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India denies British MP entry into India

NEW DELHI, Feb 17: The government has said that British parliamentarian who is claiming that she was denied entry into India, had her e-visa cancelled. Labour MP Debbie Abrahams claimed on Twitter that she was informed about her visa cancellation when she reached Delhi.

“Ms Debbie Abraham was not in possession of a valid visa to visit India. Entry into the country was therefore denied,” home ministry sources said on Monday. “Her e-visa was cancelled and she was informed regarding the decision in advance. She didn’t have the visa when she landed at IGI airport,” the sources further said.

Abrahams said that she “had not received any emails before February 13”. After that, she had been travelling and was away from office.

An official said she was deported to Dubai on Monday.

A news agency reported that Abrahams and her aide Harpreet Upal arrived at the airport on an Emirates flight from Dubai at 9 am. She was on a two-day personal trip to India, and was going to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Abrahams chairs a parliamentary group focused on Kashmir.

In her statement, Abrahams said she had presented herself at the immigration desk along with her documents and e-visa. “...the official looked at his screen and started shaking his head. Then he told me my visa was rejected took my passport and disappeared for about 10 minutes.

“When he came back he was very rude and aggressive shouting at me to ‘come with me’. I told him not to speak to me like that and was then taken to a cordoned off area marked as a Deportee Cell. He then ordered me to sit down and I refused. I didn’t know what they might do or where else they may take me, so I wanted people to see me,” the British MP said.

The immigration officer disappeared again, she said, adding that she phoned her sister-in-law’s cousin who she was going to be staying with. “Kai got in touch with the British High Commission and he tried to find out what was going on,” she wrote on Twitter. She said later several immigration officials came to her but none of them knew why her e-visa was cancelled. “Even the person who seemed to be in charge said he didn’t know and was really sorry about what had happened.”

Abrahams, 59, has been a member of Parliament since 2011, and critical of India’s move to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

Soldier kills 26 in Thailand’s bloodiest shooting spree, shot dead after 16 hrs

BANGKOK, Feb 9: A soldier with a grudge gunned down 26 people and wounded 57 in Thailand’s worst shooting spree before he was fatally shot inside a mall in the country’s northeast on Sunday, officials said.

Officials said the soldier was angry over a financial dispute, first killing two people on a military base and then went on a far bloodier rampage Saturday, shooting as he drove to the mall where shoppers fled in terror.

It took police sharpshooters 16 hours to end the crisis.

Authorities said Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth Thomma was behind the attack in Nakhon Ratchasima, a hub for Thailand’s relatively poorer and rural northeastern region. Much of the shooting took place at Terminal 21 Korat, an airport-themed mall filled with colorful Lego sculptures, a merry-go-round and huge replicas of landmarks from around the world.

“This incident was unprecedented in Thailand,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters as he gave the final tally Sunday morning after visiting the wounded in hospitals.

“I hope this is the only one and the last incident, and that it never happens again. No one wants this to happen. It could be because of this person’s mental health in this particular moment,” he said.

Prayuth said he was worried that people inside the mall could be accidentally hit by bullets fired by police, but added, “I have checked, that didn’t happen.”

Video taken outside the mall showed people diving for cover as shots rang out mid-afternoon Saturday. Many were killed outside the mall, some in cars, others while walking.

Nattaya Nganiem and her family had just finished eating and were driving away when she heard gunfire.

“First I saw a woman run out from the mall hysterically,” said Nattaya, who shot video of the scene on her phone. “Then a motorcycle rider in front of her just ran and left his motorcycle there.”

Hundreds of people were evacuated from the mall in small batches by police while they searched for the gunman.

“We were scared and ran to hide in toilets,” said Sumana Jeerawattanasuk, one of those rescued by police. She said seven or eight people hid in the same room as her.

“I am so glad. I was so scared of getting hurt,” she said.

Shortly before midnight, police announced they had secured the above-ground portion of the mall, but were still searching for the shooter. About 16 hours later, officials held a news conference outside the mall to announce the gunman was fatally shot.

Defense Ministry spokesman Kongcheep told Thai media that the first person killed was the commanding officer of the 22nd Ammunition Battalion, in which the suspect also served. He said the gunman had fired at others at his base and took guns and ammunition before fleeing in an army Humvee.

City and neighborhood police officers, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to release information, said the man fired shots as he drove to the mall. Thai Rath television aired mall security camera footage showing a man with what appeared to be an assault rifle.

The man also posted updates to his Facebook page during the rampage.

“No one can escape death,” read one post. Another asked, “Should I give up?” In a later post, he wrote, “I have stopped already.”

A photo circulated on social media that appeared to be taken from the Facebook page shows a man wearing a green camouflaged military helmet while a fireball and black smoke rage behind him. Jakrapanth’s profile picture shows him in a mask and dressed in military-style fatigues and armed with a pistol. The background image is of a handgun and bullets. The Facebook page was made inaccessible after the shooting began.

Terminal 21 Korat, a multi-level glass and steel mall, is designed to resemble an airport terminal, complete with a mock control tower and departure gates. A large model passenger jet dangles from wires beside one of the main escalators.

Each of its seven retail floors is decorated to represent a different country. A giant replica of Paris’ Eiffel Tower soars to the ceiling, while a model of London’s Big Ben dominates another area, and a massive model of California’s Golden Gate Bridge spans an open courtyard. A two-story golden Oscar statue towers over a food court.

Many malls in Thailand, including Terminal 21’s namesake in Bangkok, have metal detectors and security cameras at entrances manned by uniformed but unarmed security guards. Checks on those entering are often cursory at best.

In Bangkok, the original Terminal 21 in the bustling heart of the city was filled with shoppers as usual Sunday morning. There were no signs of increased security or commemoration of the tragedy that unfolded a few hours’ drive away.

Gun violence is not unheard of in Thailand. Firearms can be obtained legally, and many Thais own guns. Mass shootings are rare, though there are occasional gun battles in the far south of the country, where authorities have for years battled a long-running separatist insurgency.

The incident in Korat comes just a month after another high-profile mall shooting, in the central Thai city of Lopburi. In that case, a masked gunman carrying a handgun with a silencer killed three people, including a 2-year-old boy, and wounded four others as he robbed a jewelry store. A suspect, a school director, was arrested less than two weeks later and reportedly confessed, saying he did not mean to shoot anyone.

OIC rejects Trump's Middle East plan

JEDDAH, Feb 3: The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has said it rejects US President Donald Trump's recently unveiled Middle East plan.

The 57-member body, which held a summit on Monday to discuss the plan in Saudi Arabia's Jeddah, said in a statement that it "calls on all member states not to engage with this plan or to cooperate with the US administration in implementing it in any form".

Requested by the Palestinian leadership, the meeting of the body came two days after the Arab League rejected Trump's so-called "deal of the century", saying: "It does not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people."

Addressing a pro-Israel audience at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his side, Trump on Tuesday described his long-delayed plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a "win-win solution" for both sides.

The US president said his proposed deal would ensure the establishment of a two-state solution, promising Palestinians a state of their own with a new capital in Abu Dis, a suburb just outside Jerusalem. Trump also said Jerusalem would be the "undivided capital" of Israel. The Palestinians want both occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank to be part of a future state.

Palestinian leaders, who were absent during the announcement and had rejected the proposal even before its release, denounced the plan as "a new Balfour Declaration" that heavily favoured Israel and would deny them a viable independent state.

The OIC said in a statement on Twitter on Sunday that its "open-ended executive committee meeting" at the level of foreign ministers would "discuss the organisation's position after the US administration announced its peace plan".

With member states from four continents, the OIC is the second-largest intergovernmental organisation in the world after the United Nations, with a collective population reaching more than 1.8 billion.

The majority of its member states are Muslim-majority countries, while others have significant Muslim populations, including several African and South American countries. While the 22 members of the Arab League are also part of the OIC, the organisation has several significant non-Arab member states, including Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. It also has five observer members, including Russia and Thailand.

 
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