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Sri Lanka Suspends Fuel Sales For Two Weeks

COLOMBO, June 27: Cash-strapped Sri Lanka announced a two-week halt to all fuel sales except for essential services Monday and appealed to the private sector to let employees work from home after running out of supplies.

"From midnight today, no fuel will be sold except for essential services like the health sector, because we want to conserve the little reserves we have," government spokesman Bandula Gunawardana said.

He apologised to consumers for the shortages: "We regret the inconvenience caused to the people."

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948, and has been unable to finance even the most essential products, such as fuel, food and medicines since late last year.

The country is also facing record high inflation and lengthy power blackouts, all of which have contributed to months of protests -- sometimes violent -- calling on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down.

Last week, all government schools shut and state institutions operated with skeleton staff because of the acute shortage of fuel as the government did not have dollars to finance imports.

The state sector shutdown was meant to end this week, but it is now being extended till July 10, when Gunawardana promised to restore fuel supplies. And the government is appealing to the private sector too to follow suit.

The unexpected announcement came a day after Colombo said it will implement a token system to ration distribution of limited fuel stocks.

There have been long queues outside the few pumping stations which still had supplies.

Earlier this month, the United Nations launched an emergency response to the island's unprecedented economic crisis, feeding thousands of pregnant women who were facing food shortages.

Four out of five people in Sri Lanka have started skipping meals as they cannot afford to eat, the UN has said, warning of a looming "dire humanitarian crisis" with millions in need of aid.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in April, and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

Zelensky Urges World Leaders To Push To End War By Year End: Report

ELMAU CASTLE (Germany), June 27: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday urged world leaders gathered at the G7 summit to do their utmost to end Russia's invasion of his country by the end of the year, according to a source.

In his closed-door address via video-link to the gathering of leaders in the German Alps, Zelensky said battle conditions would make it tougher for his troops as they mount their fightback.

A war pushing past winter also risked raging further beyond, he said.

He therefore urged the G7 leaders to do their maximum to end the war by year's end, including by intensifying sanctions against Russia, the source said.

Despite the multiple rounds of punitive measures that Western allies have unleashed on Moscow, Zelensky pleaded with them to "not lower the pressure and to keep sanctioning Russia massively and heavily".

At Least 10 Killed, 40 Injured As Missile Hits 'Crowded' Ukraine Mall

KYIV, June 27: A Russian missile strike on a crowded mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk killed at least 10 people and injured more than 40 on Monday, a regional governor said.

"Ten dead and more than 40 people have been injured. This is currently the situation in Kremenchuk due to the missile strike," said Dmytro Lunin, the governor of the Poltava region where Kremenchuk is located.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said "over a thousand civilians" were in the mall when the missiles struck the city, which had a pre-war population of 220,000 people.

"The mall is on fire, rescuers are fighting the fire. The number of victims is impossible to imagine," Zelensky wrote on Facebook.

A video shared by Zelensky showed the mall engulfed in flames with dozens of rescuers and a fire truck outside.

Emergency services also published images showing the smouldering remains of the building, with firefighters and rescuers trying to clear the debris.

The Ukrainian defence ministry said the strike was deliberately timed to coincide with the mall's busiest hours and cause the maximum number of victims.

The Ukrainian air force said the mall was hit by Kh-22 anti-ship missiles fired from Tu-22 bombers from the region of Kursk in western Russia.

"The missile fire on Kremenchuk struck a very busy area which had no link to the hostilities," the city's mayor Vitali Maletsky wrote on Facebook.

Lunin denounced the attack as a "war crime" and a "crime against humanity", saying it was a "cynical act of terror against the civilian population".

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on Kyiv's allies to supply more heavy weapons and impose fresh sanctions on Russia.

"Russia is a disgrace to humanity and it must face consequences," he wrote on Twitter.

Presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak accused Russia of being a "terrorist state".

The US ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink said the world would "hold the Kremlin accountable for its atrocities in Ukraine".

Russia Defaults On Foreign Debt For First Time Since 1918

MOSCOW, June 27: Russia defaulted on its foreign-currency sovereign debt for the first time in a century, the culmination of ever-tougher Western sanctions that shut down payment routes to overseas creditors.

For months, the country found paths around the penalties imposed after the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine. At the end of the day on Sunday, the grace period on about $100 million of snared interest payments due May 27 expired, a deadline considered an event of default if missed.

It's a grim marker in the country's rapid transformation into an economic, financial and political outcast. The nation's eurobonds have traded at distressed levels since the start of March, the central bank's foreign reserves remain frozen, and the biggest banks are severed from the global financial system.

Given the damage already done to the economy and markets, the default is also mostly symbolic for now, and matters little to Russians dealing with double-digit inflation and the worst economic contraction in years.

Russia has pushed back against the default designation, saying it has the funds to cover any bills and has been forced into non-payment. As it tried to twist its way out, it announced last week that it would switch to servicing its $40 billion of outstanding sovereign debt in rubles, criticizing a "force-majeure" situation it said was artificially manufactured by the West.

"It's a very, very rare thing, where a government that otherwise has the means is forced by an external government into default," said Hassan Malik, senior sovereign analyst at Loomis Sayles & Company LP. "It's going to be one of the big watershed defaults in history."

A formal declaration would usually come from ratings firms, but European sanctions led to them withdrawing ratings on Russian entities. According to the documents for the notes whose grace period expired Sunday, holders can call one themselves if owners of 25 percent of the outstanding bonds agree that an "Event of Default" has occurred.

With the final deadline passed, focus shifts to what investors do next.

They don't need to act immediately, and may choose to monitor the progress of the war in the hope that sanctions are eventually softened. Time may be on their side: the claims only become void three years on from the payment date, according to the bond documents.

"Most bondholders will keep the wait-and-see approach," Takahide Kiuchi, an economist at Nomura Research Institute in Tokyo.

During Russia's financial crisis and ruble collapse of 1998, President Boris Yeltsin's government defaulted on $40 billion of its local debt.

The last time Russia fell into default vis-a-vis its foreign creditors was more than a century ago, when the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin repudiated the nation's staggering Czarist-era debt load in 1918.

By some measures it approached a trillion dollars in today's money, according to Loomis Sayles' Malik, who is also author of 'Bankers and Bolsheviks: International Finance and the Russian Revolution.'

By comparison, foreigners held the equivalent of almost $20 billion of Russia's eurobonds as of the start of April.

"Is it a justifiable excuse to say: 'Oh well, the sanctions prevented me from making the payments, so it's not my fault'?" Malik said.

"The broader issue is that the sanctions were themselves a response to an action on the part of the sovereign entity," he said, referring to the invasion of Ukraine. "And I think history will judge this in the latter light."

BRICS countries pledge to combat terror finance networks, safe heavens

NEW DELHI, June 23: The BRICS countries on Thursday expressed strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including the cross-border movement of terrorists, and terrorism financing networks and safe havens.

In a declaration issued at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit held through the video link, the five member grouping also called for expeditious finalisation and adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism within the UN framework. "We recognise the threat emanating from terrorism, extremism conducive to terrorism and radicalisation. We are committed to combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including the cross-border movement of terrorists, and terrorism financing networks and safe havens," said the declaration.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in the virtual BRICS summit, along with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and top leaders of Brazil and South Africa.

"We reiterate that terrorism should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group. We call for expeditious finalisation and adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism within the UN framework and for launching multilateral negotiations on an international convention for the suppression of acts of chemical and biological terrorism, at the Conference of Disarmament," the declaration said.

The summit also welcomed the outcomes of the Seventh BRICS Counter-Terrorism Working Group Plenary Meeting and its five Subgroup Meetings. "We commend the Chair for hosting the Seminar on Targeted Financial Sanctions Related to Terrorism and Terrorist Financing, and look forward to organisation of the Seminar on Strengthening Counter-Terrorism Capacity Building in Developing Countries, and the BRICS Police Training Program. We also look forward to further deepening counter-terrorism cooperation," it said.

"We look forward to further deepening counter-terrorism cooperation and reaffirm the sole authority of the UN Security Council for imposing sanctions and call for further consolidation and strengthening of the working methods of UN Security Council Sanctions Committees to ensure their effectiveness, responsiveness and transparency, while avoiding politicization of any of their proceedings including listing proposals objectively on evidence-based criteria," it said. The summit also affirmed commitment to strengthening international cooperation against corruption.

"We welcome the BRICS Initiative on Denial of Safe Haven to Corruption. We will further strengthen anti-corruption capacity building through education and training programs and enhance anti-corruption exchanges and cooperation within multilateral frameworks. We welcome the first BRICS Anti-corruption Ministerial Meeting," it said.
The summit also expressed concern over the serious drug situation in the world. "We appreciate BRICS Anti-Drug Working Group's active role in combating transnational drug trafficking and promoting global drug governance and will further strengthen drug control cooperation," it said.

It also called for policy coordination for economic recovery from the COViD pandemic. "We reaffirm our commitment to continuing to enhance macro-economic policy coordination, deepen economic practical cooperation, and work to realise strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive post-COVID economic recovery," it said. "We emphasise the importance of continued implementation of the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership 2025 in all relevant ministerial tracks and working groups," it said.

"We recognise the dynamism of the digital economy in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 and enabling global economic recovery. We take note of China's hosting the 'Buy BRICS' online promotion event and endorse the BRICS Digital Economy Partnership Framework, BRICS Initiative on Trade and Investment for Sustainable Development and BRICS Initiative on Enhancing Cooperation on Supply Chains," it said. The declaration welcomed the establishment of the Digital Economy Working Group by upgrading the E-commerce Working Group and said the BRICS nations have agreed to promote consumer protection in e-commerce by advancing the implementation of BRICS Framework for Consumer Protection in E-commerce.

"We agree to strengthen exchanges and cooperation in trade in services and engagement of BRICS national focal points, as established in the BRICS Framework for Cooperation on Trade in Services, with the BRICS Business Council with the aim to promote implementation of BRICS Trade in Services Cooperation Roadmap and relevant documents including the BRICS Framework for cooperation in Trade in Professional Services," it said. The summit congratulated the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) on its relocation to its permanent headquarters building in Shanghai as well as the opening of NDB's regional office in India.

"We welcome the decisions on admission of four new members to the NDB and look forward to further membership expansion in a gradual and balanced manner in terms of geographic representation and comprising of both developed and developing countries, to enhance the NDB's international influence as well as the representation and voice of EMDCs in global governance, it said. "We welcome the decision to establish the BRICS Think Tank Network for Finance. We expect it to work independently and provide intellectual support, as and when tasked, for knowledge sharing, exchange of experiences and practices and cooperation on finance issues amongst BRICS countries," it said.

"We acknowledge the importance of strengthening the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) mechanism, which contributes to strengthening the global financial safety net and complements existing international monetary and financial arrangements," it said. "We recognise the importance of BRICS Startup Events including BRICS Innovation Launchpad and BRICS Startup Forum Meeting, aimed to promote networking, interaction, mentorship among Startups in BRICS countries," it said.

"We commend our Customs authorities for the Agreement Between the Governments of BRICS Countries on Cooperation and Mutual Administrative Assistance in Customs Matters, and the progress made in areas of mutual administrative assistance, capacity building and law enforcement cooperation," it added.

India re-establishes diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, deploys technical team

NEW DELHI: India on Thursday re-established a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, from where it withdrew all its officials following the Taliban takeover in August last year, with the deployment of a “technical team” at the embassy in Kabul.

Following the shuttering of Indian consulates in Herat, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif, India pulled out all its officials and security personnel from Kabul after the fall of the Ashraf Ghani government, largely on account of security concerns. Recent contacts with the Taliban – both behind the scenes and formal meetings – paved the way for the return of Indian officials to Kabul.

The technical team reached Kabul on Thursday and was deployed at the embassy to “closely monitor and coordinate the efforts of various stakeholders for the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance and in continuation of our engagement with the Afghan people”, the external affairs ministry said in a statement.

The statement positioned the re-establishment of India’s diplomatic presence in the context of the country’s “historical and civilisational relationship with the Afghan people” – thereby implying that the move did not amount to any sort of recognition of the Taliban setup in Kabul.

The statement also referred to the recent visit to Kabul by an Indian team led by joint secretary JP Singh, the external affairs ministry’s pointperson for Afghanistan, to oversee the delivery of humanitarian assistance and to hold meetings with senior Taliban members. “During the visit, an assessment of the security situation was also carried out,” it said.

“Our longstanding links with Afghan society and our development partnership, including humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan, will continue to guide our approach going forward,” the statement said.

The statement didn’t provide details of the technical team, such as its size, though people familiar with the matter said the Indian presence in Kabul will be very limited. The team is expected to be led by a middle-ranking diplomat and will mainly focus on consular issues, the delivery of humanitarian aid and the possible revival of development projects.

Several factors, including security guarantees from the Taliban leadership and a perception that India could not stay out of the picture while regional players such as China, Iran, Pakistan and Russia strengthen their presence in Kabul, were behind the decision to send Indian officials back to Kabul.

The people cited above said an Indian team was scheduled to travel from New Delhi to Kabul on a chartered flight operated by an Afghan airline on June 18, but the move was put off following a terror attack on Gurdwara Karte Parwan in the Afghan capital that was subsequently claimed by the Khorasan unit of Islamic State.

The attack did not lead to a rethink on the deployment of Indian officials in Kabul but only resulted in a delay, the people said.

“Such attacks were factored into the decision-making process. The Taliban have given security guarantees and committed to crack down on Pakistan-based groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. This is something they have never done in the past,” one of the people cited above said.

The people said the Taliban had advance information about a possible attack on Gurdwara Karte Parwan and tightened security at the Sikh shrine. This is being seen as one of the reasons why the attack was thwarted with only two fatalities, an Afghan Sikh and a security guard, and the killing of all three attackers.

Afghanistan Quake Kills 1,000

KABUL, June 22: A powerful earthquake struck a remote border region of Afghanistan overnight killing at least 1,000 people and injuring hundreds more, officials said Wednesday, with the count expected to rise as desperate rescuers dig through collapsed dwellings.

The 5.9 magnitude quake struck hardest in the rugged east, where people already lead hardscrabble lives in a country under a humanitarian disaster made worse by the Taliban takeover in August.

"People are digging grave after grave," said Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in hard-hit Paktika, adding that at least 1,000 people had died in that province alone.

"It is raining also, and all houses are destroyed. People are still trapped under the rubble," he told journalists.

The death count climbed steadily all day as news of casualties filtered in from hard-to-reach areas in the mountains, and the country's supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, warned it would likely rise further.

Earlier, a tribal leader from Paktika said survivors and rescuers were scrambling to help those affected.

"The local markets are closed and all the people have rushed to the affected areas," said Yaqub Manzor.

Photographs and video clips posted on social media showed scores of badly damaged mud houses in remote rural areas.

Some footage showed local residents loading victims into a military helicopter.

Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan's emergency response teams were stretched to deal with the natural disasters that frequently struck the country.

But with only a handful of airworthy planes and helicopters left since the hardline Islamists returned to power, any immediate response to the latest catastrophe is further limited.

"The government is working within its capabilities," tweeted Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban official.

"We hope that the International Community & aid agencies will also help our people in this dire situation."

The United Nations and European Union were quick to offer assistance.

"Inter-agency assessment teams have already been deployed to a number of affected areas," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Afghanistan tweeted.

Tomas Niklasson, EU special envoy for Afghanistan, tweeted: "The EU is monitoring the situation and stands ready to coordinate and provide EU emergency assistance to people and communities affected."

Afghanistan is frequently hit by earthquakes -- especially in the Hindu Kush mountain range, which lies near the junction of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates.

Scores of people were killed and injured in January when two quakes struck rural areas in the western province of Badghis, damaging hundreds of buildings.

In 2015, more than 380 people were killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan when a 7.5-magnitude earthquake ripped across the two countries, with the bulk of the deaths in Pakistan.

From the Vatican City, Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims of the latest quake.

"I express my closeness with the injured and those who were affected," the 85-year-old pontiff said at the end of his weekly audience.

Aid agencies and the United Nations say Afghanistan needs billions of dollars this year to tackle its ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Aid agencies have particularly stressed the need for greater disaster preparedness in Afghanistan, which remains extremely susceptible to recurring earthquakes, floods and landslides.

The quake was felt as far away as Lahore in Pakistan, 480 kilometres (300 miles) from the epicentre, according to responses posted on the USGS and European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) websites.

Russian journalist sells Nobel Prize at record $103.5 million to help Ukrainian kids

NEW YORK, June 21: Dmitry Muratov, the co-winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize and the editor of one of Russia's last major independent newspapers, auctioned off his Nobel medal for a record $103.5 million to aid children displaced by the war in Ukraine.

All proceeds from the auction, which coincided with the World Refugee Day on Monday, will benefit UNICEF's humanitarian response for Ukraine's displaced children, Heritage Auctions, which conducted the sale in New York, said in a statement.

Muratov's Novaya Gazeta newspaper, fiercely critical of President Vladimir Putin and his government, suspended operations in Russia in March after warnings from the state over its coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Pressure against liberal Russian media outlets has been continuous under Putin, Russia's paramount leader, since 1999, but it has mounted after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24. Muratov was attacked with red paint in April.

Russia's mainstream media and state-controlled organisations follow closely the language used by the Kremlin to describe the conflict with Ukraine, which Moscow calls a "special operation" to ensure Russian security and denazify its neighbour. Kyiv and its Western allies say it is an unprovoked war of aggression.

According to U.S. media reports, the auction of Muratov's prize shattered the record for any Nobel medal that has been auctioned off, with reports saying that the previous highest sale fetched just under $5 million.

"This award is unlike any other auction offering to present," Heritage Auctions said in a statement before the sale.

"Mr. Muratov, with the full support of his staff at Novaya Gazeta, is allowing us to auction his medal not as a collectible but as an event that he hopes will positively impact the lives of millions of Ukrainian refugees."

Muratov, who co-founded Novaya Gazeta in 1991, won the 2021 the Nobel Peace Prize with Maria Ressa of the Philippines for what the Nobel Prize committee said were "their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace".

Muratov, who pledged to donate about $500,000 of that prize money to charities, dedicated his Nobel to the six Novaya Gazeta journalists who have been murdered since 2000.

That list included the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a critic of Russia's war in Chechnya, who was killed in 2006 in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building.

2 Killed In Blasts Near Gurdwara In Kabul

KABUL, June 18: Two people have died and several trapped in a Gurdwara in Afghanistan's capital Kabul after two blasts rocked the city this morning. The blasts took place near the gates of the Gurdwara. Multiple gunshots were heard too.

The two blasts happened near the two gates of Gurdwara Dashmesh Pita Sahib Ji, Karte Parwan, Kabul, local reports say. Afghanistan's Interior Ministry spokesperson Abdul Nafi Takour told local news agencies that the two people who died were a Sikh devotee and an Afghan guard.

There are several devotees in the Gurdwara, sources said, adding that some managed to escape and have been sent to a hospital nearby. However the overall number of casualties inside the Gurdwara are not known yet, they said.

At least two explosions were heard at a busy street near the Gurdwara in Kabul's Karte Parwan area at around 7 am local time (Kabul). The area is densely populated and is the centre for the Afghan Hindu and Sikh communities.

BJP leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa told news agency ANI that three people have managed to come out of the Gurdwara, two of whom have been taken to the hospital. The guard of the Gurdwara was shot dead, he added

"We are deeply concerned at the reports emanating from Kabul about an attack on a sacred Gurudwara in the city. We are closely monitoring the situation and waiting for further details on the unfolding developments," the Ministry of External Affairs said.

"The cowardly attack on Gurdwara Karte Parwan should be condemned in the strongest terms by all. We have been closely monitoring developments since the news of the attack was received. Our first and foremost concern is for the welfare of the community," External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar tweeted.

Iran Tests New Trade Corridor To Ship Russian Goods to India

TEHRAN, June 12: Iran's state-run shipping company said it started its first transfer of Russian goods to India, using a new trade corridor that transits the Islamic Republic, an Iranian port official said.

The Russian cargo consists of two 40-foot (12.192 meters) containers of wood laminate sheets, weighing 41 tons, that departed St. Petersburg for the Caspian Sea port city of Astrakhan, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said on Saturday, citing Dariush Jamali, director of a joint-owned Iranian-Russian terminal in Astrakhan.

The report didn't say when the cargo, which it described as an initial "pilot" transfer to test the corridor, left or give any more details about the goods in the shipment.

From Astrakhan, the cargo will cross the length of the Caspian to the northern Iranian port of Anzali and will be transferred by road to the southern port of Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf. From there it will be loaded onto a ship and sent to the Indian port of Nhava Sheva, IRNA said.

Dariush Jamali said the transfer was being coordinated and managed by the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines Group and its regional offices in Russia and India and is expected to take 25 days.

Since Russia was sanctioned over its war on Ukraine, Iranian officials have been keen to revive a stalled project to develop the so-called North-South Transit Corridor that uses Iran to link Russia to Asian export markets. The plan involves eventually building a railroad line that can transfer goods arriving at Iranian Caspian Sea ports to the southeastern port of Chabahar.

Will 'Not Hesitate To Start War' Over Taiwan, China Tells US

SINGAPORE, June 10: Beijing will "not hesitate to start a war" if Taiwan declares independence, China's defence minister warned his US counterpart Friday in the pair's first face-to-face talks, officials said.

"If anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese army will definitely not hesitate to start a war no matter the cost," Wu Qian quoted defence minister Wei Fenghe as saying during a meeting with Lloyd Austin.

The Chinese minister also vowed that Beijing would "smash to smithereens any 'Taiwan independence' plot and resolutely uphold the unification of the motherland", according to the Chinese defence ministry.

He "stressed that Taiwan is China's Taiwan... Using Taiwan to contain China will never prevail", the ministry said.

Austin told his Chinese counterpart during the talks in Singapore that Beijing must "refrain from further destabilising actions toward Taiwan", the US Department of Defense said.

Taiwan, a self-ruled, democratic island, lives under the constant threat of invasion by China. Beijing views the island as its territory and has vowed to one day seize it, by force if necessary.

Tehran, New Delhi agree on the need to respect divine religions, Islamic sanctities & to avoid divisive statements

NEW DELHI, June 9: In the middle of a massive diplomatic row over comments on Prophet Muhammad by members of the ruling BJP, Iran appears to have changed its version of its Foreign minister's meeting today with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in Delhi by pulling down an earlier press statement.

The earlier Iranian statement claimed that its Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian had been told by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval that those who made the controversial remarks against the Prophet "would be taught a lesson". This line no longer finds mention on the Iranian foreign ministry website.

Iranian Foreign Minister Abdollahian is the first big visitor from Iran days after the country joined Kuwait, Qatar and other Gulf nations in condemning the Prophet comments.

"Pleased to meet PM Modi, FM Jaishankar and other Indian officials to advance our bilateral strategic dialogue. Tehran & New Delhi agree on the need to respect divine religions & Islamic sanctities & to avoid divisive statements. determined to bring relations to new heights," the minister tweeted after the meeting last night.

The External Affairs Ministry spokesperson said that the Prophet remarks was never raised in discussions with Foreign Minister S Jaishankar. "We have made it pretty clear the tweets and comments do not convey the views of the government. This has been conveyed to our interlocutors as also the fact that action has been taken by the concerned quarters against those who made the comments and tweets. I really do not have anything additional to say on this," the official said.

A news agency had quoted the earlier Iranian readout as saying Abdollahian raised the issue of the "negative atmosphere" triggered by "disrespectful" comments on the Prophet and that the Indian side reiterated the Indian government's respect for the founder of Islam.

The readout said the Iranian foreign minister also referred to the historical friendship between the followers of various religions in the country.

"Abdollahian hailed the Indian people and government for their respect for the divine faiths, especially the Prophet Mohammad and also for the religious tolerance, historical coexistence and friendship among followers of various religions in the country," the readout said.

The Iranian foreign minister said, "Muslims are satisfied with the stance of Indian officials in dealing with the culprits."

The BJP on Sunday suspended Nupur Sharma, its national spokesperson, and expelled the party's Delhi unit media head Naveen Jindal, over their comments on the Prophet.
Several countries, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Indonesia, Jordan, Bahrain, Maldives, Malaysia, Oman, Iraq and Libya, denounced the comments and many summoned Indian envoys to express their condemnation.

Iran's IRNA news agency quoted Abdollahian as saying ahead of the talks that his trip to India is taking place in a situation in which a member of a party "insulted" Prophet Muhammad in an arbitrary act.

He said India has "constantly followed up peaceful coexistence and tried to live in peace and tranquillity" and noted that "Muslims cannot tolerate the sacrilege of the Prophet of Islam at all," according to IRNA.

Iranian passenger train derails, killing at least 17

TEHRAN, June 8: At least 17 people were killed and 50 more injured after a passenger train derailed in eastern Iran early Wednesday morning, the Iranian Red Crescent said on Twitter.

Twenty-two rescue teams, 10 ambulances and three helicopters were deployed after five train cars derailed at 5.30 a.m. local time near the city of Tabas. The injured were transported to nearby cities for treatment, according to state media.

The death toll is expected to rise due to the severity of the injuries, Iranian state media outlet IRNA quoted south Khorasan governorate official Seyyed Abolhassan Mirjalili as saying.

The train was carrying 348 passengers when it collided with an excavator on the rail, IRNA said. It had been traveling to the city of Yazd.

Aerial footage published on the Iranian Red Crescent's social media showed the cars on their side in the desert.

The incident comes almost two weeks after a 10-story commercial building collapsed in the city of Abadan, killing 41 people and sparking anti-government demonstrations across Iranian provinces.

Iraq, Libya, Malaysia join over a dozen Muslim countries in condemning controversial remarks against Prophet

NEW DELHI, June 7: Iraq, Libya, Malaysia and Turkey have joined over a dozen Muslim countries in condemning the controversial remarks made by now-suspended and expelled BJP leaders against Prophet Mohammad.

In response to a statement issued by the Parliamentary Committee on Awqaf and Tribals of Iraq on the controversial tweets, the Spokesperson of the Embassy of India in Iraq on Monday clarified that the tweets do not, in any manner, reflect the views of the Government of India.

The Iraqi statement said that “these abuses, malicious and disgraceful acts will have serious repercussions and, if not contained, may lead to dire consequences that will have unimaginable consequences for the peaceful coexistence, as well as increase strife and tensions between peoples,” according to the official Iraqi News Agency – INA.

The Indian embassy in its statement said that “in line with our civilisational heritage and strong cultural traditions of unity in diversity, Government of India accords the highest respect of all religions. Strong action has already been taken against those who made the derogatory remarks.” A statement has also been issued by concerned quarters emphasising respect for all religions, denouncing insults to any religious personality or demeaning any religion or sect, it said.

“Vested interests that are against India-Iraq relations have been inciting the people using these derogatory comments. We should work together against such mischievous elements who aim to undercut the strength of our bilateral ties,” said the statement, which was identical to the statements issued by the Indian embassies in Kuwait and Qatar on Sunday.

The Indian embassies in Qatar and Kuwait in their statements had referred to comments as “being made by fringe elements.” However, the phrase “fringe elements” is not there in the statement issued by the Indian embassy in Iraq.

Libya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in a statement “strongly condemned” the “insulting remarks” and called for the consolidation of the values of tolerance and coexistence and the rejection of the discourse of violence and hatred.

Egypt-based Arab Parliament also expressed its strong condemnation of, and rejection of the “irresponsible remarks issued by the spokeswoman of India’s ruling (BJP) against Prophet Mohammad.” In a statement, the Arab Parliament affirmed that such remarks fully contradict the principle of tolerance, and interfaith dialogue, and lead to hate, Kuwait’s state-run KUNA news agency reported.

Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday condemned the “derogatory remarks by politicians in India against the Prophet.” In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said it summoned India’s High Commissioner on Tuesday to convey Malaysia’s total repudiation over this incident.

“Malaysia welcomed the decision by the ruling party to suspend the party’s officials due to their provocative remarks that has generated rage” among Muslims, the statement added.

“Malaysia also called upon India to work together in ending the Islamophobia and cease any provocative acts in the interest of peace and stability,” it added.

In Turkey, the ruling Justice and Development Party spokesperson Omer Celik described the statements against the Prophet as an “insult” to all Muslim.

On Monday, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, the Maldives, the UAE, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman and Afghanistan condemned the controversial remarks against Prophet Mohammad, stressing the importance of respecting all religious beliefs.

Qatar, Iran and Kuwait on Sunday summoned India’s Ambassadors and the expressed their strong protest and condemnation of the controversial remarks.

The BJP on Sunday suspended its national spokesperson Nupur Sharma and expelled its Delhi media head Naveen Kumar Jindal after their controversial remarks against the Prophet.

Amid protests by Muslim groups over the remarks, the party also issued a statement aimed at assuaging the concerns of minorities and distancing itself from these members, asserting that it respects all religions and strongly denounces the insult of any religious personality.

Al-Qaeda threatens suicide attacks in Delhi, Mumbai, UP, Gujarat over Prophet remarks

NEW DELHI, June 7: In a threat letter dated June 6, terror group Al-Qaeda said it would launch suicide attacks in Delhi, Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat to "fight for the honour of the Prophet".

This comes in light of the controversy that has erupted after a few BJP leaders made remarks on Prophet Muhammad.

"We shall kill those who affront our Prophet and we shall bind explosives with our bodies and the bodies of our children to blow away the ranks of those who dare to dishonour our Prophet... The saffron terrorists should now await their end in Delhi, Bombay, UP and Gujarat," the letter says.

Over the last few days, several countries such as Malaysia, Kuwait and Pakistan condemned recent remarks made by a few BJP leaders on Prophet Muhammad. While Nupur Sharma made comments during a TV debate, another leader Naveen Jindal posted a controversial remark on Twitter.

India, meanwhile, has maintained that the views belong to a few fringe elements only and do not represent those of the Government of India. India also "categorically rejected" the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) statement slamming India as "unwarranted and narrow-minded".

Earlier, the ruling BJP suspended spokesperson Nupur Sharma and expelled media in-charge Naveen Jindal over the remarks. The party issued a statement emphasising its intolerance for disrespect of any religious personality.

More Nations Condemn Remarks On Prophet As Indian Govt Firefights

NEW DELHI, June 6: The government today fought to defuse anger in various countries and opposition attacks at home over comments on Prophet Muhammad by two BJP leaders - one has now been expelled and the other suspended.

Top officials tried to manage the diplomatic fallout as nations including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, Iran, Jordan, Afghanistan, Bahrain and Indonesia demanded an apology from the government for allowing the derogatory remarks.

On Sunday, envoys in the Gulf were summoned amid widespread calls on social media for a boycott of Indian goods in the Gulf.

The foreign ministry said in a statement the offensive tweets and comments "did not, in any way, reflect the views of the government. These are the views of fringe elements".

A senior official at the Qatar Embassy in New Delhi said Modi's government must publicly distance itself from the comments. "Hurting our religious sentiments can directly impact economic ties," an agency quoted the official as saying.

The United Arab Emirates condemned statements by the BJP spokesperson, expressing its denunciation and rejection of insults of the Prophet Muhammad. It further underscored the need to respect religious symbols and not violate them, as well as confront hate speech and violence.

The BJP suspended spokesperson Nupur Sharma and expelled another leader, Naveen Jindal, over the controversial comments.

The comments were made by Nupur Sharma during a TV debate last week in the backdrop of a series of communal incidents across the country. BJP media chief Naveen Jindal posted a tweet about the Prophet, which he later deleted.

In a statement on Sunday, the BJP said it is "strongly against any ideology which insults or demeans any sect or religion" and "does not promote such people or philosophy".

India's trade with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE, stood around $90 billion in 2020-21. Millions of Indians live and work in GCC countries.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in recent years has strengthened economic ties with the energy-rich nations, the top source for country's fuel imports.

In Kuwait, Indian Products Pulled From Shelves Over Prophet Remarks

KUWAIT CITY, June 6: A Kuwaiti supermarket pulled Indian products from its shelves even as Iran became the latest Middle Eastern country to summon the Indian ambassador as a row grew on Monday over a BJP official's remarks about the Prophet Mohammed.

Workers at the Al-Ardiya Co-Operative Society store piled Indian tea and other products into trolleys in a protest against comments denounced as "Islamophobic".

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries in the region, as well as the influential Al-Azhar University in Cairo, have condemned the remarks by a spokeswoman for the BJP, who has since been suspended.

At the supermarket just outside Kuwait City, sacks of rice and shelves of spices and chilies were covered with plastic sheets. Printed signs in Arabic read: "We have removed Indian products".

"We, as a Kuwaiti Muslim people, do not accept insulting the Prophet," Nasser Al-Mutairi, CEO of the store, said. An official at the chain said a company-wide boycott was being considered.

Comments by Bharatiya Janata Party spokeswoman Nupur Sharma have sparked furore among Muslims.

Ms Sharma's remarks during a televised debate last week were blamed for clashes in Uttar Pradesh and prompted demands for her arrest.

Anger spread overseas to Muslim countries about the remarks.

The BJP on Sunday suspended Ms Sharma for expressing "views contrary to the party's position" and said it "respects all religions".

Ms Sharma said on Twitter that her comments had been in response to "insults" made against the Hindu god Shiva.

"If my words have caused discomfort or hurt religious feelings of anyone whatsoever, I hereby unconditionally withdraw my statement," she said.

On Sunday, Qatar demanded that India apologise for the "Islamophobic" comments, as Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu visited the gas-rich Gulf state in a bid to bolster trade.

Iran followed Qatar and Kuwait by summoning the Indian ambassador to protest in the name of "the government and the people", state news agency IRNA said late on Sunday.

Al-Azhar University, one of Islam's most important institutions, said the comments were "the real terrorism" and "could plunge the entire world into deadly crisis and wars".

The Saudi-based Muslim World League said the remarks could "incite hatred", while Saudi Arabia's General Presidency of the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque called them a "heinous act".

The row follows anger across the Muslim world in 2020 after French President Emmanuel Macron defended the right of a satirical magazine to publish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

French teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in October 2020 by a Chechen refugee after showing the cartoons to his class in a lesson on free speech. Images of the Prophet are strictly forbidden in Islam.

In further criticism of the Ms Sharma, the Gulf Cooperation Council, an umbrella group for the six Gulf countries, "condemned, rejected and denounced" her comments.

Bahrain also welcomed the BJP's decision to suspend Ms Sharma over "provocation to Muslims' feelings and incitement to religious hatred".

Gulf countries are a major destination for India's overseas workers, accounting for 8.7 million out of a worldwide total of 13.5 million, foreign ministry figures show.

They are also big importers of produce from India and elsewhere, with Kuwait importing 95 percent of its food according to the trade minister.

Kuwaiti media have reported that the government asked New Delhi for an exemption from India's surprise ban on wheat exports over food security and inflation worries.

Queen Elizabeth II makes appearance as UK honors her 70 years as queen

LONDON, June 2: With regimented lines of Scots and Irish guards and throngs of Union Jack-clad onlookers, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated 70 years on the British throne Thursday, drawing tributes from world leaders and ordinary people for a reign almost unmatched in its length.

In what is almost certain to be the emotional highlight of the festivities, she stepped out onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace shortly after noon to inspect the troops marching beneath her. The queen looked alert and engaged, wearing a dusky dove blue dress with a pearl and diamante trim cascading down the front of the coat.

She then reemerged at 1 p.m. with other members of the royal family.

It is the first of four days of festivities — the queen’s Platinum Jubilee — featuring a military parade with hundreds of Army musicians, 240 horses, a Royal Air Force flyover and a gun salute.

The ostensible purpose of all this pageantry is to celebrate the queen’s 96th birthday, which was in April. But the show of military grandeur, known as Trooping the Color, also symbolizes Elizabeth’s status as the commander in chief of the British armed forces. That link has been sacred to her since she served in the auxiliary service as a driver and truck mechanic during World War II, when she was a young princess.

The queen did not take part in the day’s earlier ceremonies, a concession to her frail condition and the problems she has had walking recently. But the palace left little doubt that she intended to turn up on the balcony, the ultimate royal photo opportunity.

She is also scheduled to lead the lighting of the Platinum Jubilee Beacon on Thursday evening from Windsor Castle, in a dual ceremony with her grandson Prince William.

Buckingham Palace sought to head off weeks of press speculation by disclosing last month that the queen would be joined at the front of the palace by a streamlined version of the royal family.

Among those who will not get a coveted spot next to her are Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, who relinquished their royal duties and moved to Southern California in 2020, and Prince Andrew, who has been put into internal exile because of his links to Jeffrey Epstein, the deceased financier and convicted sex offender.

The thinner ranks at Buckingham Palace fulfill a longtime strategy by Prince Charles to reduce the number of working royals — a concession to changing times and growing public resistance to the cost of supporting the royals.

That the queen has made it to her Platinum Jubilee at all is the major story line of the week. She contracted COVID-19 in February and has talked about how the ordeal left her exhausted. She lost her husband, Prince Philip, last year, and her fragile health has forced her to cancel multiple public appearances, including a remembrance service for the war dead and the state opening of Parliament.

That is a heavy blow for a monarch who has lived by the mantra that she had to be “seen to be believed.” But Elizabeth has looked spry in recent appearances at the Royal Windsor Horse Show and the Chelsea Flower Show, raising hopes that the jubilee may yet be a joyful commemoration rather than a wistful twilight.

 

 
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