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20 killed in train station fire in Egypt’s Cairo: Report

CAIRO, Feb 27: Twenty people were killed and 40 wounded when a fire broke out at the main train station in Egypt’s capital Cairo on Wednesday, state TV said.

A witness said there had been an explosion when a train rammed into a barrier at Ramses station in central Cairo, and that he had seen charred bodies on the ground.

Sikh Leader Jagmeet Singh Wins By-Election In Canada

OTTAWA, Feb 27: A Sikh leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) won a by-election to enter the Canadian parliament. Jagmeet Singh, 40, won the Burnaby South constituency seat in British Columbia (BC) province after defeating Liberal party candidate Tory Shin, a corporate lawyer, and Lee, a former Burnaby member of the provincial legislature representing the BC Liberals, his campaign said.

The by-election was held in three different provinces on Tuesday, with barely eight months left for the federal elections in October, also sealed Singh's position as an undisputed leader of the NDP, the third largest party in the House of Commons.

The other two seats were bagged one each by the ruling Liberals from Ontario province and the main opposition Conservatives from Quebec.

The Scarborough-born Sikh leader, also rated as a rising star in Canadian politics, had a shaky position as the head of the NDP as he was not a Member of Parliament.

Following his win, Singh is now considered as a viable challenge to the main Opposition Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who is younger to him and streering a progressive alternative on the national stage to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party.

According to Singh's campaign spokesperson, James Smith, the NDP leader has now redeemed his supremacy in the party.

Affordable housing, pharmacare and meaningful action to combat climate change are his focused areas of work to solve the problems of the people, Singh told his supporters in his victory speech.

Singh maintained that the successive governments of the Liberals and the Conservatives had only enriched corporations while neglecting common Canadians.

"I know it's been a long slog, but I hope you have more left in the tank. We have just eight more months to let the people know they can choose a government that stands up for people and not corporations, that doesn't give handouts to SNC-Lavalin," Singh said in the context of the ongoing controversy involving SNC-Lavalin.

The NDP victory comes at a time the Liberals are facing the worst crisis involving the SNC-Lavalin bribery scandal, which led to the resignation of the former justice minister attorney general Jody Wilsom-Raybould.

Exercise restraint, says China

WUZHEN, Feb 26: China on Tuesday urged India to fight terrorism through “international cooperation” hours after the Indian air force carried out a targeted strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) camp located across the Line of Control (LoC).

India should create “favourable” conditions internationally to fight terrorism, China added possibly in an oblique reference to New Delhi’s failure to convince Beijing to allow Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Azhar Masood to be designated as a terrorist at the UN Security Council.

The strike comes a day before the foreign ministers of Russia, India, and China (RIC) are expected to meet in the eastern China town of Wuzhen under the RIC mechanism.

Responding to a question on the air strike, the foreign ministry spokesperson, Lu Kang said both India and Pakistan -- one of China’s closest allies -- should maintain restraint.

“We have taken note of relevant reports. I want to say that India and Pakistan are both important countries. A sound relationship and cooperation serve the interests of peace and stability in South Asia. Both parties (should) remain restrained and do more to improve bilateral relations,” Lu Kang said.

“As for India’s claims on taking action against terrorism, fighting terrorism is a global practice. It needs to be dealt with international cooperation. And India needs to create a favourable condition internationally for the same,” Lu said.

The Chinese foreign ministry’s reaction came soon after foreign secretary, VK Gokhale confirmed that Indian forces carried out a strike on the biggest camp of the terror group Jaih e Mohammed in Balakot area early on Tuesday.

The Chinese foreign ministry reacted carefully, keeping in mind its close ties with Pakistan and the fact that India’s decision to carry out the strike was triggered by JeM-planned Pulwama attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel.

Interestingly, Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi and his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke over phone about the Pulwama attack and its aftermath over the phone on Monday evening.

“Qureshi informed Wang of Pakistan’s stance on and measures to deal with the attack, reaffirming the country’s sincerity and resolution to communicate with India and find out the truth of the incident,” a report by China’s official news agency, Xinhua, said.

“Qureshi said Pakistan’s position on maintaining regional peace and fighting terrorism will remain unchanged and it is willing to join hands with other countries to cooperate in this area,” it added.

In the phone conversation, Wang said China supports Pakistan and India to resolve the issue through dialogue as soon as possible and avoid an escalation of the situation.

“He called on both sides to collaborate on fighting terrorism and jointly safeguard the security and stability of South Asia,” the report said.

Meanwhile, the Pulwama terrorist attack and the listing of Azhar as a global terrorist by the UN is expected to prominently figure at the 16th RIC foreign ministers’ meeting being held here on Wednesday.

Besides attending the annual trilateral meeting, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj would also hold bilateral talks with Chinese FM Wang and Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the meeting.

Swaraj’s meeting with Wang assumes significance as it will be the first high-level interaction between the two countries after the Pulwama terror attack and Tuesday’s air strike.

China, a veto-wielding member of the UNSC, has consistently blocked India, the US, the UK and France’s efforts to list Azhar as a global terrorist since 2016 but endorsed a scathing statement issued by UN Security Council on February 21 on the Pulwama attack.

Pak takes control of campus reported to be Jaish HQ

ISLAMABAD, Feb 23: Pakistan’s Interior Ministry on Friday announced that the Punjab government had taken control of a campus in Bahawalpur that is “reportedly the headquarters of Jaesh-e-Mohammad”. But the announcement on the website of the Press Information Department, or PID, was deleted in less than an hour.

This was the first time in years that the campus, about 430 km from Lahore, had been acknowledged to be the headquarters of the JeM, the terror group run by Masood Azhar that had claimed responsibility for bombing a CRPF bus in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama last week that killed 40 soldiers.

Two tweets by PID, Pakistan government’s media arm, which did not link the campus comprising Madressatul Sabir and Jama-e-Masjid Subhanallah to the Jaish were not deleted.

Pakistan’s Dawn News later reported that the interior ministry had issued a fresh statement, claiming that the Bahawalpur complex was “purely a madressah and Jamia Masjid (central mosque) where scores of orphans and students from underprivileged families are receiving religious and worldly education”.

There was no fresh explanation why the government had taken over the complex.

The initial statement had underlined that the government had taken control of the complex “in line with the decision of the National Security Committee meeting held yesterday under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Imran Khan.”

It was as a follow-up to this meeting that the government yesterday reinstated the ban on Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ut-Dawah (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation.

Pakistan had taken over centres and offices of the JuD soon after the 2008 Mumbai attacks in a similar manner but the restrictions were eased within months.

There has been mounting pressure on Islamabad again to demonstrate that it is acting against terror.

India has pledged a response to the Pulwama attack and dismissed Khan’s earlier offer to aid investigations into the attack and to take action if New Delhi provides “actionable intelligence”. First Prime Minister Imran Khan, and today the Pakistan Army, has vowed to full spectrum response if New Delhi carried out any attack.

The National Security Committee too had “noted” that the government did not have anything to do with the Pulwama terror attack and announced that the armed forces had been authorised to respond “decisively and comprehensively to any aggression or misadventure by India.”

Pak bans Hafiz Saeed’s JuD; Imran Khan puts army on standby to ‘respond’ to India

ISLAMABAD, Feb 22: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday authorised the military to “respond decisively and comprehensively to any aggression or misadventure” by India as the government denied any involvement in the Pulwama terror attack that has sent tensions soaring.

A meeting of the National Security Committee chaired by Khan in Islamabad also decided to “accelerate action against proscribed organisations” and to notify Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ut-Dawah (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) as banned groups, an interior ministry spokesman said.

There was no official word on action against the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which claimed the February 14 suicide bombing in Pulwama that killed 40 troops. The action against the JuD and FIF appeared to have been taken with an eye on the meeting of the Financial Action Task Force in Paris that is reviewing Pakistan’s steps to counter terror financing.

India has pledged a response to the Pulwama attack and dismissed Khan’s earlier offer to aid investigations into the attack and to take action if New Delhi provides “actionable intelligence”.

The National Security Committee meeting was convened to discuss the situation arising from the Pulwama attack, and the “forum noted that the state of Pakistan is not involved in any way, means or form in the said incident”, an official statement said.

The “incident was conceived, planned and executed indigenously”, the statement added, reiterating Pakistan’s offer to investigate the attack and of “dialogue on the issue of terrorism among other disputed issues”.

“At the same time, the Prime Minister authorised armed forces of Pakistan to respond decisively and comprehensively to any aggression or misadventure by India,” the statement said.

Pakistan will take action against anyone found using it soil on the basis of “the investigation or any tangible evidence provided”. The statement said India needs introspection “to realize that why people of (Jammu and Kashmir) have lost fear of death”.

Khan told the meeting that “this is a new Pakistan and we are determined to demonstrate to our people that the State is capable of protecting them and believes that monopoly of violence stays with State”. He added that terrorism and extremism had affected Pakistan and the region, and that was why Islamabad framed a National Action Plan in 2014 to counter terrorism.

After addressing the “direct threat” to Pakistan, the government is acting to ensure that militancy and extremism are rooted out from society. In this regard, Khan directed the interior ministry and security institutions to “immediately accelerate actions on ground”, the statement said.

As part of this accelerated action, the meeting decided the JuD and FIF “be notified as proscribed organisations by the ministry of interior”, the spokesman said.

In February 2018, former president Mamnoon Hussain had promulgated an ordinance to amend the Anti-Terrorism Act to ban terrorists and organisations sanctioned by the UN’s 1267 Committee. The move had resulted in the outlawing of JuD and FIF but the ban ended when the ordinance lapsed. Before the official ban, the two groups were only on a “watch list” of the interior ministry.

Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to script ‘new chapter’ with India

NEW DELHI, Feb 19: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived on Tuesday evening on a two-day visit that is expected to focus on deepening strategic partnership between the two countries and deliver a strong message on terrorism. The crown prince reached the national capital shortly before 9 pm to a red carpet welcome.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who also reached the airport along with other dignitaries to welcome him, embraced him in a bear hug as soon as he walked down the stairs of his plane.

“India is delighted to welcome HRH Mohammed Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” PM Modi tweeted soon after.

The foreign ministry later called the visit – the Crown Prince’s first bilateral visit – a “new chapter” in bilateral relations between the two countries.

The Saudi Prince had wrapped up his high-profile Pakistan visit last evening, the first stop on his south Asia and China tour, where he vowed to “de-escalate” tensions between the two neighbours over the terror attack in south Kashmir’s Pulwama.

The crown prince – widely known as MBS – returned to Saudi Arabia from Pakistan and after spending a few hours back home, took a 3,000 km flight back to the Indian subcontinent.

Over the next 26 hours that the crown prince spends in the national capital, officials have said, the focus would be to deepen the strategic partnership between the two countries. The two sides are also expected to seal five pacts related to investment, tourism, housing, and broadcasting.

Ties between the two countries have strengthened since PM Modi’s Riyadh in 2016 to sign an agreement on cooperation with intelligence-gathering on money laundering and terrorism financing. Since then, there has been active intelligence and security cooperation and many instances of terror suspects such as Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Abu Sufyan and Indian Mujahedeen member Zainul Abedin being sent back to India.

The crown prince’s schedule - his quick trip to Riyadh from Islamabad rather than flying from Islamabad to Delhi - was a reflection of the Saudi leadership’s appreciation of India’s sensitivities.

Officials have said Delhi’s relations with Riyadh shouldn’t be compared with those of Islamabad, where investment deals worth $ 20 billion were signed to help Pakistan’s cash-strapped economy.

“When they invest in India they’re going to invest in a very robust economy. They are not here to bail out India,” said an official, referring to Pakistan receiving Saudi aid to cope with an economic crisis.

France to move proposal at UN to put JeM chief Masood Azhar on global terrorist list: Report

NEW DELHI, Feb 19: In a significant development, France will be moving a proposal at the UN in a “couple of days” to ban Masood Azhar, chief of the UN-proscribed JeM which has claimed responsibility of the Pulwama terror strike that left 40 CRPF personnel dead, French sources said on Tuesday.

This will be the second time France will be party to such a proposal at the UN. In 2017, the US, supported by the UK and France, had moved a proposal at the UN’s Sanctions Committee 1267 to ban the chief of the Pakistan-based terror outfit.

However, the proposal was blocked by China.

“At the UN, France will lead a proposal to put Masood Azhar on the terrorist list... It will happen in a couple of days,” a senior French source said.

The French decision was discussed between Philippe Etienne, Diplomatic Advisor to the French President and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval Tuesday morning, French sources said.

While expressing his sincere condolences, the French leader, who called Doval, also emphasised that the two countries should coordinate their diplomatic efforts.

Saudi vows to ‘de-escalate’ India-Pakistan tensions after Pulwama attack

ISLAMABAD, Feb 18: Saudi Arabia vowed to “de-escalate” rising tensions between Pakistan and India during a high-profile summit in Islamabad Monday as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman prepares to travel from Islamabad to New Delhi.

The kingdom’s foreign minister spoke at a press conference in Islamabad as Pakistan recalled its envoy from Delhi for “consultations”, the latest development in a fresh diplomatic crisis between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Delhi has vowed to retaliate after a suicide blast which killed 41 Indian paramilitaries in Kashmir on Thursday, the deadliest attack in the disputed Himalayan region in decades.

The attack has sparked widespread calls in India for action against Pakistan.

“Our objective is to try to de-escalate tensions between the two countries, neighbouring countries, and to see if there is a path forward to resolving those differences peacefully,” said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

Following the pledge, the crown prince -- widely known as MBS -- held a series of meetings Monday afternoon with the Pakistani leadership before flying on to India.

The Pakistan-based Islamist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack and the vehicle was driven by a known local militant.

India is garnering diplomatic support after the attack and has vowed to “isolate” Pakistan in the international community, saying it has “incontrovertible evidence” of Islamabad’s role.

Pakistan has rejected the allegations.

After his arrival late Sunday, MBS signed $20 billion in investment deals with cash-strapped Islamabad and vowed to free thousands of Pakistani prisoners in Saudi custody.

Islamabad is facing a serious balance of payments crisis and hopes the huge deals signed over the two-day visit -- seven separate agreements and memorandums of understanding -- will boost its struggling economy.

Pakistan laid on a lavish welcome for the crown prince, including a 21-gun salute, fighter jet escort and honour guard.

He also received the country’s highest civilian award Monday, the Nishan-e-Pakistan (Order of Pakistan), before heading to India to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

MBS is staging a three-country Asian tour just five months after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a fierce critic, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul ignited a diplomatic crisis.

After India, he is expected to finish with two days in China on Thursday and Friday.

The Saudis, after initially denying they knew anything of Khashoggi’s disappearance, finally acknowledged that a team killed him inside the consulate, but described it as a rogue operation that did not involve the crown prince.

Turkey said Friday it has not yet revealed all the information it has uncovered in the case, which launched a global wave of revulsion and tarnished the crown prince’s reputation.

Analysts have said the tour is part of a Gulf pivot to rising Asia as a growing oil market, but also a timely demonstration to the West that MBS is not an international pariah.

Pakistan has also been accused by its western neighbour Iran of harbouring militants who carried out an attack that killed 27 Revolutionary Guards last week. The Guards’ commander has also vowed to make Pakistan pay.

But Islamabad received a boost from Jubeir, who called Tehran a “chief sponsor of terrorism” during Monday’s live press conference.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have enjoyed a long alliance dating back to the founding of the Islamic republic.

However, Islamabad has also tried to walk a fine line by maintaining warm relations with its neighbour -- and Saudi Arabia’s regional foe -- Iran.

Jubeir also noted that Riyadh continues to participate in a months-long push by Washington for peace talks in Afghanistan, saying that if the war-torn country can be stabilised “it will be to benefit... the region as a whole”.

Last week the Taliban announced they would attend talks in Islamabad with the US and Pakistan on Monday that had been due to coincide with the crown prince’s visit.

Neither Washington nor Pakistan confirmed the talks, however, and the Taliban announced Sunday that they had been postponed as its militants “were unable to travel due to the US and UN blacklist”.

Taliban negotiators have recently visited Russia, Qatar, and the UAE.

Fresh talks are set to be held between the US and the militants in Doha on February 25.

Armed forces free to hit back, says Modi on Pulwama terror attack

MUMBAI, Feb 16: Prime Minister Narendra Modi turned up the heat on Pakistan on Saturday, saying he had given the armed forces a free hand to punish the masterminds of the suicide bombing that killed 45 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in the deadliest terrorist attack ever in Kashmir.

“How, when, where and who will punish the killers and their promoters will be decided by our forces, who are capable of dealing with the situation,” Modi said at a public meeting in this Maharashtra town, two days after the attack for which the Pakistan-backed Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) has claimed responsibility.

Modi, who virtually launched the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election campaign from Pandharkawda, said he could understand public anguish over the attack, carried out by a 22-year-old Pulwama resident who drove a car packed with explosives into a CRPF bus, part of a 78-vehicle convoy on its way from one transit camp in Jammu to another in Srinagar.

“Wherever the terror groups and the perpetrators may hide, our security forces will flush them out and punish them,” the PM?said at the meeting at which two minutes of silence was observed to pay homage to the troopers who died in the attack. “Be patient and trust them.”

He did not mention Pakistan by name.

“A nation which came into existence after Partition and encourages terror activities, and which is on the verge of bankruptcy, has now become the second name for terror,” Modi said.

In other developments on Saturday and overnight, Indian high commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria arrived in New Delhi for consultations with senior officials and the political leadership over the fallout of the Pulwama terror attack.

US national security adviser John Bolton told his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, on the phone that the US supported India’s right to self defence.

Bisariya’s arrival dovetailed with speculation that India may downgrade diplomatic ties with Pakistan.

Bolton, in a telephone call to Doval, promised to work with India to “ensure that Pakistan ceases to be a safe haven for JeM [Jaish-e-Mohammad] and terrorist groups that target India, the US and others in the region,” according to a readout released by the foreign ministry on Saturday.

Doval and Bolton resolved to hold Pakistan to account for its obligations under UN resolutions and remove all obstacles to designating JeM chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, the ministry said.

It said that Bolton supported India’s right to self defence against cross-border terrorism and offered all assistance to India to bring the perpetrators and backers of the attack promptly to justice.

“I told Ajit Doval today that we support India’s right to self defence. I have spoken to him twice, including this morning... and expressed the US’ condolences over the terrorist attack,” Bolton said in Washington.

Tension in the usually fractious relationship between India and Pakistan has escalated dramatically since Thursday’s terrorist attack, the worst in the three-decades-long Kashmir insurgency that New Delhi accuses Islamabad of fomenting. In September 2016, the Indian Army carried out retaliatory surgical strikes on terrorist training camps across the Line of Control dividing Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, days after an attack on the brigade headquarters in Uri left 19 soldiers dead.

On Friday, India withdrew the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade status it bestowed on Pakistan in 1996, entitling the neighbour to certain export incentives, and launched an all-out diplomatic offensive to isolate Islamabad, which has denied involvement in the Pulwama attack.

The offensive continued on Saturday, with the foreign ministry briefing heads of mission of Middle Eastern countries about Islamabad’s role in sponsoring JeM. Ambassadors of the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, Morocco, Egypt and Kuwait attended the briefing.

One day prior, the ministry apprised around 25 heads of mission, including representatives from South Korea, Sweden, Slovakia, France, Spain, Bhutan, Germany, Hungary, Italy, European Union, Canada, Britain, Russia, Israel, Australia, and Japan.

Domestic political parties closed ranks on Saturday at a meeting called by Union home minister Rajnath Singh to discuss the Pulwama attack. “We condemn terrorism in all forms and the support being given to it from across the border,” a resolution adopted at an all-party meeting said.

“The entire nation speaks in one voice to express its determination to fight these challenges. Today, we stand united in solidarity with our security forces in fighting terrorism and in defending the unity and integrity of India,” the resolution said.

Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said the Opposition had informed the home minister that it would stand alongside the government in the fight against terror.

Opposition parties also requested Rajnath Singh to ask the Prime Minister to meet the presidents of all national and regional parties.

Singh said the government had “zero tolerance” towards terrorism.

“Rajnath Singh, in the all party meeting, said that due to the terror attack on February 14 in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulawama, the entire country was deeply hurt and there is outrage,” parliamentary affairs minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters.

“Rajnath Singh assured that the morale of the security forces is high and we are committed to curbing terror in Jammu and Kashmir. He said that the government has given a free hand to the security forces to deal with the terror groups and those who are giving shelter to them,” Tomar said.

India to hand over dossier to global terror financing watchdog over Pakistan’s role in Pulwama attack

NEW DELHI, Feb 16: A dossier, nailing the culpability of Pakistan in the terror attack in Pulwama, will be given to the FATF, an international terror financing watchdog, to expose the neighbouring country’s links with terrorism and seeking its blacklisting, officials said on Saturday.

Security agencies are preparing the dossier with the evidence gathered so far related to the attack carried out by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad and the help being provided to the outfit by the country, they said. This will be a dossier on Pakistani agencies’ links with the JeM and how the terror group is being aided by them, a security official said. The details of the terror attacks carried out by the JeM in the past will be mentioned in the document.

The Paris-headquartered Financial Action Task Force (FATF) will also be told through the dossier how the Pakistani agencies are providing funds to the JeM, the official said. In the next meeting of the FATF, India will also press for the blacklisting of Pakistan so that that action can be taken against the country, another official said.

The FATF plenary and working group meetings will be held in Paris next week.

The FATF blacklist means the country concerned is “non-cooperative” in the global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. If the FATF blacklists Pakistan, it may lead to downgrading of the country by multilateral lenders like IMF, World Bank, ADB, EU and also a reduction in risk rating by Moodys, S&P and Fitch.

Pakistan has been put on the grey list of the anti-terror finance watchdog in July 2018. The FATF currently has 35 members and two regional organisations — European Commission and Gulf Cooperation Council. North Korea and Iran are in the FATF blacklist. Forty CRPF personnel were killed and five injured on Thursday in one of the deadliest terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir when a Jaish-e-Mohammad suicide bomber rammed a vehicle carrying explosives into their bus in Pulwama district.

The bus was part of a convoy of 78 vehicles carrying CRPF personnel from Jammu to Srinagar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said those responsible for the attack will pay “a very heavy price” and security forces will be given a free hand to deal with the terrorists. In a hard-hitting speech, Modi said the “blood of the people is boiling” and forces behind the act of terrorism will be definitely punished”.

US condemns Kashmir attack, tells Pakistan to end ‘safe haven’ to terrorists

WASHINGTON, Feb 15: The US on Thursday called on Pakistan to “end immediately” its support of terrorist groups operating from its soil in the aftermath of the suicide attack carried out by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama that killed at least 44 CRPF personnel.

Holding Pakistan responsible for the attack, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement that the US “condemns in the strongest terms the heinous terrorist attack by a Pakistan-based terrorist group”.

“The United States calls on Pakistan to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region,” Sanders said.

“This attack only strengthens our resolve to bolster counterterrorism cooperation and coordination between the United States and India.”

The White House did not specify the consequences but the Trump administration has suspended nearly $2 billion in security aid to Pakistan already on account of its dubious counter-terrorism efforts already and could follow up with more.

In a similar message earlier, the US state department called on United Nations’ member countries to deny safe haven and support for terrorists as it condemned in the “strongest terms” the killing of the Central Police Reserve Force’s personnel in Pulwama.

That was seen as an appeal addressed to Pakistan and China, a host of the outfit and a protector of its founder Masood Azhar from UN designation respectively.

JeM was designated a terrorist organisation by a 15-member body set up by the UN Security Council in 2001, but a move to also name Azhar, its founder and leader, a designated terrorist has been repeatedly blocked by China, which has demanded proof he is currently a member of the group.

Beijing has blocked at least three attempts to designate Azhar in recent years — separately first by India; then jointly by the US, United Kingdom and France and the third by the United States alone.

The US “condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attack today”, Robert Palladino, a deputy spokesperson for the US state department, said in a statement.

“The UN designated, Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammad has claimed responsibility for this heinous act,” Palladino said. “We call on all countries to uphold their responsibilities pursuant to UN Security Council resolutions to deny safe haven and support for terrorists,” he said.

Implicit in that statement was a call to Pakistan and China, though not by name but the two UN member countries linked to JeM — one is a host and the other is a steadfast protector. — to “uphold” their responsibilities as members of the world body.

The US statement was in line with the one put out by India’s ministry of external affairs which had also described JeM as a UN-designated terrorist organisation and had urged UN member countries to support the move to designate Azhar, in opposition to attempts by China, not named, to protect him.

The ISIS (Da’ish — Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and al Qaeda Sanctions committee, also called the UN 1267 Committee after the Security Council resolution constituting it, listed JeM way back in 2001 describing it as an outfit which is “based in Peshawar and Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, but (whose) members conduct terrorist activities primarily in Kashmir”.

The committee must vote unanimously to approve a designation. And China was the holdout vote in all three attempts to designate Azhar, going against all of the remaining 14.

Its excuse has ranged from “lack of consensus (on account of its own intransigence)” to describing it as a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve outside the committee to requiring proof Azhar continues to be a member of the group which he is said to have claimed to have left now.

The US has felt frustrated by continued Chinese resistance to the designation but, officials have said, but not to the point of giving up. And a response was awaited from the state department to a question if the US had considered launching another attempt.

Tom Rogan, a columnist with conservative news publication Washington Examiner, a supporter of President Donald Trump, urged the administration in a piece to press ahead.

“The Trump administration should force China to do so again,” he wrote. “While China’s defense of Azhar is blatantly immoral, it reflects (President) Xi Jinping’s transactional approach to international relations. Xi happily keeps more than a million of his own moderate-Muslim citizens in concentration camps while simultaneously defending an Islamic terrorist,” he said.

Rogan was referring to the incarceration and indoctrination of Muslims in China in prison facilities that have drawn comparisons to the concentration camps run by European Nazis.

The attack was also condemned separately, and individually, by a large number of US lawmakers from both parties a re-affirmation of the resolve of the two nations to combat terrorism.

“Tragic news out of Jammu & Kashmir, India today where a brutal terrorist attack took innocent lives. I strongly condemn this cowardly act and send my deepest condolences to the loved ones of the #KashmirTerrorAttack victims,” Pete Olson, a member of the House of Representatives from Texas wrote on Twitter.

Will Hurd, also a congressman Texas and a former CIA official who had served in India, wrote, “I stand with @USAmbIndia and @rashtrapatibhvn in condemning the horrible #KashmirTerrorAttack on CRPF personnel. I spent part of my CIA career in India working to stop terrorist organizations and will continue to do so in Congress in solidarity with our allies across the globe.”

By the end of the day on Thursday, more than 40 Congresspersons had condemned the attack in an unprecedented response to a terrorist strike in India.

Russia, Pakistan, US, others condemn Kashmir attack

NEW DELHI, Feb 15: Several countries across the world, including Pakistan, Russia and the US, have condemned the terror attack by Jaish-e-Mohammad which killed at least 44 CRPF personnel in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Thursday.

The Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed on Thursday afternoon in one of the deadliest terror attacks in the restive state in decades when a 22-year-old suicide bomber rammed a vehicle carrying nearly 300kg of explosives into their bus in Awantipora area.

The convoy of 78 buses had more than 2,000 CRPF personnel travelling from Jammu to Srinagar and came under attack just 30km away from the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Many others were also left critically wounded.

India had slammed Pakistan over the Pulwama terror attack and the ministry of external affairs said that the heinous and despicable act has been perpetrated by Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based terrorist organisation proscribed by the UN and other countries.

This terror group is led by the international terrorist Masood Azhar, who has been given full freedom by the Pakistani government to operate and expand his terror infrastructure in territories under Pakistan’s control and to carry out attacks in India and elsewhere with impunity, the MEA said.

Pakistan has said the terrorist attack in Pulwama district is “a matter of grave concern” and strongly rejected Indian media and government’s allegations of the country’s link to the strike “without” probe.

“We strongly reject any insinuation by elements in the Indian media and government that seek to link the attack to Pakistan without investigations,” the Pakistan Foreign Office said in a statement.

In a tweet, Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal said, “We have always condemned heightened acts of violence in Valley.”

Russia stressed the need to combat such “inhuman acts” with a decisive and collective response without any double standards.

“We denounce terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and reiterate the need to combat these inhuman acts with a decisive and collective response without any double standards,” a Russian embassy statement said.

The United States on Thursday called on Pakistan to “end immediately” its support of terrorist groups operating from its soil in the aftermath of the suicide attack. Holding Pakistan responsible for the attack, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement that the US “condemns in the strongest terms the heinous terrorist attack by a Pakistan-based terrorist group”.

“The United States calls on Pakistan to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region,” Sanders said. “This attack only strengthens our resolve to bolster counterterrorism cooperation and coordination between the United States and India.”

The US also said it stands alongside India in defeating terrorism.

“The US Mission in India strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack in Jammu & Kashmir. We send our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims,” US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster tweeted.

French ambassador to India Alexandre Ziegler said France most firmly condemns the heinous attack perpetrated in Jammu and Kashmir. “France has always been and always will be by India’s side in the fight against terrorism in all its forms,” he said.

Germany said it stands by its strategic partner India as Australia, Turkey, Canada and the Czech Republic also joined in slamming the attack. Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has also decried the attack and offered condolences to the families of the dead soldiers.

“Australia condemns the heinous terrorist attack on an Indian police convoy in Jammu and Kashmir. We convey our deepest condolences to the families of the victims, and all those injured. Our thoughts are with my friend Prime Minister @narendramodi and the Indian people,” Morrison tweeted on Friday.

Spain and Italy also have condemned the attack.

“We strongly condemn the attack perpetrated today in #Pulwama, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, against a convoy of the #CRPF. The Government of Spain expresses its support to the people and authorities of #India in these moments of pain,” Spain’s ministry of foreign affairs tweeted in Spanish.

“Astonishment for a serious terrorist attack that hit Indian security forces in #Pulwama, with numerous deaths and injuries. # Italy condemns terrorism in all its forms. Strong solidarity and heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims,” Italian ministry of foreign affairs said in Italian.

India’s neighbours Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Maldives also expressed solidarity and vowed to combat the menace of terrorism jointly.

Afghanistan said the attack was a “copy-paste of what Pakistan backed terror groups” do in their country.

“The heinous act of terror in Kashmir has all the hallmarks of a common source & sponsor of terrorism in our region. It is a copy paste of what Pakistan backed terror groups do in Afghanistan. We condemn the attack & convey our condolences to Indian people,” Afghanistan’s acting minister of interior Amrullah Saleh tweeted.

Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina, in a message through the country’s High Commission, here, said her country remains steadfast in its commitment against terrorism of all forms and manifestations and maintains a zero-tolerance policy against any kind of terrorist activities.

Bangladesh would continue to work and cooperate with the international community including India to eradicate the menace of terrorism, she said.

A release from Nepal’s ministry of foreign affairs put forth late on Thursday said any kind of heinous act of terrorism cannot be justified, reinforcing Nepal’s stand against such kind of manifestations.

“In line with its principled position, Nepal unequivocally condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and believes that such heinous acts of terrorism cannot be justified on any ground,” the release said.

Nepal’s prime minister Khadga Prasad Oli called his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Thursday evening to extend condolences and concern while condemning the ghastly attack.

Similar thoughts came from Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka.

“Deeply saddened by the news of the horrific terrorist attack in Kashmir. Bhutan strongly condemns the terrorist attack of any nature. Our prayers are with the grieved family and we are following the situation closely,” Bhutanese prime minister Lotay Tshering said.

“I strongly condemn the deadly terrorist attack in Kashmir today killing at least 40 people. We send our thoughts and prayers to those affected. The Maldives will continue to work with India and the international community to combat terrorism in our region and the world at large,” Maldivian president Ibrahim Solih said.

Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena expressed sadness over the dastardly terror attack, saying the world must condemn such brutal terrorist attacks and take effective action to prevent such incidents in future.

Thai King Opposes Princess Ubolratana's Attempt To Run For PM

BANGKOK, Feb 9: Thailand's powerful King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Friday described an unprecedented move to make his older sister Princess Ubolratana prime minister as "highly inappropriate" and against "royal traditions".

Ubolratana, 67, the older sister of Vajiralongkorn, was announced hours earlier as a candidate in the upcoming elections for the Thai Raksa Chart party, which is steered by the divisive Shinawatra political clan.

Her shock entrance into frontline Thai politics was a first by a member of the powerful royal family and promised to reshape the political landscape of the country.

But a late-night statement from the palace left no doubt over the King's displeasure at the move.

"The king and royal family exist in a status above politics," said the statement, published in the Royal Gazette and given blanket television coverage.

The statement did not criticise Ubolratana, instead praising her public work. But it appeared aimed at those behind her sudden stride into politics.

"To bring a senior royal family member into the political system in any way is against royal traditions and the nation's culture... which is highly inappropriate." While the monarchy, which is vastly wealthy and protected from criticism by a harsh royal defamation law, has been seen as above the political fray, royals have intervened in moments of political crisis.

In a day of high drama, junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha also declared his candidacy for premier, running for the pro-military Phalang Pracharat party, moments after the princess's announcement.

Election authorities have a week to review which candidates put up by each party are allowed to run for premier after the March 24 poll.

Ubolratana's candidacy had electrified the build-up to the election, which has long seemed poised to return the ruling junta and its proxies to power.

Her involvement gave a royal sheen to the political machine of Thaksin Shinawatra, the self-exiled billionaire whose parties have won every election since 2001.

The princess, who gave up her royal titles to marry a foreigner, took to Instagram earlier Friday to say she was allowed to run under the constitution as a "commoner" had "allowed Thai Raksa Chart Party to use" her name.

The party falls under the tutelage of Thaksin, who stands at the heart of Thailand's bitter political schism -- loathed by the army and Bangkok elite, yet adored by the rural poor for health, welfare and education schemes.

The announcement appeared set to thrust him back onto the centre stage of Thailand's political drama.

He was toppled in a 2006 coup, while his sister Yingluck was booted from power in a 2014 military takeover and forced into exile to avoid a jail term.

The King's intervention has cast Thaksin's future role in politics into doubt.

Ubolratana, a colourful, public-facing royal in contrast to her more restrained brother King Maha Vajiralongkorn, relinquished her royal titles after marrying the American Peter Jensen in 1972.

But the couple divorced and she moved back to Thailand where she is still considered part of the royal family.

In Thailand, she experienced tragedy, losing her autistic son Poom to the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Known to the public for lead roles in Thai films, onstage singing performances, a vibrant fashion sense and a sizeable Instagram following, Ubolratana is the first-born child of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The stride into politics by a royal left Thais scrambling to work out what it may mean for the nation's tattered democracy.

"This is quite unprecedented and nobody is prepared for this," Professor Anusorn Unno of Thammasat University told AFP.

"I don''t think it''s the victory for the people, I think this is part of the adaptation of the ruling elite in terms of changing the landscape of politics." Since ascending the throne in 2016, King Maha Vajiralongkorn has reorganised palace affairs.

The vastly wealthy Crown Property Bureau is now under his personal stewardship, he has appointed several new privy counsellors and established a highly trained personal guard.

Crucially he has appointed a new army chief from a different faction of the military to the ruling junta.

His coronation will be held in May.

Thailand princess Rajakanya named PM candidate

BANGKOK, Feb 8: Thailand’s Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya was named as a prime ministerial candidate in an unprecedented political upheaval ahead of the country’s general election.

The decision by a party linked to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to nominate her marks a monumental shift for Thailand, where the royal family is officially treated as semi-divine and apolitical. It heralds a sudden upturn for Thaksin, who lives in exile, and is a blow to the Thai junta leader’s effort to return to power after the poll.

Ubolratana will be the prime ministerial candidate for the Thai Raksa Chart Party in the March 24 election, the party said Friday in Bangkok. This would be the first time a senior royal has participated in a Thai election.

‘This is a senior royal member, the sister of the king, so this is unprecedented in Thai politics,’ said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. ‘This makes Thai Raksa Chart, in a matter of seconds, the front-runner.’

The long-delayed election will be the first since former army chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha seized power in a coup in 2014 after a period of unrest, becoming the leader of the country’s military government. Prayuth on Friday said he’ll also contest the poll as the prime ministerial candidate for the Palang Pracharath Party.

‘Thank you for all the love and support from the Thai people,’ Ubolratana said in an Instagram post after her nomination. ‘I’d like to have the opportunity to bring glory to the country.’

Friday’s unfolding drama is a major surprise for investors, said Jitra Amornthum, head of research at Finansia Syrus Securities Pcl in Bangkok. The nation’s currency weakened 0.7 percent against the dollar, while the Thai stock market was little changed.

The coup Prayuth led unseated a Pheu Thai Party-led administration headed by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister. Thaksin or his allies like Pheu Thai have won every election dating back to 2001, only to be unseated by the courts or the military in a more than decade-long tussle for power with Thailand’s urban establishment.

A telecom tycoon who entered politics in the 1990s, Thaksin won the support of millions of rural Thais with expanded welfare programs, but opponents accused him of graft and challenging the power of the monarchy.

He eventually fled to avoid a jail sentence for abuse of power, charges that he denied. His sister fled in 2017, also to avoid jail in a case she said was politically motivated.

Before the coup, the economy ground to a standstill amid sometimes bloody protests that pitted Thaksin’s so-called red-shirt support base against yellow-shirt clad opponents. Prayuth prioritized stability but curbed freedom of speech and assembly.

The prospect of a party linked to Thaksin contesting the poll with a royal at the helm may spark fresh speculation about his chances of returning to a country he hasn’t set foot in since 2008, but where he retains a loyal following.

‘It’ll be difficult for parties to run against the princess,’ said Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University’s College of ASEAN Community Studies in the country’s north. ‘Voters would find it difficult to choose someone that’s not part of her party, because Thai ideology puts the royals at the top.’

Yet a small party that supports the junta later Friday submitted a letter to the Election Commission objecting to the nomination of the princess, saying it should be suspended as it could violate election law.

Ubolratana, 67, is the eldest child of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej and sister of current monarch King Maha Vajiralongkorn. She relinquished her royal title in 1972 when she married an American, Peter Jensen.

After her divorce in the late 1990s, she returned to Thailand and has what the Ministry of Culture describes as a ‘casual’ royal designation, making her status ambiguous. While Thais typically refer to her as a princess, Ubolratana in her Instagram post said she would be taking part in the election as a commoner.

The princess has a heavier media presence than any of her siblings, ranging from appearances in Thai movies and television to an Instagram page with about 100,000 followers. Her full name is Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi.

Thailand has among the world’s toughest lese-majeste laws, which make it illegal to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir apparent or regent.

‘The princess is not covered by the lese-majeste law, but of course if people start to criticize her, it may be deemed to be a criticism of the Thai king as she is his sister, so I would not be surprised to see rival candidates back down,’ said Thitinan of Chulalongkorn University.

Thai Raksa Chart, a Pheu Thai offshoot, relaunched itself late last year. Like all the parties contesting the election, it had to submit its candidate list to the Election Commission on Friday. The commission will check and validate the nominations by February 15.

Pope admits priests, bishops sexually abused nuns

VATICAN CITY, Feb 6: Pope Francis admitted Tuesday that Catholic priests and bishops had sexually abused nuns, the latest scandal to rock the church.

“There are some priests and also bishops who have done it,” the pontiff said in response to a journalist’s question on the abuse of nuns, speaking on the return flight from his trip to the United Arab Emirates.

The papal admission followed a rare outcry last week from the Vatican’s women’s magazine over the sexual abuse of nuns, leaving them feeling forced to have abortions or raise children not recognised by their priest fathers.

The issue hit the headlines last year after a nun accused an Indian bishop of repeatedly raping her in a case that triggered rare dissent within the country’s Catholic Church.

Francis said the problem could be found “anywhere” but was prevalent in “some new congregations and in some regions”.

“I think it’s still going on, because it’s not something that just goes away like that. On the contrary,” he added.

He said the Church has “suspended several clerics” and the Vatican has been “working (on the issue) for a long time”.

“I don’t want to hear it said that the Church has not got this problem, because it has.

“Must we do more? Yes! Do we want to? Yes!” he said.

He said it was a cultural problem, the roots of which lie in “seeing women as second class”.

The February issue of “Women Church World”, a supplement distributed with the Vatican’s Osservatore Romano newspaper, warned that nuns have been silent over abuse for decades for fear of retaliation.

It said the Vatican received reports of priests abusing nuns in Africa in the 1990s.

“If the Church continues to close its eyes to the scandal -- made even worse by the fact that abuse of women brings about procreation and is therefore at the origin of forced abortions and children who aren’t recognised by priests -- the oppression of women in the Church will never change,” editor Lucetta Scaraffia wrote.

In the Indian case, Bishop Franco Mulakkal was arrested on September 21 in the southern state of Kerala on suspicion of raping the nun in question 13 times between 2014 and 2016.

Pope Francis suspended him the day before his arrest, appointing another bishop in his place. Mulakkal, 53, who headed the diocese of Jalandhar in the northern state of Punjab, has denied the allegations.

The nun first spoke out in June but police only started formal questioning in September, as fury over the case mounted.

Five nuns -- in a rare public show of dissent within the Indian Church -- and dozens of supporters staged days of protests.

Failure by Church officials to take action on sexual abuse allegations has been one of the biggest scandals to hit Roman Catholicism globally in recent years.

Queen Elizabeth to be evacuated in case of Brexit unrest: Report

LONDON, Feb 3: British officials have revived Cold War emergency plans to relocate the royal family should there be riots in London if Britain suffers a disruptive departure from the European Union next month, two Sunday newspapers reported.

“These emergency evacuation plans have been in existence since the Cold War, but have now been repurposed in the event of civil disorder following a no-deal Brexit,” the Sunday Times said, quoting an unnamed source from the government’s Cabinet Office, which handles sensitive administrative issues.

The Mail on Sunday also said it had learnt of plans to move the royal family, including Queen Elizabeth, to safe locations away from London.

Britain’s government is struggling to get parliamentary support for a Brexit transition agreement with the EU before the departure date of March 29, and the government and businesses are preparing contingency plans for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

Business groups have warned of widespread disruption if there are lengthy delays to EU imports due to new customs checks, and even possible shortages of food and medicine.

Last month an annual speech by the 92-year-old queen to a local women’s group was widely interpreted in Britain as a call for politicians to reach agreement over Brexit.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Conservative lawmaker and keen supporter of Brexit, told the Mail on Sunday he believed the plans showed unnecessary panic by officials over a no-deal Brexit, as senior royals had remained in London during World War Two bombing.

But the Sunday Times said an ex-police officer formerly in charge of royal protection, Dai Davies, expected Queen Elizabeth would be moved out of London if there was unrest.

“If there were problems in London, clearly you would remove the royal family away from those key sites,” Davies was quoted as saying.

Russia suspends INF nuclear deal with US: Vladimir Putin

MOSCOW, Feb 2: Russia has suspended the Cold War-era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty after a similar move by the United States, President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday.

“The American partners have declared that they suspend their participation in the deal, we suspend it as well,” Putin said during a televised meeting with foreign and defence ministers.

The United States announced on Friday it will withdraw from the INF treaty with Russia in six months unless Moscow ends what it says are violations of the landmark 1987 arms control pact.

Putin said Russia will start work on creating new missiles, including hypersonic ones, and told ministers not to initiate disarmament talks with Washington.

I want my old life back, says German woman who joined Islamic State at 15

BAGHOUZ (Syria), Feb 2: Four years after leaving Germany to live under the Islamic State group, 19-year-old Leonora has fled the jihadists’ last bastion in eastern Syria and says it’s time to go home.

“I was a little bit naive,” she says in English, wearing a long billowing black robe, and a beige headscarf with white spots.

US-backed forces are fighting the last IS jihadists in a final shred of territory in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border, causing thousands of people to flee.

Just beyond the frontline village of Baghouz, Leonora and her two small children are among the thousands of men, women and children to have scrambled out this week.

The young German woman says she first came to Syria aged 15, just two months after converting to Islam.

“After three days, I married my German husband,” she said, at a screening centre for the displaced run by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Leonora says she became the third wife of German jihadist Martin Lemke, after he travelled to Syria with his first two wives.

After four years under a now near-extinct IS caliphate, Leonora says she wants to go home.

“I want to go back to Germany to my family, because I want my old life back,” she says.

“Now I know that it was a big, big mistake.”

A year before she left Germany, IS had swept across large swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq, declaring a “caliphate” in areas it controlled.

Leonora first lived in the extremist group’s de-facto Syrian capital of Raqa, but says she was just a housewife.

“I was just at home, in (the) house cooking, cleaning -- stuff like this,” says the pale faced German, clutching the youngest of her two children, an infant aged just two weeks.

Syria’s Kurdish authorities hold hundreds of foreign alleged IS fighters in detention, as well as thousands of their wives and children in camps for the displaced.

The Kurds have repeatedly urged Western governments to take back their nationals, but these powers have been reluctant.

At first life in Raqa was easy, Leonora says, but that changed when the SDF started advancing against the jihadists, with support from US-led coalition air strikes.

The Kurdish-led SDF overran Raqa in 2017, after years of what residents described as IS’s brutal rule, which included public beheading and crucifixions.

“Then they lose Raqa, and we started to change our house every week because they lost every week a city,” she says.

When they came under attack by the Kurdish-led SDF, Leonora says the IS fighters left their families to fend for themselves.

“They left the women alone, no food, they don’t care about you,” she says. The enemy was advancing “and you were sitting alone in an empty city with your kids”.

They ended up in a tiny patch on the eastern banks of the Euphrates in Deir Ezzor province.

The SDF have cornered IS into a patch of less than four square kilometres (around 1.5 square miles) in recent days.

Eventually, she says, she picked up her children, and fled with her husband, and his second wife into SDF-held territory.

US-backed forces detained Lemke on Thursday.

Leonora claims Lemke worked mostly as a technician for IS.

“He makes technical stuff, computer stuff, repairs computer, mobiles,” she says.

But investigations published in German newspapers portray Lemke, who is now believed to be 28, as an influential figure among foreign jihadists in Syria.

More than 36,000 people have fled the SDF assault on the so-called “Hajin pocket” since early December, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor that relies on a network of sources inside the country.

Among them, 3,200 have been detained as alleged jihadists.

On arid farmland near Baghouz, a group of men sit on the ground as SDF and coalition personnel stroll nearby.

Not far off, a group of women and their children -- most from neighbouring Iraq -- wait to be driven north to a Kurdish-held camp for the displaced.

Taiwan thanks EU for support

By Deepak Arora

TAIPEI, Feb 1: The Republic of China (Taiwan) has welcomed the support for Taiwan and the cross-strait status quo by the executive and legislative branches of the EU, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

During a European Parliament plenary debate on the latest cross-strait developments the day before in Strasbourg, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said the organization has always engaged with Taiwan on a broad range of issues and encouraged it to be an active player in international affairs.

The EU is a like-minded partner of Taiwan and respects its system of governance based on democracy, the rule of law and human rights, he added.

According to Stylianides, the EU has a strong interest in peace and security in Asia and believes Taiwan and China should engage constructively and restart dialogue. The EU supports all initiatives aimed at promoting cooperation and confidence-building between the two sides, he said.

Around 20 members of the EP also spoke up for Taiwan during the debate. Among these, MEP Werner Langen, chairman of the EP-Taiwan Friendship Group, urged the EU to stand up to Chinese efforts to exclude Taiwan from international treaties and negotiations.

Echoing President Tsai Ing-wen’s requirements for the positive development of cross-strait ties, MEP Laima Liucija Andrikiene said the wish and rights of the Taiwan people to freedom and democracy must be respected, while China must face the reality of the existence of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and must handle cross-strait disputes peacefully on the basis of equality and nonconditionality.

According to the MOFA, the plenary debate reflects the importance the EU attaches to cross-strait relations. The organization’s firm and long-standing friendship is sincerely appreciated, the ministry added.

The government will continue working with like-minded partners to safeguard the shared values of freedom and democracy while promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the region, the MOFA said.

US Senate bill backs WHO observer status for Taiwan

By Deepak Arora

WASHINGTON/ TAIPEI, Feb 1: The Republic of China (Taiwan) has welcomed the introduction of a U.S. Senate bill promoting observer status for Taiwan in the World Health Organization.

Unveiled after the unanimous passage of similar legislation by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier in January, the proposed law represents further bipartisan support from the U.S. legislative branch for Taiwan’s international participation, the MOFA said, adding that this unwavering backing is appreciated by the government and people.

According to the MOFA, it will closely follow the bill’s progress in the U.S. Congress and continue working to secure an invitation for Taiwan to attend the World Health Assembly—the decision-making body of the WHO—in May.

Jointly introduced by Sens. Jim Inhofe and Bob Menendez, co-chairs of the Senate Taiwan Caucus, the bill directs the U.S. secretary of state to develop a strategy to regain observer status for Taiwan in the WHO. The legislation was also sponsored by Sens. John Boozman, Sherrod Brown, Bill Cassidy, John Cornyn, James Lankford, Joe Manchin, Edward Markey and Marco Rubio.

In a statement released the same day, Inhofe said Taiwan has demonstrated its commitment to world health and earned a seat in all international bodies, especially those where it has shown substantial leadership. Actively working to include Taiwan in the WHA will go a long way in checking China’s efforts to enact its expansionist agenda through global organizations, he added.

“The U.S. must support Taiwan’s standing in the international community and stand by our friends in Taiwan,” Menendez said, adding that the legislation urges the administration to support Taiwan’s security through robust diplomacy.

According to Rubio, Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the WHO is critical amid global efforts to address pressing health challenges. Similarly, Cassidy labeled Taiwan as a world leader in medical care, stating that it deserves to regain its observer status in the WHO.

Urging full support for Taiwan’s reinstatement, Lankford said the commonsense, bipartisan bill also recognizes Taiwan’s role as a stable and democratic U.S. partner in the Asia-Pacific. Markey said that having worked closely with the international community on numerous initiatives, including the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Taiwan absolutely should be able to participate in the WHO.

Brown described the exclusion of Taiwan as limiting meaningful exchanges on infectious diseases, while Boozman added that Taiwan’s contributions to tackling international health crises should not be stifled or obstructed.

Taiwan thanks allies, like-minded partners for supporting WHO participation

By Deepak Arora

GENEVA/ TAIPEI, Feb 1: The Republic of China (Taiwan) and its people have sincerely appreciated the staunch support shown by diplomatic allies and like-minded partners for Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the World Health Organization.

Such strong backing underscores the legitimacy of Taiwan’s bid to take part in the WHO, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, adding that the government will continue to seek professional, pragmatic and contributory engagement in the U.N. agency.

The MOFA also called on members of the global community to urge the organization to invite Taiwan to attend the World Health Assembly—the decision-making body of the WHO—in May as an observer.

At a WHO executive board meeting the day before in Geneva, Colin McIff, senior health attache at the U.S. Mission in the Swiss city, said the U.S. was pleased when Taiwan offered to donate US$1 million to the Ebola response last year and disappointed that the organization has not found a way to accept the funding. The inclusion of Taiwan in relevant technical work of the WHO is beneficial to all, he added.

Hiroyuki Hori, senior coordinator for global health at Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, said that in view of the growing threat from the cross-border spread of infectious diseases, the WHO should not create geographic blanks by leaving a specific region behind.

Barrett Salato, Solomon Islands permanent representative to the WHO, said Taiwan is a willing partner in the global fight against communicable diseases. He urged the WHO to invite Taiwan to participate meaningfully in all meetings and programs so the country can share its technical expertise in combating medical emergencies and delivering humanitarian aid.

Similarly, Carlos Ernesto Morales Davila, permanent representative of Nicaragua, said the absence of Taiwan in the global health network represents a breach in the fight against cross-border disease, while Luis Erick Gudiel Pineda, first secretary of the Guatemalan Mission in Geneva, thanked Taiwan for helping enhance the Central American country’s medical system and emergency response capabilities.

Two days earlier at the same event, Simon Mfanzile Zwane, WHO executive board vice chairman and principal secretary of the Kingdom of Eswatini Ministry of Health, said his government is encouraged by Taiwan’s technical assistance and cooperation in strengthening primary health care in his country. “We ascribe to the notion of sharing best practices in this area,” he said.

Haiti Permanent Representative Pierre Andre Dunbar called for Taiwan to regain its observer status given its global contributions and experience in promoting universal health care. Julio Cesar Peralta Rodas, deputy permanent representative of Paraguay, also voiced support for Taiwan by citing a bilateral agreement signed in 2016 to improve the efficiency of medical information management at 23 institutions in his country.

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