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Turkey signs landmark Russian weapons deal

ISTANBUL (AFP): Turkey has signed a deal for its first major weapons purchase from Moscow to buy S-400 missile defence systems, both sides announced Tuesday, in an accord that could trouble Ankara´s NATO allies.

The purchase of the surface-to-air missile defence batteries, Ankara’s most significant deal with a non-NATO supplier, comes with Turkey in the throes of a crisis in relations with several Western states.

“Signatures have been made for the purchase of S-400s from Russia. A deposit has also been paid as far as I know,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in comments published in several newspapers on Tuesday.

“Mr Putin and myself are determined on this issue,” he told Turkish journalists aboard his presidential jet returning from a trip to Kazakhstan.

Moscow also confirmed the accord, with Vladimir Kozhin, Putin´s adviser for military and technical cooperation, saying: “The contract has been signed and is being prepared for implementation.”

‘Take our own decisions’

The purchase of the missile systems from a non-NATO supplier is raising concerns in the West over their technical compatibility with the alliance´s equipment.

The Pentagon has already sounded the alarm, saying bluntly that “generally it’s a good idea” for NATO allies to buy inter-operable equipment.

A NATO official told AFP that interoperability was “fundamental” to the alliance for the conduct of joint missions.

“No NATO ally currently operates the S-400,” the official noted, adding that: “NATO has not been informed about the details of any purchase.”

But Erdogan said Turkey – which has the second largest standing army in NATO after the United States – was free to make military acquisitions based on its defence needs.

“We make the decisions about our own independence ourselves, we are obliged to take safety and security measures in order to defend our country,” he said.

He said Moscow would also extend a credit to Turkey for the purchase of the weapons. No financial details have been disclosed.

‘Signal resentment to West’

However, signing the deal does not mean that delivery is imminent, with Russia facing a high demand for the S-400s from its own armed forces and key clients like China and India.

Some analysts have suggested the message sent to the West by the military cooperation between Moscow and Ankara is as important as the delivery itself.

In 2015, Turkey scrapped a $3.4- billion deal with China to build its first anti-missile system.

Aykan Erdemir, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the accord will hasten Ankara’s “drift from the transatlantic alliance and values”.

The purchase “is more about signalling resentment against the West than serving Turkey´s pressing security needs,” he told AFP.

Ozturk Yilmaz, deputy leader of the opposition CHP party, said the party was not opposed to the buy but argued such weapons should be produced in Turkey to lessen the country´s dependence on outside suppliers.

Both Ankara and Moscow have an interest in signalling to the West they mean business with the military cooperation.

Russia´s relations with NATO have been in crisis over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and for backing pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, has currently troubled ties with the United States over a number of issues including Washington´s support for the People´s Protection Units (YPG) Syrian Kurd militia which Ankara considers a terror group.

The Turkish-Russian contract is a symbol of better relations between Ankara and Moscow after a reconciliation deal was signed last year following the 2015 shooting down by the Turkish military of a Russian plane over the Syrian border.

But the two nations – whose rivalry in the Black Sea and Caucasus regions dates back centuries – are still at odds on a host of political issues.

Turkey, which vehemently opposed the 2014 annexation of Crimea, strongly condemned Tuesday the jailing of a Tatar leader for eight years by Russia over a rally against Moscow´s seizure of the region.

Akhtem Chiygoz, a former deputy head of the Tatars´ traditional decision-making assembly, was arrested in 2015 over clashes at a rally that left two people dead.

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‘Dynastic politics’ a problem in India, says Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI (AFP): The torchbearer of the Nehru-Gandhi political scion said on Tuesday that dynastic politics was a “problem” in India, but maintained that a large number of people in his party did not have a dynastic background.

At the same time, Rahul Gandhi, India’s main opposition party Congress vice-president, said a person’s background did not determine his capabilities, The Hindu reported.

Responding to a question of whether the Congress was more associated with dynastic politics, he insisted that India was being run by dynasties.

“Most parties in India have that problem So…Mr Akhilesh Yadav is a dynast. Mr Stalin [son of M. Karunanidhi in the DMK] is a dynast… even Abhishek Bachchhan is a dynast. So that’s how India runs. So don’t get after me because that’s how India is run. By the way, last, I recall, Mr Ambanis are running the business. That’s also going on in Infosys. So that’s what happens in India,” Rahul said as he listed several prominent Indians born into famous families.

But, he said, there were a large number of people in the Congress who were not from dynastic families. “And I can name them in every state. There are also people who happen to have a father, or a grandmother or a great grandfather in politics. They do exist,” he added.

“The real question is, whether the person actually a capable and a sensitive person,” Rahul said.

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Mexico quake: Death toll rises to 96

Monitoring Desk

MEXICO CITY: Death toll rose to 96 in the Mexico earth quake as the rescue teams continue to recovered bodies from the rubbles.

The earthquake on Thursday has destroyed everything in the area and it was the strongest earthquake of the history, the latest deaths were reported in the southern state of Oaxaca.

At least 12,000 homes were damaged and called on those affected to make their own way to shelters because it was proving impossible to distribute aid house by house said by Oaxaca´s governor Alejandro Murat.

Mexican seismological authorities measured the quake at 8.2, making it a magnitude greater than the 8.1 quake that killed 10,000 people in Mexico City in 1985.

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Russian airstrike kills 34 civilians in Syria

Monitoring Desk

DAMASCUS: As many as 34 civilian were killed in Russian airstrike in which they targeted ferries in Euphrates river near Syria’s eastern city of Deir Ezzor.

The British bases Human Rights monitoring group initially claimed that 21 civilians were dead in Russian airstrike but later the numbers was raised to 34 after more bodies were found on the river side.

The report added dozens of other were injured in airstrike and the raids targeted “more than 40 ferries” that had left Al-Boulil town southwest of Deir Ezzor city for the eastern shore of the river.

Russia intervened in Syria in September 2015 to support President Bashar al-Assad.


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Eight killed in shooting incident at Texas

Monitoring Desk

DALLAS: As many as seven persons were killed when a gunman opened fire on them in a Dallas suburb on Sunday evening; meanwhile police reached the crime scene and shot dead criminal.

Spokesperson of Police Department, said the criminals in an exchange of gunfire with the first responding officer. The officer was not injured.

Seven people were found dead in the Plano home.

Tilley added that police are trying to solve the puzzle and investigations are under way to reach the end of this conflict.


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Over 14,000 pilgrims returned as post Hajj flight operation continues: Minister

MADINA (APP): Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Muhammad Yousaf says talks will be held with Saudi authorities to get an increase in Hajj quota for the next year on the basis of country’s population.

Talking to state-run Radio in Madina, the Minister said he will hold a formal meeting with his Saudi counterpart on the matter and the new census figures will be presented before him.

The Federal Minister expressed satisfaction over the overall arrangements made this year for the pilgrims in Makkah and Madina. He said the pilgrims themselves have appreciated the arrangements relating to transport, accommodation and food.

He said an amount of 250 riyal each is being returned to the pilgrims who were not provided with train tickets this year for movement between Mashaer. He said our arrangements have also been appreciated by the pilgrims of other countries including the UK and India.

The Minister said that the post Hajj flight operation has started which will be completed by 5th of next month.

Earlier, Deputy Director Hajj Farooq Rashid briefed the Minister about the arrangements made for Hujjaj in Madina. The Minister was informed that about fifty eight thousand Pakistani pilgrims who could not visit Madina before Hajj will visit the city to pay respect at Roza-e-Rasool.

The Minister directed that all the requirements of the visiting pilgrims should be met. The Minister was also informed that under the post Hajj flight operation, over fourteen thousand pilgrims have returned to their home.

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Two female suicide bombers gunned down by police in Nigeria

Monitoring Desk

NAIROBI: Police gunned down two suspected female suicide bombers Maiduduri city of Nigeria and around eight people were injured in the incident.

Victor Isuku, the Borno State police spokesman said in a statement that the female suicide bombers detonated explosives against a taxi on Maiduguri-Mafa highway, close to the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) checkpoint in the outskirt of Maiduguri and adding the two suicide bombers died in the incident.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army claimed that they rescued six herdsmen abducted by Boko Haram insurgents at Kamuya community of northeast Yobe State.

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Obama surprises students with a visit to DC school

WASHINGTON (Reuters): Students of a school in Washington were in for a surprise when former US president Barack Obama popped into their classroom to give them encouragement at the start of the new year.

After meeting the students, Obama posted a video on his Instagram account with the heading “These young people that I met at McKinley Tech today are the reason I’m hopeful about the future. To all the young people headed back to school around the country: Make us proud. You’re the next generation of leaders, and we need you.”

While speaking to the students, Obama told them: “I do believe that most of the problems we have are going to be solved by you.”

The video shows the reaction of the students when Obama walked into their room with a cheerful “How’s it going, everybody?”

Since he left the White House, Obama has made very few public appearances. Obama is expected to attend the fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee on September 27.

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Mass exodus in Florida as Hurricane Irma closes in

FLORIDA (AFP): Store owners boarded up their windows and families sandbagged their homes to join a mass exodus on Friday as Hurricane Irma churned toward Florida after cutting a deadly swath through the Caribbean.

After killing at least 19 people and devastating thousands of homes on a string of Caribbean islands, Irma made landfall in Cuba’s Camaguey Archipelago as a maximum-strength Category Five storm.

It had top winds swirling at 160 miles (260 kilometers) per hour and was bearing down on nearby Florida, with the eye of the storm just 300 miles south-southeast of Miami, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Warning that Irma would be worse than Hurricane Andrew — which killed 65 people in 1992 — Florida’s governor said all of the state’s 20.6 million inhabitants should be prepared to evacuate.

“People have got to understand, if you’re in an evacuation zone, you should be very cautious, you should get out now,” Governor Rick Scott told CNN. “This is a powerful storm bigger than our state.”

Bumper-to-bumper traffic snaked north out of the peninsula, with mattresses, gas cans and kayaks strapped to car roofs as residents heeded increasingly insistent warnings to get out.

“It’s not clear that it’s a survivable situation for anybody that is still there in the Keys,” said acting NHC director Ed Rappaport.

North of the Keys, in Miami Beach, Orlando Reyes, an 82-year-old Cuban-American, had to suddenly flee his assisted living facility.

“It is frightening,” he told AFP at a shelter in Miami. “We had to leave without a cent, without taking a bath, or bringing anything.”

President Donald Trump warned residents in Irma’s path faced a threat of “epic proportion, perhaps bigger than we have ever seen.

“Be safe and get out of its way, if possible,” he tweeted.

Roaring across the Caribbean, the monster storm claimed at least 19 lives as it laid waste to a series of tiny islands like Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin — where 60 percent of homes were wrecked and looting broke out — before slamming into the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

“Houses are smashed, the airport is out of action, telephone and electricity poles are on the ground,” Olivier Toussaint, a resident of Saint Barthelemy, told AFP.

“Upside-down cars are in the cemeteries. Boats are sunk in the marina, shops are destroyed.”

Trump “offered support to the French government during this tragic time” in a phone call with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, the White House said.

As Irma barreled toward Florida, meteorologists were closely monitoring two other hurricanes.

Jose, a nearly Category Five storm, was following Irma’s path in the Atlantic, while Katia made landfall in eastern Mexico late Friday just as the country was grappling with its worst earthquake in a century.

Caribbean relief disrupted

Hurricane Jose was wreaking havoc with emergency operations in the Caribbean, as the deteriorating weather prevented boats from leaving with relief supplies and grounded aircraft.

Close to a million people have left their homes in Cuba to stay with relatives or in official shelters.

The Caribbean’s biggest island, Cuba had already evacuated 10,000 foreign tourists from beach resorts and raised its disaster alert level to maximum ahead of Irma’s arrival.

The neighboring Bahamas was able to escape mostly unscathed from the fierce hurricane’s fierce horrors, with no reports of casualties or major damage.

In Florida, where forecasters warned of storm surges of up to 12 feet (nearly four meters), at least a million people are facing mandatory evacuation orders, with some estimates of evacuees far higher — triggering a mass exodus complicated by traffic gridlock and fuel shortages.

Normally bustling Miami Beach was deserted and storefronts were boarded up with plywood, some bearing graffiti reading “Say no to Irma” or “You don’t scare us Irma.”

“Nobody can be prepared for a storm surge. They can destroy everything,” said David Wallack, a 67-year-old salsa club owner attempting to secure his property on the city’s Ocean Drive.

“We just can pray for the best. You put what you can in a suitcase and hope.”

Police cars crawled the coastal roads of Florida’s West Palm Beach, blaring out “Attention, attention, this is a mandatory evacuation zone, please evacuate.”

Irma is expected to strike the Florida Keys late Saturday and Sunday before moving inland, according to the NHC.

Destruction and rebuilding

The US military was mobilizing thousands of troops and deploying several large ships to aid with evacuations and humanitarian relief, as the Air Force removed scores of planes from the southern United States.

In the Caribbean, violent winds ripped roofs and facades off buildings, hurling lumps of concrete, cars and even shipping containers aside.

At least two people were killed in Puerto Rico, and more than half of its three million residents were without power after rivers broke their banks in the center and north of the island.

Another four people were killed on the US Virgin Islands, with a number of badly injured people airlifted to Puerto Rico.

One person died in tiny Barbuda, where 30 percent of properties were demolished and the entire island has been evacuated.

France said at least 10 had been killed across its Caribbean territories with seven more missing. There were 112 people injured, two seriously.

On the Dutch side of Saint Martin island, two people died.

In northwest Haiti, a motorcyclist was missing after trying to cross a flooded river and a number of roads were washed out.

European nations quickly mobilized to help their citizens in the Caribbean, with France and the Netherlands ordering hundreds of police to Saint Martin to tackle an outbreak of looting amid major shortages of food, water and petrol.

The French government said 400 police officers would be deployed following “pillaging” in Saint Martin, where most of the 80,000 inhabitants have lost their homes.


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Bangladesh braces for new surge as Rohingya exodus nears 300,000

COX S BAZAR (AFP): Nearly 300,000 Rohingya have fled violence churning through Rakhine state into Bangladesh, the United Nations said Saturday, as Myanmar s government for the first time offered humanitarian aid to members of the Muslim minority still inside the country.

The UN is braced for a further surge of arrivals in Bangladesh with tens of thousands more believed to be displaced in Rakhine, fleeing burning villages, the army and ethnic Rakhine mobs — who Rohingya refugees accuse of attacking civilians.

Myanmar denies the allegations, instead saying the Rohingya militants who sparked the crisis with deadly attacks on police posts on August 25 have spread fear by killing civilians and torching thousands of homes.

Exhausted, wounded and traumatised Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh each day since violence erupted, with the young and old carried over hills and muddy fields in days-long treks or after treacherous boat journeys.

Bangladeshi authorities are planning to build a camp that could house a quarter of a million people. But they have also urged Myanmar to stem the exodus by providing  safe zones  for the Rohingya inside Rakhine.

“Some 290,000 Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh since August 25,” Joseph Tripura, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, told AFP.

There were an estimated 1.1 million Rohingya, who are reviled as illegal immigrants and refused citizenship by Myanmar, living in Rakhine state.

Around a third of that number have fled since October when a new Rohingya militant group launched its first raids, sparking a crackdown by Myanmar s army. Rights groups say the sheer volume of testimony by refugees alleging rape, murder and arson points to a brutal crackdown, in keeping with a systematic campaign to force the Rohingya out of the country.

It is not possible to verify their accounts as access to Rakhine is tightly controlled. Those who have made it to Bangladesh have joined family members already encamped in the Cox s Bazar region or thrown up makeshift shelters on hills and roadsides as monsoon rains hammer down.

“They are deprived of everything. They are desperate for just basic survival,” Dipayan Bhattacharyya, acting World Food Programme (WFP) head in Bangladesh, told AFP, adding that they are handing out 25 kilogramme bags of rice to families.

Hungry Rohingya are running towards every food truck that arrives in the camps and already stretched aid agencies are now bracing for a new increase in numbers.

Humanitarian organisations have launched an appeal for $77 million in response to the crisis, according to a statement by the UN resident coordinator s office in Bangladesh.

– Tragedy of  terrible proportions  –

Myanmar, an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, does not want its Rohingya population.

The government regards them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in the country for generations.

Refugee camps near Bangladesh s border with Myanmar already had about 300,000 Rohingya before the upsurge in violence last month and are now overwhelmed.

Police said Bangladeshi security forces were on alert for attempts by homegrown Islamist militants to use the atrocities to recruit new fighters. Monirul Islam, the head of Dhaka police s counter-terrorism unit, said they had “taken appropriate surveillance measures”.

Fear and violence stalks Rakhine state as communities turn on each other and villages continue to be set alight.

Around 27,000 Buddhists and Hindus have also been displaced by Rohingya militant attacks.

Myanmar will set up three camps to dispense aid in Rohingya-majority areas of the worst hit part of Rakhine state, state-backed media reported on Saturday.

It is the first time the government has offered to provide relief for a minority who are on the move in huge numbers.

Aung San Suu Kyi, whose star once soared as a defender of the downtrodden, has come under immense pressure to speak up for the Rohingya. The crisis has also strained regional ties.

On Saturday Malaysian premier Najib Razak said Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar face systematic violence with “no mercy” shown to them and offered help for the relief effort in Bangladesh.

Pakistan summoned the ambassador of Myanmar Saturday to “convey a strong protest of the Government and people of Pakistan at the ongoing violence against the Rohingya Muslims”, according to a foreign office statement.

Bangladesh authorities asked the International Organisation for Migration to build a new makeshift camp, with authorities afraid that the Rohingya could move to other parts of Bangladesh.

“All the newly arrived Rohingya will be brought in this makeshift camp and housed,” Cox s Bazar magistrate Khaled Mahmud told AFP.

A Bangladesh minister said the government had decided to create a huge new camp on nearly 2,000 acres of land near an existing UN facility, where new arrivals will be registered and given aid.

Dhaka has repeatedly asked Myanmar to take back the Rohingya and address the causes of exodus.