200 killed in tunnel collapse at North Korea’s nuclear test site: Report
NEW DELHI, Oct 31: More than 200 people were killed when tunnels at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site collapsed after the test of a hydrogen bomb last month, Japan’s Asahi TV reported on Tuesday.
The collapse occurred while a tunnel was being constructed at Punggye-ri in the northeastern part of the country this month, the channel cited North Korean sources as saying.
About 100 workers were killed in the initial accident and there was a collapse during a rescue operation, resulting in a death toll of more than 200, the report said.
The test site was affected by North Korea’s sixth nuclear blast on September 3 involving a 100-kiloton hydrogen bomb, which was about seven times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped by the US on Hiroshima in 1945.
“It is believed that the ground was loose due to the sixth nuclear test conducted on September 3,” Asahi TV reported.
The Korea Meteorological Agency said the test with the hydrogen bomb had created a crater of 60 metres to 100 metres under the mountain where there is a nuclear test site.
The agency had also said there is a possibility that radioactive substances may leak out in the future if more nuclear tests are conducted at the site.
Experts had said a series of tremors and landslides near the Punggye-ri nuclear test site meant the sixth and largest blast has destabilised the region, and the site might not be used for much longer to test nuclear weapons.
The series of quakes prompted experts to suspect the test of the hydrogen bomb may have damaged the mountainous location where all of North Korea’s six nuclear tests were conducted.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service has said that North Korea was possibly preparing two new tunnels for tests after the test of the hydrogen bomb. The tunnel used for the first nuclear test had been shut down, while a second tunnel had been used for the next five tests.
This second tunnel could have collapsed after the test of the hydrogen bomb, experts said.
Railway safety, energy among 6 agreements signed with Italy
NEW DELHI, Oct 30: India and Italy on Monday signed six agreements, including in the areas of railway safety and energy, following delegation-level talks headed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni here.
The two sides signed a joint declaration of intent of cooperation for safety in the railway sector.
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed on cooperation between India and Italy in the field of energy.
Another MoU was signed for promoting mutual investments between the Italian Trade Agency and Invest India.
A third MoU was signed to mark 70 years of India-Italy diplomatic relations between the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
A fourth MoU was signed between the training unit of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Foreign Service Institute of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
An executive protocol on cultural cooperation between India and Italy was also signed.
Gentiloni arrived here on Sunday in what is the first Italian prime ministerial visit to India since the visit of then Prime Minister Romano Prodi in February 2007.
Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni arrives to boost ties with India
NEW DELHI, Oct 29: Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni arrived here on Sunday night on a state visit aimed at boosting ties after a lull following a face-off over two Italian marines.
This is the first visit to India in a decade by an Italian prime minister since Romano Prodi visited in 2007.
Prime Minister Gentiloni is accompanied by his wife and a 15-member Italian CEOs delegation.
He will be given a ceremonial reception at the presidential palace on Monday followed by talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
During his stay in New Delhi, Gentiloni will also call on President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu.
“Coming after a gap of more than a decade, the visit is aimed at strengthening bilateral, political and economic relations,” the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.
Italian marines Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre were arrested in India in February 2012. Both were suspected of accidentally shooting dead two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala during anti-piracy duties on an Italian tanker passing through the Indian Ocean.
They were later released on bail and allowed to return to Italy but their arrest and subsequent legal action in India led to a near freeze of diplomatic relations.
Italy maintained the incident took place in international waters and that India was acting outside its jurisdiction.
The two countries are currently fighting a legal battle on the issue at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Seas at The Hague.
The stand-off affected the talks for a free trade pact between the European Union and India.
Gentiloni’s trip is expected to bring fresh momentum to bilateral relations including trade and investment.
Indo-Italian ties got a breather when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited the Vatican in September last year for the canonisation of Mother Teresa.
Italy is India’s 5th largest trading partner in the EU with a bilateral trade of $8.79 billion in 2016-17, as per official figures.
India’s exports to Italy are at $4.90 billion, while its imports are at $3.89 billion, resulting in a trade imbalance of $1 billion in favour of India. In the first four months of fiscal 2017-18, bilateral trade has reached $3.22 billion.
Italy is the 13th largest investor in India with cumulative investments worth $2.41bn from April 2000 to June 2017.
There are over 600 Italian companies active in India covering various sectors such as fashion, garments, textile and textile machinery, automotive, automotive components industry, infrastructure, chemicals, energy, confectionery and insurance.
Italy has the third largest presence of Indian community with an estimated 1,80,000 people after the UK and the Netherlands.
The top five sectors in India that attract Italian investments are automotive industry, trading, service sector, industrial machinery and food processing industry.
Thousands in Barcelona attend ‘march for unity’
BARCELONA, Oct 29: Hundreds of thousands of supporters of a unified Spain filled Barcelona’s streets on Sunday in one of the biggest shows of force yet by the so-called silent majority that has watched as regional political leaders push for Catalan independence.
Political parties opposing a split by Catalonia from Spain had a small lead in an opinion poll published on Sunday, the first since Madrid called a regional election to try to resolve the country's worst political crisis in four decades.
Polls and recent elections have shown that about half the electorate in the wealthy northeastern region, which is already autonomous, oppose secession from Spain, but a vocal independence movement has brought the current crisis to a head.
On Friday, Spain’s central government called an election for December 21 after sacking Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont, dissolving its Parliament and dismissing its government. That followed the assembly’s unilateral declaration of independence in a vote boycotted by three national parties.
The regional government claimed it had a mandate to push ahead with independence following an unofficial referendum on October 1 which was ruled illegal under Spanish law and mostly boycotted by unionists.
Waving thousands of Spanish flags and singing “Viva Espana,” protesters on Sunday turned out in the largest display of support for a united Spain since the beginning of the crisis — underlining the depth of division in Catalonia itself.
“I’m here to defend Spanish unity and the law,” said Alfonso Machado (55), a salesman standing with a little girl with Spanish flags in her hair.
“Knowing that in the end there won’t be independence, I feel sorry for all the people tricked into thinking there could be and the divisions they’ve driven through Catalan society,” he said.
The poll of 1,000 people by Sigma Dos for newspaper El Mundo, which opposes independence, showed anti-independence parties winning 43.4 per cent support and pro-independence parties 42.5 per cent.
The survey was taken from Monday to Thursday, just as the central government prepared to take control of Catalonia.
Madrid said on Saturday that secessionist politicians, including Mr. Puigdemont, were free to take part in the December 21 election. The pro-Catalan and hardline Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP) has been unclear if it would.
The deposed Catalan government would soon have to make difficult decisions, Mr. Puigdemont’s former deputy Oriol Junqueras said on Sunday in an editorial in the Catalan online newspaper El Punt Avui. He stopped short of saying they would take part in the election.
“We need a shared strategy ... it’s important to weave solid alliances with those who are willing to build a state that serves its citizens,” he said, possibly alluding to a rumoured alliance between his own ERC party and the Catalonia arm of the anti-austerity Podemos party.
Such an alliance could put the independence movement in a difficult position as it would mean joining forces with parties that reject Madrid’s hard line but do not support secession.
With weeks still to go before the election, the poll showed the CUP, kingmaker for the pro-secessionists in the dismissed 135-seat parliament, would win seven seats, down from a current 10.
The pro-independence coalition Junts pel Si, which held 62 seats previously, was split into parties PDeCat and ERC for the poll as they are unlikely to run on a single platform. The two parties would win between 54 and 58 seats in total, the poll showed.
In a speech at Sunday’s unity rally, former European Parliament president Josep Borrell called for voters to turn out en masse in December to ensure independence supporters lose their stranglehold on the regional parliament.
“Maybe we’re here because many of us during elections didn’t go and vote. Now we have a golden opportunity. This time, nobody should stay at home,” Mr. Borrell said to cheering crowds.
Mr. Puigdemont, speaking from the Catalan nationalist stronghold of Girona on Saturday, called for peaceful opposition to Madrid’s takeover. But he was vague on precisely what steps the secessionists would take as Spanish authorities move into Barcelona to enforce control.
European countries, the United States and Mexico have also rejected the Catalan declaration of independence and expressed support for Spain’s unity.
But emotions are running high and the next few days will be tricky for Madrid as it embarks on enforcing direct rule and putting officials in administrative roles. National police were accused of heavy-handedness during the October 1 referendum.
Officers of the regional police force, called the Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalan, were stationed in main public and government buildings on Sunday.
But the force is believed to have divided loyalties. The central government has removed the Mossos’ chief, Josep Lluis Trapero, and said units could be replaced if warranted.
In an open letter on Sunday, Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido praised the Mossos for their work and urged them to accept the new leadership structure, which will temporarily be directed from Madrid.
The main secessionist group, the Catalan National Assembly, has urged civil servants not to follow orders from the central government and to mount “peaceful resistance", while the pro-independence trade union CSC has called a strike.
Since the return of democracy in the late 1970s, Spain has suffered several traumatic episodes, including an attempted military coup in 1981, a violent Basque separatist conflict, and more recently an economic crisis. The Catalan issue is however the biggest challenge to the territorial integrity of what is now a progressive European Union nation.
The chaos has also prompted an exodus of businesses from Catalonia, which contributes about a fifth of Spain’s economy, the fourth-largest in the euro zone. Tourism in hugely popular Barcelona has been hit and markets have darted up and down on the fast-moving developments.
European leaders have also denounced the push, fearing it could fan separatist sentiment around the continent.
India second-largest source nation for immigrants in Canada
TORONTO, Oct 25: Surprisingly, 12 per cent of immigrants who landed and permanently settled in Canada in the five-year period between 2011 and 2016 were from India, according to the latest results from the 2016 census released by Statistics Canada.
In its table for the top 10 countries of birth of recent immigrants in 2016, those from India - at 147,190 - account for 12.1% of total number of 1212075.
India was the second-largest largest source nation, trailing only the Philippines. China completes the list of the top three nations sending immigrants to Canada.
These results “provide a new national statistical portrait of immigration and ethnocultural diversity in Canada”, according to a statement from Statistics Canada.
According to the document, the largest contingent of visible minorities in Canada is from South Asia, with 1,924,635 people representing more than 25% of that particular population. While this data is not further broken down by country of origin, it appears to indicate that the Indian-origin population in Canada may be nearing 1.5 million, as this segment is estimated to comprise three-fourth of immigrants from the subcontinent.
The next two largest visible minority groups are the Chinese (at 20.5% of the total) and blacks (at 15.6% of that population).
Given the three largest source countries of new Canadian immigrants, it isn’t surprising that nearly half the foreign-born population is from Asia.
“Changes in the main source countries of immigrants have transformed the overall portrait of Canada's foreign-born population. In 2016, almost half (48.1%) of the foreign-born population was born in Asia (including the Middle East), while a lower proportion (27.7%) was born in Europe,” the statement said.
This was also the first time that Africa ranked second among the source continents for immigrants, overtaking Europe.
According to Statistics Canada, “Current immigration trends - if they continue - and the aging of established cohorts of immigrants mean that from 55.7% to 57.9% of all immigrants would be born in Asia by 2036, and from 15.4% to 17.8% would be born in Europe.”
The vast majority of new immigrants were admitted to Canada as economic migrants. That section accounts for more than 60% of the new immigrants during the given five-year period, while those under the family class, joining kin already in Canada, was at nearly 27% and refugees accounted for nearly 12%.
The three major cities of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal continue to be the place of residence of more than half of all immigrants, including those that have arrived recently.
Indian passport ranks as low as 75 in global power index; Singapore tops
NEW DELHI, Oct 25: The Indian passport has fared poorly at the 75th position in a global ranking, which saw an Asian country, Singapore, ranking at first position for the first time.
The Passport Index' Global Passport Power Rank 2017 ranks India, according to its passport's total visa-free score, below countries like Mali, Madagascar, Gabon, and Comoros, which all had a visa-free score of 52. India, according to the index, has a visa-free score of 51.
But, how does the index, developed by global financial advisory firm Arton Capital, work and why does India fare so poorly? The ranking is based on an analysis of the access various passports have to countries around the world, with a passport's "visa-free score" representing the number of countries its holder can visit visa-free or with visa on arrival.
In India's case, 24 countries allow its passport holders visa-free entry and 27 provide visa on arrival. This comparitively low number has led to the Indian passport's low ranking.
The bottom five nations on the list are Afghanistan, which ranked 94th with a visa-free score of 22; Pakistan and Iraq both at 93 with a score of 26; Syria at 92 with a score of 29; and Somalia 91 with a score of 34.
In our immediate neighbourhood, India fared better than Bangladesh (ranked at 90 with a score of 35), Nepal and Sri Lanka (both ranked at 89 with a score of 36), Bhutan (ranked at 76 with a score of 50), Myanmar (ranked at 84 with a score of 41), and, as mentioned above, Pakistan.
Our northern neighbour China came in at rank 67 with a visa-free score of 60.
Singapore's passport has been announced as the most powerful in the world as it secured the top spot in the index' most powerful ranking with a visa-free score of 159.
This is the first time an Asian country has been announced as having the most powerful passport, according to the Passport Index.
The index says that Singapore passport holders enjoy visa-free access to 173 countries.
The ranking has come after Paraguay eased its visa requirement for Singaporean passport holders.
Germany and Sweden ranked second and third, with a score of 158 and 157, respectively.
The passports of 193 United Nations member countries and six territories were considered.
Historically, the top 10 most powerful passports in the world tend to be European, with Germany in the lead for the past two years, according to a press release.
Since early 2017, the top position was shared with Singapore, which was steadily moving up the ranks.
Other Asian passports in the top 20 include those of South Korea, Japan, and Malaysia.
On the other hand, the United States passport has fallen in the ranking since President Donald Trump took office, according to the index.
Turkey and the Central African Republic revoked their visa-free status to US passport holders, recently.
Singapore was also fourth this year in the Visa Restrictions Index, another ranking of travel freedom, which uses a different method of calculating how "powerful" a passport is.
The list is as follows:
1. Singapore (159)
2. Germany (158)
3. Sweden, South Korea (157)
4. Denmark, Finland, Italy, France, Spain, Norway, Japan, United Kingdom (156)
5. Luxemburg, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Portugal (155)
6. Malaysia, Ireland, Canada, United States of America (154)
7. Austria, Greece, New Zealand (153)
8. Malta, Czech Republic, Iceland (152)
9. Hungary (150)
10. Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia (149)
Shinzo Abe retains super-majority, targets N Korea after win
TOKYO, Oct 23: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stormed to a landslide “super-majority” in snap Japanese elections, near complete projections showed Monday, with the hardline nationalist immediately pledging to “deal firmly” with North Korea.
Abe’s conservative coalition is on track to win at least 312 seats with only a handful left to call, according to public broadcaster NHK, giving him a coveted two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament.
That will allow him to pursue his cherished goal of proposing changes to the country’s pacifist constitution to beef up the status of the military, which is effectively restricted to self-defence.
Abe, 63, is now on course to become Japan’s longest-serving premier, winning a fresh term at the helm of the world’s third-biggest economy and key US regional ally.
Shinzo Abe set for fresh term as Japan votes under North Korea threats
The hawkish prime minister said the crushing election victory had hardened his resolve to deal with the crisis in North Korea, which has threatened to “sink” Japan into the sea and fired two missiles over its northern islands.
“As I promised in the election, my imminent task is to firmly deal with North Korea. For that, strong diplomacy is required,” stressed Abe, who has courted both US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
However, while local media acknowledged what was described as a “landslide” victory, many chalked up Abe’s win to a weak and ineffective opposition and urged caution.
“The voters did not think the opposition parties were capable of running a government... they chose Prime Minister Abe, who is at least better, even if they had some concerns about the ruling coalition,” said the Nikkei daily.
The Asahi newspaper said: “The Abe brand is not as strong as it was before. There are some signs that voters are seeking a change in the situation whereby Abe is the only decent option.”
“Winning an election in a democracy doesn’t give the winner carte-blanche and he would be overconfident if he thought people were satisfied with the past five years of government management,” said the paper.
According to an exit poll by Kyodo News on Sunday, 51% of voters said they do not trust Abe with 44% saying they did.
Turnout was expected to be only a fraction higher than all-time low set in the 2014 election and was boosted largely by people voting early to avoid a typhoon, which smashed into Japan on election day.
Top Chinese officials plotted to ‘overthrow’ Pres Xi Jinping: Report
BEIJING, Oct 19: Several high-ranking members of the Communist Party of China plotted to seize power from President Xi Jinping, a top Chinese official has said, with the claim going against the ruling party’s efforts to portray a picture of unity at its ongoing national congress.
The party members involved in the plot have been arrested or jailed in a wide-reaching crackdown on corruption launched by Xi, who appears set for a second term.
On Thursday, the chief of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, Liu Shiyu, listed names of six “high-ranking and powerful officials, who were hugely greedy and hugely corrupt, and who plotted to usurp the party’s leadership and seize state power”, BBC reported.
“These cases were definitely shocking,” Liu was quoted as saying while speaking at a panel for the Communist Party congress.
He said Xi “addressed these problems, and eliminated a huge and hidden danger to the party and the country”.
Among the six were key leaders whose downfall had attracted scrutiny, such as former security chief Zhou Yongkang, politician Bo Xilai, and Sun Zhengcai, a member of the Politburo who was recently expelled.
The other names in the list were former presidential aide Ling Jihua, late general Xu Caihou and former military officer Guo Boxiong.
It was not clear whether Liu was referring to a coordinated plot or separate attempts at a takeover.
Xi’s detractors have noted that the anti-graft crackdown was used as a pretext to purge the powerful president’s opponents and to consolidate power.
More than one million officials have been jailed or arrested in the crackdown which began soon after Xi took over in 2012. It has since become one of the centrepieces of his regime.
In the past, Xi has denied claims of a “power struggle” within the Communist Party but Liu’s remarks are sure to ignite a fresh debate about power struggles.
Want Peaceful Relations With 'Belligerent' India: Pak Army Chief
KARACHI, Oct 11: Pakistan has shown "genuine desire" to have peaceful relations with its "belligerent" neighbour India but it takes "two to tango", Pakistan's Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said today.
At an event in Karachi to discuss security issues, General Bajwa said Pakistan needs to remove vulnerabilities well before they turn into threats. "With a belligerent India on our east and an unstable Afghanistan on our west, the region remains captive due to historical baggage and negative competition," the Army chief said.
"But on our part, we are making a deliberate and concerted effort to pacify the western border through a multitude of diplomatic, military and economic initiative..."
"We have also expressed and demonstrated our genuine desire to have normal and peaceful relations with India; however, it takes two to tango," General Bajwa said.
Despite what the Pakistani Army chief says, heavy shelling along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistani forces happen frequently. On October 2, a 10-year-old boy and a teenage girl were killed and seven other people were injured in firing by Pakistani troops near Jammu and Kashmir's Poonch district.
On September 21, after a two-day lull in cross-border firing and shelling, Pakistani troops targeted Indian border outposts and villages along the international border in Jammu and Samba districts, injuring three civilians.
On Pakistan's economy, General Bajwa expressed concerns over the country's "sky high" debts, saying the abysmally low tax to Gross Domestic Product ratio must change if the country has to "break the begging bowl".
"Growth has picked up but the debts are sky high. Infrastructure and energy have improved considerably but the current account balance is not in our favour," he said.
According to figures released by Pakistan's Finance Ministry, the country's foreign debt and liabilities are at $58 billion.
Ambassador Tien Reiterates Taiwan's Commitment To Strengthen Ties With India
By Deepak Arora
NEW DELHI, Oct 6:
Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in India (TECC) Ambassador Chung-Kwang Tien reiterated the Republic of China (ROC) Government’s commitment to strengthen Taiwan’s relationship with India under the New Southbound Policy.
Under the leadership of President Tsai Ing-wen who took office in May 2016, Ambassador Tien said Taiwan has developed five flagship projects- from industrial supply chains to youth exchange platforms to regional agri-cooperation.
He said Tawan was also developing three potential-laden fields, namely e-commerce, infrastructure and tourism, for enhanced collaboration with India.
India is the world’s largest democracy and Taiwan is the first democracy in the Chinese speaking area.
Apart from democracy, Taiwan and India also share the universal values in peace, freedom and human right, and therefore should work hand in hand to promote regional peace and stability, tackle transnational crimes, take actions against the climate change and achieve UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) together, said Ambassador Tien.
The Republic of China (ROC) (Taiwan) National Day celebration was organized with a special guest, Mr. Chen Wen-Tung from Taiwan’s National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, as the executive chef in charge of the Taiwan cuisine. Six classic dishes from Taiwan and the famous Taiwan Beer were served for the guests.
The celebration followed with an 11-minute long video named Dynamic Taiwan, Embracing the World to feature the government’s steadfast diplomacy and the society’s energy, diversity and inclusiveness in Taiwan. A tourism-promotion video was displayed, as well as the photo collection made by TECC to showcase relevant activities of Taiwan-India relation in the past year.
A special program of Prize Drawing was held at the end of the celebration. Lucky guests won the prizes including a portable photo printer, pocket-size projector, Acer latptop-cum-tablet, and China Airlines (Taiwan) business class flight tickets from Delhi to Taipei.