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Saeed, LeT Are a Liability, But Give us Time to Get Rid of Them: Pak Foreign Minister

NEW YORK, Sept 26: Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, is a liability for Pakistan, admits Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif. He also conceded the presence of Lashkar-e-Taiba and like-minded militant outfits on the Pakistani soil, adding that their elimination “cannot be an overnight process”.

While speaking at a Q&A session at the Asia Society here on Tuesday, Asif agreed that Saeed and his outfit, the LeT, not only are a liability for Pakistan, but the entire South Asian region.

“They are a liability, I accept it, but give us time to get rid of them, we don’t have the assets to deal with these liabilities,” he said, on being asked about the Pakistani establishment’s view towards Saeed.

On being asked about the alleged free-hand given to jihadi elements by the Pakistani government, Asif replied, “The gentleman (Saeed) is under house arrest. But I agree with you that on that score we have to do more. We have to do more. There are people in Pakistan who can be a liability in times of crisis for Pakistan and (for) the region. I don’t disagree with that.”

Referring to the recent remarks by US President Donald Trump, accusing Islamabad of providing safe havens to terrorists, Asif said Washington is to be equally blamed for the rise of militants in Pakistan.

He said the coalition of US and Pakistan, since the 1960s’, to take on the USSR presence in Afghanistan, has caused “irreversible damage” to his own nation.

“Don’t blame us for Saeed, these people were your darlings 20 years ago, they were being dined and wined in the White House. Now you say go to hell, Pakistan,” said an impassioned Asif, adding that their participation in the proxy war against Soviets was “a huge mistake”.

Asif said his “hearts bleed” due to the consequences which Pakistan suffered due to its participation in the cold war in Afghanistan.

China tells Pak it won't meddle in Kashmir

BEIJING, Sept 22: Reiterating that the Kashmir issue must be resolved bilaterally by India and Pakistan through talks, China on Friday dismissed calls by a group of Islamic nations for implementation of a UN resolution on the dispute.

On Pakistan's request, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had again recently called for the implementation of a UN resolution on the dispute.

Reacting to OIC's call, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the Kashmir issue should be resolved bilaterally.

Lu said, "China has noted the relevant report. China's position on the Kashmir issue is clear-cut."

"The Kashmir issue is left over from history. China hopes India and Pakistan can increase dialogue and communication and properly handle relevant issues and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability," he added.

Pakistan, which is a member of the OIC, had urged the 57-member grouping to raise the issue at the ongoing United Nations General Assembly in New York. OIC had met on the sidelines of the UNGA two days ago.

Earlier in the day, addressing the 72nd session of UNGA in New York, Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had urged the UN to appoint a special envoy for J&K to keep track of India's 'alleged atrocities' on the Kashmiris.

During his 20-minute speech, he had also demanded an international probe into the alleged crimes committed in J&K.

"We ask the UNGC and the high commission of the human rights to send an enquiry commission in Kashmir to verify the nature and extent of India`s human right violations. Secure the punishment of those responsible. And provide justice and relief to the victims," he said.

NRIs who harass, desert their wives may get their passports cancelled

NEW DELHI, Sept 18: Non-resident Indians (NRIs) who harass their wives or desert them could face impoundment or cancellation of their passport if the Centre accepts the recommendations of a high-level panel.

Following several complaints lodged by women deserted by their NRI husbands, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) constituted the committee in May to look into various legal and regulatory challenges and suggest measures to address them.

The panel has also recommended that cases of domestic violence be included in the scope of extradition treaties that India inks with other countries.

“The panel believes this will facilitate extradition of NRI spouses to India for trial. At present, when it comes to desertion, domestic violence or dowry harassment cases, it is next to impossible to get the man to return for facing legal proceedings,” said a source.

Officials in the Union women and child development (WCD) ministry, which is coordinating with the MEA on the issue, said the government is likely to accept the recommendations.

“Both external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and WCD minister Maneka Gandhi have taken up the cause of Indian wives deserted by NRI men, and have spoken on several public fora of the government’s intent to address the issue,” said a ministry official.

Politics of divide and polarisation is radicalising and isolating people in India: Rahul Gandhi

BERKELEY, Sept 11: Rahul Gandhi began his two-week US tour with an address to students at University of California's Berkeley today, attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP and also saying that he is "absolutely ready" to take charge of his party.

"I am absolutely ready to do that but we have an organisational election process that decides and the process is currently ongoing...That decision is something the Congress party should take," said Gandhi. He had been asked if he was ready to take charge of executive roles in the Congress party. Gandhi is tipped to take over soon as party president from his mother Sonia Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi, whose party slid to its lowest tally ever in Parliament in the last election, acknowledged that a "certain arrogance" had crept into the Congress and took responsibility for what he called a couple of years of lost opportunities from 2012.

But he asked not to be singled out for criticism as a dynast, saying, "Most of the country runs like this. That's how India works."

"Dynastic politics is a problem in all political parties. Akhilesh (Yadav), (MK) Stalin (son of M Karunanidhi in DMK), Abhishek Bachchan (son of Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan) -- are all examples of dynastic legacy, also (Mukesh and Anil) Ambani (son of Dhirubhai Ambani), that's how the entire country is running," Gandhi said, adding, "The real question is if that person is a capable, sensitive person."

In a sharp attack, he accused the ruling BJP of festering "hatred, anger, violence and politics of polarisation," talking about the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru and about mob lynchings on beef suspicions. "It makes millions feel they have no future in their own country, isolates people and turns them to radicalization," the Congress leader said.

He also attacked the government over last year's notes ban, saying demonetisation had taken away two per cent from the growth of the Indian economy. The decline, Gandhi alleged, has caused damage to agriculture and deep distress among farmers.

Gandhi's criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was more subtle than direct. He admitted the Prime Minister was a better communicator than him and praised his Make In India and Swachh Bharat initiatives. But he differed with his approach to foreign policy, saying he would have made sure that not only did India have a solid relationship with the United States, but also that did not isolate others "such as Russia, Iran and our neighbouring countries."

He alleged that Modi controls an online machine of over a thousand people whose very purpose is to destroy Rahul Gandhi's credibility, calling him "stupid and incompetent".

In 1949, Rahul Gandhi's great grandfather Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had spoken at the University. He was then Prime Minister of India.

Gandhi arrived in San Fransisco yesterday and will, during his two-week US tour, meet Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and thought leaders to develop a better path forward for the Congress party. A highlight will be an event in New York City's Marriot Hotel with a capacity of 1,900 people, where he will address overseas Indians.

From San Francisco, Mr Gandhi will travel to Los Angeles. He is likely to visit Aspen Institute. The Congress Vice President will also travel to Washington DC and Princeton University before his final address in New York.

Russian airstrike kills 40 Islamic State fighters, including 4 leaders, in Syria

BEIRUT, Sept 8: Russia’s ministry of defense said it has killed four Islamic State group leaders in an airstrike outside the eastern Syria city of Deir el-Zour.

Russian news agencies on Friday quoted a defense ministry statement saying that its intelligence showed the airstrike killed 40 militants. Among them, according to the reports, were militant leaders Abu Muhammad al-Shimali and Gulmurod Khalimov.

Al-Shimaali reportedly headed the movement of foreign fighters into Syria and processed the group’s new recruits.

Heavy clashes are taking place between Syrian government forces and the Islamic State group around the city as militants fight back to reinstate a years-long siege of the city.

President Bashar Assad’s troops on Tuesday broke the nearly three-year militant blockade of parts of the city, marking a significant advance against the extremists.

North Korea may launch ICBM on Saturday, South Korean president warns

SEOUL, Sept 7: With South Korea predicting North Korea could launch an intercontinental ballistic missile Saturday, a South Korean expert warned “hot-tempered and reckless” Kim Jong Un will not cease his beloved missile and nuclear program until he is “eliminated.”

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Thursday its neighbor may launch a missile Saturday while celebrating its founding day. The volatile regime is known to put on a show for its citizens during national holidays to display its strength.

“I believe that now is the time to strengthen sanctions to the maximum level while securing military deterrence means. Dialogue is ultimately necessary, but now is not the time to talk about dialogue with North Korea,” Lee said.

North Korea reportedly moved an ICBM toward its west coast earlier this week, according to the South Korean paper Asia Business Daily. The rocket was moved overnight, apparently to avoid detection.

If the test is conducted, it would be the fourteenth one since February. North Korea has fired 21 missiles this year and Sunday’s nuclear test, where it claimed it detonated a hydrogen bomb, will be the sixth one in its history.

Kim Jong Un’s push for full nuclear capability may have developed when he was a “hot-tempered and reckless” teenager, Nam Sung-wook, a Korea University professor who formerly ran the Institute for National Security Strategy said, according to Yonhap News Agency.

"The latest development [North Korea's latest sixth nuclear test] is largely attributable to Kim's wild character. If Kim is not eliminated, this issue [the North's provocation] will persist," Nam told South Korean lawmakers.

Nam, part of Seoul’s spy agency between 2008 and 2012, said the dictator had a short temper, recalling a time he “exploded with foul language” because his girlfriend asked him not to smoke.

"As Kim was smoking at a young age, his girlfriend advised him to quit smoking. Then, Kim exploded with foul language, which was quite shocking [to her]," Nam recalled.

A previous report by Japanese magazine Nikkei Asian Review also recalled talking to sources commenting on Kim’s anger. The leader reportedly “flew into a rage” when he discovered his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was planning a coup with Chinese officials to have him ousted in 2013.

Jang was executed a short time later.

Nam added: "Any vague fear of Kim is not desirable. Likewise, any simple evaluation of Kim is a no-no."

Experts fear Kim’s unpredictable rage could drive him to launch a nuclear war as he spews bombastic threats toward neighboring countries and the U.S. Lee also said Thursday that North Korea reaching its nuclear goal threatens the “security of the world.”

"North Korea's nuclear armament poses threats not only to the security of Northeast Asia, but also to the security of the world," Lee said. "It is urgently needed for the international community to make concerted efforts."

N Korea conducts 6th nuclear test, says it was H-bomb

SEOUL, Sept 3: North Korea said it set off a hydrogen bomb today in its sixth nuclear test, which judging by the earthquake it set off appeared to be its most powerful explosion yet.

South Korea's weather agency estimated the nuclear blast yield of the presumed test was between 50 and 60 kilotons, or five to six times stronger than North Korea's fifth test in September 2016. That would mark a significant step forward in the North's quest for a viable nuclear missile capable of striking anywhere in the United States.

On North Korean television, a newsreader called the test a "complete success" and said the "two-stage thermonuclear weapon" had "unprecedented" strength. Hours earlier, Pyongyang claimed its leader had inspected a hydrogen bomb meant for a new intercontinental ballistic missile.

Seoul's weather agency and the Joint Chiefs of Staff said an artificial 5.7 magnitude quake occurred at 12:29 p.m. local time, in Kilju, northern Hamgyong province, the site where North Korea has conducted nuclear tests in the past.

Seoul officials revised their earlier estimate of 5.6 magnitude quake. The US Geological Survey called the first quake an explosion with a magnitude 6.3.

The US State Department had no immediate reaction. South Korea's presidential office said it will hold a National Security Council meeting chaired by President Moon Jae-in.

South Korea's military said it has strengthened its monitoring and readiness while mulling a variety of possible responses that could be executed in collaboration with the US.

Japan confirmed that North Korea conducted a nuclear test, Foreign Minister Taro Kono said. "It is absolutely unacceptable if North Korea did force another nuclear test, and we must protest strongly," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.

The USGS and China's earthquake administration detected a second tremor in North Korea minutes after the first, describing it as a cave-in or collapse. South Korea's weather agency, however, said no second quake occurred.

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year, the last nearly a year ago, on the September 9 anniversary of the nation's founding. It has since maintained a torrid pace in weapons tests, including its first two intercontinental ballistic missiles test in July.

Last month, North Korea fired a potentially nuclear- capable midrange missile over northern Japan.

Earlier today, photos released by the North Korean government showed Kim talking with his lieutenants as he observed a silver, peanut-shaped device that was apparently the purported thermonuclear weapon destined for an ICBM.

What appeared to be the nose cone of a missile could also be seen near the alleged bomb in one picture, which could not be independently verified and was taken without outside journalists present. Another photo showed a diagram on the wall behind Kim of a bomb mounted inside a cone.

State media said Kim visited the Nuclear Weapons Institute and inspected a "homemade" H-bomb with "super explosive power" that "is adjustable from tens (of) kiloton to hundreds (of) kiloton."

North Korea's nuclear and missile programme has made huge strides since Kim rose to power following his father's death in late 2011. The North followed its two tests of Hwasong-14 ICBMs by threatening in August to launch a salvo of its Hwasong-12 intermediate range missiles toward the US Pacific island territory of Guam.

It flew a Hwasong-12 over northern Japan last week, the first such overflight by a missile capable of carrying nukes, in a launch Kim described as a "meaningful prelude" to containing Guam, the home of major US military facilities, and more ballistic missile tests targeting the Pacific.

It may be difficult for outside experts to confirm that the nuclear device detonated today was an H-bomb. State media reported that the test left no trace of radioactive material.

The US and its allies attempt to detect blast material to gauge North Korea's progress, but Pyongyang has become better at containing it as its nuclear program has evolved.

To back up its claims to nuclear mastery, such tests are vital. The first of its two atomic tests last year involved what Pyongyang claimed was a sophisticated hydrogen bomb; the second it said was its most powerful atomic detonation ever.

It is almost impossible to independently confirm North Korean statements about its highly secret weapons programme.

North Korea is thought to have a growing arsenal of nuclear bombs and has spent decades trying to perfect a multistage, long-range missile to eventually carry smaller versions of those bombs.

The White House said President Donald Trump spoke with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan regarding "ongoing efforts to maximize pressure on North Korea."

The statement did not say whether the conversation came before or after the North's latest claim.

Swiss President’s visit gives big boost to Indo-Swiss relations

NEW DELHI, Sept 1: Ms. Doris Leuthard, President of the Swiss Confederation arrived here on Wednesday on a three days state visit to India to boost the 70 years old ‘Indo-Swiss ties’.

The President was accorded a ceremonial welcome, followed by a meeting with President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi that is expected to accelerate Indo-Swiss relations.

Leuthard’s visit to India assumes much significance as India is seeking its entry into the 48-member elite nuclear club, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), of which Switzerland is the chair. It is also important in the context of ‘dirty money’ allegedly held in banks in Switzerland and elsewhere. Two MOU’s with Indian railways have already been signed.

The President is accompanied by senior government officials and business persons.

On Friday, she honoured “Five Friendship Ambassadors” at a function held at the Swiss Embassy.

North Korea says more missiles to come as UN condemns launch

SEOUL, Aug 30: North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un has promised more missile flights over Japan, insisting his nuclear-armed nation’s provocative launch was a mere “curtain-raiser”, in the face of UN condemnation and US warnings of severe repercussions.

The Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile that Pyongyang unleashed on Tuesday represented a major escalation in the face of tensions over its weapons programmes.

In recent weeks it has threatened to send a salvo of missiles towards the US territory of Guam, while President Donald Trump has warned of raining “fire and fury” on the North.

After the latest launch Trump said that “all options” were on the table, reviving his implied threat of pre-emptive US military action just days after congratulating himself that Kim appeared to be “starting to respect us”.

The UN Security Council -- which has already imposed seven sets of sanctions on Pyongyang -- said in a unanimous statement the North’s actions “are not just a threat to the region, but to all UN member states”.

Both the North’s key ally China and Russia, which also has ties to it, backed the US-drafted declaration, but it will not immediately lead to new or tightened measures against Pyongyang.

The Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the North’s ruling party, on Wednesday carried more than 20 pictures of the launch near Pyongyang, one showing Kim smiling broadly at a desk with a map of the Northwest Pacific, surrounded by aides.

Another showed him gazing upwards as the missile rose into the air.

South Korea’s military said Tuesday that it had travelled around 2,700 kilometres (1,700 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of 550 kilometres.

The official Korean Central News Agency cited Kim as saying that “more ballistic rocket launching drills with the Pacific as a target in the future” were necessary.

Tuesday’s launch was a “meaningful prelude to containing Guam, advanced base of invasion”, he said, and a “curtain-raiser” for the North’s “resolute countermeasures” against ongoing US-South Korean military exercises which the North regards as a rehearsal for invasion.

Wednesday’s statement was the first time the North has acknowledged sending a missile over Japan’s main islands. Two of its rockets previously did so, in 1998 and 2009, but on both occasions it claimed they were space launch vehicles.

Tuesday’s missile overflight triggered consternation in world capitals and on the ground, with sirens blaring out and text message alerts being sent in Japan warning people to take cover.

“Threatening and destabilising actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all nations of the world,” Trump said in a White House statement. “All options are on the table.”

At the UN Security Council emergency meeting Washington’s Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that “enough is enough” and that tough action had to be taken.

“It’s unacceptable,” Haley said. “They have violated every single UN Security Council resolution that we’ve had, and so I think something serious has to happen.”

The North last month carried out its first two successful tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile, apparently bringing much of the US mainland into range, but the Pentagon said Tuesday’s launch was judged not to have represented a threat.

Any missile fired by the North at Guam would have to pass over Japan, and analysts said that Pyongyang appeared to have chosen the trajectory as a “half-way house” option to send a message without crossing a red line.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was nevertheless visibly unsettled, dubbing the launch an “unprecedented, serious and grave threat.”

Despite Trump’s rhetoric, officials in Washington privately echo the warning by Trump’s now former chief strategist Steve Bannon that it is too late for a pre-emptive strike against the North.

“There’s no military solution, forget it,” Bannon told the American Prospect in an August 16 interview, his last before losing his job.

“Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

India, China agree to disengage troops at Doklam: MEA

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Aug 28: India and China have agreed to an “expeditious disengagement” of their troops who have been locked in a two-months-long face-off along the disputed Doklam region bordering Bhutan and China, according to a statement by New Delhi’s Ministry of External Affairs.

“In recent weeks, India and China maintained diplomatic communication in respect of incident at Doklam... during these communications, we were able to express our views and convey our concerns and interests,” said the ministry of external affairs in a short statement.

“On this basis, expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to and is on-going.”

North Korea photos suggest new solid-fuel missile designs

TOKYO, Aug 23: North Korea’s state media released photos on Wednesday that appear to show the designs of one or possibly two new missiles.

Concept diagrams of the missiles were seen hanging on a wall behind leader Kim Jong Un while he visited a plant that makes solid-fuel engines for the country’s ballistic-missile program.

One of the photos clearly showed a diagram for a missile called “Pukguksong-3,” which appears to be the latest in its Pukguksong, or Polaris, series. The other was harder to discern, though it carried a “Hwasong,” or Mars, designation name.

The photos were carried in the morning edition of the Rodong Sinmun, the ruling party’s newspaper, and released by the Korean Central News Agency just two days after the United States and South Korea began annual military exercises that the North claims are a rehearsal for war.

Tensions on the peninsula generally ratchet up during the maneuvers and a series of larger exercises held each spring. The KCNA report on the visit said Kim called on workers at the plant to produce more solid-fuel rocket engines and rocket warhead tips.

Michael Duitsman, a research associate at the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies, said the first missile has not been seen before.

“The Pukguksong-3 is definitely new,” he said.

The missile might be designed to fly farther and to be launched from protective canisters, which allow missiles to be transported more easily and makes them more difficult to locate and destroy in advance. Solid-fuel engines add to that difficulty because they allow for quicker launches than liquid-fuel missiles. It could possibly also boost the North’s submarine-launched missile capabilities.

North Korea successfully tested the submarine-launched Pukguksong-1 in August last year. It then followed up with a successful test of the land-based Pukguksong-2 in February this year. Both are believed to have intermediate ranges that could target Japan and the U.S. bases there but not the mainland United States.

The submarine and land-based technologies overlap, and developments in either can benefit both.

“It’s pretty smart to use the same missile design for both an SLBM and a land-based variant, the key being the canister,” said Vipin Narang, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who focuses on nuclear proliferation. “On land it’s easier to move and store, and fire. And you need a canister-based system for ejection at sea.”

Duitsman said the quality of the pictures made it hard to immediately distinguish what the other missile was though he said it was likely either a Hwasong-13 or Hwasong-11.

“If it is the Hwasong-13, then there has been an enormous change to the design,” he said. “The Hwasong-13 was originally paraded in 2012 as a liquid-fueled missile.”

“Changing an entire missile from liquid to solid fuel, or vice versa, is generally something you don’t do,” he said. “The design principles are very different.”

India welcomes Trump’s new Afghanistan policy

NEW DELHI, Aug 22: India on Tuesday welcomed United States President Donald Trump’s new policy on Afghanistan. saying his move will help target “safe havens” of terrorism in South Asia. His call for an end to Pakistan’s involvement in terrorism in Afghanistan and his support for Afghan-led peace process addressed a core Indian concern.

“We welcome President Trump’s determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges facing Afghanistan and confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists,” said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in a statement.

In his speech earlier on Monday, President Trump urged India to do more to help Afghanistan with its developmental needs and urged Pakistan to stop the terror attacks that originate from its territory.

India responded saying that it shared concerns of the U.S. government. “We are committed to supporting the government and the people of Afghanistan in their efforts to bring peace, security and stability and prosperity in their country. We have been steadfast in extending reconstruction and development assistance to Afghanistan in keeping with our traditional friendship with its people. We will continue these efforts,” said the MEA.

North Korea warns of clash as military drills begin

SEOUL, Aug 21: The United States and South Korea began their annual joint military exercises Monday, while North Korea warned that the drills will deepen tensions on the Korean Peninsula by “throwing fuel onto fire.”

Both the United States and South Korea insist that the drills are defensive in nature, but North Korea has long condemned the joint exercises as rehearsals for invasion. During such drills, North Korea has often escalated its warlike rhetoric and lashed out with missile and other weapons tests.

It tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile during the drills in August last year, following it up with a nuclear test, its fifth, the next month.

The exercises this week, known as Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, follow a North Korean threat this month to launch four ballistic missiles into waters near Guam, home to major U.S. military bases in the Western Pacific. That warning, combined with another by President Trump to bring “fire and fury” to the North unless it stood down, has escalated tensions in the region, even setting off fears of possible war.

The tensions appear to have eased somewhat since the North Korean leader,
Kim Jong Un, said last week that he would “watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees” before deciding whether to approve his military’s plan to fire missiles near Guam. Kim said the United States needs to “make a proper option first and show it through action” to reduce tensions.

If North Korea uses the drills this week as a reason to launch missiles around Guam or elsewhere, it could set off a new cycle of escalation.

“We have no intention of raising military tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said Monday. “North Korea should not use this as a pretext for provocation.”

Moon also stressed his opposition to military action against North Korea to a visiting U.S. congressional delegation. “Even a very limited military option would eventually lead to an armed clash between South and North Korea,” Moon’s office quoted him as telling the delegation, led by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass. “This would endanger the lives of many foreigners in South Korea, including American servicemen, as well as South Koreans.”

On Sunday, the North’s main state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, likened the drills to an act of “throwing fuel onto fire” that would “worsen the situation.”

“No one can guarantee that this will not escalate into a real war,” it said, calling the annual drills a “rehearsal for nuclear war” and the “most naked expression of hostility” toward the North.

The war games, which last 11 days, involve 17,500 U.S. service members, including about 3,000 from outside the peninsula, and 50,000 South Korean troops. The exercises include computer simulations carried out in a large bunker south of Seoul intended to check the allies’ readiness to repel aggressions by the North.

The drills this year are the second Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercises since the United States and South Korea reportedly revised their war plans in 2015 to reflect the North’s advances in its nuclear capabilities.

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Gen. John Hyten, chief of the U.S. Strategic Command, arrived in South Korea over the weekend to observe the exercises. Their unusual presence was meant to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to defend its ally, officials in South Korea said.

It remained unclear whether the drills would involve nuclear-capable long-range bombers and other strategic weapons from the United States.

Race-related protests surface in Canada

TORONTO, Aug 21: Race-related agitation spilled over into Canada from the United States on Sunday and led to the arrest of an Indian-origin activist who was at a counter-demonstration.

A week after the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, the contagion of race-related protests and counter-protests hit Canada’s Quebec City, where a group called Le Meute, or the Wolf Pack, had planned a vigil outside the provincial National Assembly against what they described as “illegal immigration”.

But they remained holed up in a parking garage for more than four hours, while counter-protestors laid siege to the building they were gathered in. Among those groups was Antifa and its demonstration was deemed illegal by the local police.

The counter-protests turned violent at one stage. One person, Montreal-based activist Jaggi Singh, was arrested by police.

Singh, a prominent social justice activist, told Canada’s CTV News earlier that Le Meute’s message was one “that needs to be confronted”.

However, the anti-immigrant group claimed “success”, as its members finally emerged from hiding to peacefully march down the streets of Quebec City.

The protest by Le Meute was condemned by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. During the course of a news conference in Montreal, held jointly with Ireland’s Indian-origin Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, Trudeau described anti-immigrant marches like the one planned by Le Meute as “intolerant, racist demonstrations”.

“The small minority, angry, frustrated group of racists don’t get to define who we are as a country, don’t get to tell others who we are and don’t get to change the nature of the open, accepting values that make us who we are,” he said.

Trudeau added he was “proud to stand with millions of Canadians who reject the hateful, harmful, heinous ideologies that we’ve seen in dark corners of both the internet and our communities from time to time”.

A similar protest in Vancouver on Saturday had been overwhelmed by peaceful counter-protestors. However, those opposing Le Meute turned violent at times, tossing flares, fireworks, and even chairs at police and setting a dumpster on fire.

CBC News reported at least two members of Le Meute had been seen at the rally in Charlottesville.

More anti-immigration demonstrations are being planned in other Canadian cities, including Toronto. This increase in opposition to immigration has partly resulted from the recent surge in people crossing the border from the US into Canada and into Quebec.

However, Trudeau attempted to reassure Canadians the system had not broken down, as he said, “Canadians can be confident in the integrity of our borders, in the strength and rigour of our immigration system.”

North Korea has produced nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside its missiles: report

WASHINGTON, Aug 8: North Korea has produced a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside its missiles, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday, a major development sure to further inflame tensions.

The Post cited parts of an analysis conducted by the Defense Intelligence Agency that says the intelligence community thinks North Korea has “nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery” — including in intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Post said the assessment’s broad conclusions were verified by two US officials familiar with the analysis. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It was not known if North Korea has successfully tested the smaller warhead design, the Post said, though North Korea last year claimed to have done so.

The progress means North Korea is further along the path to having a deployable nuclear missile than has previously been acknowledged. The Post also reported that another intelligence assessment estimated that North Korea now has up to 60 nuclear weapons, more than previously thought.

North Korea has alarmed the international community by the pace and progress of its missile development program, and in July leader Kim Jong-Un conducted two tests of an ICBM — the first time he had demonstrated ICBM capability.

The first of these trials, which Kim described as a gift to “American bastards,” showed the rocket had the potential range to hit Alaska. The second rocket test last week flew even longer, with some experts even suggesting that New York could be in range. North Korea vowed yesterday that tough new UN sanctions would not stop it from developing its nuclear arsenal, rejecting talks and angrily threatening retaliation against the United States.

Up to 100 feared dead, thousands injured in China earthquake: Govt

BEIJING, Aug 8: A 6.5-magnitude earthquake rattled southwest China late Tuesday, killing at least five people, with up to 100 feared dead, according to a government estimate.

Five people died and more than 60 were injured in the quake, the official Xinhua news agency said, including 30 who were in critical condition.

But China’s National Commission for Disaster Reduction estimated that as many as 100 people may have perished, based on 2010 census data of the mountainous, sparsely populated region.

Over 130,000 houses may be damaged, it added in a statement posted on its website, based on a preliminary analysis of the disaster in a remote region of Sichuan province.

The quake occurred around 9.20 pm, not far from the site of a massive 8.0-magnitude earthquake that struck in 2008 leaving 87,000 people dead or missing.

Its epicentre was 284 kilometres north of the provincial capital Chengdu and struck at a depth of 10 kilometres, the US Geological Survey said.

The affected region, Jiuzhaigou county, includes one of the country’s most famous national parks, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for karst formations and lakes.

At least one tourist was killed and four others injured in the park, the state-run People’s Daily newspaper said, with more than 100 other people trapped there.

More than 38,000 people visited the tourist site on Tuesday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Raveesh Kumar appointed as new Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson

NEW DELHI, Aug 4: Consulate General of India in Frankfurt (Germany) Raveesh Kumar was appointed the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs on Friday.

"Honoured to take over as the Spokesperson @MEAIndia. Trust to have your continued support to keep up the high traditions set by my predecessors," Kumar said after officially assuming charge as the MEA spokesperson.

45-year-old Raveesh Kumar is the youngest ever official spokesperson.

Outgoing spokesperson Gopal Baglay took to Twitter to congratulate Kumar on his new designation.

"Best wishes to my successor Raveesh Kumar on taking over as the new Spokesperson of the Ministry," Baglay tweeted on Friday evening.

Apart from spokesperson, Kumar would also occupy the post of joint secretary of external publicity.

Kumar joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1995 and began his diplomatic career with the Indian Mission in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has also served in Thimpu and London. During his stint in Delhi, he looked after the East Asia desk.

Prior to being the Consul General of India at Frankfurt, Germany, he was the Deputy Chief of Mission in Jakarta from September 2010 to August 2013.

Earlier this month, Gopal Baglay was appointed as Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister's Office.

Raveesh Kumar was born in Bhagalpur district of Bihar. He attended Mount Assisi School, Bhagalpur till class 10 after which he attended Delhi Public School, Mathura Road till class 12. He has a Bachelor’s Degree with Honours in History from Hansraj College, Delhi University.

India says no troop withdrawal at Doklam amid border standoff

NEW DELHI, Aug 2: India on Wednesday rejected China’s claim that the number of troops engaged in the Doklam standoff had fallen and insisted that peace and tranquillity at the border are an “important requisite” for smooth development of ties.

China’s foreign ministry issued a 15-page statement which said Indian troop numbers in the Donglang or Doklam region had fallen from a peak of more than 400 to about 40 at the end of July.

The statement also floated the idea that New Delhi and Beijing should sign a new boundary convention to replace the 1890 “Convention between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet” that is said to have demarcated the Sikkim boundary.

Hours after China pointed to the thinning out of troops, Indian government sources said there had been no withdrawal of Indian forces and the position on the ground remained unchanged.

“Neither has the Indian Army pulled back any troops nor has the force observed any withdrawal by the Chinese side. The status remains the same,” a source said.

The sources said around 350 Indian troops have been deployed at Doklam for the past six weeks.

Responding to China’s statement which contended the face-off at Doklam was triggered in June by Indian troops “trespassing” into Chinese territory, the external affairs ministry spokesperson said: “India’s position on this issue and related facts have been articulated in our press statement of June 30, 2017.

“India considers that peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas is an important prerequisite for smooth development of our bilateral relations with China.”

The Indian statement of June 30 – the only official readout on the standoff that is in its second month – had expressed New Delhi’s concern at Beijing’s attempt to build a road in the India-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction that would “represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications”.

But the Chinese foreign ministry contended it had informed India in advance about its road building activity in Doklam and also accused India of interfering in the Bhutan-China boundary issue. “The China-Bhutan boundary issue is one between China and Bhutan. It has nothing to do with India. As a third party, India has no right to interfere in or impede the boundary talks between China and Bhutan, still less the right to make territorial claims on Bhutan’s behalf,” the statement said.

India has asserted that China’s road construction activity will change the status quo and goes against an understanding reached by the two sides in 2012 that the “tri-junction boundary points between India, China and third countries will be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries”.

Beijing referred to the 1890 convention and a “non-paper” provided by the Indian side during a May 10, 2006 meeting of the Special Representatives on the boundary issue to back up its claims. “Both sides agree on the boundary alignment in the Sikkim Sector,” the Chinese statement quoted the non-paper as saying.

A non-paper is an informal document, usually without explicit attribution, used in diplomatic negotiations. It is rare for the contents of such documents to be officially made public by either party involved in negotiations.

In a first, the Chinese statement also floated the idea that New Delhi and Beijing should sign a new boundary convention to replace the 1890 “Convention between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet”.

The face-off began on June 16, when Indian troops opposed the building of a road by Chinese forces at Donglang or Doklam, which is under China’s control but claimed by Bhutan.

The Chinese statement said the boundary in Sikkim sector “has long been delimited by the 1890 convention” and even the signing of a new convention would “in no way” alter the nature of the boundary in the region.

The more than 2,500-word statement was the latest in the series of steps by the Chinese side blaming India for the impasse.

Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has said both sides should pull back their troops before any talks but China has set the unilateral withdrawal of Indian troops from Donglang as a pre-condition for a dialogue.

Prabhat Kumar new Ambassador to Kazakhstan

NEW DELHI, Aug 2: Prabhat Kumar (IFS: 1991), presently Ambassador of India to Colombia, has been appointed as the next Ambassador of India to the Republic of Kazakhstan.

He is expected to take up the assignment shortly.

No decision yet on UN ban on Masood Azhar, says China

BEIJING, Aug 2: China on Wednesday said it will take “a decision in due course” on its hold on the US-led proposal to designate Pakistan-based JeM terror group leader Masood Azhar as a global terrorist which is expected to come for a review later this month.

Early this year the US along with the UK and France approached the UN’s sanctions committee for the ban on Azhar.

However, it was stopped by Beijing which again put a six-month technical hold on it. The US proposal came after India’s efforts last year to get Azhar listed as a global terrorist by the UN were scuttled by China.

“The Chinese side will make the decision in due course,” the foreign ministry said about the pending application proposed by the US, the UK and France among others in the 1267 anti-terrorism committee of the UN security council.

“We have stated China’s position on the listing of the 1267 Committee of the UN security council many times” in the past, the ministry said in a written response.

China has been blocking India’s move stating that there is no consensus in the UNSC 1267 which enforces a global ban on terror groups and their leaders with affiliations to Al- Qaeda and Islamic State. JeM has already been in the banned list.

This is the second-year China has blocked attempts to bring about a UN ban on Azhar which would force Pakistan to act against him.

India moved for the UN ban against Azhar in March last year accusing him of masterminding the Pathankot terrorist attack.

China first blocked the Indian move for six months followed by three months technical hold, which ended on December 31 last year leading to the lapse of the application.

China was the only member in the 15-nation UN body to put a hold on India’s application with all other 14 members of the Council supporting New Delhi’s bid to place Azhar on the 1267 sanctions list that would subject him to an assets freeze and travel ban.

China steps up activities along Himachal Pradesh border in Kinnaur

SHIMLA, Aug 1: Heightened Chinese activities were reported across the international border in two Himachal Pradesh districts adjacent to the mountainous and arid Tibetan region where Beijing is building roads and infrastructure.

The reports surfaced after the India-China standoff over Doklam across the Sikkim border in the eastern sector.

Himachal shares a 260km porous border on its northeastern side with China and three battalions of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) are maintaining constant vigilance since the Doklam faceoff in mid-June.

Residents of villages in the remote districts of Kinnaur as well as Lahaul and Spiti have reported spotting Chinese helicopters and increased road-building and construction activities across the border.

“Though we have been seeing construction activities for the past year, there has been a marked acceleration in the past four months,” said a government official who didn’t wish to be named.

Chinese constructions could be seen from Shaktot village, about 5km from the Indian border point of Kaurik, which is the last village situated beyond Sumdoh. China has an airfield at Lupsuk, which is nearly 190km from Kaurik.

Kinnaur shares a 140km border with China, while 80km lies in Lahaul and Spiti district.

“We have stepped up vigilance along the China border in Himachal,” said a security officer.

The paramilitary ITBP guards the Chinese border and it has 20 outposts, including the high-security camp at Kaurik in Himachal.

The standoff has affected the annual cross-border trade, which begins in the last week of June and ends in November, through traditional mountain trails and passes.

The local administration has approved trade permits to 52 applicants this year, but is yet to give them permission for go to China. “There is no clarity when it will start,” said Hishey Negi, president of the Kinnaur India-China trade association.

For ages merchants have been crossing the Shipki La, a mountain pass at an altitude of 18,599 feet, to trade with Tibet. It is through this pass that Sutlej enters India from Tibet.

The route was closed after the India-China war in 1962 and reopened when the two countries signed a trade protocol in 1994.

Besides, there are several mountain passes, including Lepcha La, Rang La, and Ranisha Dob Rang.

But, between the passes, there are transit routes that villagers use to cross over and meet relatives across the border.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi elected Pak’s new prime minister

ISLAMABAD, Aug 1: Pakistan’s Parliament elected former petroleum minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as prime minister on Tuesday, days after three-time premier Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the Supreme Court.

Abbasi, from the ruling PML-N party, got 221 votes in the 342-member National Assembly or lower house of Parliament, Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq announced. He will be sworn in later on Tuesday.

After announcing the results amid sloganeering, Sadiq asked Abbasi to take the seat of the prime minister and address the House.

The voting was done with four corners being designated for four candidates, where supporters of each candidate recorded their vote.

Abbasi, a leading businessman and founder of the airblue private airline, will serve as a placeholder prime minister till Sharif’s brother, Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif, is elected to the National Assembly and can become the premier.

After the voting and counting process, many PML-N members of the National Assembly entered the House with posters of Sharif. The Speaker objected to this and asked them to put away placards and posters.

Abbasi will be sworn-in in later at a special ceremony at the President’s House, where President Mamnoon Hussain will administer the oath to him.

Sharif resigned on Friday, shortly after the Supreme Court ruled he was not honest because he had concealed assets — specifically a monthly salary owed to him by his son’s Dubai-based company. Sharif has said he never received any of that money.

The PML-N party has said it will file a petition in the Supreme Court next week, seeking a review of its verdict.

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