeeded in her plan to get to Syria, she would likely have been brutalized, killed or sent back to the United States to commit other crimes.”

After prison, Conley will have three years on supervised release, followed by 100 hours community service.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Possibly the only woman to drive King Abdullah around

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 08:03

LONDON: Condolences, tributes and criticism rolled in as news of King Abdullah’s demise broke on Friday, but one story that starting making rounds on social media was too good to pass over.

The Independent published an excerpt from former Saudi ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles’ memoir Ever the Diplomaton on a meeting between Queen Elizabeth II and King Abdullah in 1998.

According to the memoir, Abdullah was invited up to Balmoral Castle in Aberdeen, Scotland, for lunch with the Queen who later asked her royal guest whether he would like a tour of the estate.

A hesitant King Abdullah took up the offer and to his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off.

Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive.

According to the memoir, Abdullah’s nervousness increased as he was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen.

“Through his interpreter, the Crown Prince (at the time) implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead,” the former envoy wrote.


Categories: Pakistan & World News

Indian police re-arrest hunger strike activist

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 04:53

GUWAHATI, INDIA: Indian police have re-arrested a human rights campaigner staging a 14-year hunger strike just hours after she was released on court orders, drawing condemnation from fellow activists.

Irom Sharmila, known as the Iron Lady of Manipur for her unwavering and non-violent protest against human rights abuses in India’s northeast, has spent years in judicial custody over her fast.

The 42-year-old was released on Thursday after a court in Imphal, capital of Manipur state, struck down charges of attempted suicide by fasting.

But on Friday, authorities took her into custody again, using the same charge.

“Sharmila has been arrested (for) the same crime of attempted suicide. She has been put on a nasal drip at a hospital on medical grounds,” local police chief Jhaljit, who uses just one name, told AFP by telephone.

In the last five months, Sharmila has been released and re-arrested twice. Last August, another Manipur court ordered her release, stating that her hunger strike was a “political demand through lawful means”.

Rights group Amnesty said the fresh arrest was an “absurd ritual” that made “a mockery of the Indian criminal justice process”.

“A hunger strike is not attempted suicide, and it is baffling why authorities repeatedly bring the same charge against Sharmila that courts have thrown out,” said India programmes director Shemeer Babu in a statement Saturday.

Sharmila began her hunger strike in November 2000 after allegedly witnessing the army kill 10 people at a bus stop near her home in Manipur, which is subjected to the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

The act, which covers large parts of the northeastern India and the restive region of Kashmir, gives Indian forces sweeping powers to search, enter property and shoot on sight, and is seen by critics as a cover for human rights abuses.

In December the Indian government said it would decriminalise attempted suicide, but the law is yet to be amended.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Tutankhamun burial mask permanently damaged

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 04:51

CAIRO: Employees at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo had to glue the 3,000-year-old burial mask of pharaoh Tutankhamun back together after its blue and gold beard was snapped off, according to media reports, Al Arabiya said on Friday.

It appears the curse of Tutankhamun might be real after all – at least for some of the museum staff who are charged with maintaining the artifacts.

It is not clear how the damage occurred, whether it happened during cleaning or if it was removed because it was loose.

And to make matters worse, it now seems that a hastily performed repair job might have actually caused even more damage due to the use of the wrong kind of glue.

Worse still it is thought that some of the glue dried on the mask, which was then scraped off using a spatula leaving scratch marks.

According to museum sources speaking on condition of anonymity, orders for a “quick fix” led to the ill-judged decision, the Mail Online reported.

“Unfortunately he used a very irreversible material – epoxy has a very high property for attaching and is used on metal or stone but I think it wasn’t suitable for an outstanding object like Tutankhamun’s golden mask,” one curator told the website.

“The mask should have been taken to the conservation lab but they were in a rush to get it displayed quickly again and used this quick drying, irreversible material,” they added.

The curator explained that there was now a gap visible between the face and the beard, which previously did not exist.

Now the Antiquities Ministry has launched an inquiry into the incident.

The ancient artifact and other relics found in the boy king’s tomb are among Cairo’s most popular attractions.

It is thought the incident occurred last August, but has only just come to light following the revelation of a photograph of the botched repair.

The burial mask was discovered in 1922, along with the pharaoh’s nearly intact tomb by Egyptologist Howard Carter.

Egypt’s tourism industry has struggled to recover following the violent Arab Spring that saw the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

15-Year old whizzkid attracts Google and Facebook with new app

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 04:18

Both Facebook and Google are in competition to win over 15-year-old whizzkid from Sydney who developed an app which was downloaded 500,000 times, Sky News reported.

Ben Pasternak created the simple game, ‘Impossible Rush’ which has been working its way up the App Store charts since its launch in October.

The addictive game has managed to overtake Vine, Google and Twitter.

Facebook’s internship department has invited him for a tour of the compay’s headquarters in California, while one of Google’s vice presidents has asked him to come to its campus.

He is one of 450 young entrepreneurs accepted on to a Google and MIT sponsored event called Hack Generation Y this weekend, in which high school students create a product in 36 hours.

“Pasternak is a young entrepreneur and clearly ambitious, he has shown the world that age is just a number,” Michael Matias, the lead organiser of the event had said, adding that ”(His) iPhone app was extremely impressive and if we were to guess – we would never imagine it was run by a 15-year-old.”

Ben wasn’t alone in this creation, but created the iPhone game with another Chicago based teen- Austin Vallesky.

He told Mashable: “My biggest motivation is knowing that my apps make people’s lives just a little bit easier and simple. There is no better feeling than seeing people using your creations.”

He is now working on an app called ‘One’ which brings all social media feeds into one app.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

World leaders head to Saudi to meet new King Salman

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 04:14

RIYADH: Dignitaries and leaders from around the world were to arrive in Saudi Arabia Saturday to offer their condolences to its new King Salman, a day after the death of his half-brother King Abdullah.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince Charles and French President Francois Hollande were among the first leaders expected while US Vice-President Joe Biden was to arrive in the coming days.

Abdullah was a cautious reformer who led the Gulf state through a turbulent decade in a region shaken by the Arab Spring uprisings and Islamic extremism.

He died early Friday aged about 90 after being hospitalised with pneumonia.

Since he took the throne in 2005, Riyadh has been a key Arab ally of Washington, last year joining the coalition carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State militant group.

World leaders praised the king as a key mediator between Muslims and the West, but campaigners criticised his rights record and urged Salman to do more to protect freedom of speech and women’s rights.

Gulf rulers, and leaders including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, were among those who attended Abdullah’s traditionally simple funeral at Riyadh’s Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque.

The late king’s body, wrapped in a cream-coloured shroud, was borne on a litter by members of the royal family wearing red-and-white checked headgear.

The body was quickly moved to nearby al Od public cemetery and buried, in a grave marked only by a book-sized plain grey stone.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak arrived later to deliver condolences, as did Iraqi President Fuad Masum.

Masum had met with Abdullah last November, helping to repair long-strained relations between the neighbours.

In the evening hundreds of Saudis queued to enter a royal palace where they rubbed cheeks and kissed the hands of their new leaders, in a symbolic pledge of allegiance.

President Barack Obama paid tribute to Abdullah as a “valued” ally as the State Department indicated cooperation between Washington and Riyadh would continue.

Biden said on Twitter he would lead a delegation to Saudi Arabia “to pay respect and offer condolences”.

Salman pledged Friday to keep the conservative, oil-rich Muslim kingdom on a steady course and moved to cement his hold on power.

In his first public statement as king, Salman, 79, vowed to “remain, with God’s strength, attached to the straight path that this state has walked since its establishment”.

He called for “unity and solidarity” among Muslims and vowed to work in “the defence of the causes of our nation”.

Moving to clear uncertainty over the transition to the next generation, he named his nephew, Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, as second in line to the throne behind Crown Prince Moqren, 69.

That helps to solidify control by his Sudayri branch of the royal family.

Salman also appointed one of his own sons, Prince Mohammed, as defence minister of the world’s leading oil exporter and the spiritual home of Islam.

“In spite of all the earlier articles and fears surrounding the succession, the Saudi royal family handled the succession without even a hint of crisis, and laid the ground work for the future,” wrote Anthony Cordesman, of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

As the top producer in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Saudi Arabia has been the driving force behind the cartel’s refusal to slash output to support oil prices, which have fallen by more than 50% since June.

Ali al Naimi remains the kingdom’s oil minister, and the International Energy Agency’s chief economist said he did not foresee major policy shifts.

“I expect and hope that they will continue to be a stabilisation factor in the oil markets,” Fatih Birol told AFP.

Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s holiest sites, and its role as a spiritual leader for Sunni Muslims has seen it vying for influence with Shia-dominated Iran.

Tehran nonetheless offered its condolences, saying Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would join ceremonies in Riyadh on Saturday.

Behind his thick, jet-black moustache and goatee, Abdullah had a shrewd grasp of regional politics.

Wary of the rising influence of movements, Saudi Arabia has been a generous supporter of Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since the army ousted Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt declared seven days of official mourning for Abdullah, and sent its prime minister to the funeral.

Riyadh has also played a key role in supporting opposition to Iranian-backed President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and will allow US troops to use its territory to train rebel fighters.

Salman is widely expected to follow closely in Abdullah’s footsteps, in foreign and energy policy as well as in making moderate reforms.

Abdullah pushed through cautious changes, challenging conservatives with such moves as including women in the advisory Shura Council.

He promoted economic development and oversaw accession to the World Trade Organisation, tapping into massive oil wealth to build new cities, universities and railways.

But the kingdom is still strongly criticised for a dismal human rights record, including the imprisonment and flogging of dissidents. It is also the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive.

Amnesty International head Salil Shetty said “the Saudi regime seems insensitive to human rights and human dignity”.

And while Saudi Arabia has managed to avoid the social upheaval that has shaken many of its neighbours in recent years, thanks in large part to massive public spending, the new king will face some major challenges, especially as falling oil prices cut into state revenues.

Since the death in 1953 of the kingdom’s founder, King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, the throne has passed systematically from one of his sons to another.

Abdul Aziz had 45 recorded sons. Abdullah, Salman and Moqren were all born to different mothers.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Obama cuts short India visit to meet new Saudi King on Tuesday

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 02:19

WASHINGTON: United States President Barack Obama will travel to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to meet with new King Salman to pay respects after the death of King Abdullah, the White House said on Saturday.

Obama is scheduled to arrive in New Delhi on Sunday where he will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and attend the Republic Day parade.

He will cut short his trip, missing a planned tour of the Taj Mahal, to travel to Saudi Arabia, the White House said.

President Obama will go to #SaudiArabia Tuesday to pay respects to King Salman bin Abdulaziz & family of late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz

— @NSCPress (@NSCPress) January 24, 2015

The White House had originally planned that US Vice President Joe Biden would lead a delegation to Saudi Arabia, but now that Obama will travel to Riyadh, Biden will remain in Washington.

RELATED: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah dies at 90, Salman becomes new ruler 

Hundreds of cleaners had been hired to spruce up the white marbled mausoleum in preparation for Obama’s arrival.

Obama is due to leave the Andrews Air Force Base later this evening, accompanied by a delegation of seven top officials as well as his wife, Michelle, the White House confirmed.

“The President is very much looking forward to this visit.  It is a genuine honour to be invited as the guest for Republic Day” and Obama “is looking forward to see the festivities associated with Republic Day firsthand,” his press secretary Josh Earnest said on Friday.

With this trip being Obama’s second during his time in office, he will be having a series of meetings with political leaders in India including one with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Earnest told reporters.

After the refueling of Air Force One in Germany, Obama is due to touch down at Delhi International Airport at 10am on January 25.

Quoting Obama, Earnest said he “certainly enjoyed the conversation” that he had with Modi when the Indian leader visited Washington in September.

“I think he does see an opportunity to build a strong working relationship not just between our two countries, but between the two leaders who do share sort of a common sense of purpose and vitality,” he said.

On his arrival, Obama will be accorded a ceremonial welcome around noon at the Rashtrapati Bhawan by President Pranab Mukherjee and Modi followed by a visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial where he will participate in a tree planting event.

RELATED: Obama in India: 50,000 policemen, 15,000 CCTV cameras and 40 dogs to protect world’s most powerful man

Obama will then join Modi for a restricted working lunch at the Hyderabad House and participate in a “walk and talk” with the PM around 2.45pm, the White House said.

The two leaders will then have an expanded delegation-level meeting, which is expected to last for about an hour after which, they will jointly address the press.

Later in the evening, Obama is scheduled to meet embassy personnel and families at ITC Maurya Hotel followed by a state dinner with Mukherjee.

On January 26, Obama will participate in the ‘Republic Day’ celebration as the chief guest along with the First Lady. They will then attend a reception with India’s president at his residence. 

Both Obama and Modi will participate in a CEO forum roundtable and deliver views at a US-India Business Summit.

Before his departure on January 27, the US president will give an address at the Siri Fort Auditorium.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

World Economic Forum: APS attack can never be excused, says Kerry

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 01:01


US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday described the December 17 massacre at the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar as the most horrific manifestation of extremism, as he made an impassioned plea for more resources to fight the menace around the world.

“This kind of atrocity can never be rationalised… [It] can never be excused,” Kerry said while referring to the deadly Taliban rampage that killed over 150 people, including 134 schoolchildren.

“They have to be opposed. With every fiber of our being, they have to be stopped,” Kerry continued in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We have to take risks. We have to invest more resources.”

But as he called on the international community to devote more resources to fight global extremism, the top US diplomat warned that the battle would falter if it becomes consumed by sectarian division or Islamophobia.

“The biggest error that we could make would be to blame Muslims collectively for crimes not committed by Muslims alone,” he said while advising world leaders to ‘keep their heads’.

“Unless we direct our energies in the right direction, we may very well fuel the very fires we want to put out,” he added. “Extremism has claimed violence at every corner of the globe and Muslim lives most of all. There’s no room for sectarian division. There’s no room for anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.”

Kerry described Islamic State (IS) militants, who have seized wide swathes of Iraq and Syria, as ‘a collection of monsters’. He said ultraradical groups like IS and Boko Haram “are attempting to govern land. It’s a first-time event”.

He compared efforts to curb the spread of extremist violence to the fight against fascism in World War-II.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2015.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

King Abdullah (1924-2015): New monarch promises continuity of policies

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 00:44


Saudi Arabia’s elderly King Abdullah died on Friday and was replaced by his half-brother Salman as the absolute ruler of the world’s top oil exporter and the spiritual home of Islam.

Global leaders paid tribute to the late monarch, a cautious reformer who led his kingdom through a turbulent decade in a region shaken by the Arab Spring uprisings and extremism.

The royal court said in a statement that Abdullah, believed to be around 90, died at 1:00 am local time, expressing its “great sadness and mourning”.

Another of the late monarch’s half-brothers, Moqrin, was named the new crown prince.

In his first public statement as the new ruler, the 79-year-old King Salman vowed to maintain a steady course for the kingdom. “We will remain with God’s strength attached to the straight path that this state has walked since its establishment,” Salman said in televised remarks. He called for ‘unity and solidarity’ among Muslims and asked for God to support him in his ‘great responsibility’.

Salman moved quickly to consolidate his hold on power, naming Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef as the new deputy crown prince and one of his own sons, Prince Mohammed, to replace him as defence minister. By making these appointments, Salman has swiftly quelled speculation about internal palace rifts at a moment of regional turmoil.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif joined Gulf leaders for the funeral prayers at the Imam Turki bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh, television pictures showed.

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, and Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah were among other leaders at the funeral.

The royal court did not disclose the cause of Abdullah’s death, but he was hospitalised in December suffering from pneumonia and had been breathing with the aid of a tube.

Under Abdullah, who took the throne in 2005, Saudi Arabia has been a key ally of Washington in the Arab world, most recently joining the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

President Barack Obama was quick to pay tribute to Abdullah as a ‘valued’ ally. “The closeness and strength of the partnership between our two countries is part of King Abdullah’s legacy,” Obama said in a written statement shortly after the monarch’s death.

Other tributes came in from foreign leaders, with French President Francois Hollande hailing Abdullah as “a statesman whose work profoundly marked the history of his country”. Pakistani Prime Minister said the “entire Pakistani nation is with their Saudi brethren in this hour of grief”. He announced a day of mourning in Pakistan.

Several Middle Eastern dignitaries including King Abdullah II of Jordan and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Saud, the half-brother of Abdullah, left the Davos World Economic Forum early on Friday following news of the king’s death.

As the top producer in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Saudi Arabia has been the driving force behind the cartel’s refusal to slash output to support oil prices, which have fallen by more than 50 per cent since June. Oil prices surged Friday following Abdullah’s death, amid uncertainty over whether the new king would maintain that policy. But the new king pledged continuity in energy and foreign policies.

Saudi Arabia’s role as a spiritual leader for Sunni Muslims has seen it vying for influence with Shia-dominated Iran. Tehran nonetheless offered condolences over Abdullah’s death, saying Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would travel to Riyadh to take part in official ceremonies.

Abdullah had a shrewd grasp of regional politics. Wary of the rising influence of Islamist movements, Saudi has been a generous supporter of Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since the army’s ouster of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt declared seven days of official mourning for Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia has also played a key role in supporting opposition to Iran-backed President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, allowing US troops to use its territory to train rebel fighters.

Salman is widely expected to follow closely in Abdullah’s footsteps, in foreign and energy policy as well as in making moderate reforms to the conservative kingdom.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2015.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Arrested Indian accused of passing secrets to Pakistan's ISI

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 23:57

BHUBANESHWAR: The police arrested a 35-year-old man on Friday in Odisha, accusing him of passing military secrets to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

Police said Ishwar Chandra Behera was passing on information about missile activities conducted at a unit of India’s Defence Research & Development Organisation, where he worked as a cameraman.

“He was providing vital information related to missile tests and other military activities to an ISI agent for the past 8-10 months,” Odisha’s inspector general of police A K Panigrahi told Reuters. “He confessed that he had met an ISI agent in Kolkata a number of times.”

India accuses elements in Pakistan’s army and ISI of shielding or working with militant groups, which Islamabad denies.

Tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, which are also at odds over the disputed region of Kashmir, have risen since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called off peace talks in August.

Troops on both sides have exchanged fire across the border in recent months.

RELATED: Pakistan, India exchange fire along Working Boundary

Police said they found a substantial amount of money had been transferred to Behera’s bank account from several places including Abu Dhabi and Mumbai. They are investigating if he was assisted by anyone else.

“We had information that his activities are suspicious and he should be watched … He confessed he is in touch with the ISI agent and is passing on very vital information,” Panigrahi said.

Reuters could not contact Behera, who is in custody.

India has stepped up security, especially in the capital New Delhi, in preparation for a three-day visit by US President Barack Obama, starting on Sunday.

RELATED: Obama in India: 50,000 policemen, 15,000 CCTV cameras and 40 dogs to protect world’s most powerful man

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Terror attacks such as those on APS, can not be rationalised: Kerry

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 13:26

DAVOS: US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that militant attacks such as the one on the Army Public School in Peshawar can not be rationalised.

“This kind of atrocity can never be rationalised,” said Kerry adding that, “We can’t change minds without knowing what’s in them.”

On December 16, 2014, as many as seven militants stormed the Army Public School in Peshawar and killed around 150 students and teachers. There were over 1,000 students and teachers in the school at the time of the attack.

In an emotional speech on Friday on the horrors inflicted by extremist groups, Kerry said that in the fight against “terror”, there was “no room for anti-Semitism or Islamophobia”.

“Violent extremism has claimed violence at every corner of the globe and muslim lives most of all,” Kerry said.

“There is no room for sectarian division. There is no room for anti-Semitism or Islamophobia,” he added.

Kerry told an audience in Davos that he would visit Nigeria “in a couple of days” as part of a Washington push to counter extremist groups, including Boko Haram.

“In the weeks to come we… have to strengthen our efforts in Somalia, intensify our efforts to end violence in Nigeria, that’s why I m going there in a couple of days,” he said.

After the speech, a spokesperson for Kerry confirmed that he would be in Lagos on Sunday and meet with President Goodluck Jonathan.

Shared at #wef15: world can’t sit back & assure ourselves that extremism is containable. No country insulated. Must counter at roots.

— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) January 23, 2015

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Saudi King Abdullah: patient reformer who battled hardliners

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 20:52

RIYADH: Saudi King Abdullah was in his early 80s when he ascended the throne in 2005 but he sprang into action in a campaign to free the kingdom from its long dependence on oil and the influence of hardliners.

Tapping into the absolute monarchy’s massive oil wealth, Abdullah, who died Friday aged around 90, had launched projects to build new economic cities, universities and high-speed railways.

He tried to convert the country from a breeding ground for Islamic radicals into a moderate, constructive partner in global politics.

In 2011, Abdullah withstood the convulsions of the Arab Spring uprisings that ousted several leaders in the region, splashing out from vast surpluses of cash to try to keep people content.

More recently, Saudi Arabia has been among several Gulf countries taking part in a US-led air campaign against the Islamic State ​group in Syria.

His nation also unflinchingly led Gulf countries in ignoring calls by other producers to cut oil output to curb the sliding price of crude.

But over the years, Abdullah’s age and commitment to consensus allowed entrenched conservatives to resist his reforms, amid a lack of clarity about the future path of the monarchy.

Bid to smooth succession

Since the death in 1953 of King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, the throne has systematically passed from one of his sons to another — brothers and half-brothers.

But many of Abdul Aziz’s sons are dead or aged. Two crown princes, Sultan and Nayef, died in 2011 and 2012.

Abdullah’s half-brother Salman, the crown prince who was named king in a royal statement Friday, is in his late 70s and in poor health.

In March 2014, Abdullah named another half-brother, Prince Moqren, as a second heir to his throne, in an unprecedented move aimed at ensuring a smooth succession. The royal statement Friday named Moqren, the youngest of Abdul Aziz’s sons, the new crown prince.

Abdullah established the Board of Succession in 2006 to institutionalise the process of transition, which would normally exercise its prerogatives after his death.

Unstained by the profligacy tainting many of the Saudi rulers, Abdullah was hugely popular with his subjects, cherishing the traditional desert life of the Bedouin.

Behind his thick, always jet-black moustache and goatee and gentle demeanour, he had a shrewd grasp of regional politics.

He was the 13th son of King Abdul Aziz, but the only son of Abdul Aziz by his mother, a member of the Shammar Bedouin tribe.

That left Abdullah with a relatively weak faction among the many princes of his generation.

In the 1960s he was entrusted with the command of the national guard, the country’s second army. He held that job until turning it over to one of his own sons in 2009.

The job allowed him to build close relations with the kingdom’s myriad tribes who filled the guard’s ranks, one of the main pillars of his authority.

Abdullah became crown prince when his half-brother Fahd ascended the throne in 1982.

Yet his path was still not clear when Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke in 1995, and he faced rivalry from within Fahd’s Sudairy clan.

Human rights concerns

Since the late 1990s, Abdullah fostered important changes. He developed the consultative Shura council, strengthened the country’s finances and began modernising the unwieldy sharia-based legal system.

He took Saudi Arabia into the G20 group of leading economies and the World Trade Organisation.

And he challenged conservatives by supporting progressive clerics, creating human rights organisations and launching a science university that, for the first time, permitted men and women students to mix freely.

Nevertheless, his kingdom is still strongly criticised for a dismal human rights record, including the imprisonment of dissidents.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world which does not allow women to drive.

Women are required to dress in black from head to toe and still need permission from a male guardian to work and marry.

Saudi Arabia has stepped up its use of the death penalty, usually by beheading, despite repeated appeals from the United Nations and human rights watchdogs.

Abdullah led the nation’s grudging response to Islamic extremism after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, which bared al Qaeda’s deep roots inside Saudi Arabia.

Although he expressed opposition, he permitted the US military to use Saudi facilities and bases for the invasion of Iraq, but only for logistical support.

In 2002 he parented the pathbreaking Arab Peace Initiative, which offered Israel blanket recognition from 22 Arab states in return for an independent state for the Palestinians.

In public he has been a committed supporter of diplomacy to solve conflicts, calling for a peaceful solution to Iran’s nuclear threat.

But US State Department documents disclosed by WikiLeaks quoted him as privately calling for a US military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities to “cut off the head of the snake”.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Five charged with terrorism after Belgium raids

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 13:16

Belgian authorities charged five people with “participating in the activities of a terrorist group” following a series of raids to foil imminent attacks, the prosecutor’s office said Friday.

In Belgium, officials said they had averted “imminent” large-scale attacks on police targets on Thursday after raiding a terror cell in the eastern town of Verviers, near the German border, whose members had recently come back from Syria.

Police shot dead the two suspects in a gun battle after they opened fire on officers with heavy weapons, and arrested a third man, while there were several search operations in Brussels and its suburbs.

Prime Minister Charles Michel raised Belgium’s terror alert to its second highest level, security was tightened and Jewish schools in the port city of Antwerp closed Friday due to fears of further trouble.

The raid and a series of related search operations across Belgium were now “over” but authorities were now seeking to “exploit the information” they had obtained, Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said.

“The threat was to the police forces,” he said of the planned attacks.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Record-breaking 2014 was hottest in modern history

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 11:14

MIAMI: Record-breaking temperatures scorched the planet last year, making 2014 the hottest in more than a century and raising new concerns about global warming, US government scientists said Friday.

The much-anticipated report by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was confirmed by an independent analysis from the US space agency NASA that reached the same conclusion.

“Record warmth was spread around the world,” said the NOAA report.

“The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for 2014 was the highest among all years since record keeping began in 1880.”

For the year, the average temperature was 0.69 Celsius above the 20th century average, beating the previous record-holding years of 2005 and 2010 by 0.04 C.

Parts of the world that saw record heat included Russia, western Alaska, the western United States, parts of interior South America, parts of eastern and western coastal Australia, north Africa and most of Europe.

RELATED: Climate change – ‘Bad climate deprives coastal areas of spring season’

Record cold for the year was apparent only in some parts of the eastern and central United States.

When land and sea surfaces were analysed separately, they each broke records.

Globally averaged sea surface temperature was the highest ever, at 0.57 C above the 20th century average.

Land surface temperature was 1.00°C above the 20th century average, marking the fourth highest in history.

When it came to snowfall, NOAA found that average annual snow in the northern hemisphere was 24.95 million square miles, “near the middle of the historical record.”

The first half of 2014 saw less snow than normal, but the second half saw more than average.

Polar sea ice continued to decline in the Arctic, depriving polar bears of habitat and driving global warming changes that are felt in distant corners of the world.

The average annual sea ice extent in the Arctic was 10.99 million square miles, the sixth smallest in the 36 years that experts have on record.

Meanwhile, sea ice in the Antarctic reached record highs for the second year in a row, at 13.08 million square miles, NOAA said.

December also broke records, with the highest combined land and ocean average surface temperature for any December in modern history.

The month’s average temperature was 0.77 C above the 20th century average.

“This was the highest for December in the 1880-2014 record, surpassing the previous record of 2006 by 0.02 C,” NOAA said.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

ICC prosecutor opens probe into war crimes against Palestinians

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 11:11

THE HAGUE / JERUSALEM: The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor on Friday opened an initial probe to see if war crimes have been committed against Palestinians, including during last year’s Gaza war.

“Today the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine,” her office said in a statement, adding it may lead to a full-blown investigation.

The Prosecutor’s decision follows the Government of Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute on 2 January 2015 and its declaration of 1 January 2015, lodged under article 12(3) of the Rome Statute – the Court’s founding treaty – accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC over alleged crimes committed “in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, since June 13, 2014.”

Israel slams ‘scandalous’ ICC war crimes probe

Israel denounced the International Criminal Court’s “scandalous” decision to launch a preliminary probe into possible war crimes committed against Palestinians by Israeli forces.

The sole purpose of the preliminary examination is to “try to harm Israel’s right to defend itself from terror,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement.

He said the decision was “solely motivated by political anti-Israel considerations,” adding that he would recommend against cooperating with the probe.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Indian woman allegedly raped by Uber driver to sue company in US

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 11:00

A high-profile American lawyer on Friday said he has been hired to sue taxi-hailing firm Uber in US courts on behalf of an Indian woman allegedly raped by one of its drivers in New Delhi.

Douglas Wigdor, who represented the hotel maid who accused former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault in 2012, said he had met the 25-year-old woman and her family in Delhi following the incident last month.

“I can confirm that I have been retained by the young lady who was raped by an Uber driver in Delhi last December,” Wigdor said in an email to AFP.

“We will use all of our resources to vindicate my client’s rights, hold those responsible for their actions and ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

The authorities in Delhi banned Uber from operating in the Indian capital over the alleged rape, accusing the company of misleading customers and not conducting adequate background checks on drivers.

The woman meanwhile appeared in a trial court in Delhi on Friday, dressed in an all-encompassing burqa, reflecting the stigma attached to rape survivors in a patriarchal society.

Journalists have been barred from the courtroom proceedings but a prosecution lawyer said she had stuck to the initial statement she made before the police.

“She denied the defence’s suggestion that she was not raped,” Atul Shrivastava, the public prosecutor, told reporters outside the courtroom.

The driver, Shiv Kumar Yadav, 32, allegedly attacked the woman as she was on her way home from dinner in December. Yadav has pleaded not guilty to the charges of rape, kidnap and criminal intimidation.

The case has once again raised the issue of women’s safety in India and particularly in Delhi, which has been dubbed the “rape capital” after a string of high-profile sex assaults.

The fatal gang-rape of a medical student two years ago on a bus in Delhi triggered mass protests and led to a tightening of laws on sex crimes.

The decision of the woman in the latest case to sue Uber comes as a fresh blow for the San Francisco-based startup which has been slapped with a number of legal cases in the US and several other countries.

New York-based Wigdor represented hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo in a sexual assault case against Strauss-Kahn.

Criminal charges were eventually dropped and Strauss-Kahn settled a civil suit brought by the maid by paying her undisclosed damages, which reportedly exceeded $1.5 million.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

NAP: Strategy being implemented to address terrorism in Pakistan, says Army chief

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 10:26

LONDON: Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif on Friday said that the National Action Plan (NAP) was sufficient for the long term resolution of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan, adding that resolving Kashmir issue was key to achieving long-term peace and stability in the region.

Director-General Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asim Bajwa on Friday, tweeted that the Army Chief spoke at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.

Gen Sharif argued that Pakistan desired peace, but with dignity and honour.

#COAS in IISS:National Action Plan comprehensive to address extremism, terrorism long term.With Govt,Doing best for total implementation-1

— AsimBajwaISPR (@AsimBajwaISPR) January 16, 2015

#COAS:Ops Z-e-A making good progress.No favorites,all terrorists of any kind being hit.Relations with Afgn improving.Working for stability-2

— AsimBajwaISPR (@AsimBajwaISPR) January 16, 2015

#COAS:Kashmir has to be resolved for long term peace,stability in the region.Pak wants peace,but with dignity and honor-3

— AsimBajwaISPR (@AsimBajwaISPR) January 16, 2015

#COAS:World needs to understand our envmt.Our coop with UK in security,social sector growing.Should help in dignified resettlement of TDPs-4

— AsimBajwaISPR (@AsimBajwaISPR) January 16, 2015

Commenting on the National Action Plan devised to counter terrorism and extremism in the country, the Army chief said it is a long-term, comprehensive plan and that the government was doing its best to implement it.

Further, he said that Operation Zarb-e-Azb, initiated against terrorists, was making good progress. He clarified that all kinds of terrorists were being targeted, and that there were no favourites.

Regarding relations with its neighbours, the COAS said that relations with Afghanistan were improving. Further, he said that cooperation with the UK in security and social sectors was growing.

He urged the international community to understand Pakistan’s security environment.

He also sought help from the UK in the dignified resettlement of those people who had been displaced due to the operation in Waziristan and Khyber Agency.

General Raheel is on a three-day official visit to the UK.

IDPs to start returning to their homes next month: Bajwa

ISPR chief said the IDPs of North Waziristan will start returning to their homes next month, Radio Pakistan reported.

While talking to media in London, Bajwa said Operation Zarb-e-Azb is continuing successfully, and many areas have been cleared in North Waziristan from the terrorists, while Khyber Agency will also be cleared soon.

Commenting on the Balochistan issue, he said foreign powers are involved in the region’s unrest.

The ISPR chief further said that Pakistan is sharing intelligence with the neighbouring Afghanistan.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

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