Dec 312017
Militants storm Indian paramilitary camp in IHK; 4 soldiers killed

Militants stormed a paramilitary camp in India-held Kashmir early on Sunday leaving seven, including three attackers dead, a security forces spokesman said, capping off the deadliest years in a decade for the disputed territory.Armed militants lobbed grenades and fired automatic rifles to enter the camp of India's Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) outside the main city of Srinagar, triggering a fierce exchange of fire as hundreds of soldiers and special counterinsurgency police surrounded the area. “Three soldiers died in combat and another died of cardiac arrest during the ongoing operation. Three terrorists were also killed,” CRPF Spokesman Rajesh Yadav told AFP. Three paramilitary troopers were wounded, Yadav said.It is unclear how many personnel were inside the camp during the attack, which comes just days after Indian forces killed a top Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) leader in a shootout nearby. Officials said Sunday that at least 206 suspected militants, 57 civilians and 78 Indian security forces personnel had been killed during the year, making it the deadliest in a decade. Click for detailed story

Dec 292017
At least 9 killed in attack on church in Egypt

Series of attacks on Christians A gunman opened fire on a church south of Cairo on Friday, killing at least nine people in the latest attack on Egypt's Christian minority. The attacker targeted the Saint Mina Coptic church in the district of Helwan, just south of Cairo. Health ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed told state television that the gunman was shot dead after killing nine people and wounding others, including a police officer. But the interior ministry said the assailant, a wanted militant implicated in attacks on police, had been wounded and arrested. The man had been armed with an assault rifle, 150 rounds of ammunition and a bomb he intended to set off at the church, the ministry said. It added that he had killed two people when he opened fire on a store before heading to the church where he shot dead seven people including the officer.Cellphone footage posted on social media appeared to show the bearded gunman wearing a bulky ammunition vest sprawled on a street, barely conscious, as people restrained his arms and then handcuffed him. Police later cordoned off the crime scene as onlookers crowded around the church, while a team of forensic experts combed the area. Congealing blood could be seen at a guard post in front of the church. The militant Islamic State group's affiliate in Egypt has killed dozens of Christians in church bombings and shootings during the past year, and has threatened further attacks against the minority. Friday's attack came ahead of [Read More…]

Dec 222017
No evidence found against bloggers accused of blasphemy, FIA tells court

The five activists who made international headlines when they went missing earlier this year were cleared of blasphemy charges on Friday, a lawyer said.The men, who used social media to stand against religious intolerance and at times criticised the army, vanished within days of each other in January, sparking fears of a state crackdown. They included academic Salman Haider, bloggers Asim Saeed, Waqas Goraya and Ahmed Raza Naseer, and Samar Abbas, head of an anti-extremism activist group in Karachi.Four of them have since been released, with some accusing their captors of torture. No group claimed responsibility for their abduction, and the government and military have denied involvement. But during their disappearance, a virulent social media campaign to paint them as blasphemers began, triggering a flood of threats. Observers have said the allegations alone were enough to put the five activists' lives in danger. On Friday, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) told the Islamabad High Court it could find no evidence against the five men. “The FIA officials told the court it … seems the five bloggers were not involved in blasphemy,” Tariq Asad, one of the lawyers bringing the charge against the activists, told AFP. “The judge remarked that no innocent person should be implicated in a false case of blasphemy,” Asad said.Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui during the hearing remarked that those who have made false accusations regarding someone posting blasphemous content have committed "twice the crime".He said the trial court will decide if this was a case of false [Read More…]

Dec 212017
In surprise visit to Kabul, Pence warns Pakistan against offering safe havens to terrorists

Taliban on the run United States Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday arrived in Afghanistan on a surprise visit during which he met with Afghan leaders in Kabul and addressed US troops at the Bagram airfield, becoming the most senior Trump administration official to visit the men and women fighting America's longest-ever war.Addressing 15,000 US personnel at Bagram Airfield, Pence warned Pakistan against offering safe havens to terrorists. He reiterated word for word President Donald Trump's warning that Pakistan must stop offering cross-border safe havens to Taliban factions and armed militant groups fighting US troops and their Afghan allies.“Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with the United States, and Pakistan has much to lose by continuing to harbour criminals and terrorists," Penec said.“President Trump has put Pakistan on notice,” Pence added.Taliban on the run As he thanked the US troops for their service, the vice president told them that they have put the Taliban on the run.“The American people deserve to know that with the courage of everyone gathered here, we're making real progress in this fight for freedom in Afghanistan,” Pence told the troops.“We've dramatically increased American air strikes. And together with our Afghan partners, we've put the Taliban on the defensive,” he said, also pointing at efforts to target the drug trafficking networks that help fund the Taliban.“All across this country we've won new victories against the terrorists, no matter what they call themselves or where they try to hide.” Pence's visit comes four months after Trump [Read More…]

Dec 212017
Erdogan says US must immediately scrap Jerusalem decision

Palestinians welcome support Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday asked US President Donald Trump to reverse his decision recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital after a UN vote overwhelming rejected the move. Erdogan had earlier called on UN member states not to be swayed by Trump's threat to cut funding for countries that backed the motion at the UN General Assembly. “We welcome with great pleasure the UN General Assembly's overwhelming support… we expect the Trump administration to rescind without further delay its unfortunate decision, whose illegality has been clearly established,” Erdogan said on Twitter. “I am calling on the whole world: never sell your democratic will in return for petty dollars,” he had said in a televised speech in Ankara before the vote. The US decision on December 6 broke with international consensus and unleashed protests across the Muslim world, prompting a flurry of appeals to the United Nations. At an emergency session on Thursday, the UN General Assembly adopted the motion rejecting Trump's decision by 128 votes to nine, with 35 abstentions. The measure was sent to the General Assembly after it was vetoed by the US at the Security Council on Monday, though all other 14 council members voted in favour. Trump warned that Washington would closely watch how nations voted, suggesting there could even be reprisals for countries that backed the motion which was put forward by Yemen and Turkey on behalf of Arab and Muslim countries. Erdogan accused Trump of making “threats”. “How do they [Read More…]

Dec 212017
Car rams into pedestrians in Melbourne, 13 injured

Measures against vehicle attacks Truck attack MELBOURNE: A car ploughed into a crowd in Australia's second-largest city on Thursday in what police said was a “deliberate act” that left more than a dozen people injured, some of them seriously. Witnesses said people were thrown through the air after being hit by the vehicle, which did not appear to be trying to stop as it “mowed everybody down”. Victoria state police said they had arrested the driver of the car after it “collided with a number of pedestrians” in downtown Melbourne at a busy intersection just after 4.30pm local time. A second man was also arrested “We believe based on what we have seen that it is a deliberate act. The motivations are unknown,” Victoria Police's Commander Russell Barrett told reporters in Melbourne. Paramedics were “treating and transporting to hospital” 13 people, with some seriously hurt, ambulance officials said. Sky News Australia reported that a pre-school child with a head injury was taken to hospital in a serious condition. Citing witnesses, Sky said a white Suzuki Grand Vitara with two men inside drove into the crowd, with no signs the vehicle made an effort to slow down. Local media showed photos of one man wearing a long-sleeve top being dragged from a car, while a bearded second man wearing a red checked shirt was seen handcuffed and sitting on the ground. In a tweet, police appealed to members of the public to upload any images they might have of the incident [Read More…]

Dec 202017
Uber suffers new blow as EU court rules it's a taxi service

Ruling 'won't change things' The EU's top court ruled on Wednesday that Uber is an ordinary transportation company instead of an app and should be regulated as such, in a decision that is being closely watched around the world. Hailed by the plaintiffs — a Spanish taxi association — as “a social victory”, the case is yet another thorn in the side for US-based Uber, which has drawn the fury of taxi drivers and officials for flouting local regulations. It also comes the same week as one of its drivers admitted to the attempted rape and murder of a British embassy worker coming home from a night out in Beirut, Lebanon. “The service provided by Uber connecting individuals with non-professional drivers is covered by services in the field of transport,” said the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ). “Member states can therefore regulate the conditions for providing that service.” Uber, the biggest name in the growing gig economy, claims it is a mere service provider, connecting consumers with drivers in more than 600 cities. Uber has run into huge opposition from taxi companies and other competitors who say this allows it to dodge costly regulations such as training and licensing requirements for drivers and vehicles. The case was brought by a taxi drivers' association in the Spanish city of Barcelona, where belief runs high that Uber is a taxi company that should be subject to rules governing such vehicles. “This will truly represent a social victory, and the whole of [Read More…]

Dec 202017
Divided Catalans face moment of truth on independence bid

'Extreme' positions End of a 'nightmare'? Secessionist bid on hold Catalans were anxiously preparing on Wednesday for a decisive regional vote, hoping it will help settle the bitter dispute over independence from Spain that has divided their region and rattled Europe. The election pits leaders of the wealthy northeastern region's separatist movement against candidates who want to stay part of Spain. Record turnout is expected but with pro- and anti-independence candidates neck-and-neck in opinion polls, neither side is likely to win a clear majority. The regional election is being closely watched across a European Union still reeling from Britain's shock decision to leave the bloc, and wary about any breakup of the eurozone's fourth-largest economy. 'Extreme' positions The separatist drive has inflamed passions not just in Catalonia but across Spain, with the government in Madrid taking the unprecedented step of stripping the region of its autonomy after its parliament declared independence on October 27. “I think many positions have become very extreme,” said Assumpta Corell, a 21-year-old university student from the seaside city of Castelldefels who says she will vote for Ciudadanos, the centrist, anti-independence party that is scoring high in opinion polls. “People who have one opinion will maintain it, people who have a different opinion will continue thinking differently, which is great, but the problem comes when politics play at dividing people even more,” she said. The election campaign has been tense and often surreal, with axed regional president Carles Puigdemont holding rallies via videolink from exile in [Read More…]

Dec 202017
World Bank approves $825m loan for Pakistan infrastructure

The World Bank has granted Pakistan a $825 million loan to upgrade the energy and public finance sectors in a country which has long struggled with chronic power shortages and poor fiscal management. Just over half the loan, $425 million, would be used to modernise the national grid, the World Bank said on Wednesday. The government has had some success in generating more electric power to ease a years-long energy crisis, but its distribution has been hampered by poor transmission. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said recently that 10,000 megawatts had been added to the national system, with another 10,000 megawatts available in the next two years. “The improved power supply will help meet the unserved demand from consumers and reduce the number and duration of power outages,” Illango Patchamutu, the country manager for the World Bank, said in a statement.The remaining $400 million was allocated to improve the management of public finances and thus assist the delivery of much-needed health and education services. Pakistan's economy grew 5.3 per cent in the fiscal year up to June 2017, and the government has set a growth target of around 6pc for the current year.However, economists are wary of Pakistan's hefty fiscal deficit of around 4pc of GDP.A record trade deficit of $15 billion for the first four months of the current financial year has also caused jitters about a potential balance of payments crisis. The value of the rupee has fallen by roughly 5pc in recent weeks against US dollar. Click [Read More…]

Dec 182017
'Multiple' fatalities as train derails onto highway in Washington state

“Multiple” people were killed early Monday when an Amtrak passenger train derailed in Washington state near the city of Tacoma, sending cars flying off a bridge and onto a busy interstate, officials said. Pictures from the scene showed one train car overturned and crushed on the interstate highway and another dangling down from the overpass above. The train, which was carrying 78 passengers and five crew, was part of a newly expanded faster rail service along the route linking Seattle and Portland, Oregon — featuring new locomotives. It derailed during the morning rush hour at about 7:40am (1540 GMT), about halfway between Tacoma and Olympia, the capital of Washington state. “There's multiple fatalities,” said Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's Department. “It's pretty horrific,” he said. Troyer put no number on the fatalities, but local media said at least three people were killed. None of the people in vehicles travelling on the highway below the train were killed, according to Troyer. Local news outlets reported that dozens of people were taken to area hospitals for treatment. “When we got to the scene, it was obvious there were fatalities and injuries, and some people were able to get off the train,” Troyer said. “No fatalities on the roadway. As you can see by the large response, we have taken them out and people that were able to walk are under the tents being cared for by multiple groups,” he said. Photographs posted online from the scene showed multiple cars [Read More…]

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