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Over 400 US Marines being withdrawn from Syria anti-Daesh operation

WASHINGTON (AFP): Over 400 US Marines involved in battling Daesh in Syria are being withdrawn as part of a cut in forces after the capture of militant “capital” Raqqa, the US-led coalition said Thursday.

The Marines had deployed to Syria in March and used 155mm howitzers to support local forces as they fought to retake Raqqa.

“With the city liberated and ISIS on the run, the unit has been ordered home. Its replacements have been called off,” the coalition said in a statement.

The coalition’s director of operations Brigadier General Jonathan Braga called the move “a real sign of progress” as the militants have seen the vast swathes of ground they seized across Syria and Iraq in 2014 reduced to just a few remaining pockets.

“We’re drawing down combat forces where it makes sense, but still continuing our efforts to help Syrian and Iraqi partners maintain security,” Braga said in the statement.

A recent report from the Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center said that as of September 30, the US military had 1,720 troops in Syria and 8,892 in Iraq.

Those numbers were far above the officially released figure of 503 in Syria and 5,262 in Iraq, and even after the announcement of the Marine withdrawal, that supposed 503 figure hadn´t budged.

An alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), retook Raqqa from the militants in October after a brutal onslaught supported by artillery and air power from the US-led coalition.

The international group – which began targeting the militants in 2014 – is still supporting the militia in an operation in neighboring Deir Ezzor province.

The Syrian government backed by Russian firepower is currently conducting a separate offensive in the same region.

As operations change from taking back territory to more of a counter-insurgency, the need for equipment like heavy artillery has diminished, Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said.

Now the goal is more to “train local security forces to defend their territory,” he said.

‘Adjustments to military support’

Since Raqqa’s capture, coalition strikes have dropped off drastically and, under pressure from Turkey, Washington has promised “adjustments to the military support” for the SDF.

Kurdish officials have, however, insisted that cooperation will continue between the two sides, while the US has said coalition forces do not expect to end their mission until a peace deal is negotiated in Syria.

In a separate statement released Thursday the coalition said that 801 civilians had been killed unintentionally in the more than 28,000 air strikes it has conducted and that it is still probing 695 reported incidents.

Monitoring group Airwars insists that number is well below the true civilian toll of the bombing campaign, estimating that almost 6,000 innocent lives have been lost.

As the “caliphate” the militants declared now looks set to be wiped off the map, there are major questions over what comes next in Syria’s complex war that has claimed over 340,000 lives since 2011.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – and his main backers Iran and Russia – now have clear military superiority in the country and international players led by Moscow are making their most concerted push to halt hostilities.

But any progress towards an overall political settlement remains fraught with obstacles and UN-backed talks involving the regime and opposition currently taking place in Geneva have been clouded by major disagreements.

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Trump attacks British PM after criticism of anti-Muslim videos

WASHINGTON (AFP): US President Donald Trump publicly upbraided British Prime Minister and ostensible ally Theresa May late Wednesday, rebutting her criticism of anti-Muslim propaganda in a diplomatic row between the two leaders.

Plunging headlong into a high-profile spat with one of America´s closest international partners, Trump suggested May focus on defending the United Kingdom rather than criticizing him.

“@theresa_may, don´t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!” he tweeted, after an earlier tweet with the same message used the wrong Twitter handle for May.

Trump had drawn fierce condemnation at home and abroad earlier in the day for retweeting three incendiary anti-Muslim videos posted by the deputy head of a British far-right group who has been convicted of a hate crime.

May said through a spokesperson that Trump was “wrong” to promote the “hateful narratives” of the group, British First.

Trump´s interventions in British politics have strained the so-called “special relationship.”

He has infuriated British authorities with his tweets on terrorism in Britain, including highly publicized run-ins with London´s Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan.

Khan on Wednesday described Britain First as “a vile, hate-fuelled organisation whose views should be condemned, not amplified.”

Before Trump´s latest missive, the White House had scrambled to limit the fallout, saying that even if the anti-Muslim videos were misleading, the president was pointing out a real problem.

“The threat is real, and that´s what the president is talking about,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

´Never the wrong time´

Deputy spokesman Raj Shah also defended Trump´s actions: “It´s never the wrong time to talk about the security and safety of the American people. Those are the issues he was raising in his tweets this morning.”

One of the videos falsely claims to show a Muslim beating up a Dutch boy on crutches. The Dutch embassy in Washington took the unusual step of publicly criticizing a sitting US president on Twitter.

“@realDonaldTrump Facts do matter. The perpetrator of the violent act in this video was born and raised in the Netherlands. He received and completed his sentence under Dutch law.”

Another video is described as showing a mob pushing a teenager off a rooftop, without any context — it appears to be footage filmed during unrest in Egypt in 2013. A man was executed for his role in the teen´s death.

The third video allegedly depicts a Muslim smashing a statue of the Virgin Mary.

All three videos were originally posted by Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the far-right group Britain First, which hailed Trump for his support.

“THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, DONALD TRUMP, HAS RETWEETED THREE OF DEPUTY LEADER JAYDA FRANSEN´S TWITTER VIDEOS!” the group tweeted in triumph.

“DONALD TRUMP HIMSELF HAS RETWEETED THESE VIDEOS AND HAS AROUND 44 MILLION FOLLOWERS! GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP! GOD BLESS AMERICA!”

Fransen was found guilty last year of a hate crime after hurling abuse at a Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

Britain First, which was formed in 2011 and is known for picketing outside mosques, has run and lost in several British and European parliament elections.

´Abhorrent, dangerous´

Brendan Cox, widower of MP Jo Cox who was murdered by a right-wing extremist last year, said: “Trump has legitimized the far right in his own country, now he´s trying to do it in ours.

“Spreading hatred has consequences & the president should be ashamed of himself,” he said.

Trump´s behavior renewed calls for May to revoke an invitation for the American president to make a state visit.

David Lammy, a lawmaker for Britain´s opposition Labour Party, said: “The president of the United States is promoting a fascist, racist, extremist hate group whose leaders have been arrested and convicted. “He is no ally or friend of ours,” he said.

Conservative Minister Sajid Javid said Trump had “endorsed the views of a vile, hate-filled racist organisation that hates me and people like me. He is wrong and I refuse to let it go and say nothing.” Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said the retweets were “abhorrent, dangerous and a threat.” Added Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson: “UK has a proud history as an open, tolerant society & hate speech has no place here.”

Trump´s Twitter posts Wednesday were part of an early morning burst in which he again dismissed CNN as “Fake News” and insisted the US economy was in “record territory” by many measures.

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Two killed, nine hurt in Ukraine courtroom blast

KIEV (AFP): Two people were killed and another nine injured on Thursday after two hand grenades were detonated by the father of a victim in a murder trial in southeastern Ukraine, police said.

The incident occurred in the city of Nikopol, about 240 kilometres from the separatist east of the country, during the trial of several men accused of killing two people in 2016, according to a statement from regional police.

During the hearing, the father of one of the victims pulled out and detonated two hand grenades, killing one and wounding seven other people, it said.

Later a police spokesman confirmed the death of the second person – one of the defendants – after he was taken to a hospital. The spokesman added that a total of nine people were wounded, including the defendants, court personnel and guards.

The tragedy highlights the arms trafficking problem in Ukraine since the conflict between Russian-backed rebels and Kiev army erupted in April 2014 in the country’s east and has since then killed more than 10,000 people.

In November, Kiev police said two men were detained after 6.5 kilogrammes of explosives were found hidden in a car that was parked near a shopping centre in a densely populated area on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital.

Also this month, in the eastern war-torn Donetsk region police intercepted a car that was illegally carrying hundreds of cartridges and six hand grenades.

Security forces in southern Odessa region have also announced the arrest of a man suspected of trafficking weapons from the conflict zone.

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Russia rejects US call to cut North Korea ties

MOSCOW (AFP): Russia on Thursday rejected a US call to cut ties with North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“We see this negatively,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists in the Belarusian capital Minsk, Russian news agencies reported.

“We have repeatedly stated that the pressure of sanctions has been exhausted.”

He accused the United States of seeking to provoke Kim Jong-Un’s regime and demanded to know whether Washington was plotting to destroy the isolated country.

“It’s as if the recent actions of the United States are consciously directed to provoke Pyongyang towards other radical actions,” Russia’s top diplomat said.

“The Americans need to explain what they are aiming for. If they are looking for a reason to destroy North Korea, then they should say it straight and the American leadership should confirm it,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.

On Wednesday, Washington warned that North Korea’s leadership will be “utterly destroyed” if war breaks out as it called on countries to cut all diplomatic and trade ties with North Korea.

The latest threat came after North Korea tested its third ICBM, which it claimed was capable of striking anywhere in the United States.

“If war comes, make no mistake: the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said.

US President Donald Trump derided Kim as a “sick puppy” and threatened “major” new sanctions.

The Kremlin on Wednesday called the latest missile test a “provocative action” and appealed for calm on all sides.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has emerged as one of the most strident voices against punishing Pyongyang, insisting that further sanctions and threats are “useless” against a regime that feels cornered.

The United States earlier this year pressed for a full oil embargo on North Korea but dropped that demand following resistance from China and Russia.

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Murad forms body to inspect, evaluate under construction, completed road schemes

Naimat Khan

KARACHI: Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah in order to ensure pace and quality of works has directed Planning & Development department to start inspection of the roads being constructed in the province through Annual Development Programme (ADP), Asian Development Bank and Maintenance & Repair (M&R) head and report him.

This he said while presiding over a meeting here at CM House Thursday . The meeting was attended by Minister Works & Services Imdad Pitafi, Chairman P&D Mohammad Waseem, Principal Secretary to CM Sohail Rajput, Secretary Finance Hassan Naqvi, Secretary Work & Services Aijaz Memon, concerned chief engineers and other officers.

The chief minister in the start of the meeting constituted a committee under Chairman P&D Mohammad Wassem with the task to review status of each and every scheme, including release of funds, utilistaion of funds, pace of work and quality of work. “I want you to start inspection of the roads and buildings being constructed under different programme and give me report,” he said. The members of the committee would be secretaries of all the departments and DG P&D.

The W&S department has launched 488 road sector schemes in which 396 are on-going and 92 new. The approved cost of the schemes is Rs25772 million against which the government has released Rs15209.126 million and the expenditures are Rs6998.721 million. By the end of current financial year 330 km road would be completed.

There are eight on-going buildings schemes launched for Rs228 million against which Rs65.404 million have been released and the expenditures are Rs9.402 million.

The Minister works, Imdad Pitafi told the chief minister that 41 road sector schemes would be completed by June 2018. He added that nine schemes were completed by October 2017. They are widening of Hala-Shahdadpur-Sanghar road for Rs700.133 million, reconstruction of road from Yousif Dahri Mori regulator to Bandhi Manhoro road, Shaheeb Benazirabad for Rs264.024 million, Improvement of Road from Matiari to Allah Dino Sand Road Rs338.773, improvement of road from Ruk to Lakhi of Rs80.97 million, reconditioning of Road from Paljiani Station to Tando Jam via Shahpur for Rs198.671 million, road from sakrand to Sarhani Rs459.148 million, road from Jhudo Nabisar for Rs115.332 million and construction of Overhead bridge on Railway Southern side of Railway Station subzi Mandi, Shaheed Bnenazirabad for Rs252.893 million.

Mr Pitafi told the chief minister that 13 road secrtor schemes would be completed by December 2017. These roads are Rs622.044 million Mataro Kario Ganhwar to Kharwah, Badin, Rs728.185 million Rando Allahyar-Tando Adam Road, Rs197.06 million road from Deh 170 to Tando Jan Mohammad Distt Mirpurkhas, Rs358.552 million Samaro jhudo road, and others. On this the chief minister said that the deadline give for the completion of these 13 raods must be complied for.

Giving presentation on Sindh Provincial Road Improvement project launched with the assistance of Asian Development Bank (ADB) for Rs22750 million, Mr Pitafi said that the works on the six raods under the project was in full swing.

He said that 44-km Thul-Kadhkot Road launched for Rs2,065.2 million has been completed by 46 percent, 36-km Sheranpur-Ratodero Road of Rs1.450 million has been done by 21 percent, 64-km Khyber to Snaghra via Tando Adam Road of Rs2.8 billion has been done by 43.76 percent. 63-km Sanghar to Mirpurkhas via Sindhri Road of Rs2.4 billion has achieved 24 percent progress, 67-km Tando Mohammad Khan to badin road of Rs3.3 billion has touched 24 percent progress and 54-km Digri to Naukot Road of Rs3.3 billion has achieved 24 percent progress.

The chief minister said that he has given Rs3.4 billion for Maintenance & Repair of 23 roads. He directed Chairman P&D to constitute (M&R) to constitute an inspection team to visit M&R works to ensure their quality. “I would also visit the repair works and it must be done properly,” he said.

The chief minister also directed P&D department to hold another meeting today at 9am (Friday) and review status of each and every schemes so that they all could be completed by end of May. “I would not allow release of funds in June, therefore all the works must be completed by May 2017,” he said.

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Role of Aviation Industry in national economy significant, says Air Chief

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force (PAF), Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman has said that Aviation Industry plays a significant role in the country’s economy and it is heartening to note that this industry is flourishing in Pakistan.

He said that in the same context, the upcoming strategic projects such as China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would provide greater spur to aviation sector in the country. The Air Chief stated this while addressing as chief guest at seminar organized by PAF in collaboration with Royal Aeronautical Society on the topic of “Aviation Industry: Future Perspective and Application of Technology” at Nur Khan Auditorium, Air Headquarters, Islamabad on Thursday.

Chief Executive Royal Aeronautical Society Mr Simon Luxmoore also attended the seminar as a key speaker. Deputy Chief of the Air Staff (Support), Air Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, who is also Chairman Royal Aeronautical Society Islamabad delivered the opening address and highlighted the salient features of the seminar. National and international speakers gave presentations on different aspects of Aviation Industry during the seminar.

Addressing at the occasion, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman further said that PAF has taken a strategic initiative of planning the establishment of Aviation City at Kamra, which would provide the desired impetus to our cutting-edge indigenization programmes, strengthen the local industry and harness the demands of foreign aviation industry. Senior serving and retired PAF Officers, select notables from aviation industry and students from various educational institutions attended the seminar.

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2000 cops to perform duties for processions of Eid Milad ul Nabi

ISLAMABAD (NNI): Islamabad Police have chalked out an elaborate security plan for main procession of Eid Milad ul Nabi on 12th Rabi ul Awal (December 1)and strict patrolling will be ensured during procession and other religious gatherings in the city.

According to police plan finalized in meeting headed by Senior Superintendent of Islamabad Police (SSP) Sajid Kiani, 2000 police personnel including QRF and ATS teams, and police commandoes while contingents of Rangers and FC will perform patrolling and security duties on this occasion and main procession starting from Sector G-7 will be completely cordoned off through heavy deployment.

Procession will carried out from sector G-7 (Sitara Market) and to culminate near shrine of Hazrat Sakhi Mehmud at Aabpara market after passing through various routes, the police source said.

The SSP said all SPs, SDPOs, SHOs and other police officials will visit the routes of procession and ensure effective coordination among the security personnel performing duties. Police officials will guide the cops and boost their morale in accomplishing duties in a responsible manner. Special teams of CID and Special Branch police will assist in smooth performance of their duties.

The police officers including SPs will also visit various police posts, lying in the route of procession, check security duties and brief cops as how to ensure effective security.

Close liaison will be maintained with organizers of procession and other gatherings in the city. Cooperation of organizers will be ensured with the police and law enforcing officials. Walk through gates will be installed at all the entry points of procession and metal detectors will be used for checking of participants.

The SSP directed patrolling officers to check motorcyclists in their respective areas, note down details about them and check their particulars. He also directed to enhance vigilance against suspects and ensure peace in their areas.

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PML-N govt delivered in different sectors despite hurdles: Daniyal

ISLAMABAD (APP): Minister for Privatization, Daniyal Aziz has said that despite hurdles, the PML (N) government has delivered in different sectors.

Addressing a news conference in Islamabad on Thursday, he said it is the reason that different surveys are tagging the PML (N) as the most popular party and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as the most popular leader. He said that performance of federal and Punjab governments is far better than the other provinces. He said we have also restarted and revamped the privatization process.

About Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, the Minister said it has always ridiculed the institutions including the judiciary and the election commission of Pakistan. He said the party having the nomenclature of justice itself is obstructing the course of justice. He said the PTI Chairman should review its conduct towards the institutions.

The Minister pointed out that the PTI is using delaying tactics in foreign funding case being heard by the Election Commission. This is the reason that it has repeatedly sought stay orders from Islamabad High Court.

Similarly, Imran Khan has not responded in the defamation lawsuit filed by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. He said Imran Khan is also not appearing in the Najam Sethi case.

Daniyal Aziz said that the PTI makes big claims about accountability, but has made the Ehtesab Commission dysfunctional in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

This clearly shows the contradiction in the words and actions of PTI. He said the PTI chairman should do some soul searching before mudslinging on others.

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Protesting students threaten to go on hunger strike at University of Peshawar

F.P. Report

PESHAWAR: Raising their voice against the rise in tuition fee, students of the University of Peshawar have continued their protest on second day against the administration.

The protesting students, who are a part of Mutahida Talba Mahaz (MTM) and are affiliated with different political parties, are protesting against the rise in tuition fee as well as the lack of facilities at the university hostel, including the lack of transportation facilities.

The protestors have now threatened the authorities to launch a hunger strike too.

The students are protesting against the rise in tuition fee as well as the lack of facilities at the university hostel, including the lack of transportation facilities.

Protesting for their rights at the University of Peshawar, the students gathered in front of the administration block and raised slogans against the Vice Chancellor as well as the university’s administration.

The protestors accompanied by a large number of female students, also threatened to bar the authorities from holding the annual elections of the Peshawar University Professors’ Association in case their demands are not met.

The students of MTM have said that the protests will continue till the authorities address their demands.

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Rao Anwar requests leaves as IG orders inquiry into 25 Nov firing incident

Naimat Khan

KARACHI: Senior Superintendent of Police Malir, Rao Anwar, on Thursday applied for ex-Pakistan leaves soon after Inspector General of Police Sindh, Allah Dino Khowaja, ordered an enquiry into the firing incident by a team he led on 25 of this month.

“Mr. Mushtaq Ahmed Mehar, PSP, Additional Inspector General Karachi is herby nominated as enquiry office to conduct enquiry into the incident of firing as a result of which 27 protestors got injured at Star gate, District Malir, On 25-11-2017,” a notification issued on Thursday reads.

According to the notification, additional IGP Karachi shall conduct the enquiry himself and shall not assign it to anyone else.

Additional IG Karachi is tasked to identity the circumstances leading to injuries of 27 protestors including SHO and Police Constable.

Though there is no direct mention of Rao Anwar, sources told that the officer after getting copy of notification has applied for ex-Pakistan Leave as the firing was open upon his orders.

Two days earlier, SP Malir Rao Anwar, who is known for his staged encounters, informed a local court that he can’t appear due to life threats from Taliban.

According to reports, Rao Anwar submitted a written apology with the court, which had last week issued arrest warrants for the encounter specialist after he failed to appear before the court as witness.

The judged expressed his displeasure over SSP Malir when he appeared before the court here on Tuesday. “Why shouldn’t be you sent to Jail so that you may appear before the court on time?” the judged asked to which Rao Anwar said that he had threats to life from Taliban.

The court was adjourned till December 2.

A session court in Karachi on last Tuesday issued arrest warrants for Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Malir, Rao Anwar Ahmed, for not showing up in cases against former leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Saleem Shehzad as witness.

The former MQM leader appeared in court in two different cases being lodged against him in 1992. The Additional District and Session Judge East had summoned Rao Anwar, who is witness in these cases, thrice but he didn’t show up as a result of which the judge issued arrest warrants for SSP Rao.

Rao was suspended for arresting Khowaja Izharul Hasan previously. He is also notorious for staged encounters and facilitating land grabbing with patronage of important political personality as well as officers of the Law enforcement Agency.

The court heard two cases of arson and interfering in matter of state being lodged in Landhi and Khokhrapar police stations in 1992.