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Abbas rules out US peace plan after Jerusalem decision

PARIS (AFP): Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Friday that he would “no longer accept” any peace plan proposed by the United States, dealing a pre-emptive blow to a fresh initiative expected by Washington next year.

The comments in Paris came hours after 128 members of the United Nations voted to condemn US President Donald Trump’s decision on December 6 to unilaterally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

That move continues to reverberate in the Middle East and European diplomats are pessimistic about the Trump administration’s peace plan which is being prepared behind closed doors and will be presented to both sides in 2018.

US Vice President Mike Pence postponed a trip he was due to make to the region this week, after Palestinian and Arab Christian leaders expressed reluctance to meet him.

“The United States has proven to be a dishonest mediator in the peace process and we will no longer accept any plan from it,” Abbas told a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron repeated his earlier condemnations of the US decision on Jerusalem, but he also ruled out recognising Palestine as a state unilaterally, which France has mooted previously.

“The Americans have marginalised themselves and I am trying to not do the same thing,” Macron said, conscious that any move to recognise Palestine would antagonise the Israelis.

‘Massive setback’

On Thursday evening in New York, the 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution by 128 to nine with 35 abstentions that rejected the US decision on Jerusalem.

The defeat for the US – despite threats that it might cut off funding for the UN or to countries that voted against it – was called a “massive setback” by Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour.

Speaking at the emergency session, US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that Washington “will remember this day”.

“America will put our embassy in Jerusalem,” Haley said in defence of the US move, which broke with international consensus and unleashed protests across the Muslim world.

“No vote in the United Nations will make any difference on that,” Haley said. “But this vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN.”

Abbas hit out at efforts by the US to intimidate countries ahead of the vote.

“I hope that the others will learn the lesson and understand that you cannot impose solutions by using money and trying to buy off countries,” he added in Paris.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the UN vote showed the “illegality” of Trump’s decision, urging the United States to withdraw it.

Trust in Macron?

Abbas’ visit to Paris less than a fortnight after a trip here by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has raised speculation about whether Macron might be tempted to mediate in the world´s most intractable conflict.

He and French diplomats have ruled out any fresh French initiative, insisting that the American effort must run its course first.

The 40-year-old Macron has emerged as a dynamic international figure since his election in May but his team insists he is focused on reforming the European Union, avoiding instability in Lebanon, and anti-terror efforts in Syria and west Africa.

But Abbas, like Netanyahu before him, praised the young centrist at the Paris news conference, notable for the warmth of the exchanges and the relaxed body language.

“We have trust in you. We respect the efforts made by you and we count heavily on your efforts,” Abbas told him.

Macron replied that he had “committed myself very clearly to doing everything” to further the peace process and would visit the Palestinian territories in 2018 and “intensify” contacts between the French and Palestinian governments.

“Palestine is not on its own. We will work so that she can live within sound and recognised borders, in security alongside Israel, with Jerusalem as the capital of the two states,” Macron tweeted afterwards.

Many analysts in Washington believe that the US remains the only power able to play the mediator role in the crisis.

“There’s been peaks and valleys before on this issue,” David Makovsky, a peace process veteran and senior fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told AFP.

“If I had a dollar every time people said ´Oh, it’s over now, the US is not the broker…” he added ironically.

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Putin, Erdogan support creation of Palestinian state

MOSCOW (AFP): Russia s President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said they both supported creating a Palestinian state, the Kremlin said the day after the UN rejected the decision by Washington to recognise Jerusalem as Israel s capital.

In a phonecall, the two leaders “discussed the situation of Middle East peace talks in the context of the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on the status of Jerusalem,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

They “confirmed the mutual disposition to continue to assist in resolving the Palestine-Israeli conflict on the basis of international norms and realisation of the right of the Palestinian people to create an independent state,” it said.

US President Donald Trump decided on December 6 to recognise Jerusalem as Israel s capital.

The status of the Holy City is one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both sides claiming it as their capital.

On Thursday, the 193-member General Assembly adopted the motion to reject Trump s decision by 128 to nine with 35 abstentions, though the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the vote would make no difference in Washington s decision.

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UHNCR says Australia abandoned refugees, must clear up the mess it made

GENEVA (Reuters): The UN refugee agency on Friday accused Australia of abandoning hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and said it must take responsibility for the mess it created with its “offshore processing” system.

About 800 refugees are still in a precarious situation on Manus Island, having been forcibly removed from a holding camp last month when Australia decided to close it, UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly told a regular UN briefing in Geneva.

“We are talking here about people who have suffered tremendously, extreme trauma, and are now feeling so insecure in the places where they are staying. There are many victims of torture, people who have been deeply traumatized, having no idea what is going to happen next to them,” she said.

“In light of the continued perilous situation on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island for refugees and asylum seekers abandoned by Australia, UNHCR has called again this week on the Australian government to live up to its responsibility and urgently find humane and appropriate solutions.”

Conditions in the camp, and another on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru, have been widely criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups.

The two camps have been cornerstones of Australia’s contentious immigration policy under which it refuses to allow asylum-seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores.

The policy, aimed at deterring people from making a perilous sea voyage to Australia, has bipartisan political support.

The closure of the Manus Island camp, criticized by the United Nations as “shocking”, caused chaos, with the men refusing to leave the compound for fear of being attacked by Manus island residents.

Pouilly said that in the past four weeks, there had been at least five security incidents, including an attempt by three people armed with machetes and an axe to force their way into a site where 150 refugees and asylum seekers have been accommodated since the Australian facility closed.

Pouilly said that although Papua New Guinea now had to deal with the situation, the buck should stop with Australia.

“What we clearly are saying is that it’s Australia’s responsibility in the first place,” she said.

“Australia is the country that created the situation by putting in place this offshore processing facility. So what we are asking is for Australia to find solutions for these people.”

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UN hails first step on Syria detainees, cautious on Sochi plan

GENEVA (Reuters): UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said Syria talks in the Kazakh capital Astana on Friday had agreed on a “working group” for the release of detainees, which he said was a commendable first step towards an arrangement between the warring sides.

He also said that Russia’s plan to convene a Syrian “congress of national dialogue” in Sochi next month should be assessed by its ability to contribute to and support the UN-led Geneva talks on ending the war in Syria.

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Maryam Nawaz likely candidate for Punjab chief ministry

LAHORE (NNI): Maryam Nawaz – daughter of ex-PM Nawaz Sharif who is also the ruling PML-N head – is the likely candidate for Punjab chief ministry, predicted senior political analyst Salman Ghani.

He told that Maryam will contest in both elections of the National Assembly and Punjab Assembly. His informed sources revealed that the emerging politician has started meeting both provincial and federal lawmakers. Nawaz Sharif will retain Punjab and grip its politics to maintain his reputation, Ghani added.

It is worth mentioning that Nawaz Sharif himself confirmed in the recent announcement that his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif will replace him as the PML-N candidate for premiership. Maryam Nawaz had successfully managed the NA-120 election campaign of her mother Kulsoom Nawaz while she was ailing in London.

Ghani predicted that Maryam Nawaz will contest in the 2018 general elections from four seats that are NA-120, NA-123, PP-147 and PP-144. He said that she has launched election campaign in these constituencies already without any formal announcement.

While quoting his sources, Ghani predicted that Nawaz will keep Punjab under his grip through Maryam in view of how she challenged the Supreme Court verdict after his disqualification.

Despite the apparent party consensus for the names of Shehbaz and Maryam next in line, it is too early to consider it the final call as several decisions for the future are due to take place in the PML-N sittings.

Both Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz had joined the the 27-member Central Executive Committee of PML-N earlier this month.

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PM launches scheme for promotion of home remittances through M-wallets

F.P. Report

KARACHI: Prime Minister Mr. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that Government of Pakistan is taking several strategic initiatives to promote inflow of home remittances in the country.

“In continuation of our efforts, I am pleased that GoP in collaboration with the SBP and financial industry is launching a scheme for promotion of home remittances through m-wallets,” he said.

He was addressing the launching ceremony of ‘Promotion of Home Remittances through M-wallet Accounts.’ The Prime Minister said that the scheme will help in channelizing home remittances through Branchless Banking (BB) channels. ‘It will help achieve twin objectives’, said the PM, ‘Firstly, it will facilitate the populace by provision of home remittances in swift, convenient and cost effective manner by utilizing the network of BB agents across Pakistan; secondly, it will help enhance the usage of m-wallets and creation of digital accounts.’ Mr. Abbasi also announced Government’s budgetary support to incentivize home remittances through M–Wallet accounts.

The Prime Minister reminded the audience that since 2013, after coming to power, his party had made significant strides as it stabilized economy, accelerated GDP growth and introduced structural reforms to uplift the living conditions of the common man. He said that financial inclusion is considered as one of the key instruments for economic development. ‘Unfortunately, Pakistan is among the countries accounting for around 5 percent of the world’s unbanked population,’ he said adding ’In Pakistan only 23% of the adult population has access to formal financial services.’

Mr. Abbasi said that in Pakistan remittances have been the second-highest source of foreign exchange earnings for the country, after export receipts. ‘Over the past 10 years, remittances have grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 12 percent – one of the highest growth rates for any country in the world,’ he said adding, ‘Pakistan’s relatively better performance in the region is principally attributed to sustained increase in emigrant workers during past few years and supportive policies of the Government and the State Bank.’ He also appreciated the role of the Pakistan Remittance Initiative (PRI) in strong growth in remittances.

Earlier, in his welcoming address, the Governor State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Mr. Tariq Bajwa thanked the Prime Minister for his visit to SBP and launching this important initiative. Introducing the scheme of home remittances through M-Wallets, the Governor stated that that it will help to achieve two objectives: one, increasing financial inclusion in the country; and, two, making transfer of home remittances faster and at low cost, thus competing with informal channels of delivery.

Mr. Bajwa stated that against the clear challenges of limited financial access in the country, SBP has been pursuing a long-term strategy to address financial exclusion through BB regulatory and market-development initiatives. Alternative channels are providing flexible, cost-effective, and convenient modes of doing transactions.

‘The industry has progressed remarkably during last few years,’ said the Governor, adding further, ‘as of June 2017, 27.3 million mobile wallets (branchless banking accounts) have been opened while branchless banking agents have increased to 402,000.’ This growth has resulted in providing basic banking services close to locations of customers, thereby saving their time and travelling costs. “I believe it is high time to leverage technology led banking to provide tailor made solutions to the masses to satisfy their financial needs”, stated the Governor.

While sharing further details, Governor SBP said that all BB providers and individuals receiving home remittances are eligible for this scheme. New category of BB Level 1 (L1) account ’Home Remittances Account (L1-HRA)’ is required for receiving remittances through this scheme. There is no initial deposit and minimum balance requirement. For each USD received, HRA holder will earn air time of Rupee 1 in the registered SIM against the account. The incentive is being provided through public-private partnership shared equally between GoP and BB provider. ‘Through this initiative we will be able to compete with the informal channels on both efficiency and cost,’ the Governor said.

The beneficiaries would be able to withdraw cash from ATMs, respective bank branches or thousands of branchless agents. Further, they would be able to make digital payments to settle their utility bills etc. by using their M-Wallets. The scheme is expected to improve financial inclusion and inflow of home remittances through formal channels in the country significantly, particularly for far flung areas with limited financial infrastructure.

The event was attended by the Ministers, international partners, high ranking Govt. officials, chairmen board of directors of banks & DFIs, SBP board members and CEOs/presidents of banks/DFIs. Presidents of various business chambers and trade bodies were also present on the occasion.

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Murad directs foolproof security arrangements for PSL final

Directs police chief to procure two bulletproof buses


Naimat Khan

KARACHI: Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah has said that he is keen to bring international cricket back to Karachi, therefore he would provide foolproof security for the PSL final match scheduled to be held in the city on March 25.

This he said while talking to Chairman PCB Najam Sethi who called on him along with his security team here at the CM House here on Friday. Those who attended the meeting include PCB Director Security & Anti-Corruption Mohammad Azam Khan, Principal Secretary to CM Sohail Rajput, IG Sindh AD Khowaja, Home Secretary Qazi Shahid Pervaiz, Deputy DG Rangers Brig Nasir, Adl. IG Karachi Mushtaq Maher, Commissioner Karachi Aijaz Ali Khan, DIG South Azad Khan and SSP security.

The chief minister said that he has already issued necessary directives to his administration to make foolproof security arrangements for PSL final match. “People of Sindh are excited to receive international cricket players in the city,” he said.

The PCB Chairman said that there should be security rehearsal for PCB event. On this the chief minister directed IG Police and Deputy DG Rangers to make full dress security rehearsal and get it covered by the media. “This would further develop confidence of international cricket in our security arrangement,” he said and directed the IG Police to do the drill within next 30 days as and when requested by PCB security team. He went on saying the provincial government has already provided foolproof security to two important events successfully. They were of Syedna Mufaddal saifuddin Moharram Majalis and other one of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan and now this event would also be held in a most successful way.

Najam Sethi told the chief minister that they would arrange some armored vehicles or bullet proof vehicles to transport the players from airport to hotel and to the stadium. On this, the chief minister directed IG police to procure two bullet proof armored buses. The specification of the armored buses should be in accordance with the international standards; he said and directed the IG Police to make necessary consultation with PCB security team for the purpose. “Mr Sethi, we would do each and everything whatever you want but we want you to bring international cricket back to Karachi,” he asked him in a lighter mood.

Mr Sethi told the chief minister that the repair work of the stadium was in progress. On this IG Police AD Khowaja suggested that SSP security may be inducted into the team of PCB responsible for carrying out repairing work. The SSP security would suggest installation of walk through gates, Installation of CCTV cameras, construction exit and entry points in accordance with security requirement etc. The meeting decided to involve the SSP security in the repair work.

It may be noted that PSL final match would be played in Karachi on March 25. Mr Najam Sethi lauded the efforts of the chief minister for restoring peace in the city. “You have done your job successfully,” he said.

The chief minister directed IG police, Home secretary and PCB team to coordinate with each other for further decisions.

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Indian brutalities can’t deprive Kashmiris of right to self-determination: Shehbaz

F.P. Report

LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif has said that India must realize that Kashmiri people cannot be deprived of their inalienable right to self-determination through continued brutalities.

He was talking to a high-level parliamentary delegation of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) comprising of Ministers and members of the legislative assembly and led by the AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider Khan which called on him here on Friday. Both the leaders strongly condemned the Indian brutalities against unarmed Kashmiri people in occupied Kashmir and violations of line of control.

Shehbaz Sharif said that international conscience is needed to be awakened over the worst form of carnalities committed by the Indian occupied army against unarmed Kashmiris. He said the government of PML-N is providing sufficient funds for different programs aiming at providing basic necessities of life to the people of Azad Kashmir; adding that wonderful steps have been taken for the development and prosperity of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. There is no example of such steps taken for the welfare of the AJK people in the seventy years’ history of the country, he added.

The Punjab Chief Minister said that funds have been provided by the Punjab government from its budget for the development and prosperity of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Meanwhile, the students of AJK are also fully benefiting from the educational schemes of the Punjab government along with other provinces.

Shehbaz vowed that Punjab will continue to lend a helping hand for the betterment of the AJK people in future, as well. The development of Azad Jammu and Kashmir is in fact the progress of Pakistan and we all have to cover this journey of development collectively, he added. The Chief Minister also assured to solve the problems of the refugees settled in the Punjab province.

Speaking on the occasion, AJK PM Raja Farooq Haider said that Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has set new records of public welfare and Punjab province has been made a glowing example of development due to the hard work and vision of Shehbaz Sharif.

The speed and work quality of Shehbaz Sharif is an example of its own and the people of other provinces are appreciative of the exemplary role played by Shehbaz Sharif for the development of Punjab. Punjab government has given the proof of its love for the Kashmiri people by providing resources for the development of AJK, he added.

The AJK delegation was comprised of Ministers including Syed Shaukat, Ch. Aziz, Chairman Public Accounts Committee Ch. Muhammad Ishaq, members of the legislative assembly including Mian Yasir Rashid, Javed Akhter, Raja Muhammad Siddique and others. Provincial Minister Malik Nadeem Kamran, Chairman P&D, SMBR and others were also present on the occasion.

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Christmas terror bid foiled as three terrorists arrested in Muzaffargarh

F.P. Report

MUZAFFARGARH: The Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) foiled a terror bid by arresting three terrorists during an operation in Muzaffargarh early Friday, CTD officials said.

The terrorists belong to a banned outfit and were plotting an attack during Christmas festivities, CTD said.

Hand grenades were among the ammunition seized from the terrorists during the operation.

Meanwhile, in Multan, two terrorists were gunned down during a CTD encounter, officials said.

The CTD team, on a tip-off about the presence of five or six terrorists affiliated with the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, conducted a raid on a compound near Jalalpur Pirwala. As the security personnel warned the suspects to surrender, they restored to firing.

In retaliatory fire, two of the terrorists were killed while three others managed to escape the scene taking advantage of the darkness.

CTD also seized ammunition from their possession, included an automatic rifle and a pistol.

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Want to tell people reason behind my ouster: Nawaz Sharif

LAHORE (NNI): Disqualified premier Nawaz Sharif has said on Friday that he wants to let the people of Pakistan know the reason behind the punishment he was subjected to in form of his disqualification from the premiership.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Nawaz Sharif convened a meeting with senior members of the political front in capital city of Punjab today.

The PML-N chief discussed political scenario of Pakistan among matters of importance.

Reportedly, Nawaz Sharif instructed the authorities to prepare for a rally in Kot Momin of Sargodha and issued directives for the local body representatives as well as the Members of Provincial Assembly (MPA) to ensure a successful public display of power.

Nawaz Sharif is to address a political rally on December 31 in Tehsil Kot Momin of District Sargodha.

The ruling PML-N chief was disqualified by the top court in a corruption probe on July 28 this year following which the party criticised the verdict and Nawaz Sharif led a rally from Islamabad to Lahore using Grand Trunk Road which headlined as the GT Road homecoming .

The PML-N chief announced earlier this week that Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Shehbaz Sharif is going to be party s candidate for premiership after General Elections 2018.

Meanwhile, it should be added here that daughter of the ousted premier, Maryam Nawaz is reportedly to contest for Punjab Chief Minister.