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US House passes bill to advance defence co-operation with India

WASHINGTON (AFP): The US House of Representatives has passed a $621.5 billion defence policy bill that proposes to advance defence cooperation with India.

An amendment in this regard, moved by Indian-American Congressman Ami Bera, was adopted by a voice vote by the House as part of the National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA) 2018, beginning October 1 this year. NDAA-2018.

The India-related amendment passed by the House requires the Secretary of Defence, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to develop a strategy for advancing defence cooperation between the United States and India.

“The United States is the world’s oldest democracy and India is the world’s largest democracy. It is vitally important to develop a strategy that advances defence cooperation between our two nations,” Bera said. “Cooperation between the US and India enhances our own defence and our ability to meet the evolving security challenges of the 21st century,” Bera added.

Following the passage of the National Defence Authorisation Act, the Secretary of Defence and Secretary of State have 180 days to develop a strategy for advancing defence cooperation between the two countries.

NDAA needs to be passed by the Senate before it can be sent to the White House for the US President Donald Trump to sign into law.

The previous NDAA-2017 had designated India as a major defence partner which brings India at par with closest American partners in terms of defence trade and technology transfer.
Meanwhile, a senior defence official on Friday said that India and US defence relationship is on positive track.

“As we look at the global order, and when we look at the evolving security environment within Asia, India’s rise and role is evolving, and we see the United States and India increasingly viewing the region in the same way, and our interests are very much aligned,” said Cara Abercrombie, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for South and Southeast Asia.

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ISIS Leader in Afghanistan Is Killed by Drone, Pentagon Says

WASHINGTON (AP): The leader of the Islamic State’s branch in Afghanistan, Abu Sayed, was killed by an American drone strike this week, the Pentagon said on Friday.

The strike, on Tuesday, targeted the militants’ headquarters in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.
Other members of the group were also killed in the operation, the Pentagon said in a statement, which asserted that the attack would “significantly disrupt the terror group’s plans to expand its presence in Afghanistan.”

The Islamic State, however, has proved its resilience by replacing its leaders soon after they are killed. Mr. Sayed was chosen to lead the group in Afghanistan after his predecessor, Abdul Hasib, was killed in April during a special forces raid in Nangarhar Province, where the militant group has been active. Two United States Army Rangers were killed in the April operation, perhaps by so-called friendly fire, the Pentagon has said.

In Afghanistan, the group goes by the Islamic State in Khorasan, an ancient name for the region that includes portions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has sought to expand the scope of its operations in Afghanistan, but the location of the latest strike, in Kunar Province, suggests the group may be falling back from its stronghold of neighboring Nangarhar.

The Trump administration is conducting a review to determine its broader strategy to deal with the nearly 16-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who had told lawmakers that he expected the review to be completed by mid-July, told reporters on Friday that it was close to completion.

“We’re not going to meet some timeline if we are not ready,” he said. “But we’re pretty close.”
As a stopgap, the White House has authorized Mr. Mattis to send nearly 4,000 troops to Afghanistan, though none appear to have been deployed so far.


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Indian police file case against AIB over ´insulting´ Modi meme

NEW DELHI (AFP): Indian police have filed a defamation case against a group of comedians accused of insulting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the latest incident to raise fears over creative freedoms in the country.

A spokeswoman for the Mumbai police said on Friday that the force had registered a first information report against AIB over a tweet poking fun at India´s leader.

“An FIR has been registered against AIB at Mumbai´s cyber police station after due legal consultation,” Rashmi Karandikar told AFP.

The case has been registered under laws against defamation and spreading obscene material online.

Police received a complaint after AIB earlier this week tweeted a photograph of a Modi look-alike who had been spotted at a train station carrying a holdall and looking at his mobile phone.

Alongside it they posted a photo of the real Modi´s face but superimposed a dog´s features using a Snapchat filter. They included the hashtag “Wanderlust” in an apparent reference to Modi´s regular trips abroad.

The tweet went viral on social media but sparked a backlash from Modi supporters and AIB ended up deleting it.

“Will continue making jokes. And deleting if necessary. And making jokes again. And apologizing if necessary. Don´t care what you think,” Tanmay Bhat, one of AIB´s founders tweeted.

It is not the first time AIB´s jokes have come under the scanner of Indian police.

In 2015 the popular group fell foul of authorities when they were at the centre of an obscenity investigation over some sexually explicit jokes in a comedy “roast” show featuring several Bollywood stars.

Last year Mumbai police asked YouTube and Facebook to block an AIB video mocking cricket great Sachin Tendulkar and famous Indian movie singer Lata Mangeshkar.

Free speech advocates allege that there is a growing climate of intolerance under Hindu nationalist leader Modi, with online trolls feeling empowered to target social media users who express different points of view from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

This week the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) refused to certify a documentary film featuring Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen unless some words, including “cow” and “Hindu India”, are beeped out.

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US has no proof Daesh leader Baghdadi is dead: Mattis

WASHINGTON (AFP): Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said Friday he cannot confirm whether or not Daesh chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead, after reports from Syria that the militant leader had been killed.

“If we knew, we would tell you — right now, I can’t confirm or deny it,” Mattis said. “Our approach is we assume he’s alive until it’s proven otherwise, and right now I can’t prove it otherwise.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a longtime conflict monitor, said earlier this week it had heard from senior Daesh leaders in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province that Baghdadi was dead. There was no official confirmation or denial of the news on Daesh-run social media outlets.

“We’ll go after him until he’s gone,” Mattis said. There have been persistent rumours that Baghdadi has died in recent months. Russia’s army said in mid-June that it was seeking to verify whether it had killed the Daesh chief in a May air strike in Syria.

With a $25 million US bounty on his head, Baghdadi has kept a low profile but was rumored to move regularly throughout IS-held territory in Iraq and Syria.

The 46-year-old Iraqi has not been seen since making his only known public appearance as “caliph” in 2014 at the Grand Mosque of Al-Nuri in Mosul, which was destroyed in the battle for Iraq´s second city.

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Seven British Pakistani jailed in Britain for trafficking heroin

LONDON (Monitoring Desk): Seven British Pakistanis and a British Indian from Birmingham have been jailed for almost 140 years for smuggling heroin, worth up to £10m, from Pakistan to UK in February and July 2014.

The gang was jailed on Friday at the Birmingham Crown Court for a total of 139 years of imprisonment for conspiracy to import heroin after a detailed investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Ringleaders of the gang Ameran Zeb Khan, 38, Mohammed Ali, 36, and Sajid Hussain, 32, were sentenced to 22 years each and Hussain was sentenced to another 9 months for another offence involving fraud.

The NCA established that the men organised two container shipments from Lahore via Karachi to London’s Gateway Port in February and July 2014.

While the first shipment passed through, the second shipment was intercepted by Border Force (BF) officers who cut open the container’s cargo of industrial lathes to find 165kg of heroin concealed within them.

The investigators removed the drugs and reassembled the lathes and sent them on to their delivery destination at an industrial unit in Sandwell, West Midlands, where they were met by Omar Isa, 36 and Imran Arif, 35, who were working for the ringleaders. Isa was sentenced to 15.5 years in jail while Arif was imprisoned for 10 years.

In a statement the NCA said that Mohammed Ashaf Khan, 49, who handled logistics, has been imprisoned for 17.5 years while Rajesh Patel, 52, who used his business to provide paperwork for the shipments, was jailed for 15.5 years.

Zulfgar Munsaf, 38, who passed on the bosses’ instructions to others and was the only one in the group to plead guilty to avoid a trial, was given 14 years.

Paul Risby, branch commander at the NCA, said: “This was a determined and capable criminal group. They had connections to heroin suppliers and used legitimate business paperwork to provide cover for their activity.”

“The Border Force search in July 2014 also prevented a really significant shipment of heroin being sold on our streets.”

“Strong partnerships between the NCA, Border Force, West Midlands police and the CPS were vital in bringing about this result.”

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Kashmir dispute: India rejects China’s offer of mediation

NEW DELHI (AFP): New Delhi on Thursday rejected China’s offer of mediation over the Kashmir issue and said that it would not accept any third country’s intervention on the issue.

India further said that its stand on resolving issues through bilateral framework has not changed.

The reply came in the backdrop of China’s saying that it is ready to play a constructive role in improving ties between Pakistan and India.

“We are ready to have a dialogue with Pakistan, among other issues, but in a bilateral framework. India’s position of addressing all issues with Pakistan, including the Jammu and Kashmir issue, in a bilateral framework has not changed,” said India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokersperson Gopal Baglay.

Earlier Beijing had said the conflict between India and Pakistan is threatening peace and stability in the region.

“Both Pakistan and India are important countries in South Asia. The conflict between the two countries along the Line of Control in Kashmir is neither conducive to their own stability and development nor regional peace and tranquillity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said during a press conference on Wednesday.

“China hopes relevant parties will do more to help with regional peace and stability and refrain from escalating the tension. China stands ready to play a constructive role to improve the relations between Pakistan and India,” he added.

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Japan flood death toll rises to 30

ASAKURA (AFP): The death toll from heavy rains and flooding in Japan’s south has risen to 30, officials said Thursday, while rescue workers continued their efforts to find survivors.

Heavy seasonal rains last week caused severe flooding that tore up roads and destroyed houses on the southern island of Kyushu, with hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee their homes.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cancelled a visit to Estonia that was originally planned as the last leg of a European tour, flying to the region Wednesday to view the damage and console residents.

The government of the island’s Fukuoka prefecture said it had identified the body of a resident from hardest-hit Asakura city, bringing the death toll from that region alone to 24.

A week after the disaster began, hundreds of people were still staying in school gymnasiums and public buildings used as makeshift shelters.

Thousands of police, soldiers and rescue workers are searching for 19 people who remain unaccounted for, according to local officials.

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14 dead in twin Cameroon bombings

YAOUND (AFP): Two bombers blew themselves up in northeastern Cameroon killing 14 people and injuring 30 people in an attack likely staged by Boko Haram jihadists, security sources said Thursday.

The bombings, which took place on Wednesday evening in Waza near the Nigerian border, targeted a busy area in the market town, the sources said.

The bombers struck an area with “restaurants, telephone cabins and kiosks”, a local official said.

“The town has been sealed off. Nobody can enter and nobody can leave,” the source said, adding that some of the wounded were in “quite serious” condition.

Though Boko Haram was born in Nigeria, the Islamic State-affiliated group has carried out frequent attacks in Cameroon, Chad and Niger, prompting the formation of a regional force to fight back.

Cameroon’s Far North region, which borders Nigeria, has seen a resurgence in attacks blamed on Boko Haram after months of relative calm.

Six civilians were killed in mid-June in a double suicide attack in Kolofata, and two others died in Limani at the start of last month when a female bomber blew herself up near the town’s public school.

Some 200,000 Cameroonians from the Far North region have fled their homes in fear of the violence.

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France, Germany signal ambitions with joint cabinet meeting

PARIS (AFP): When the French and German governments sit down for a joint cabinet meeting on Thursday, the intended message will be clear: the Paris-Berlin engine that has driven EU integration for the last 59 years is back in gear.

French President Emmanuel Macron was elected in May promising to overhaul the 28-member bloc with a host of initiatives to deepen EU integration in the areas of defence, security and immigration.

The arrival of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her cabinet in Paris on Thursday is a step towards creating what Macron hopes will be a common roadmap for the club of countries which is preparing for a future without Britain.

“We aim to make progress during the meeting on the bilateral policy areas we’ve chosen and broad European topics,” an official in the French presidency told reporters this week.

But the 39-year-old French president’s desire for ambitious thinking about the future of Europe will have to wait until after German elections in September, which Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is expected to win.

Macron has proposed creating a finance minister, parliament, and budget for the eurozone, which would require changes to EU treaties.

Having previously been noticeably cautious about treaty changes, Merkel agreed to consider the issue after a meeting with Macron during his trip to Berlin on May 8, the day after his election.

“Do we need an economic government (for the eurozone)? I am broadly in favour,” Merkel said in a recent interview with Die Zeit weekly, adding: “Do we need a finance minister? Again in principle, I say yes.”

But she warned of “practical questions” which needed answering, and she will be keen to avoid any discussion of the eurozone budget before the German election.

Macron has said he expects Germany to be a major contributor.

The French leader is also set to press Merkel for a financial and military contribution to a joint anti-jihadist regional force called the G5 Sahel made up of forces from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger

It is not the first time the French and German governments have held a joint cabinet meeting – the last one was in April – but both sides are keen to capitalise on the momentum generated by Macron’s victory.

Brexit fallout

The bloc is still grappling with the fallout from Britain’s shock vote to exit the EU in a referendum in June 2016, but Brexit, along with perceived threats from the United States under Donald Trump as well as from Russia, has given it a renewed sense of purpose.

In June, the EU unveiled an unprecedented plan for common defence spending to help Europe stand alone as a global military power.

After a morning of discussions with Merkel, Macron will also host Trump for talks in the afternoon in a day of diplomacy, before heading to dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant up on the Eiffel Tower.

Then on Friday, Trump is slated to be Macron’s guest of honour at the July 14 Bastille Day parade in Paris, which will mark 100 years since America entered World War I on France’s side.

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Speakers of a seminar for EU role on Kashmir

BRUSSELS (NNI): Speakers at a seminar called upon international community especially European Union (EU) to play their role in settlement of Kashmir issue according to the wishes of the people of Kashmir.

President Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Sardar Masood Khan, Members EU parliament (MEPs) Amjad Bashir, Sajjad Karim and Wajid Khan, Chairman Kashmir Council EU Ali Raza Syed and Pakistan’s Ambassador to Belgium Naghmana Hashmi spoke on the occasion.

The Seminar “New Berlin’s Wall in South Asia” was hosted by MEP Amjad Bashir at EU parliament in Brussels. Speaking at the seminar President AJK Masood Khan called for a sharper focus of EU on the Kashmir dispute for a just and lasting solution.

President Masood Khan specifically urged the European Parliament, which he said was the first international sovereign Parliament, to call for an end to the horrendous human rights violations in the Indian Occupied Kashmir.

“Instead of showing cautious neutrality, the European Parliament and other world parliaments should speak up for the rights of the Kashmiri people,” he said.

Host of the seminar MEP Amjad Bashir said, “If we compare situation in Azad Kashmir with Indian Held Kashmir, situation in Azad Kashmir is much better where people have freedom of expression and other basic rights.”

Chairman Kashmir Council EU Ali Raza Syed said, “Freedom is basic element for human development and prosperity but people of Kashmir are deprived of freedom.”

“India not only prevented the basic democratic rights including right of self determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir while it has also prohibited the freedom of expression and free travel and movement of the people,” he said.

He emphasized that, “India cannot stop the people of Kashmir for a long time as the Kashmiris have firm determination to continue their genuine struggle.” Chairman Friends of Pakistan Group MEP Dr Sajjad Karim said, “We have to work on new aspects in order to aware the world in the context of Kashmir issue.”

MEP Wajid Khan said, “Blood of Kashmiris is not cheap. International community should stop violations of human rights in Indian Held Kashmir. India should provide right of self determination to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Belgium Naghmana Hashmi said, “Islamabad will continue its political and moral support to the people of Kashmir. A large number of the people from different walks of life attended the seminar.”