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No rethink on Gilgit-Baltistan: India

NEW DELHI, March 16: Taking strong exception to Pakistan’s plans to turn Gilgit-Baltistan region into a province, India on Thursday asserted that the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir, including Gilgit-Baltistan constitutes its sovereign territory.

“The position of the government regarding Jammu and Kashmir is well known. The entire State of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India in 1947. It has been, is and will always be an integral part of India. A part of Jammu and Kashmir has been under illegal occupation of Pakistan. Any unilateral step by Pakistan to alter the status of that part will have no basis in law and will be completely unacceptable,” said Baglay, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

The response from the MEA followed reports from Pakistan that a committee has suggested integration of Gilgit-Baltistan into the federal structure of Pakistan. The recommendation is unique as despite being part of Pakistan since the first India-Pakistan war of 1947, Gilgit-Baltistan is the only geographical unit which has so far not sent members to the Pakistan National Assembly. Gilgit-Baltistan is significant for Pakistan as it hosts a part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

On Wednesday, addressing a security conference in the capital, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti spoke favourably about the CPEC which passes through Gilgit-Baltistan. “China and Pakistan have economic corridor. Why can’t we be partners to the corridor? Pakistan wants us to be part of the CPEC. We should join,” Ms Mufti had said. However, the MEA reiterated its opposition to the CPEC.

Asked about Pakistan having expressed concern over acquittal of Swami Assemanand in the Ajmer Sharif blast case, Baglay said India completely rejects Pakistan's “efforts and intention to meddle” in the country's internal affairs, including in the Indian judicial process.

“We also reject the ulterior link which is sought to be established by Pakistan with any other matter under the purview of Indian courts.”

Twin blasts kill 40 near religious sites in Syria's capital Damascus

BEIRUT, March 11: Twin blasts Saturday near holy shrines frequented by Shiites in the Syrian capital Damascus killed at least 40 people, most of them Iraqis, according to Syrian and Iraqi officials.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. Islamic State militants have carried out similar attacks before against Shiite shrines in the Syrian capital and elsewhere. Extremist Sunni groups, such as IS, view Shiites as apostates and consider shrines a form of idolatry.

Syrian State TV aired footage from the scene showing blood-soaked streets and several damaged buses in a parking lot, apparently where the explosions went off near Bab al-Saghir cemetery. The cemetery is one of Damascus' most ancient and is where several prominent religious figures are buried.

Interior Minister Mohammed al-Shaar visited the wounded in local hospitals. He said 40 were killed and 120 were wounded. He said the attacks targeted civilians, including Arab visitors, who were touring area's shrines.

Iraq's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that at least 40 Iraqis were killed and 120 wounded. Ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal said buses carrying Iraqi pilgrims to the shrines were targeted. He said a crisis response team has been formed to expedite the identification and transport of the killed and wounded.

"The ministry calls on the international community to condemn this heinous terrorist crime that targeted civilian Iraqi visitors to the holy shrines. It also urges a firm and decisive stand against the takfiri groups responsible for them," Jamal said in a statement. Takfiri is an Arabic derogatory term referring to extremist Sunni Muslims — such as members of the Islamic State group — who accuse other Muslims of being infidels.

Iraqi, Iranian and other Asian Shiites often visit shrines in Syria.

North Korea fires 4 ballistic missiles into ocean: South Korea

SEOUL/TOKYO, March 6: North Korea on Monday fired four banned ballistic missiles that flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), with three of them landing in Japan's exclusive economic zone, South Korean and Japanese officials said, in an apparent reaction to huge military drills by Washington and Seoul that Pyongyang insists are an invasion rehearsal.

It was not immediately clear the exact type of missile fired; Pyongyang has staged a series of missile test-launches of various ranges in recent months, including a new intermediate-range missile in February. The ramped-up tests come as leader Kim Jong Un pushes for a nuclear and missile program that can deter what he calls US and South Korean hostility toward the North.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday's firing shows that North Korea has become "a new kind of threat." Japanese officials said three of the four missiles landed in the 200-nautical-mile offshore area where Tokyo has sovereign rights for exploring and exploiting resources.

South Korea's Joint Chief of Staff said in a statement that Monday's launches were made from the Tongchang-ri area in North Pyongan province. The area is the home of the North's Seohae Satellite Station where it has conducted prohibited long-range rocket launches in recent years.

Seoul and Washington call their military drills on the Korean Peninsula, which remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty, defensive and routine.

The North hates the military drills, which run until late April and which analysts say force its impoverished military to respond with expensive deployments and drills of their own. An unidentified spokesman for the North's General Staff of the Korean People's Army said last week that Pyongyang's reaction to the southern drills would be the toughest ever but didn't elaborate.

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year. There have been widespread worries that the North will conduct an ICBM test that, when perfected, could in theory reach US shores. Washington would consider such a capability a major threat.

The United States has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, and 50,000 in Japan, as a deterrent against a potential aggression from the North.

India snubs China; to go ahead with Dalai Lama visit to Arunachal Pradesh

Dalai LamaNEW DELHI, March 3: Despite China’s warning to India against the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, government representatives are all set to host the Tibetan spiritual leader there.

Beijing had earlier today, in a statement, said that if the Dalai Lama visits Arunachal Pradesh then it would affect the ties between the two-key Asian powers.

Reacting to Beijing’s statement, New Delhi said that the Tibetan spiritual leader will be making a religious trip to Arunachal Pradesh in April, and India being free, it won’t be stopping him from travelling to any part of the country.

Dalai Lama is considered by China as a dangerous separatist leader, who can affect for the worse ties between India and China. It has raised objections to his impending visit to the state. China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of Tibet and routinely objects to any visits by top leaders, officials and diplomats to the area.

The Narendra Modi-led government shares a good relationship with the Dalai Lama. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju who hails from Arunachal Pradesh, in a statement said, “He is going there as a religious leader, there is no reason to stop him. His devotees are demanding he should come, what harm can he do? He is a Lama.”

Chinese spokesman on Foreign Affairs, Geng Shuang said, “China’s position on the eastern section of China-India border dispute is consistent and clear. The Dalai clique has, for a long time, carried out anti-China separatist activities, and on the issue of the China-India border, has a history of disgraceful performances.”

He goes on to say further that, “India is fully aware of the seriousness of the Dalai issue and the sensitivity of China-India border question. Under such a background if India invites the Dalai to visit to the mentioned territory, it will cause serious damage to peace and stability of border region and China-India relations.”

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