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Landslide victory for Hasina in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Dec 31: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has secured a fourth term with a landslide victory in polls the opposition slammed as “farcical” over claims of vote-rigging, and clashes between rival supporters that killed at least 17 people.

Hasina’s ruling Awami League party and its allies won 288 seats in the 300-seat parliament, with the main opposition securing only six seats, Election Commission secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed said.

Hasina’s government had mounted a crackdown on the opposition, an alliance led by the Bangladesh National Party, which urged the country’s election commission to void the results.

“We are demanding that a fresh election is held under a neutral government as early as possible,” Kamal Hossain, who heads the alliance, told reporters.

Deadly violence and bitter rivalry that marred the election campaign spilled over into voting day, even as authorities imposed tight security with 600,000 troops, police and other security forces deployed across the country.

Thirteen people were killed in clashes between Awami League and BNP supporters, police said, while three men were shot by police who said they were protecting polling booths.

An auxiliary police member was also killed by armed opposition activists, according to officials.

Hasina, 71, has been lauded for boosting economic growth in the poor South Asian nation during her decade in power and for welcoming Rohingya refugees fleeing a military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar.

The leadership of Bangladesh has alternated between Hasina and Zia, allies-turned-foes, over the last three decades.

Hasina’s victory secures her third consecutive term in office, and her fourth overall.

A daughter of Bangladesh’s first president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Hasina was gifted victory in the 2014 election when the BNP boycotted the vote claiming it was not free and fair.

Indonesia tsunami survivors remain jittery as death toll hits 429

PANDEGLAND, Dec 25: The death toll climbed to 429 on Tuesday, with more than 1,400 people injured and at least 128 missing, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for Indonesia's Disaster Mitigation Agency.

He said more than 16,000 people were displaced and that there was an urgent need for heavy equipment in the Sumur subdistrict near Ujung Kulon National Park to help get aid flowing and reach people who may be injured or trapped.

Panicked residents, police and soldiers in this remote fishing village clobbered by a devastating weekend tsunami ran to higher ground Tuesday, shouting "Water is coming! Water is coming!" and reciting verses from the Koran as emergency messages were broadcast over mosque speakers.

It proved to be a false alarm, but a similar frenzy broke out in Tanjung Lesung, another tsunami-stricken area located hours away, as unsettled survivors of the disaster remained traumatized by a tragedy that killed more than 420 people and left thousands homeless.

Meanwhile, Christmas celebrations were replaced by somber prayers, as church leaders called on Christians across Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, to pray for tsunami victims.

Unlike other tsunamis that have hit disaster-prone Indonesia following large earthquakes, Saturday's big waves blasted ashore at night without warning. The eruption of Anak Krakatau, or Child of Krakatoa, a volcano in the Sunda Strait, is believed to have created a landslide on the volcano's slope, displacing a large volume of water that slammed into the islands of Java and Sumatra.

People in Sumur village, which has been slow to receive aid due to roads being cut off, remained stunned by how quickly the tsunami hit. The beach, located just a few miles from the tourist island of Umang near Java's western tip, is popular for snorkeling and other water activities. The tsunami decimated the area, ripping houses from their foundations and bulldozing concrete buildings.

Scientists have said the tsunami's waves were recorded in several places at about 3.3 feet high, but residents of Sumur insisted they towered more than 10 feet there. They said a soaring white wall of water roared toward them at high speeds, ripping trees out of the ground by their roots.

"There was no sign of a tsunami when we were at the beach. The sea didn't recede," said Tati Hayati, a housewife, who was enjoying a pleasant evening with 10 other people when the disaster hit. "It was calm and bright with the full moon."

When she spotted high, fast-moving waves launching toward the shore, she ran to her car and managed to get inside. But she couldn't outrun it. She said the car was struck by three waves, breaking out the back window and filling the vehicle with gushing water.

"We were locked inside. The car was swaying in the waves and we thought we would all die," Hayati said. "We almost could not breathe and I almost gave up when I groped the key in the water and managed to open the door, and the water began to recede. We got out of the car and ran to safety."

Indonesia Tsunami kills 222

PANDEGLAND (Indonesia), Dec 23: A tsunami killed at least 222 people and injured hundreds on the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra following an underwater landslide believed caused by the erupting Anak Krakatau volcano, officials and media said on Sunday.

Hundreds of homes and other buildings were “heavily damaged” when the tsunami struck, almost without warning, along the rim of the Sunda Strait late on Saturday, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency, said.

Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate to higher ground. By 1040 GMT, the disaster agency had raised the death toll to 222 from 168, with 843 injured and 28 missing.

TV images showed the seconds when the tsunami hit the beach and residential areas in Pandeglang on Java island, dragging with it victims, debris, and large chunks of wood and metal.

Coastal residents reported not seeing or feeling any warning signs, such as receding water or an earthquake, before waves of 2-3 metres washed ashore, according to media.

Authorities said a warning siren went off in some areas.

The timing of the tsunami, over the Christmas holiday season, evoked memories of the Indian Ocean tsunami triggered by an earthquake on Dec. 26 in 2004, which killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Øystein Lund Andersen, a Norwegian holidaymaker, was in Anyer town with his family when Saturday’s tsunami struck.

“I had to run, as the wave passed the beach and landed 15-20 metres inland. Next wave entered the hotel area where I was staying and downed cars on the road behind it,” he said on Facebook. “Managed to evacuate with my family to higher ground through forest paths and villages, where we are taken care of by the locals.”

Authorities warned residents and tourists in coastal areas around the Sunda Strait to stay away from beaches and a high-tide warning remained in place through until Dec. 25.

“Those who have evacuated, please do not return yet,” said Rahmat Triyono, an official at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

President Joko Widodo, who is running for re-election in April, said on Twitter that he had “ordered all relevant government agencies to immediately take emergency response steps, find victims and care for the injured”.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla told a news conference the death toll would “likely increase”.

Saturday’s tsunami was the latest in a series of tragedies that have struck Indonesia, a vast archipelago, this year.

Successive earthquakes flattened parts of the tourist island of Lombok, and a double quake-and-tsunami killed thousands on Sulawesi island. Nearly 200 people died when a Lion Air passenger plane crashed into the Java Sea in October.

Rescue workers and ambulances were finding it difficult to reach affected areas because some roads were blocked by debris from damaged houses, overturned cars and fallen trees.

The western coast of Banten province in Java was the worst-hit area, Nugroho told reporters in Yogyakarta. He said at least 35 people were reported dead in Lampung in southern Sumatra.

The waves washed away an outdoor stage where a local rock band was performing in Tanjung Lesung in Banten province, a popular tourist getaway not far from the capital, Jakarta, killing at least one musician. Others were missing.

Around 250 employees of the state utility company PLN had gathered in Tanjung Lesung for an end-of-year event, company spokesman I Made Suprateka told Reuters. At least seven people were killed, and around 89 are missing, he said.

Dramatic TV footage showed the seconds when the tsunami hit a concert at the event and washed away the stage where the band, Seventeen, was performing.

“The water washed away the stage which was located very close to the sea,” the band said in a statement. “The water rose and dragged away everyone at the location. We have lost loved ones, including our bassist and manager ... and others are missing.”

Police officers rescued a young boy who was trapped in a car buried under fallen trees and rubble, according to a video of his rescue posted on Twitter by the Indonesian National Police, who did not give any information as to the boy’s identity.

Officials were trying to determine the exact cause of the disaster.

Anak Krakatau, an active volcano roughly halfway between Java and Sumatra, has been spewing ash and lava for months. It erupted again just after 9 p.m. on Saturday and the tsunami struck at around 9.30 p.m., according to BMKG.

The tsunami was caused by “an undersea landslide resulting from volcanic activity on Anak Krakatau” and was exacerbated by abnormally high tide because of the full moon, Nugroho said.

Ben van der Pluijm, an earthquake geologist and a professor in the University of Michigan, said the tsunami may have been caused by a “partial collapse” of Anak Krakatau.

“Instability of the slope of an active volcano can create a rock slide that moves a large volume of water, creating local tsunami waves that can be very powerful. This is like suddenly dropping a bag of sand in a tub filled with water,” he said.

The eruption of Krakatau, previously known as Krakatoa, in 1883 killed more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunamis.

Anak Krakatau is the island that emerged from the area once occupied by Krakatau, which was destroyed in 1883. It first appeared in 1927 and has been growing ever since.

Neighbouring Malaysia and Australia both said they were ready to provide assistance if needed.

India, China discuss enhancing academic exchanges, tourism

NEW DELHI, Dec 21: The foreign ministers of India and China on Friday discussed steps to deepen ties through academic exchanges and tourism even as they vie for influence with their smaller neighbors.

Sushma Swaraj and Wang Yi at their meeting in New Delhi took up enhancing cooperation in tourism, art, film, media, culture, yoga, sports, academic and youth exchanges, according to a tweet from India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar.

"As our relations are deepening and our regional and international role evolving, there are expectations from our two countries to lead Asia and usher in an 'Asian Century," Swaraj said in a message ahead of a meeting of the Indian Council of World Affairs and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Wang attended the inaugural meeting of a forum that is part of a cultural exchange program set up by the two countries in April.

A series of recent India-China meetings have eased tensions along their contested border after last year's 10-week standoff in the neighboring state of Bhutan. The countries fought a border war in 1962 over a disputed border.

Swaraj said Friday the armies of the two countries were making efforts to strengthen contacts to promote peace and tranquility in the border areas.

India asks Pak to mind own business and end terror for its soil

NEW DELHI, Dec 20: India on Thursday lashed out at Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s remarks on the death of seven civilians during an operation against militants in Jammu and Kashmir, saying Pakistani leaders should “mind their own business” and take steps to end terror emanating from their soil.

In a set of recent tweets, Khan condemned the deaths of the civilians and said that “Kashmiris must be allowed to decide their future”. He also tweeted that Pakistan would raise the issue of India’s alleged human rights violations at the United Nations.

Responding to a question on Khan’s tweets, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said at a weekly news briefing that “the statements coming out from their side demonstrates the insincerity and duplicity”.

He added, “I think it will be better if they mind their own business and look at their internal affairs, which are in quite a mess in their own country.”

Kumar said India has been demanding that Pakistan “should stop allowing your territory to be used for terror groups and terrorists, who are operating from your soil and exporting to other countries”. He added, “No action is being taken on that. On the other hand, they sometimes have the gumption to comment on the internal affairs of a neighbouring country.”

On December 15, seven civilians were killed and several more injured when security forces opened fire on local residents who tried to disrupt a joint operation by the army and police in Pulwama district, during which three militants and a soldier were also died. The killing of civilians in Sirnoo village triggered several protests in Pulwama, and people blocked roads at several places.

The next day, Khan tweeted: “Strongly condemn killing of innocent Kashmiri civilians in Pulwama IOK by Indian security forces. Only dialogue & not violence & killings will resolve this conflict. We will raise issue of India’s human rights violations in IOK & demand UNSC fulfil its J&K plebiscite commitment.”

India has insisted that there can be no talks with Pakistan till it takes action against terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed operating from its soil. Pakistan has been calling for a dialogue on all outstanding issues, including Kashmir.

Macron unveils new measures in bid to end ‘yellow vest’ revolt

PARIS, Dec 11: Embattled French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday announced a series of financial measures seeking to defuse the “yellow vest” revolt that has triggered violent protests in cities across the country.

In a 15-minute televised speech from the Elysee Palace, a sombre-looking president told the nation, “I accept my share of responsibility” for the crisis.

The former investment banker struck a more humble tone than usual as he sought to address criticism of his style of leadership.

“I know that I have hurt some of you with my statements,” he said.

Macron stressed, however, that the protests by mostly low-income people in small town or rural France were the result of long-term problems.

“Their distress doesn’t date from yesterday. We have ended up getting used to it,” he said.

“These are forty years of malaise that have come to the surface.”

Among the measures Macron announced was a 100 euro ($113 dollar) monthly increase in the minimum wage as of next year, for which businesses would not have to foot the bill.

The minimum wage was set at 1,498 euros per month pre-tax in 2018 and 1,185 euros after tax.

Macron’s government had previously suggested that any increase in the minimum wage would destroy jobs rather than help create them.

But the protests, which have seen rioting in Paris and other cities and taken a heavy financial toll, are the biggest challenge for Macron since he came to power in May 2017 promising to revitalise the economy.

Since then his popularity has fallen with critics saying he favours the rich and alienates people struggling, especially in provincial France.

The 40-year-old centrist also announced he would roll back most of an unpopular increase in taxes on pensioners which was introduced by his government.

And he called on all businesses “that can afford it” to give employees a one-off “end of year bonus” which would then be tax free.

In another move to appease the protesters’ anger, Macron said he would do away with all wage taxes on overtime work, a measure first introduced under former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy but later reversed under his socialist successor Francois Hollande because it was deemed too expensive.

Macron, who has been in power for the past 18 months, earlier Monday had held four hours of crisis talks with government ministers, parliamentary leaders, business and labour representatives and regional officials.

He had previously vowed that unlike his predecessors he would not be swayed by street protests.

But in an initial attempt to quell the revolt now in its fourth week, the government agreed last week to cancel a planned increase in anti-pollution fuel taxes -- the spark behind the “yellow vest” protests in car-dependent rural and suburban France.

But the move was seen as too little, too late by the protesters, who held a fourth round of demonstrations on Saturday to press for further concessions on reducing inequality.

The campaign of nationwide road blockades and weekend protests in Paris and other cities over four consecutive weekends, which degenerated into destruction and looting, have taken a toll on the French economy.

The central bank on Monday halved its fourth-quarter growth forecast to just 0.2 percent from 0.4 percent -- far below the 0.8 percent growth needed to meet the government’s full-year target of 1.7 percent.

Nationwide an estimated 136,000 people turned out for the protests last weekend -- the same number as a week earlier.

Since the start of the protests, over 4,500 people have been detained by police in France, police said.

Speaking of the violent actions of some of the protesters, who notably set fire to barricades on the Champs-Elysees and defaced the Arc de Triomphe monument, Macron said his government would show no leniency towards trouble-makers.

“No anger justifies attacking a policeman (...) When violence breaks out, freedom ceases to be,” he said.

Reactions to his speech from the “yellow vests” were hard to judge as the movement is leaderless and has refused to come under the sway of political parties or trade unions.

Some protesters, interviewed on French television, acknowledged that Macron had made some “concessions”, but added that these were “insufficient” to call the protests off.

“This time, there really is some progress. My smile got bigger and bigger as he spoke,” said Erwan, one of the movement’s “spokesmen” in the northwestern town of Rennes.

But, for Pierre-Gael Laveder, in the eastern town of Montceau-les-Mines, “Macron hasn’t taken the full measure of what is going on”.

“Everyone of his announcements was booed and the first overall reaction was ‘he thinks we are fools’,” Laveder added.

Right-wing opposition leader Marine Le Pen, Macron’s rival in last year’s presidential run-off election, welcomed some of the tax measures announced, but accused Macron of being the harbinger of “savage” globalisation.

“He refuses to admit it’s the (economic) model which he champions which is itself called into question,” she added.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, who heads the left-wing opposition Unbowed France, said Macron was mistaken if he thought “a distribution of money” will calm down “the insurrection”.

10 Indian men, 24 Thai women arrested over fake-marriage scam in Thailand

BANGKOK, Dec 5: Ten Indian men and 24 Thai women have been arrested in Thailand for their alleged involvement in fake marriages aimed at extending spousal visas in the country, authorities said.

At least 20 other Indian men and six Thai women are said to be on the run, The Nation newspaper reported on Tuesday.

The arrests are part of an ongoing crackdown launched by the Immigration Police Bureau on foreigners living unlawfully in the country, it said.

The suspects were among 30 Indian men and 30 Thai women wanted in court-issued arrest warrants for forging state documents, using forged documents and filing faulty information to state officials which may result in others’ damages, police said.

Immigration Police Bureau 1 in Bangkok had detected fake marriages between 30 men and 30 women, which were falsely documented in order to extend spousal visas for the men, most of whom made a living in Thailand as illegal moneylenders or salesmen for pay-by-installment goods such as clothing and electrical appliances, the police said.

The 30 women allegedly colluded in the wrongdoing by being hired, reportedly for 500-5,000 baht (USD 15 to 152) each, to register fake marriages and submit false documents to the authorities, they said.

The authorities revoked the men’s visas and secured 60 arrest warrants for the suspects.

They subsequently arrested 10 of the wanted Indians and 24 of their Thai accomplices, and are continuing to look for the 26 fugitives, the report said.

Police investigators presented evidence to revoke the suspects’ faulty marriage licences with the respective district offices, it added.

Pakistan supports peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, Imran Khan tells US special envoy

ISLAMABAD, Dec 5: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan told America’s special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Wednesday that peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan is in Islamabad’s abiding interest and he will continue to support peace efforts in the war-torn neighbouring country.

Khan held talks with Khalilzad, who arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday to coordinate closely with the Pakistani leadership on the US efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table to end the 17-year-long war in Afghanistan.

The prime minister “reiterated Pakistan’s abiding interest in achieving peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan through a political settlement,” according to a statement by the PM Office.

“Pakistan wants a political solution to Afghan peace and reconciliation,” he told Khalilzad.

During the meeting, the US special envoy conveyed President Donald Trump’s best wishes.

“The US leadership is looking for a peaceful solution to the Afghan peace process and mutual cooperation between the two sides,” Khalilzad told the premier.

Khalilzad also met Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and reiterated President Trump’s desire to seek Pakistan’s cooperation for peace and stability in Afghanistan, according to a Foreign Office spokesman.

“The FM assured the US side of Pakistan’s steadfast support for a negotiated settlement,” said the spokesman.

“Pakistan will continue to cooperate with sincerity for political settlement in Afghanistan. Long-lasting peace in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s best interest,” Qureshi tweeted.

Khalilzad also held a meeting with Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, where officials from diplomatic, security and defense from both sides present at the meeting.

“Peace and political settlement in Afghanistan was discussed,” according to the spokesman.

Pakistan is accused by both US and Afghanistan of supporting the Taliban who have waged a more than 17-year old insurgency.

Pakistan maintains that the Taliban have long shifted to Afghanistan where they control a sizeable area and that it has little control over them.

Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad a day after Pakistan announced that President Trump has written a letter to Prime Minister Khan, seeking Islamabad’s “assistance and facilitation in achieving a negotiated settlement of the Afghan war”.

Khan told the media on Monday that resolution of conflict in Afghanistan was also in the best interest of Pakistan, which always made serious efforts to bring peace in the neighbouring country.

Khalilzad will also travel to other regional countries including Afghanistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to seek support for his mission.

Afghan-origin Khalilzad served as a special envoy of President George W Bush following the fall of the Taliban government in 2001. He also served as US ambassador to Afghanistan.

He is seen in Pakistan as a hawk who has often accused Islamabad of supporting Taliban militants.

It’s his second visit to Pakistan following his appointment as special representative and reflects the Trump administration’s intent to support, facilitate, and participate in a peace process in Afghanistan.

After his first trip in October, Pakistan announced that it released senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar to help in the efforts of peace in Afghanistan.

Baradar, the former right-hand man of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, was among several senior Taliban leaders freed in recent months, after the Taliban demanded their release in direct talks with Khalilzad on October 12.

It is believed that Mulla Baradar’s release would help persuade Afghan Taliban to lay down arms and negotiate in new peace talks.

‘Ready to pay back 100%’: Mallya wonders why his offer not being accepted

LONDON, Dec 5: Insisting that he is not a ‘defaulter’, liquor baron Vijay Mallya on Wednesday repeated his claim that he is ready to repay “100 per cent” of the money owed to Indian banks, but wondered why his offer made since 2016 has been refused.

Mallya is facing extradition from the United Kingdom to India to face charges of financial irregularities running into thousands of crores. Judgement in the high-profile case is due in the Westminster magistrates court on Monday.

He tweeted: “I see the quick media narrative about my extradition decision. That is separate and will take its own legal course. The most important point is public money and I am offering to pay 100% back. I humbly request the Banks and Government to take it. If payback refused, WHY?”

Mallya’s tweets on the issue are a reprise of his June 26 media statement, in which he said he was tired of “relentless pursuit”, and that his efforts to settle the loans were either ignored or misunderstood. He has reportedly submitted a settlement offer in the Karnataka high court.

Reiterating his main defence that the inability to repay the loans earlier was a result of genuine business failure of his Kingfisher Airlines, rather than dishonesty, he posted: “Airlines struggling financially partly becoz of high ATF (aviation turbine fuel) prices”.

“Kingfisher was a fab airline that faced the highest ever crude prices of $140/barrel. Losses mounted and that’s where Banks money went. I have offered to repay 100% of the Principal amount to them. Please take it”.

“For three decades running India’s largest alcoholic beverage group, we contributed thousands of crores to the State exchequers. Kingfisher Airlines also contributed handsomely to the States. Sad loss of the finest Airline but still I offer to pay Banks so no loss. Please take it”, he said in the series of tweets.

Mallya went on: “Politicians and media are constantly talking loudly about my being a defaulter who has run away with PSU Bank money. All this is false. Why don’t I get fair treatment and the same loud noise about my comprehensive settlement offer before the Karnataka high Court. Sad”.

The embattled tycoon, who has often declared to London-based journalists his willingness to settle with the banks, claimed in his June 26 statement that he had become “the ‘poster boy’ of bank default and a lightning rod of public anger”.

Mallya fled India in March 2016 even as a debt court in Bengaluru was set to act against him for defaulting on loans issued by several banks led by the state-owned State Bank of India. The 62-year-old is fighting an effort to get him extradited to India on charges of fraud and money laundering.

Besides the extradition case, Mallya is also facing recovery action against his assets in the UK brought by 13 Indian banks and another mortgage recovery action by the UBS bank against his house in central London.

French President Macron’s U-turn on fuel tax hike in face of ‘yellow vests’ protests

PARIS, Dec 4: French President Emmanuel Macron’s government reversed course and suspended a planned fuel tax hike that had sent as many as 3,00,000 protesters into the streets for three weeks in sometimes violent clashes.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the decision after detailing the plan in his regular Tuesday morning meeting with governing party lawmakers.

“No tax merits putting the nation in danger,” Philippe said in a televised address. The measures he announced didn’t include the supplemental increase in the minimum wage demanded by protesters.

The climbdown is a rare retreat by Macron, who has prided himself on sticking to his policies and ignoring his tumbling popularity ratings. He’s consistently defended the higher gasoline taxes, saying they are needed to wean the country off fossil fuels and have been compensated for by cuts to payroll taxes.

Even before it was officially announced, Members of Macron’s Republic on the Move saluted the turnaround, saying it would help calm Yellow Vests protests. Yellow Vests and opposition parties said it was too little, too late.

“It’s a first step that could have come weeks ago without all the rancor,” Benjamin Cauchy, an early organizer of the Yellow Vests, said on BFM TV. “But the French won’t be satisfied with just crumbs, they want the whole baguette.” He said he wanted all recent gasoline tax hikes rolled back, and higher taxes on multinational companies.

Stanislas Guerini, the head of Macron’s party, said on RTL Radio that a moratorium on new gasoline taxes would allow a debate on France’s energy policies to take place in a “calmer atmosphere.”

Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National Rally party, which has supported the Yellow Vests in hopes of capturing their votes, said on Twitter that “a moratorium is just a delay. That clearly doesn’t live up to the expectations and the precariousness in which the French people are struggling.”

The turnaround comes as Macron’s popularity hit a new low. A poll by Ifop for Paris Match magazine and Sud-Radio released Tuesday found the president’s support had fallen six points to 23 percent. Philippe was at 26 percent. While Macron and parliament, where his party holds a majority, don’t face new elections until 2022, the reversal on taxes may undermine the rest of his reform agenda.

The protesters, vivid televised images of whom have been shown worldwide, have defaced the Arc de Triomphe, burned hundreds of cars and blocked roads and fuel depots. Now they are expanding. High school students, ambulance drivers, and farmers are demonstrating over unrelated demands -- all in opposition to Macron’s policies, which are seen as too favorable to businesses and the wealthy.

Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy told RMC radio Nov. 30 that a three-month moratorium on planned fuel-tax hikes would lower government revenue by 650 million euros ($740 million). Any tax cuts and spending increases to mollify the protesters would raise further uncertainty over the path of France’s budget deficit, which is already heading close to the 3 percent limit imposed by the European Union.

The grassroots, leaderless Yellow Vests are is struggling to structure themselves. Philippe’s office said that a meeting planned later Tuesday with self-declared representatives of the movement had been canceled; invitees were said to have received death threats from fellow protesters.

Business leaders are warning economic damage from the protests, with the country’s retailers federation saying declines in sales have reached 40 percent in some parts of the country. Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux, the head of the business lobby Medef, dismissed calls for a higher minimum wage in an interview with Le Parisien published Tuesday. “If the minimum wage increase has to be paid by companies, it will mean jobs destruction,” he told the newspaper.

Pakistan opens immigration centre at Kartarpur border

ISLAMABAD, Dec 3: Pakistan has set up a border check post with an immigration office in the Kartarpur section of the border with India in Narowal district, officials have said.

Mufakhar Adeel, deputy director of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which oversees immigration matters in Pakistan, told the Dawn newspaper that the immigration office is located near the Kartarpur Gurdwara, which was built at the site where Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, died.

He said since the border crossing could be an easy target for terrorists, human traffickers and drug dealers, a strong mechanism is required to keep the situation under control on both sides of the border.

Adeel said his officers will check the documents of pilgrims and identify them through biometric technology. He said Sikh pilgrims having visas will be allowed to enter Kartarpur town while pilgrims with permits will be given access only to the gurdwara.

India and Pakistan recently launched work on their respective sections of a corridor that will allow Indian pilgrims to visit the gurdwara without visas. The corridor is expected to open for the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in November 2019 and the two countries will work out modalities for permits that will be issued to pilgrims to visit the shrine.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that his government and the army wanted a “civilised relationship” with India and declared that Islamabad would move two steps forward if New Delhi took one step.

Khan cited examples of France and Germany which fought many wars but eventually came closer.

G20 nations agree on trade, migration, not climate change

Buenos Aires, Dec 2: Leaders of the Group of 20 agreed Saturday to fix the world trading system after difficult, all-night talks in the Argentine capital, but only 19 of them agreed to support the Paris accord on fighting climate change with the United States the lone holdout.

The official summit statement acknowledges flaws in global commerce and calls for reforming the World Trade Organization. It doesn’t mention the word “protectionism,” however, after negotiators said that had met resistance from the United States.

Applause broke out in the summit hall as the leaders, including US president Donald Trump, signed off on a final statement at the end of a two-day summit.

The non-binding agreement was reached after talks by diplomats stretched overnight and into daylight on Saturday, amid deep divisions between member nations. European Union officials said the United States was the main holdout on nearly every issue. Trump has criticized the WTO and taken aggressive trade policies targeting China and the EU.

But China also pushed back in talks on steel, South Africa objected to language on trade, Australia didn’t want the statement to be too soft on migration and Turkey worried it would push too far on climate change, according to the officials.

A senior White House official said the joint statement meets many US objectives and stressed that it includes language about WTO reform. The official also noted other elements such as language on workforce development and women’s economic development and a commitment by China to doing infrastructure financing on “transparent terms.”

According to the official, the language on climate was necessary for Washington to sign on, and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Russia had appeared sympathetic to the US position but ultimately stayed with the other countries.

With trade tensions between the US and China dominated the summit, the Europeans sought to play mediator. They also scaled back their expectations, cutting out mention of rising protectionism — mainly aimed at Trump.

The final language of the statement says, regarding climate, that 19 nations that are signatories to the Paris accord reiterate their commitment to it while the US reiterates its decision to withdraw. It also notes a recent UN report that warned damage from global warming will be much worse than previously feared, and expresses support for an upcoming UN climate meeting in Poland meant to nail down how countries will meet promises made in the Paris accord.

On global commerce, the statement says the 20 countries support multilateral trade but acknowledge that the current system doesn’t work and needs fixing, via “the necessary reform of the WTO to improve its functioning.”

On migration, European officials said the US negotiator said too much talk about it would have been a “deal-breaker” for Trump. So they came up with “minimalist” language that acknowledges growing migrant flows and the importance of shared efforts to support refugees and solve the problems that drive them to flee.

The statement also shows a commitment to a “rules-based international order,” despite Trump’s rejection of many of those rules.

“There were moments when we thought all was lost,” one European official said, “moments when we spent two hours on one sentence.”

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door negotiations.

Thomas Bernes of the Canada-based Centre for International Governance Innovation, who has held leading roles with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Canadian government, said the G-20 had “veered all over the road” at the summit and failed to truly fix trade. The US was out of step on migration and climate change and blocked meaningful agreement on those issues, he added.

“Instead, leaders buried their differences in obscure language and dropped language to fight protectionism, which had been included in every G-20 communique since the leaders’ first summit,” he added. “This is clearly a retrograde step forced by United States intransigence.”

“The question is whether we are burying the G-20 in the process,” Bernes added. “Certainly this is a big hit to the credibility of the G-20 to provide resolute leadership in addressing global problems.”

Perhaps surprisingly, one country that was seen as particularly constructive was Russia, the EU officials said. Despite tensions over its military actions on Ukraine and political interference abroad, Russia supports international efforts on trade and climate.

While a statement isn’t legally enforceable, the Europeans see it as proof that the G-20 is still relevant and that multilateralism still works.

“Everyone agrees that the WTO should be reformed,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. “This is an important agreement.”

“We will send a clear signal — in any case, most of us” — for the success of global climate talks starting in Poland on Sunday, Merkel added.

Merkel’s spokesman said that during a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, she also voiced concern about rising tensions in the Kerch Strait off Crimea and pushed for “freedom of shipping into the Sea of Azov.”

Last weekend, Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews in an incident escalating a tug-of-war that began in 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and supported separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Germany and France have sought to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, and spokesman Steffen Seibert said Merkel and Putin agreed that the four countries should hold further talks at the “adviser level.”

Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping were due to meet later Saturday after the summit’s close. Their countries have been embroiled in an escalating trade war with new US tariffs on China goods set to take effect a month from now.

“The trade war between the United States and China does not favour international commerce. ... A fight between two big players does not benefit,” said Dante Sica, Argentina’s minister of production and labour. “If they are able to begin to agree, it would be a good signal that would reduce the impacts on international commerce.”

In closing remarks, summit host and Argentine president Mauricio Macri said the countries had overcome “a number of challenges” to reach the agreement.

“We have agreed on a statement that reflects the necessity of revitalizing trade, of revitalizing the WTO. .. “We ratify the concern of everyone over climate change,” Macri said.

The next G-20 summit is to be held in Osaka, Japan, in June 2019.

France to consider state of emergency to contain violent riots: Govt spokesman

PARIS, Dec 2: France will consider imposing a state of emergency to prevent a recurrence of some of the worst civil unrest in more than a decade and urged peaceful protesters to come to the negotiating table, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on Sunday.

Groups of young men with faces masked, some carrying metal bars and axes, rioted on the streets of central Paris on Saturday, setting a dozen vehicles ablaze and torching buildings.

“We have to think about the measures that can be taken so that these incidents don’t happen again,” Griveaux told Europe 1 radio.

The authorities were caught off guard by the escalation in violence after two weeks of nationwide protests against fuel taxes and living costs, known as the “yellow vest” movement after fluorescent jackets kept in all vehicles in France.

President Emmanuel Macron will hold an emergency meeting with the prime minister and interior minister later on Sunday to discuss the riots and how to begin a dialogue with the protest movement, which has no real structure or leadership.

When asked about imposing a state of emergency, Griveaux said it would be among the options considered on Sunday.

“It is out of the question that each weekend becomes a meeting or ritual for violence.”

Protests began on Nov. 17 and quickly grew thanks to social media, with protesters blocking roads across France and impeding access to shopping malls, factories and some fuel depots.

Authorities said violent groups from the far right and far left as well as “thugs” from the suburbs had infiltrated the yellow vests movement in Paris on Saturday, although Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said most of those arrested were regular protesters who had been egged on by fringe groups.

Speaking on BFM TV late on Saturday, Castaner said the authorities had put all security measures in place to prevent the violence, but that they had faced extremely violent, organised and determined groups.

He did however say the government had made a mistake in how it communicated its plans to move away from oil dependence, the policy which led to fuel tax hikes.

He and Griveaux urged the yellow vest movement to organise itself and coming to the negotiating table.

“We are ready to talk to them everywhere and the door is open to them,” Griveaux said.

Paul Marra, a yellow vest activist in Marseille, told BFM TV that the government was to blame for the violence across the country.

“We condemn what happened, but it was inevitable. The violence started from the top. The biggest thug is the state through its inaction.”

Rioters ran amok across central Paris on Saturday, torching cars and buildings, looting shops, smashing windows and clashing with police, posing a dire challenge to Emmanuel Macron’s presidency.

The authorities were caught off guard by the escalation in violence after two weeks of nationwide protests against fuel taxes and living costs, known as the “yellow vest” movement after fluorescent jackets kept in all vehicles in France.

In Paris, police said they had arrested almost 300 people while 110 were injured, including 20 members of the security forces. Police fired stun grenades, tear gas and water cannon at protesters at the top of the Champs-Elysees boulevard, at the Tuilleries Garden near the Louvre museum and other sites.

The protests are taking a toll on the economy. Parts of central Paris that should have been packed with tourists and Christmas shoppers resembled battle zones, as smoke and tear gas hung in the air and debris littered the ground. Hotels and department stores in the capital stand to lose millions, and shelves have run empty in some supermarkets.

Netherlands offers expertise to India in healthcare, IT

BENGALURU, Dec 1: As a digital gateway to the world and the most wired country, the Netherlands on Friday offered India its expertise in healthcare, IT and cyber security.

“We consider India an important partner in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector and a key enabler for bilateral relations between the two countries,” Dutch Ambassador to India Marten Van Den Berg told reporters on the margins of a tech event here.

Though a small country in size (land mass), the Netherlands is an important hub for Indian businesses in Europe as global Indian software majors Infosys, Wipro, HCL and Tech Mahindra stay invested in the Benelux region.

Other Indian firms like Mind-tree, Mphasis, ZoHo and Host Circle have found traction in the Netherlands and tap into its IT ecosystem.

“India has an IT knowledge base. Its IT firms and talent have a key role in the global ICT industry, with ubiquitous connectivity, big data and increasing computing power shaping its innovation and disruption,” said Berg on the second day of the 3-day Bengaluru Tech Summit 2018, being held in the sprawling Palace grounds in the city centre since Thursday.

The Indian Ministry of Electronics and IT and the Netherlands Organisation for Scietific Research (NWO) are collaborating in research and development (R&D).

The two agencies have jointly made proposals in Big Data and Internet of Things (IoT) to support public-private-partnerships in 5 projects.

In cyber security, the two countries are working on reducing its risks like cyber attacks and assessing their impact on economies.

“As companies focus on containing cyber risks, they are facing digital talent gap in terms of cyber security skills. India has shown interest to adapt the Triple Helix model at state levels too,a said Dutch Consul-General in Bengaluru Gert Heijkoop on the occasion.

Dutch firms Fox-IT and Group 2000 have been active in India and Indian companies like E2Labs, Skillcube, Cloud4c and Kryp Technologies are present in the Hague region.

“We are partnering with Karnataka in cyber security to develop an ecosystem for international partnerships to meet our joint needs in R&D and capacity building and skilled workforce,” said Heijkoop.

State IT-BT Principal Secretary Gaurav Gupta said Karnataka planned to build a platform for cyber security technology capability through its centre of excellence for cyber security.

“We look forward to collaborate with the Netherlands and strengthen our partnership for a safe and secure cyber presence,” said Gupta.

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