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India extends scholarship scheme, provide 1,000 new buses

KABUL (Pajhwok): India will provide 1,000 buses to Afghanistan and implement multiple development projects for which the technical teams from both countries would soon start work, a statement from the Presidential Palace said on Wednesday.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the pledges during a meeting with President Ghani in New Delhi.

On the invitation of the Indian government, the president arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday on a day-long official visit.

On the behalf of the government and people of Afghanistan, President Ghani condoled the human and financial losses to the Indian government inflicted during the recent flood.

The president said bilateral engagements and friendly relationship between India and Afghanistan have been growing on daily bases.

The Indian prime minister said the New Dehli was supporting the construction of Shah Tout Dam, canals, solar power projects, drinking water facilities and implementation of over 160 uplift projects in the villages of Afghanistan.

In addition, India supported the uplift of the transportation system, rehabilitation of 350 buses and provision and 1,000 new buses.

The agreement was also reached that both countries would form technical teams to work on the fresh commitments, he said.

Both leaders also agreed that delegations from Afghanistan and India would jointly work for the processing, export of precious stones and production of medicines.

He said the scholarship program to Afghan students has been extended for another five years adding Afghan civil servants would be provided professional training as well.

Modi said that India foreign minister would soon visit Kabul for strategic level talks with the Afghan government.

President Ghani has termed the joint exhibition of Afghan and Indian products in Mumbai vital for the economic development of the two countries and hailed the cooperation of Indian government to Afghanistan in different areas.

Ghani said that valuable cooperation of India would bring positive change in the lives of Afghans.

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Shaida Abdali resigns as ambassador to Indian

NEW DELHI (ANI): Afghanistan Ambassador to India Shaida Abdali stepped down from his post on Wednesday.

Calling his decision a “tough and appealing” one, Abdali, in a series of tweets, announced his resignation saying, “Stepping Down – A tough but an appealing decision: On a high note ending a successful visit of HE the Afghan President in India, I resigned today as the Afghan Ambassador to India. Serving in India for more than six years was indeed a great honour and privilege.”

He further said that India gave him a home, knowledge, and experience during his two-decade-long political career.

Expressing gratitude to Indian people and the government, Abdali wrote, “Serving my country for years in India, I felt the need to return and serve my country from within. During my tenure, I have had the honor of witnessing our relations going from strength to strength.”

“The limits to our exceptional relationship is only Sky and I wish my successor all the best and success in this extremely important endeavor. Long Live India – Afghanistan Friendship!” he tweeted.

Sources in the Afghanistan Embassy confirmed that Abdali will be moving back to Kabul.

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Azizullah Fazli replaces Mashal as ACB chairman

KABUL (Pajhwok): Azizullah Fazli has been appointed as new chairman of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) said on Wednesday.

Fazli has formally served as ACB’s director-general in compliance with a presidential decree, according to an IDLG statement. President Ashraf Ghani wished the new ACB head success in his pursuits.

The incoming board chief has held various positions in ACB over the past 15 years. His appointment comes in the wake of rifts between players and former ACB head Atif Mashal over the Afghanistan Primer League.

Noor Ali Zadran, Shapoor Zadran and several other cricketers, who were not sold in the APL, complained against Mashal.

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IEC warns candidates against disrupting elections

GHAZNI (TOLONews): The Chairman of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC) on Wednesday warned candidates who have closed the doors of IEC offices in provinces that they will be disqualified if they continue to disrupt the work of the election commission.

Speaking at a national conference with civil society representatives and political parties, the IEC chief expressed concerns over the ongoing security challenges ahead of the elections and said that neighboring countries, the Taliban and Daesh militant groups including some lawmakers are deliberately disrupting the electoral process.

“The activities which we see indicates that in those provinces where the doors of the election commission were closed, perhaps the elections there will face similar consequences as we saw in Ghazni; the commission is committed to disqualifying those who are involved in such activities,” said Sayyad.

“Those who are sabotaging the process must be identified, the Afghan government shouldn’t remain silent,” said IECC chief Abdul Aziz Aryayee.

Meanwhile, the chairman the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) has called on government leadership to take tough action against those who are trying to derail the process.

The IECC chief also accused Afghan political parties of manipulating the election process and said the process shouldn’t be exploited in pursuit of someone’s personal ambitions.

“We are in touch with different companies, but the commission wants its sovereignty to be protected, if God willing, we find a solution to this,” added Sayyad.

“Our proposal is that a trilateral meeting should be convened between representatives of government, the political parties and the company (biometric company),” said Mohammad Natiqi, chairman of the political committee of the political parties and political movements.

In addition, the IEC chief Sayyad also gave the green light for the use of a biometric system on the day of elections.

On Tuesday, a number of Afghanistan’s major political parties and movements accused government of planning “massive fraud and vote rigging” in the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for October 20.

The parties also claimed that government wants to ensure its cronies are in parliament.

The political parties threatened to close offices of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) unless their demand for the use of biometric system for the polls was met by the National Unity Government.

“Government is now planning to commit fraud in the elections so that it can send its people to the house of representatives. It wants those representatives in parliament who would serve government so that it can apply its orders in line with its demands,” said Ahmad Zia Massoud, CEO of the Grand National Coalition of Afghanistan, a coalition of over 30 political parties and movements.

Meanwhile, IEC said that the ballot papers have arrived in the country ahead of the elections.

“Ballot papers have been printed and have arrived in Afghanistan,” said IEC commissioner Wasima Badghisi.

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16 Taliban killed in Kandahar clash

KANDAHAR (TOLONews): Kandahar Police Chief Gen. Abdul Raziq said Wednesday that at least 16 armed Taliban were killed and 14 others wounded in a clash on Tuesday night in Shorabak district.

According to Raziq, the Taliban attacked the 5th battalion border forces in on Tuesday night and the clash lasted till 04:00 am Wednesday.

In this attack two border force members wounded.

On the other hand a security source said that during the clash at least four border soldiers were killed and five others were wounded.

Taliban has not yet commented.

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Danske Bank boss quits over €200bn money-laundering scandal

ESTONIA (Reuters): The chief executive of Danske Bank has resigned in the wake of a money-laundering scandal involving its Estonian operation.

Thomas Borgen stepped down following an investigation into payments of about €200bn (£177bn) through its Estonian branch.

The Danish bank said many of those payments were suspicious.

Mr Borgen said it was clear Danske had failed to live up to its responsibilities, which he regretted.

“Even though the investigation conducted by the external law firm concludes that I have lived up to my legal obligations, I believe that it is best for all parties that I resign,” he said.

The bank said it was unable to determine how much money was believed to have been laundered through its Estonian branch between 2007 and 2015.

Shares in Danske fell 7% in Copenhagen following Mr Borgen’s resignation and a lowering of its outlook for the full year.

Estonia’s Financial Supervision Authority (FSA) said it was now examining the findings of Danske’s internal investigation.

“The report describes serious shortcomings in the organisation of Danske Bank, where risk-appetite and risk control were not in balance,” said the Estonian FSA’s chairman, Kilvar Kessler.

The watchdog and Denmark’s financial supervision authority will now consider taking action.

The FSA said that it had carried out thorough inspections of Danske Bank’s Estonian branch in 2014.

The following year the FSA said it ordered the bank to rectify flaws in its risk control organisation. That resulted in Danske’s Estonian branch no longer serving customers who did not live in the country.

‘Massive tax scam’

The branch’s handling of Russian and former Soviet money has also been the focus of an inquiry in Estonia itself.

International financier Bill Browder is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most public critics.

He has long alleged that Danske’s Estonian branch was “one of the main conduits related to the fraud”.

In July 2017, he gave evidence to the US Senate Judiciary Committee pertaining to allegations that Russia interfered with the 2016 US presidential elections.

Mr Browder set up and ran Russia’s most successful hedge fund, Hermitage Capital Management, from 1995 to 2005.

In 2005, he claims that the Russian government took over his firm and used it to claim a $230m tax refund.

Mr Browder was refused entry into the country for “national security” reasons, so he moved to London and asked his staff to move with him.

Magnitsky Act

Mr Browder said his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, refused to leave as he wanted to investigate evidence of what he said was a massive tax scam by Russian government officials. Mr Magnitsky died in 2009 while in Russian custody.

After Mr Magnitsky’s death, Mr Browder embarked on a worldwide campaign asking governments to pass legislation to freeze the assets involved and deny visas to human rights abusers.

In the US, this law was passed in 2012 and is known as the Magnitsky Act. The UK passed a similar bill in February 2017, updating its existing Proceeds of Crime Act.

In 2013, Mr Browder was tried in absentia in Russia and sentenced to nine years in prison for tax fraud.

Russia asked Interpol to arrest Mr Browder, but the international policing agency rejected the claim.

In May, Mr Browder was arrested and detained for two hours in Spain. He was released after Interpol announced that the arrest warrant was politically motivated.

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S. Korea’s Moon seeks nuclear agreement with Kim at summit

PYONGYANG (AFP): South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un opened a new round of talks at a summit in Pyongyang on Wednesday with the North Korean nuclear arsenal high on the agenda, but Seoul warned they may not reach an agreement.

Moon is on a three-day trip to the North Korean capital for his third summit with Kim this year, hoping to reboot stalled denuclearisation talks between his hosts and the United States.

After the high symbolism of the two Korean leaders’ first meeting in April in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula, and Kim’s historic summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, pressure is mounting for more substantive progress.

In Singapore, Kim declared his backing for the denuclearisation of the peninsula, but no details were agreed and Washington and Pyongyang have since sparred over what that means and how it will be achieved.

Washington is pressing for the North’s “final, fully verified denuclearisation”, while Pyongyang wants a formal declaration that the 1950-53 Korean War is over and has condemned “gangster-like” demands for it to give up its weapons unilaterally.

Asked if any deal on denuclearisation had been struck, Moon’s spokesman Yoon Young-chan said: “It’s difficult to say at this moment that the two leaders have reached any agreement.”

They had “frank and sincere” discussions after Moon arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday, Yoon told reporters in Seoul, adding: “They still need a lot more talks.”

“If and when” they reach an agreement, they would announce it jointly but not take questions, he said.

Wednesday’s talks took place at the Paekhwawon official guesthouse on the outskirts of Pyongyang. The two leaders were shown on television walking down a long corridor talking together, followed by their wives, before entering a room where the cameras could not follow.

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Iraq court condemns to death ‘deputy of Islamic State leader’

BAGHDAD (AFP): An Iraqi court on Wednesday sentenced to death on terror charges a prominent militant described as a deputy of Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, after he was captured in Turkey.

“The Karkh criminal court in Baghdad sentenced to death by hanging one of the most prominent leaders of IS, who served as a deputy of Baghdadi,” judicial spokesman Abdel Sattar Bayraqdar said.

The Iraqi authorities announced in February that Ismail Alwan Salman al-Ithawi had been extradited from Turkey after fleeing first Iraq and then Syria as the group’s self-proclaimed “caliphate” crumbled.

The militant was tracked and detained through cooperation between Turkish, Iraqi and US intelligence agencies, a senior Iraqi official told AFP at the time.

He said the arrest came after an elite Iraqi unit hunting IS members “infiltrated the highest levels” of the militant group, which has claimed a string of deadly attacks in the West in recent years.

A native of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, Ithawi was accused of holding several positions including IS “minister” in charge of religious edicts.

Originally from Iraq, Baghdadi has been dubbed the “most wanted man on the planet” and the United States is offering a $25 million reward for his capture.

He has been pronounced dead on several occasions, but an Iraqi intelligence official said in May that he remained alive in Syrian territory by the Iraqi border.

In a purported new audio recording released last month, the IS chief called on Muslims to wage “jihad”.

He made his only known public appearance in Iraq’s second city of Mosul in July 2014.

Iraq has condemned several hundred people, including around 100 foreign women, to death for IS links, and dozens of convicted militants have already been executed.

Many more have been handed life terms, including nine Tajik women who were sentenced by an Iraqi criminal court on Wednesday for belonging to IS, a judicial official said.

The country has repeatedly faced criticism from international human rights groups over the high number of death sentences handed down by its anti-terrorist courts.

Iraq declared “victory” over IS in December after a three-year war against the militants who once controlled nearly one-third of the country as well as swathes of neighbouring Syria.

The Iraqi military has kept up operations targeting mostly remote desert areas where militants have continued to carry out attacks.

Over the border in Syria, US-backed fighters last week launched a fierce assault against a dwindling pocket of territory held by IS in eastern Deir Ezzor province.

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Former columnist jailed for ‘abusive’ posts about Aung San Suu Kyi

YANGON (AFP): A former columnist for state media has been jailed for seven years for “abusive” Facebook posts about Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a court official said on Wednesday, the latest case threatening free expression in the country.

Ngar Min Swe was sentenced for sedition on Tuesday, Yangon’s Western District Court spokesperson Htay Aung told AFP.

“He was convicted… for writing abusive posts on Facebook against State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, making people get the wrong impression of her,” Htay Aung said.

Myanmar faces widespread condemnation for infringing on freedom of expression following the jailing earlier this month of two Reuters journalists who reported on the Rohingya crisis.

Ngar Min Swe worked as a columnist under the previous military-backed government. He has spent the years since Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party rose to power in 2016 penning screeds against her and the party.

He was arrested on July 12, the same day he posted about Suu Kyi receiving a kiss on the cheek from US President Barack Obama during his state visit in 2013.

This innocuous gesture of greeting came in for criticism from a conservative Myanmar public, especially supporters of the Army-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party — like Ngar Min Swe, who took to social media to make sexist inferences about the state counsellor.

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India steps closer to making triple talaq a punishable offense

NEW DELHI (Reuters): India’s cabinet has approved an executive order to make instant divorce among Muslims, a procedure called “triple talaq”, a punishable offence, a government minister said on Wednesday, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks to woo Muslim women voters.

The Indian Supreme Court outlawed the practice last year, but Modi’s government wants to make it a non-bailable offence carrying a jail term of up to three years, following protests by Muslim women.

Federal Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told a news conference the cabinet approved the decree because the practice persisted despite the court decision.

In August last year, the country’s top court ruled unconstitutional a law that allowed Muslim men to divorce their wives simply by uttering the word ‘talaq’, three times.

The government has been trying to pass legislation to ‘explicitly ban’ the procedure. In an Independence Day speech last month Modi said he would “not stop till they get justice,” referring to the women.