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Death toll in Gujrat floods rises to 213

NEW DELHI (AFP): Severe monsoon flooding has killed 213 people in western India, an official said on Sunday, as rescuers continue to sift through villages devastated by torrential rains, reported The Guardian.

The death toll in Gujarat state jumped from Wednesday’s total of 123 to 213, the government said, as waters receded from low-lying areas, allowing rescue workers to reach remote spots. Overwhelmed authorities, which expect the toll to rise further, said they had struggled to cope with the number of bodies needing identification and postmortems, resulting in delays in confirming the latest deaths.

According to Times of India, the maximum deaths have happened since July 21 in Banaskantha district that was pounded by incessant rainfall and due to release of massive quantity of water from the local dams later. Control room sources said that 61 deaths, mostly due to drowning, have been reported from Banaskantha alone.

Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has announced that he would be camping in the district for next five days to oversee relief and rehabilitation work. On Sunday, Rupani met the relatives of the 17 people from a family who died in Khariya village of Kankrej taluka. At least 28 bodies have been recovered from the Banas river in Khariya and nearby villages alone. He also interacted with family members of the victims and distributed compensation cheques.

“This is the worst flood of the century in Banaskantha,” Rupani said. He also visited Dhanera, which was the worst-affected and met farmers and traders at the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC), which has been forced to dump nearly 4,000 tonne rotten grains into a 10 hectare government wasteland. The APMC has sought INR 80 crore as assistance from the state government to start everything afresh.

“Assured them of proper and timely assessment of the damage caused due to the devastating flood,” Rupani tweeted. Smarting under severe criticism over party MLAs cooling their heels in Bengaluru resort, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, state Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki, state Congress affairs incharge Ashok Gehlot and others also toured the flood-hit areas of Banaskantha on Sunday and met relatives of the deceased.

Congress hit back at the BJP for spitting venom against its MLAs for not being there in the floods. “Where was Ahmedabad (East) MP Paresh Rawal when majority of the areas were inundated? Where was local MP (Mohan Kundariya) when Morbi district was flooded,” the party’s spokesman Manish Doshi said.

Hitting out at Patel, Rupani said it was out his greed to win the Rajya Sabha poll, that he sent 40 Congress MLAs to Bengaluru. “Some of them belonged to those districts which are badly hit by flood. Patel forced them to leave their constituencies, as he was only concerned about his Rajya Sabha seat,” the chief minister alleged.

Talking to media persons in Palanpur, Patel refuted Rupani’s allegation that leaving Gujarat and moving to Bengaluru shows the ‘insensitive approach’ of the Congress MLAs, at a time when the state is facing flood-like situation. He alleged that Congress MLAs from Banaskantha and other flood-affected regions were forced to leave the state.

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Qatar denies Arab states’ air corridor claim

F.P. Report

DOHA: Qatar has denied Saudi media reports that Arab states would allow Qatari planes to use air corridors in emergencies, saying they were spreading “false information”.

Qatar’s transport and communications ministry and its aviation authority on Sunday denied claims that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain had taken such a decision, the state news agency QNA reported.

Saudi state news agency SPA on Sunday cited a statement from the Saudi aviation authority (GACA) as saying they had already agreed emergency air corridors, which were identified under ICAO supervision, and that they would be open from August 1.

“Nine corridors have been identified including one in international airspace over the Mediterranean sea that will be monitored by the Egyptian authorities,” SPA said.

Qatar called on the countries to not leak “false information” ahead of the ICAO meeting in Montreal on Monday.

ICAO was not immediately available for comment.

ICAO’s 36-state governing council could act to settle the row presented by Qatar, but such interventions are rare and time-consuming because the UN agency usually negotiates disputes through consensus.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain broke diplomatic relations with Qatar in early June largely over their allegations that it supports “terrorist” groups – a charge Qatar rejects.

 

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Police kill mayor and his wife in drug raid

F.P. Report

PHILLIPPINE: Police have killed a city mayor, his wife and 10 others during a series of pre-dawn anti-drug raids in the south, officials said.

Reynaldo Parojinog, mayor of Ozamiz city, is the latest official to be killed since President Rodrigo Duterte launched a drug war.

Officers were to serve warrants for the arrest of Parojinog, his daughter, and four other officials of Ozamiz city when they allegedly opened fire on Sunday.

The officers were “met with volleys of fire from [the mayor’s] security, prompting the Philippine National Police personnel to retaliate,” Chief Superintendent Timoteo Pacleb said in a statement.

Parojinog was among the more than 160 officials Duterte publicly linked to drugs in August last year as part of a shame campaign.

Parojinog’ wife, a provincial board member who was also a relative, and four security guards of the family were among those also killed, Pacleb said.

Parojinog’s daughter, Vice Mayor Nova Echaves, was arrested.

Officers recovered grenades, ammunition as well as illegal drugs in the raid, according to police provincial chief Jaysen De Guzman.

Parojinog, who also faced corruption charges, had denied any links to illegal drugs.

He becomes the third mayor to be killed under Duterte’s bloody crackdown on drugs, which has left more than 3,000 dead since June 2016 and drawn wide criticism by human rights groups.

In November 2016, police officers killed Rolando Espinosa, the mayor of Albuera town, shooting him inside a jail cell in the central province of Leyte.

A week before that, Samsudin Dimaukom, the mayor of the southern town of Saudi Ampatuan, was killed in a shootout at a police checkpoint on suspicion he and his security personnel were transporting illegal drugs, authorities said.

 

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24 soldiers killed in al-Shabab ambush

F.P. Report

At least 23 African Union peacekeeping troops and a Somalian soldier have been killed in an ambush carried out by armed group al-Shabab in the country’s south, according to a senior regional official.

The fighting broke out when the al-Shabaab fighters attacked the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops early on Sunday in the Bulamareer district of the Lower Shabelle region, about 140km southwest of the capital, Mogadishu.

We have carried 23 dead AMISOM soldiers and a dead Somali soldier from the scene where al Shabaab ambushed AMISOM today

Ali Nur, the deputy governor of Lower Shabelle region

“We have carried 23 dead AMISOM soldiers and a dead Somali soldier from the scene where al Shabaab ambushed AMISOM today,” Ali Nur, the deputy governor of Lower Shabelle region, told Reuters news agency.

The armed group, which has been fighting the Western-backed government in Somalia, claimed they had killed 39 African Union troops.

The claim by the al-Qaeda linked fighters, made by the group’s spokesman on an affiliated radio station, could not be immediately verified.

Earlier on Sunday, Colonel Hassan Mohamed confirmed that an AMISOM convoy came under attack.

Local residents confirmed to AFP news agency that the fighting had taken place in the Lower Shebelle region, a hotly contested area where al-Shabab’s spokesman said they had staged their ambush.

“The mujahedeen fighters stood over the dead bodies of 39 soldiers, among them senior commanders”, Abdiaziz Abu Muzab told Andalus radio.

The African Union has a 22,000 strong force in the country dedicated to fighting al-Shabab and supporting the internationally backed government in Mogadishu.

Residents said the troops were ambushed in the village of Golweyn as they escorted supplies along the road that connects Mogadishu to Lower Shebelle.

“Fighting broke out and continued for more than one hour”, said Ali Osman, a witness to the battle.

In April, a minibus travelling through Golweyn hit a landmine, killing at least 14 people.

That attack was also blamed on al-Shabab, which has fought successive governments in Mogadishu and also carried out attacks in Kenya and Uganda.

 

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Putin orders 755 US diplomatic staff to leave

F.P. Report

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that 755 staff must leave US diplomatic missions, in retaliation for new US sanctions against Moscow.

The decision to expel staff was made on Friday, but Mr Putin has now confirmed the number who must go by 1 September.

It brings staff levels to 455, the same as Russia’s complement in Washington.

This is thought to be the largest expulsion of diplomats from any country in modern history, says the BBC’s Laura Bicker in Washington.

The number includes Russian employees of the US diplomatic missions across Russia, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Moscow adds.

Staff in the embassy in Moscow as well as the consulates in Ekaterinburg, Vladivostok and St Petersburg is affected, she says.

The US said the move was a “regrettable and uncalled for act”.

“We are assessing the impact of such a limitation and how we will respond to it,” a state department official said.

Mr Putin did strike a conciliatory note, saying he did not want to impose more measures, but also said he could not see ties changing “anytime soon”.

Mr Putin told Russian television: “More than 1,000 people were working and are still working” at the US embassy and consulates, and that “755 people must stop their activities in Russia.”

Russia has also said it is seizing holiday properties and a warehouse used by US diplomats.

Mr Putin suggested he could consider more measures, but said: “I am against it as of today.”

He also noted the creation of a de-escalation zone in southern Syria as an example of a concrete result of working together.

However, in terms of general relations, he added: “We have waited long enough, hoping that the situation would perhaps change for the better.

“But it seems that even if the situation is changing, it’s not for anytime soon.”

The new US sanctions were in retaliation both for Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Russian interference in the US election.

In December, the Obama administration ordered the seizure of two Russian diplomatic compounds and expelled 35 Russian diplomats in response to alleged hacking of the US Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Image copyright EPA Image caption Russia has banned US diplomats from this dacha at Serebryany Bor on Moscow’s outskirts Image copyright EPA Image caption And Russia is seizing this US diplomatic warehouse in Moscow

The new US sanctions on Russia were overwhelmingly approved by both houses of Congress despite objections from the White House.

US intelligence agencies believe Russia tried to sway the election in favour of President Donald Trump and now there are several investigations looking into whether anyone from his campaign helped.

Russia has always denied interfering and Mr Trump insists there was no collusion.

 

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Venezuela crisis: Deadly clashes amid tense election for assembly

F.P. Report

Venezuela’s election of a controversial new assembly has been disrupted by violence, with widespread protests and at least 10 deaths reported.

Those killed include an opposition youth leader, a pro-government candidate and a soldier.

The government wants a new constituent assembly with powers to rewrite the constitution and override congress.

The opposition says it is a power grab by President Nicolás Maduro and is boycotting the vote.

President Maduro says it is the only way to restore peace after months of protests and political stalemate between the government and the opposition controlled National Assembly.

Early results are expected within the coming hours.

As well as internal opposition, Venezuela faces mounting international criticism over the election and on Sunday the US said it was considering further sanctions.

As voting got under way on Sunday morning, anti-government protesters took to the streets despite a government ban and there were reports of clashes with police across the country.

At least three people were reported shot dead in the western state of Tachira – two teenagers and a soldier from the National Guard.

Ricardo Campos, a youth secretary with the opposition Acción Democrática party, was shot dead during a protest in the north-eastern town of Cumana, prosecutors said.

Image copyright EPA Image caption A police officer was wounded in this explosion near the Altamira Square in Caracas

Shortly before voting started, José Felix Pineda, a 39-year-old lawyer standing in the election, was also reportedly shot in his home in Bolivar state.

In the capital Caracas, an explosion near one demonstration injured several police officers and set a number of their motorcycles on fire.

Security forces used armored vehicles to dispel protesters in the Caracas district of El Paraíso amid the sound of gunfire, local reports said.

Voting was extended by an hour until 19:00 (23:00 GMT), electoral officials said, to allow all votes to be cast.

The opposition urged further protests on Monday.

“We do not recognize this fraudulent process,” said opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

In the capital, voting was peaceful in many neighbourhoods but there were sporadic clashes between protesters and the security forces, especially in traditionally opposition-controlled areas.

With many thoroughfares closed by local citizens erecting barricades of wood, scrap metal and barbed wire, further confrontation seems inevitable.

President Maduro will no doubt claim a resounding victory. But with the opposition boycotting the vote and with the security forces controlling the cities in riot gear it was always going to be an uncontested election.

The challenge will be governing afterwards in this conflicted political environment.

Four months of protests against Mr Maduro and his plans for the assembly have left more than 100 people dead.

The election has been heavily criticized by other Latin American countries as well as by the European Union and the US.

Venezuela has said it will withdraw from the Organization of American States (OAS) after members including the US, Canada and Mexico said they would not recognize the authority of the assembly.

Venezuela has already been suspended from regional economic bloc Mercosur by fellow-members Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, following concern over human rights.

On Sunday, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, dismissed the vote as a “sham election”

The US, which has already imposed sanctions on 13 members of Mr Maduro’s government, signalled on Sunday it was considering further measures, this time targeting the oil industry.

An official quoted by Reuters said the new sanctions were not expected to include a ban on Venezuelan oil shipments to the US but could stop the sale of lighter US crude that Venezuela mixes with its heavy crude and then exports.

 

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One killed, three injured in German nightclub shooting

F.P. Report

BERLIN: A 34-year-old man opened fire in a nightclub in the southern German city of Konstanz on Sunday, killing one person and seriously injuring three others, police said.

The suspect was fatally wounded in a gunfight with police officers outside the music venue after they had rushed to the scene shortly after the incident around 0230 GMT. He died later in hospital.

The motive for the shooting is unclear. One police officer was also injured in the exchange of fire.

Police said in a statement that special commando forces have been deployed in the city as it was not clear if the suspected had acted alone or had accomplices.

On Friday, a failed asylum seeker killed one person and injured six others in the northern city of Hamburg. Officials said he was an Islamist known to security forces and he had was psychologically unstable.

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US imposes new sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile programme

 

F.P. Report

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday imposed new sanctions targeting Iran s ballistic missile program, one day after Tehran tested a satellite-launch rocket an act that Washington had called “provocative.”

The US Treasury singled out six companies owned or controlled by Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG), which it said was central to the Islamic republic s missile program, freezing their US assets and barring US citizens from dealing with them.

Foreign financial institutions could face punitive measures if they deal with the sanctioned entities, it added.

SHIG was already under UN, US and European Union sanctions.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctions “underscore the United States deep concerns with Iran s continued development and testing of ballistic missiles and other provocative behavior.”

He warned that Washington would “continue to aggressively counter Iran s ballistic missile-related activity, whether it be a provocative space launch, its development of threatening ballistic missile systems, or likely support to Yemeni Huthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia such as occurred this past weekend.”

According to the Treasury, “space launch vehicles use technologies that are closely related to those of an intercontinental ballistic missile and this launch represents a threatening step by Iran.”

Iranian state television broadcast footage of the takeoff from the Imam Khomeini space center, named after the late founder of the Islamic republic, in Semnan province in the east of the country.

The report said the launch vehicle, named Simorgh after a bird in Iranian mythology, was capable of propelling a satellite weighing 250 kilograms (550 pounds) to an altitude of 500 kilometers (300 miles) above earth.

Western states suspect Iran of developing the technology capable of launching long-range ballistic missiles with conventional or nuclear payloads, a charge denied by Tehran, which insists its space program has purely peaceful aims.

Tensions have mounted between Washington and Tehran since US President Donald Trump took office six months ago.

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Iran to continue missile programme with full power

F.P. Report

TEHRAN: Iran has vowed to press ahead with its missile programme, denouncing new US sanctions as “an effort to weaken the nuclear deal”.

Bahram Ghasemi, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, said on Saturday Tehran considers the US move as “hostile, reprehensible and unacceptable”.

“It’s ultimately an effort to weaken the nuclear deal,” he said, referring to the 2015 agreement between Iran and US-led world powers that lifted some sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

“We will continue with full power our missile programme,” he said. “The military and missile fields […] are our domestic policies and others have no right to intervene or comment on them.”

Iranian state TV reported on Saturday that the country’s parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy held an urgent meeting to review its response to a package of sanctions approved by the US Senate.

“It is imperative that we show an appropriate reaction in light of such hostile and vicious actions taken by the United States,” Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy minister and senior Iranian negotiator, told reporters.

The US legislation imposes mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile programme and anyone who does business with them.

It would also apply terrorism sanctions to Iran’s prestigious Revolutionary Guard and enforce an arms embargo.

The bill was passed by the US Senate on Thursday, two days after being approved by the House of Representatives. It is due to be signed by President Donald Trump.

Separately, Washington imposed new sanctions on Friday, targeting Iran’s missile programme, one day after Tehran tested a satellite-launch rocket.

Iranian state television broadcast footage of the launch from the Imam Khomeini space centre in the eastern province of Semnan.

The launch vehicle was capable of propelling a satellite weighing 250kg into orbit at an altitude of 500km, it said.

Western governments suspect Iran of trying to develop the technology for longer-range missiles with conventional or nuclear payloads, a charge denied by Tehran, which insists its space programmme has purely peaceful aims.

In a joint statement, Britain, France, Germany and the US condemned Tehran’s “destabilising” action, saying the test violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that endorsed the nuclear deal.

“We call on Iran not to conduct any further ballistic missile launches and related activities,” they said.

Resolution 2231 called on Iran not to test ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, and an arms embargo has remained in place.

Iran says it has “proven its compliance with the nuclear deal” as repeatedly confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

 

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Senegal set to vote in parliamentary elections

F.P. Report

SENEGAL: Voters in Senegal are set to elect a new parliament following a tense campaign between rival coalitions in an election seen as a crucial test of support ahead of a presidential election in 2019.

Polling takes place between 8:00am and 6:00pm local time (08:00 to 18:00 GMT) on Sunday, with first results due early Monday.

More than 6.2 million people in the west African nation are registered to vote.

Senegal’s President Macky Sall is seeking to bolster his parliamentary majority as he eyes a second term, while his 91-year-old predecessor, Abdoulaye Wade, attempts to drum up support for his own list of candidates.

Wade, who left office after corruption allegations led to violent street protests in 2012, returned from retirement in France earlier this month to run in the elections.

“We aren’t talking any longer about July 30, but of 2019,” said Prime Minister Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne, who is running for a seat with Sall’s coalition, as he addressed a rally on Thursday.

Sall is not up for re-election until 2019, but he expects his coalition to perform well against a fractured opposition in this election, propelling him towards a second term.

Sall’s other main opponent, Khalifa Sall, is the mayor of Dakar and is currently in jail awaiting trial over embezzlement charges.

The mayor was seen as a key presidential contender and a potential threat to the president in parliament, until he was charged in March with allegedly misappropriating 1.83bn CFA francs ($2.85m) in city funds.

There are a record 47 lists of candidates contesting the election, with 165 politicians due to take seats in parliament.

Fifteen seats are being set aside for Senegalese expatriates – the first time that the country’s diaspora, estimated at 500,000 people, will have direct representation.

Ahead of the vote, Wade’s supporters protested to show their dissatisfaction with the current leader, Sall.

Police fired tear gas to disperse them and arrested dozens. Several people were injured in the country normally known for peaceful democratic traditions.

Campaigning was marred by tragedy on July 15, when eight people were killed as rival supporters clashed during Senegal’s football league final in Dakar. A stampede caused a wall to fall on escaping fans.

The failure to deliver enough new biometric ID cards needed to vote also caused unrest; hundreds of thousands of Senegalese have not received their cards in time.

The president asked Senegal’s constitutional council to relax voting rules so people without the cards could use passports or other forms of identification to cast their ballots, along with proof they had applied for the IDs.

Several political parties and opposition coalitions angrily denounced the last-minute move, saying it increased the possibility of fraud.

“We’re asking the Constitutional Council to not give Macky Sall and his regime the leverage to commit fraud,” Hassan Ba, Wade supporter, told Al Jazeera. “We will not accept fraud.”