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Iran says Trump claims of North Korea links ‘nonsense’

TEHRAN (AFP): Iran said Monday that suggestions by US President Donald Trump that it was working with North Korea on missile development were “nonsense”.

Foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi was responding to a tweet by Trump over the weekend in which the US president wrote: “Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel. They are also working with North Korea.”

Ghasemi said there were “no similarities nor resemblance” with the actions of North Korea, and that claims they were working together on ballistic missile development amounted to a “clear lie”.

“It is very clear that this is a nonsense and baseless claim,” he told reporters.

Iran said on Saturday that it had tested its Khorramshahr missile with a range of 2,000 kilometres .

The indigenously-built Khorramshahr was first announced by the defence ministry in September 2016, and US officials said it was this ballistic missile was tested in January, sparking international condemnation.

However, Iran never confirmed that the January test was the Khorramshahr missile.

There has been speculation, particularly from hawks in Washington, that the Khorramshahr was based on North Korea´s intermediate-range Musudan missile.

In 2010, a diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks showed that US intelligence officers believed North Korea had shipped Musudan missiles to Iran.

But analysts say the differing ranges cast doubt on those concerns.

A detailed report earlier this year by the US-Korea Institute at John Hopkins University in the United States found: “The available evidence cannot verify speculation that the Iranian missile is similar to North Korea´s Musudan”.

Iran and North Korea have cooperated on military technology in the past.

During Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s, it turned to North Korea as one of the only sources of military assistance, importing a stockpile of Nodong missiles.

Iran used the Nodong to develop its own medium-range Shahab-3 missile, first tested in 1998, and it has continued to improve on the design since.

But there has been scant evidence of direct cooperation between the two countries in recent years, with Iran seemingly keen to distance itself from the East Asian pariah state.

Instead, Iran has emphasised its home-grown missile programme, and denied that this breaches any international laws.

“Since the criticism of American officials, the speed of missile development has increased several times,” said General Amir Ali Hadjizadeh, head of aerospace forces for the Iran´s elite Revolutionary Guards, according to state television on Monday.

“All the material and pieces for our missiles are manufactured locally and do not come from abroad,” he said.

He said the Khorramshahr missile was 13 metres (43 feet) long and could carry a 1,800 kilogram payload.

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Iraq hangs 42 prisoners on death row: ministry

BAGHDAD (AFP): Iraq has hanged 42 prisoners condemned to death for rape, murdering members of the security forces, car bombings and other attacks, a justice ministry statement said on Monday.

It said Sunday´s executions were carried out in Nasiriyah prison in the south after the sentences were confirmed and approved by the presidential council.

The families of those sentenced to death were allowed to attend the executions.

According to rights group Amnesty International, Iraq carries out one of the world´s highest number of executions after China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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Russian police arrests cannibal couple

MOSCOW (AFP): Russian investigators said on Monday they have detained a couple on suspicion of murdering a woman and eating her flesh after finding selfies with the victim´s body parts.

The Investigative Committee in the southern Krasnodar region arrested the 35-year-old man and his wife after a lost phone containing the photographs was handed in to police.

They believe the man killed the woman in a drunken fight in wasteland on September 8 and then cut up her body while his wife was present.

“After carrying out the crime, the man took photographs of himself with some fragments of the dead woman´s body with his cell phone camera,” investigators said.

The phone was traced to the couple living in a hostel at a nearby military facility, where a raid uncovered body parts in a salt solution.

A source in the law enforcement authorities told RIA Novosti news agency these included “a jar containing a preserved hand”.

In the kitchen, officers said they also found “bits of food and frozen pieces of meat of unknown origin,” which they are now testing to find out whether it is human or animal flesh.

The man claimed he found the body parts in a forest park.

Investigators said they were giving the case top priority and would check information about the suspects´ possible involvement in other crimes.

Police have uncovered numerous cases of cannibalism in Russia in recent years.

In June 2010 a court delivered long jail sentences to three homeless men who killed and ate a man and then sold his body parts to a kebab stall in a region of the Urals mountains.

Cannibalism is not a separate criminal offence under Russian law.

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Voting begins in Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence referendum

Monitoring Desk

ERBIL: The voting for Independence referendum was started on Monday despite the regional and international fears that it would create instability and violence across the region.

The independence referendum is organized by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq and polling stations opened their doors at 8:00 a.m. and it will be ended at 6:00 p.m. The final results are expected to be announced in the next three days.

As per expert analysts, the people will easily deliver a vote of yes for independence and that meant to give Massoud Barzani’s KRG a mandate to negotiate of the oil producing region with Baghdad and other neighboring states.

Rizgar told media persons while standing in the line for waiting to cast his vote in a school in Erbill, said that the Kurd people were waiting this moment for 100 years and with God’s help we want to have a state and all Kurds will say yes to Kurdistan.

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Police have thwarted seven attacks since March: London mayor

BRIGHTON (AFP): London Mayor Sadiq Khan said police had thwarted seven attacks by militants since March this year, describing the increase in the number as a shift rather than a spike.

Speaking at the annual conference of his opposition Labour Party, Khan also said the police needed more spending to help them counter such attacks and that Internet companies must do more to crackdown on extremist content.

“Between March this year and now, there have been four attacks but seven have been thwarted,” he told a Guardian Live event.

Earlier this month, the head of the city’s police force said six militant plots had been foiled over the last several months.

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Mass grave of 28 Hindus found in Myanmar: army

YANGON (AFP): Myanmar s army said Sunday it had discovered a mass grave containing the bodies of 28 Hindus, including women and children, in violence-wracked Rakhine state, blaming the killings on Muslim Rohingya militants.

Thousands of Hindus have fled villages where they once lived alongside Muslims, alleging that they were targeted by militants whose August 25 raids plunged Rakhine into communal violence.

The announcement could not be independently verified in an region where access has been tightly controlled by Myanmar s army.

“Security members found and dug up 28 dead bodies of Hindus who were cruelly and violently killed by ARSA extremist Bengali terrorists in Rakhine State,” a statement posted on the army chief s website said.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) is the group whose attacks on police posts triggered an army backlash so brutal that the UN believes it amounts to ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority.

More than 430,000 Rohingya have fled the region to Bangladesh in under a month, telling stories of Myanmar soldiers teaming up with vigilante mobs to slaughter civilians and burn entire villages to the ground.

Around 30,000 Hindus and Buddhists based in the area have also been displaced by the violence.

Both communities have told AFP they were terrorised by Rohingya militants.

Corpses in rows

The army said that security officers found a total of 20 dead women and eight men in two graves, including six boys under the age of ten.

A strong smell led security officers to the burial site outside of Ye Baw Kya village, the army said.

Unverifiable photos published by the government s Information Committee showed corpses laid out in rows on grass near two mud pits where they were found.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay confirmed the grim discovery to AFP, as did a senior police officer in Rakhine who requested anonymity.

The village where the bodies were found, Ye Baw Kya, lies near a cluster of Hindu and Muslim communities in northern Rakhine called Kha Maung Seik.

Last week Hindus from the area told AFP that militants swept into their villages on August 25 with sticks and knives, attacking people who stood in their way, killing many and taking others into the forest.

Hindu women are believed to have been abducted by the militants.

The grim discovery of the graves will further fuel already white-hot hatred between ethnic groups in Myanmar.

The epicentre of the unrest, in northern Rakhine, is dominated by Rohingya Muslims who are a minority elsewhere and have been the target of decades of state-backed persecution and discrimination. Around half of their estimated 1.1 million population has fled over the last year.

Northern Rakhine is also home to ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, Hindus and a myriad of other groups.

Religious tensions have simmered for years, erupting into sporadic bouts of violence. But the scale of the latest unrest is the worst to hit the region in years.

While the wretched lines of Rohingya streaming into Bangladesh have shocked and alarmed the world, there is scant sympathy for the Muslim group inside Myanmar.

Many in the Buddhist majority view the group as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite their long-established roots in the country.

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Merkel heads for fourth term, hard-right eyes first seats

BERLIN (AFP): Germans voted Sunday in a general election expected to hand Chancellor Angela Merkel a fourth term while the hard-right nationalist AfD party was expected to make history by winning its first seats in parliament.

Europe´s most powerful woman appears all but assured of winning another term, in theory matching the 16-year reign of her mentor Helmut Kohl.

Surveys suggest her conservative CDU/CSU alliance has a double-digit lead over its nearest rivals, the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Martin Schulz.

Polling stations in Europe´s top economy will close at 1600 GMT, with exit polls due out immediately afterwards.

With four other parties predicted to clear the five-percent threshold to enter the Bundestag, the highest number since the 1950s, it could take months of coalition wrangling before the next government takes shape.

But mainstream parties have already ruled out talking to the anti-Islam, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is polling at 11 to 13 percent and could emerge as Germany´s third-strongest party.

Alarmed by the prospect of what Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel branded “real Nazis” entering the Bundestag for the first since World War II, politicians used their final days of campaigning to urge voters to reject the AfD.

“This Alternative for Germany is no alternative. They are a shame for our nation,” former European Parliament chief Schulz told a rally on Friday.

The latest surveys put support for Merkel´s conservative block at 34-36 percent, with the SPD trailing at 21-22 percent — which would translate into a historic low for the party.

Despite bracing for a drubbing, Schulz was all smiles as he and his wife cast their ballot in his western hometown of Wuerselen. Merkel and her husband voted at a polling station near their flat in central Berlin.

By 1200 GMT, turnout was steady compared to the 2013 election at about 41 percent, according to official figures.

Bombshell

Merkel, 63, whose campaign events were regularly disrupted by jeering AfD supporters, said at her final stump speech in the southern city of Munich that “the future of Germany will definitely not be built with whistles and hollers”.

Observers say a strong showing by the AfD, which has capitalised on anger over the influx of a million migrants and refugees since 2015, would hit Germany like a bombshell.

“If the AfD becomes the leading opposition party, they will challenge key themes,” said Thorsten Benner, director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin. “It will very much change the tone of debate in parliament.”

Aside from the populist noise, the past two months of campaigning have been widely criticised as lacklustre, with few hot-button issues dividing the main contenders.

Commentators say Merkel´s reassuring message of stability and prosperity has resonated in greying Germany, where more than half of the 61 million voters are aged 52 or older.

Schulz, on the other hand, has struggled to gain traction with his calls for a more socially just Germany at a time when the economy is humming and employment is at a record low.

The SPD has also found it hard to shine after four years as the junior partner in Merkel´s left-right “grand coalition”, marked by broad agreement on major topics, from foreign policy to migration.

´Sleeping-pill politics´

In the final stretch, the more outspoken Schulz told voters to reject Merkel´s “sleeping-pill politics” and vote against “another four years of stagnation and lethargy”.

Germany´s best-selling daily Bild at the weekend said 61-year-old Schulz found his voice as he neared the finish line, and praised him for “fighting until the end”.

“Germany doesn´t just need a chancellor. It also needs an opposition leader. Schulz has started to sound like one,” the newspaper wrote.

The CDU and the SPD have signalled they aren´t keen to continue their loveless marriage, and many rank-and-file SPD members believe the traditional working-class party would benefit from a stint in opposition to rekindle its fighting spirit.

This would leave the presumed winner Merkel in need of new coalition partners — possibly the liberal and pro-business Free Democrats, who are hoping for a comeback after crashing out of parliament four years ago.

Another potential partner would be the ecologist and left-leaning Greens party, which, however, starkly differs with the FDP on issues from climate change to migration policy.

Indecision

Pundits have pointed out that a significant number of voters remained undecided until the last minute, suggesting the final outcome could throw up some surprises depending on turnout.

In the western city of Frankfurt, 66-year-old Harald said he was still unsure who to vote for as he headed home from his night shift as a security guard in the leafy Westend suburb.

“I will make up my mind once I´m in the polling booth. You can forget about the AfD,” he told AFP.

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Six people injured in London acid attack

Monitoring Desk

LONDON: At least six persons were reported to have been injured on Saturday in east London when a males group sprayed a harmful substance in a number of attacks.

Police spokesman said that the incident is not being treating as a terror related incident and adding that the attacks was took place in Stratford.

Meanwhile, police arrested one suspected male of causing grievous bodily harm.

The number of acid attacks has increased in Britain in recent years, linked to robberies and gang-related violence. The government said in July it would look at tougher punishments for people who attack others using acid.

 

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Syria at UN says ‘victory is now within reach’

UNITED NATIONS (AFP): Syria’s foreign minister told the United Nations on Saturday that a military victory in the six-year war was “now within reach” following a series of battleground gains by government forces.

“The liberation of Aleppo and Palmyra, the lifting of the seige of Deir Ezzor and the eradication of terrorism from many parts of Syria prove that victory is now within reach,” Walid al-Muallem told the General Assembly.

The foreign minister, who also holds the rank of deputy prime minister in Bashar al-Assad´s government, said Syrian government forces will be remembered as heroes for their role in the war.

“When this unjust war in Syria is over, the Syrian army will go down in history as the army that heroically defeated, along with its supported forces and its allies, the terrorists that came to Syria from many countries,” he said.

Assad’s forces have been accused by western powers of carrying out atrocities, targeting civilians and using banned chemical weapons, an accusation that Muallem again rejected in his address.

More than 330,000 people have died in the war and more than 5 million Syrians have fled across borders to become refugees.

The United Nations is planning to convene a new round of peace talks in the coming weeks between Syria´s government and the opposition, even though past negotiations have failed to yield more than incremental progress.

The UN-brokered negotiations have hit a wall over opposition demands for a political transition paving the way for the end of Assad´s rule.

The foreign minister laid out what he termed as a “red line” in UN-brokered talks on ending the war, suggesting Damascus will never bow to international pressure for a political transition to end Assad’s rule.

The Syrian government rejects “any external interference in political decisions regarding Syria´s future,” said Muallem.

“Only Syrians have the right to make such decisions, whether now or in the future.”