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Facebook misled lawmakers over data breach: UK MP

Muhammad Mussa

LONDON: A U.K. lawmaker has accused Facebook and data analytics firm Camb-ridge Analytica of misleading the members of the parliament in a testimony, after revelations of mass data breach.

Damien Collins, chairman of the U.K.’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, has called on Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg to testify before the committee.

“I will be writing to Mark Zuckerberg asking that either he, or another senior executive from the company, ap-pear to give evidence in front of the Committee as part our inquiry,” Collins said in a statement.

“It is not acceptable that they have previously sent witnesses who seek to avoid asking difficult questions by claiming not to know the answers.

This also creates a false reassurance that Facebook’s stated policies are always robust and effectively policed,” Collins added.

Earlier this week whistleblower Chris Wylie, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, revealed that 50 million Facebook profiles had been harvested by the data analytics firm to influence political opinion both in the U.S. and the U.K.

Details reveal how Cambridge Analytica accessed private information from these Facebook profiles, including private messages, status updates and likes.

Facebook has since rejected claims that this was a data breach and that they have suspended Cambridge Analytica from its platforms.

“The claim that this is a data breach is completely false. People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked,” Facebook said in a press release.

“We are suspending Strate-gic Communication Labora-tories (SCL), including their political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, from Facebook,” it added.

Cambridge Analytica also rejected the claim that the firm obtains private information from Facebook profiles and has argued that their operations have always been in line with Facebook’s policies and online standards.

“Cambridge Analytica’s Commercial and Political divisions use social media platforms for outward marketing, delivering data-led and creative content to targeted audiences. They do not use or hold data from Facebook profiles,” the firm said in a press statement.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has yet to respond to calls for him to testify at the parliamentary select committee. (AA)


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Russia had ‘nothing to do’ with ex-spy poisoning: Envoy

Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON: Russia had “nothing to do” with the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, said the country’s ambassador to the EU.

Speaking to BBC, Vladimir Chizhov said there were “no stockpiles whatsoever” of nerve agents left in Russia, adding that his country had stopped producing chemical weapons in 1992.

Russia destroyed all of its stockpiles last year, he added.

Chezhov claimed that some number of scientists responsible for creating some nerve agents “have been whisked out of Russia and are currently residing in the U.K.”

The Russian ambassador also hinted that the U.K. might have had the nerve agent before the Salisbury incident.

“When you have a nerve agent or whatever, you check it against certain samples that you retain in your laboratories.

“And Porton Down, as we now all know, is the largest military facility in the United Kingdom that has been dealing with chemical weapons research.

“And it’s actually only eight miles from Salisbury.”

Chezhov refused to clarify whether he was suggesting that the Porton Down was responsible of the nerve agent used in Salisbury. “I don’t know. I don’t have any evidence of anything having been used,” he said.

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were admitted to a hospital on March 4 after being found unconscious in Salisbury. The incident also saw a British police officer injured seriously.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said last Monday that it is “highly likely” that Russia was behind the attack in conclusion that came after tests carried out at the Porton Down military facilities.

Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats, a move Russia responded by expelling the same number of British diplomats from Moscow in a reciprocal action.

Meanwhile, British Foreign Office said there was “not an ounce of truth” in Chizhov’s suggestion of a link to Porton Down.

“It’s just another futile attempt from the Russian state to divert the story away from the facts – that Russia has acted in flagrant breach of its international obligations,” a spokesperson said.

The ambassador’s remarks came after Russian Foreign Ministry commented that the U.K. could be the source for the Novichok nerve agent used in Salisbury alongside with some other countries such as Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden and possibly the U.S.

Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Maria Zakharova said a number of ex-Soviet scientists had left Russia, “taking with them the technologies that they were working on.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson described Chizhov’s claims as “satirical”. He said it “is not the response of a country that really believes itself to be innocent”.

Also speaking to the BBC, Johnson said experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will arrive in the U.K. on Monday to carry out tests on the samples of the nerve agent used in Salisbury.

In a separate statement, the British government said the invitation to OPCW experts by Prime Minister Theresa May “reflects the UK’s commitment to fully complying with the obligations of the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

“The Foreign Secretary revealed this morning that we have information indicating that within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents likely for assassination,” the statement said.

“And part of this programme has involved producing and stockpiling quantities of novichok. This is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention,” it added.

Sergei Skripal was granted refuge in the U.K. following a spy exchange in 2010 between the U.S. and Russia. Before the exchange, he was serving 13 years in prison for leaking information to British intelligence.

The incident has drawn comparisons to the fate of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 after drinking radioactive tea. Former KGB bodyguards, identified as suspects in the murder, denied any involvement.


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At least 13 hurt after car rams into nightclub

LONDON (AP): British police say a man who had been kicked out of a nightclub rammed his car into revelers on a dance floor, injuring at least 13 people.

The Kent Police force says the 21-year-old has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder over Saturday’s crash in Gravesend, 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of London. Police say they are not treating the incident as terrorism.

Footage posted on social media showed a large car on a dance floor inside a marquee tent at Blake’s nightclub. On Facebook, the club thanked “the heroic actions of our door team and guests to apprehend the individual before further harm was caused.”

Police said Sunday that at least 13 people suffered injuries including broken bones but none of the injuries is life-threatening.


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Li reelected as Chinese Prime Minister

Fuat Kabakci

BEIJING: Li Keqiang was reelected as the Chinese Prime Minister for the second time on Sunday.

Keqiang was shown as the candidate for prime minister by President Xi Jinping and during the voting in National People’s Congress, the country’s highest legislative organ. Keqiang received 2,964 votes of 2,966 delegates.

After the voting, President Xi signed a presidential decree for the appointment of Li as prime minister.

Keqiang was first elected as prime minister in 2013.

On Saturday, the National People’s Congress also reelected President Xi unanimously for a second term in office.

Xi won all 2,970 votes, becoming chairman of the Central Military Commission as well.

Last week, China passed a law ending term limits for the nation’s president and vice president.

The change to the country’s Constitution allows the two leaders to serve at their posts indefinitely.

The move paves the way for China’s current President Xi Jinping to stay in office after 2023, when — under the old rules — his term was due to end. (AA)


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Sri Lanka ends emergency as ethnic tensions subside

DIGANA (AFP): Over 300 people have been arrested in connection with the riots in the central district of Kandy in the first state of emergency imposed in Sri Lanka since the end of a decades-long Tamil separatist war in 2009.

Sri Lanka’s president announced on Sunday that he is lifting a nationwide state of emergency imposed 12 days ago to quell anti-Muslim riots in which three people died and hundreds of shops were destroyed.

Maithripala Sirisena said improvements in the security situation prompted him to end the emergency, under which security forces and the police had sweeping powers to detain suspects.

“Upon assessing the public safety situation, I instructed to revoke the state of emergency from midnight yesterday,” Sirisena said on Twitter as he returned to the island after a tour of Japan.

Much of the anti-Muslim violence was concentrated in the central district of Kandy, 115 kilometres (72 miles) northeast of the capital Colombo.

Police said the situation in the picturesque hill resort has returned to normal. Security forces have been deployed to help rebuild damaged homes and businesses, officials said.

Over 300 people have been arrested in connection with the riots, and they have been remanded in custody till the end of this month.

The state emergency also allowed Sirisena to call in the military after police initially failed to control the riots that spread to several suburbs of Kandy.

There were a few isolated incidents elsewhere on the island too.

The unrest started after a Sinhalese man, beaten up by four Muslim men in a road rage incident, died at a hospital in Kandy earlier this month.

The following day, Sinhalese mobs set fire to Muslim-owned homes and businesses.

The body of a 24-year-old Muslim man was pulled out of a burnt home, raising tensions further. The next day, a Sinhalese man died when a hand grenade he was carrying exploded before he could attack a mosque.

This was the first state of emergency imposed in Sri Lanka since the end of a decades-long Tamil separatist war in 2009.

Sri Lanka’s parliament issued an apology to its Muslim minority, which constitutes 10 percent of the country’s population of 21 million. Sinhalese account for about three quarters of the population.

Last November, riots between the Muslims and the Sinhalese — who are largely Buddhist — in the south of the island left one man dead and homes and vehicles damaged.

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Four killed as fire hits hotel in Manila

Monitoring Desk

MANILA: At least four people were killed and dozens other were trapped after a fire broke out at a hotel in the Philippine capital on Sunday.

The rescue official told International media outlet that the fire broke out at the fifth floor.

Chief of the Manila Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office, Johnny Yu told media that about 20 people were trapped in the Manila Pavilion Hotel.

It was not immediately clear how the fire started.

The hotel is owned by Waterfront Philippines Inc.



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Erdogan: Turkish troops to enter Afrin at any moment

Baris Gundogan

MARDIN: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey-backed troops had surrounded Afrin city center in northwestern Syria and were ready to enter at any moment.

“We are about to enter Afrin, and we may announce the good news at any time,” said Erdogan at his Justice and Development (AK) Party’s 6th Annual Congress in southeastern province of Mardin.

He added that a total of 3,569 terrorists have been “neutralized” in Afrin since the start of Operation Olive Branch.

Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the terrorists in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to clear YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin.

Since the launch of the operation, the Turkish military and FSA have liberated 268 locations, including five town centers, 224 villages, 44 strategic mountains and hills, and one YPG/PKK base.

The forces reached Afrin city’s border last week and encircled it.

According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as protect Syrians from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.

The operation is being carried out under the framework of Turkey’s rights based on international law, UN Security Council resolutions, its self-defense rights under the UN charter, and respect for Syria’s territorial integrity, it said. The military also said only terror targets were being destroyed and “utmost care” was being taken to not harm civilians. (AA)


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Palestine slams Israeli for embassy move

Jad al-Nabhan

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian government has denounced Israeli calls for world countries to relocate their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In a statement on Saturday, the government said Israel was engaged in talks to persuade world countries to move their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem.

These Israeli attempts are “in violation of international law”, the government said, going on to call on world countries to respect UN resolutions on the holy city.

On Dec. 6, U.S. President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, triggering world outcry and protests across the Palestinian territories.

Jerusalem remains at the heart of the Middle East conflict, with Palestinians hoping that East Jerusalem — occupied by Israel since 1967 — might eventually serve as the capital of a Palestinian state. (AA)

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Trump, Moon discuss engagement with North

Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Friday discussed his pending meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

“The two leaders expressed cautious optimism over recent developments and emphasized that a brighter future is available for North Korea if it chooses the correct path,” the White House said in a readout of the U.S.-South Korean call.

Trump and Moon “agreed that concrete actions, not words, will be the key to achieving permanent denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and President Trump reiterated his intention to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by the end of May”.

The meeting, if it materializes, will be the first sit-down between a North Korean leader and a serving U.S. president.

The meeting is planned for some time by May, but no time or place has yet been agreed. Trump and Kim have a year-long history of acrimonious rhetoric, with Trump notably threatening the North Korean leader, whom he has called “little rocket man”, with “fire and fury” and Kim retorting “a frightened dog barks louder” after Trump addressed the UN. (AA)

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‘Russia’s UK diplomat expulsion ‘doesn’t change facts of matter’’

Monitoring Desk

LONDON: Relations between Lon-don and Moscow have crashed to a post-Cold War low after an attack on an ex-Russian spy, the first known offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War Two.

Russia’s expulsion of 23 British diplomats “doesn’t change the facts of the matter” of the poisoning of a former double agent in an English city, Prime Minister Theresa May said Saturday.

Russia was “in flagrant breach of international law,” she told her Conservative Party’s spring forum, adding that Britain “will consider our next steps in the coming days”.

“Russia’s response doesn’t change the facts of the matter – the attempted assassination of two people on British soil, for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable,” she said. May blames Russia for the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury on March 4, which has left them both fighting for their lives.

She warned that Britain “will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian government.”

But she said Britain had “no disagreement with the Russian people”. Russia expelled the British diplomats in a retaliatory move over British accusations that the Kremlin orchestrated a nerve toxin attack on a former Russian double agent and his daughter in southern England. Earlier this week, Britain announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats and suspension of high-level contacts over the poisoning. Relations between London and Moscow have crashed to a post-Cold War low over the attack, the first known offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War Two.