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Kashmir issue should be resolved in light of UN resolutions: Saudi FM

NEW DELHI (Web Desk): Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir has said that Kashmir issue should be resolved in the light of United Nations’ resolutions.

In an interview to an Indian television, Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir said that the conflict must be resolved as per aspiration of Kashmiri people. He said that the Kashmir conflict should be settled by dialogues between Pakistan and India.

On the other hand, Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq thanked Saudi crown prince and the foreign minister for supporting their just struggle for self determination.

It was another blow for India on diplomatic front, as earlier, staying true to his friendship with Pakistan, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman had refrained from passing any comment against Pakistan much to the dismay of Indian media.

Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman neither spoke on Pulwama attack nor cited a single word in the joint declaration released on the conclusion of his trip to India.

In another interview, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir while commenting on the aftermath of Pulwama attack had said, ‘India and Saudi Arabia have shared concerns on terrorism, we will work together to deescalate tension but how can we condemn Pakistan when we do not have the evidence before us yet.” The foreign minister had said that he was not sure that who was behind the attack.

On Wednesday, the Indian congress had questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to personally receive Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who praised Pakistan’s anti-terror efforts.

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Syria forces negotiating to free civilians from IS holdout: coalition

BEIRUT (AFP): US-backed Syrian forces are negotiating to evacuate civilians from the Islamic State group’s last redoubt which now faces ‘inevitable defeat’, the international coalition against the militants said on Thursday.

Hundreds of people including women and children were trucked out of the last patch of IS territory on Wednesday, but the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said that a large number of civilians remained inside.

The Kurdish-led SDF, backed by the warplanes of the US-led coalition, have trapped IS fighters in less than half a square kilometre in the village of Baghouz.
“Coalition forces, to include the US, continue to support the SDF as they negotiate having innocent civilians released and their fighters returned with the inevitable defeat in Baghouz,” coalition spokesman Sean Ryan told AFP.

There was no immediate comment from the SDF, which has previously identified the remaining civilians as mostly wives and children of IS fighters.

Thousands of people — mostly women and children related to IS members — have streamed out of Baghouz in recent weeks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said on Wednesday that there were negotiations “for the surrender of the last IS fighters”.

It said there were ‘reports of a deal’ but the details were unclear.
At the height of its rule, IS imposed its brutal interpretation of Islamic law on a territory roughly the size of Britain.

But the militants have since lost almost all their territory and hundreds of foreigners suspected of being IS fighters, as well as related women and children, are being held by the SDF.

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Putin to US: I’m ready for another Cuban Missile crisis if you want one

MOSCOW (Reuters): President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia is militarily ready for a Cuban Missile-style crisis if the United States is foolish enough to want one and that his country currently has the edge when it comes to a first nuclear strike.

The Cuban Missile Crisis erupted in 1962 when Moscow responded to a US missile deployment in Turkey by sending ballistic missiles to Cuba, sparking a standoff that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

More than five decades on, tensions are rising again over Russian fears that the United States might deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe as a landmark Cold war-era arms control treaty unravels.

Putin’s comments, made to Russian media late on Wednesday, follow his warning that Moscow will match any US move to deploy new missiles closer to Russia by stationing its own missiles closer to the United States or by deploying faster missiles or both.

Putin fleshed out his warning in detail for the first time, saying Russia could deploy hypersonic missiles on ships and submarines which could lurk outside US territorial waters if Washington now moved to deploy intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe.

“(We’re talking about) naval delivery vehicles: submarines or surface ships. And we can put them, given the speed and range (of our missiles)… in neutral waters. Plus they are not stationary, they move and they will have to find them,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript.

“You work it out. Mach nine (the speed of the missiles) and over 1,000 km (their range).”

TREATY VIOLATIONS

The US State Department dismissed Putin’s earlier warning as propaganda, saying it was designed to divert attention from what Washington alleges are Moscow’s violations of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The pact, which banned Russia and the United States from stationing short- and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe, is in its death throes, raising the prospect of a new arms race between Washington and Moscow.

Putin has said he does not want an arms race with the United States, but that he would have no choice but to act if Washington deployed new missiles in Europe, some of which he says would be able to strike Moscow within 10-12 minutes.

Putin said his naval response to such a move would mean Russia could strike the United States faster than US missiles deployed in Europe could hit Moscow because the flight time would be shorter.

“It (the calculation) would not be in their favor, at least as things stand today. That’s for sure.” said Putin.

Relations between Moscow and Washington were strained, he added, but the tensions were not comparable to those of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“They (the tensions) are not a reason to ratchet up confrontation to the levels of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s. In any case that’s not what we want,” said Putin. “If someone wants that, well OK they are welcome. I have set out today what that would mean. Let them count (the missile flight times).”

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At least 70 killed in major Bangladesh blaze, toll likely to rise

DHAKA (Reuters): As many as 70 people died in a major fire that engulfed several buildings in a centuries-old neighborhood of the Bangladesh capital, a fire official said on Thursday, warning the toll could climb as fire fighters scour the rubble.

Lax regulations and poor enforcement of rules in impoverished Bangladesh have often been blamed for several large fires that have led to hundreds of deaths in recent years.

The city’s worst fire since 2012 broke out late on Wednesday night in a five-storey building, before spreading to others nearby in the Chawkbazar precinct, parts of which date back more than 300 years to the Mughal period.

“So far, 70 bodies have been recovered,” Julfikar Rahman, a director of the Fire Service and Civil Defence, told Reuters. “The number could rise further as the search continues.”

At least a dozen of the roughly 50 people taken to hospital were in critical condition, Rahman added. Hundreds of distraught relatives thronged the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital to seek missing relatives, witnesses said.

“All of them were crying and desperate,” said a Reuters witness. “Relatives entered the morgue and searched a register for the names of their nearest and dearest.”

About 200 firefighters had battled for more than five hours to contain the blaze in narrow lanes snaking between tightly-packed buildings in an area authorities say is home to more than 3 million people.

Firemen said they struggled to get enough water to douse the flames and had to pump supplies from a nearby mosque.

“The area is so congested, there is no wide space or spacious road to easily bring in water,” fire official A K M Shakil Nowaz told Reuters at the site. “We didn’t find any water source nearby, so it took several hours to put out.”

The fire broke out in a building with shops on its ground floor, a warehouse for plastics and flammable material on the first, and homes on three floors above, said Shamim Harun ur Rashid, a local police official.

“It is unclear whether anyone who lived on the floors above is alive,” said Rashid, adding that the cause was being investigated.

Witnesses said the blaze spread after the explosion of gas cylinders in an adjoining restaurant and a parked van.

Hundreds of burnt perfume or deodorant cans littered the road near the partially collapsed building where the fire began, a Reuters witness said.

The fire has revived concern about lax enforcement of building safety regulations.

“This tragic incident happened due to the indifference and callousness of the government, as well as mismanagement,” said Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary general of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Residents had several times urged authorities to relocate the warehouses in the area, but were not heeded, said school teacher Mohammad Hemayet Uddin.

“After the Nimtoli tragedy we urged our local leaders not to allow any more godowns that are a danger for us,” he added, referring to a 2010 fire that killed at least 124.

“We need cooperation to find such illegal godowns as the area is vast and houses thousands of buildings,” Sayeed Khokon, the South Dhaka mayor, told media.

Bangladesh has set up a five-member panel to inquire into the fire, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told media, adding that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was monitoring the situation.

In 2012, a fire in a garments factory on the outskirts of Dhaka killed as many as 117 people and injured more than 200 in the country’s worst industrial blaze.

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Putin: Russia to take steps if US Deploys its Short, Medium Range Missiles in EU

MOSCOW (Sputnik): In an address to the Federal Assembly on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin touched upon a spate of pressing international issues related to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Putin Warns Against US Missiles in Europe

During the address, the Russian president specifically touched upon the possible deployment of US missiles in Europe.

He warned that if Washington deploys its medium-and short-range missiles in Europe, it will “dramatically exacerbate international security situation” and create serious challenges to Russia.

He recalled that some classes missiles of US missiles have a flight time to Moscow of just around 10-12 minutes.

“This is a very serious threat to us. In this case, we will be forced — I want to emphasise this – forced to take tit-for-tat steps,” Putin underscored.

Violation of INF Treaty

He also berated the US for violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

“Launching medium-range target missiles and deploying launchers suitable for using Tomahawk missiles in Romania and Poland, the US directly and grossly violates the conditions of this treaty,” Putin stressed.

He added that the US was not sincere about why it wanted to end the INF Treaty.

“Our US partners should have been honest about it instead of using thought-up accusations to justify their unilateral exit from the treaty. They should have done it the same way they quit the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 when they simply pulled out, openly and honestly,” Putin said.

According to him, now that the US has violated the treaty, Washington is “looking for a pretext and pointing the finger” at others, while its “satellite states” have mobilised to defend the US’ actions.

Earlier in February, Washington announced that it was suspending its obligations under the INF Treaty, with Russia then responding in kind.

The US said that it would withdraw from the accord within six months unless Russia returns to compliance with the agreement. Moscow has refuted all allegations of treaty breaches.

Advanced Russian Weapons

Putin confirmed that the testing of new and innovative Russian weapons, including the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), is proceeding on schedule.

“Work on advanced models and weapons systems mentioned in last year’s address continues without failures and in line with the plan,” Putin said, referring to tests of the heavy ICBM Sarmat which he added is “unprecedented” in terms of power.

He also said that the mass production of the Avangard hypersonic missile systems has started and the first regiment of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces will be equipped with the systems later this year.

Additionally, Putin mentioned the Peresvet laser systems and the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles which he said confirmed their “unique characteristics” during combat duty.

Satellite Network Expansion

In his address to the Federal Assembly, Putin specifically called for expanding the country’s satellite network, which he said is needed for “a real revolution in communications and navigation”.

“It is necessary to increase the capabilities of our satellite network. Russia has unique technologies for this,” Putin pointed out.

According to him, such a task stipulates a qualitative upgrade of Russia’s entire space industry.

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Pakistani ‘stoned to death’ in Indian jail amid Kashmir tensions

NEW DELHI (Aljazeera): Indian prisoners have stoned to death a Pakistani inmate at a jail amid mounting tensions over a suicide bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir that New Delhi has blamed on its neighbour, an official said.

The Pakistani prisoner had been eight years into a life term when he was attacked on Wednesday at the Jaipur central jail in the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

He was stoned to death following a quarrel, Rajasthan’s director general of police, Kapil Garg, told the AFP news agency.

The killing came amid calls for retribution across India over a car bombing in Kashmir last Thursday which killed at least 40 Indian paramilitaries.

Pakistan-based armed group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the bombing, which was the worst rebel attack in nearly 30 years of armed conflict in Kashmir.

India has accused Pakistan of backing the armed group but Islamabad has denied any role.

India and Pakistan both control sectors of Kashmir and have been bitter rivals since their independence from Britain in 1947.

A Pakistani prisoner was killed by fellow inmates in a Kashmir jail in May 2013 in retaliation for a fatal attack on an Indian prisoner in a Pakistani jail.

In a statement released by its foreign ministry, Pakistan said it is “gravely concerned” over the brutal killing of its prisoner, identified as Shakir Ullah.

“Our High Commission in New Delhi has officially raised the issue with the Indian authorities requesting them to urgently authenticate the report and awaits a response,” the statement said.

“We call upon the Indian government to fulfill its obligations and ensure provision of foolproof security to all Pakistani inmates in Indian jails and Pakistani visitors to India.”

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$13 million worth of meth found in trailer with frozen strawberries at Texas port

Faith Karimi

MEXICO (CNN): A truck driver hauling frozen strawberries from Mexico into the United States is in custody after customs officers at a Texas port found nearly $13 million worth of methamphetamine hidden in the trailer.

In a statement, Customs and Border Protection said officers working at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge cargo facility Saturday encountered a 42-year-old male Mexican citizen with a commercial shipment of frozen strawberries arriving from Mexico.

CBP referred the shipment for further inspection and discovered 350 packages of alleged methamphetamine concealed within the trailer.

Authorities seized the tractor/trailer along with 906 pounds of methamphetamine (411 kg) that was worth about $12,700,000, CBP said.

“This was an outstanding interception our officers accomplished this weekend,” said Port Director David Gonzalez of Hidalgo/Pharr/Anzalduas Port of Entry.

“Our officers’ astute sense of awareness and tenacity is unparalleled and truly commendable.”

The man involved in the seizure is in the custody of Homeland Security Investigations agents for further investigation.

The Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge is a major port of entry for the US-Mexico border, and handles both commercial and passenger vehicles. About 175,000 vehicles cross the bridge in a month, according to Texas officials.

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Indian police ignore, even protect, anti-muslim ‘Cow Protection’ mobs

NEW DELHI (Sputnik): India’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is providing cover for Hindu vigilantes who avenge the killing or trading of cows, often thinly-veiled excuses for lynch mobs directed at Muslims and low-caste Hindus, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. The police routinely delay or ignore investigations in these murders.

A report issued Monday by HRW highlights the mob murders of dozens of Indians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Between May 2015 and December 2018, at least 44 people have been killed across 12 Indian states and around 280 people injured in 20 states by so-called “cow protection groups” — Hindu vigilantes seeking to punish people who kill or disrespect cattle, which they hold to be sacred.

Nearly all of those killed and injured have been Muslims, low-caste Hindus called Dalits, and members of a South Asian indigenous people called Adivasis, according to the report.

“In almost all of the cases, the police initially stalled investigations, ignored procedures or even played a complicit role in the killings and cover-up of crimes,” the HRW report states. “Instead of promptly investigating and arresting suspects, the police filed complaints against victims, their families and witnesses under laws that ban cow slaughter. In several cases, political leaders of Hindu nationalist groups, including elected BJP officials, defended the assaults.”

The report mentions a particularly egregious case in Uttar Pradesh in December 2018 when, following the murder of two people by mob violence, the state’s chief minister went on to warn people: “Illegal slaughtering, and not just cow slaughter, is banned in the entire state.”

Beef is consumed mostly by religious and ethnic minorities in India, and cow slaughter is forbidden in most parts of the country, where 80 percent of the population, or roughly 960 million people, are Hindu. By contrast, India’s Muslim population is 14.2 percent of the population, or around 172 million people, according to the country’s 2011 census.

In many of the attacks, the victims were not obviously part of any kind of cattle slaughter or trading and were simply targeted for being members of a minority that does, at times, eat or trade in bovines and their meat.

“In addition to beating up cattle traders and transporters that have caused serious injuries, even fatalities, cow protectors have reportedly assaulted Muslim men and women in trains and railway stations in Madhya Pradesh state, stripped and beat Dalit men in Gujarat, force-fed cow dung and urine to two men in Haryana, raided a Muslim hotel in Jaipur and raped two women and killed two men in Haryana for allegedly eating beef at home,” HRW wrote.

Modi, who hails from the right-wing BJP, helped whip up nationalistic support for his party’s successful 2014 election campaign by raising the specter of a “pink revolution” which he claimed endangered the sacred bovines. Modi coined the term to describe a purported change in food consumption patterns similar to the famed “green revolution” in the country’s agriculture in the 1970s.

However, according to data from the United Nations’ Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), per capita consumption of beef and veal in India has actually decreased in the last 10 years, with the largest decrease happening before Modi took office in May 2014. In 2008, India clocked in at 1.063 kilograms of beef and veal consumed per capita, falling to 0.346 kg/c in 2014 and increasing only slightly since then to 0.520 kg/c last year.

​​According to a survey by New Delhi Television (NDTV) cited by HRW, “there was a nearly 500 percent increase in the use of communally divisive language in speeches by elected leaders — 90 percent of them from the BJP — between 2014 and 2018, as compared to the five years before the BJP came to power. Cow protection formed an important theme in a number of these speeches.”

The report includes several examples of this rhetoric coming from BJP officials, including the chief ministers and lawmakers of several Indian states.

“We will hang those who kill cows,” Raman Singh, the BJP chief minister of Chhattisgarh, said in April 2017.

“I had promised that I will break the hands and legs of those who do not consider cows their mother and kill them,” said Uttar Pradesh lawmaker Vikram Saini, a member of BJP, in March 2017.

“Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef,” said Manohar Lal Khattar, the BJP chief minister of Haryana, in October 2015. “The cow is an article of faith here.”

“Calls for cow protection may have started out as a way to attract Hindu votes, but it has transformed into a free pass for mobs to violently attack and kill minority group members,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW’s South Asia director. “Indian police investigations into mob attacks are almost as likely to accuse the minority victims of a crime as they are to pursue vigilantes with government connections.”

“They [police] also threatened us with arrest under cattle protection laws, saying they will put our whole family in jail,” the brother of one victim told HRW.

“You won’t put your face on video committing a crime if you’re bothered about being punished,” Indian social worker and writer Harsh Mander told the Times. “You’re assured that you’ll be protected and treated like a hero.”

Activists have long sought government restraint of pro-vigilante rhetoric and the imposition of anti-lynching laws. In July 2018, India’s Supreme Court ordered “preventive, remedial and punitive” measures to combat lynching by cow protectors. “It is imperative for them to remember that they are subservient to the law and cannot be guided by notions or emotions or sentiments or, for that matter, faith,” the court said.

Only in August 2018 did Modi speak out against vigilante attacks by cow protectors, saying, “I want to make it clear that mob lynching is a crime, no matter the motive.” However, he’s dismissed the idea that such attacks express any kind of anti-Muslim sentiment.

“They’ve created an enabling and supportive environment for people to act out their hate,” Mander said. “Once you let the genie out of the bottle, it’s not going to obey you and just go back in.”

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In first, US’ Sanders picks Muslim to lead campaign

WASHINGTON (AA): Fresh off announcing a new run at the presidency, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has named a prominent Muslim civil rights lawyer to lead his effort, in a first for a major presidential bid.

Faiz Shakir, a Harvard University graduate and former national political director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was named campaign manager on Tuesday by the independent senator.

Before the ACLU, Shakir was a senior adviser to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and also advised Nancy Pelosi, the current House majority leader.

During seven years at the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based liberal think tank, he spearheaded an anti-Islamophobia campaign which produced a report, “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.”

Sanders, a strong spoiler ahead of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic nomination for president in 2016, joins a crowded field of hopefuls for the 2020 Democratic nod.

Though an independent, progressive Sanders caucuses with the Democrats.

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Norwegian armed forces see ‘disturbing’ wave of reported rapes, sexual assault

OSLO (Sputnik): Almost 170 soldiers of Norway’s peacetime strength of 16,000 claim they have been raped or suffered attempted raped in the past year alone. Experts found it particularly conspicuous that nearly half of the alleged victims were men.

A major survey carried out by the Norwegian Armed Forces has uncovered an alarming incidence of sexual assault, with rape or attempted rape occurring every other day, national broadcaster NRK reported.

44 soldiers (24 women and 20 men) said they have been raped in the past twelve months, while 123 people said they’d survived a rape attempt. Of them, 35 soldiers claimed that a superior was taking advantage of their position to pressure them to engage in “unwanted sexual activity”.

Chief of Defence Haakon Bruun-Hanssen said that he is surprised at the number of alleged rapes that surfaced in the survey.

“We are in it together, many people, the Armed Forces are well-regulated and we have implemented a number of measures.”

“So the fact we have so many

[sexual assault cases]

in and outside of service surprises me and makes me extra angry,” Bruun-Hanssen told NRK.

The chief of defence stressed that only two rape cases have been reported to the police during the same period, while over 40 soldiers claimed to have have been raped. Bruun-Hanssen urged all victims of sexual assault to report the crimes to the police without hesitation.

Equality and discrimination ombudsperson Hanne Bjurstrøm suggested that the information about male rape is one of the most surprising things that came to light.

“The fact that there is an almost 50/50 distribution between women and men who experience something as rough as rape is surprising,” Bjurstrøm told NRK. “It shows that we cannot limit it to a culture that primarily targets women. We need a much broader approach. We know from before that it is difficult for women to report rape, but it is perhaps even more so for men,” Bjurstrøm said.

Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said that this is “far from where the armed forces should be”. He admitted that the conditions are much worse than he had hoped and pledged to work to eliminate the problem.

“It is very sad that we have an organisation where so many have experienced unacceptable behaviour and so many report events that are illegal,” Bakke-Jensen told NRK, stressing that the armed forces have zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

Bakke-Jensen said he expected everyone in the armed forces to “lead the way as good role models” and not tolerate any bullying or harassment. The minister also stressed the importance of having routines in place for people to report assault cases.

Labour MP Anniken Huitfeldt called the results of the survey “disturbing”. She said that the situation cannot continue as it is, and ventured that the armed forces haven’t done enough to weed out and prevent this sort of behaviour.

The head of the Norwegian Officers’ Association, Torbjørn Bongo, called the results “completely unacceptable” and suggested there was a long way to go.

Norway’s military force in peacetime is slightly over 16,000.

Since 2016, when conscription was extended to ladies, women in uniform have made up about 17 percent of the Norwegian armed forces; their percentage is steadily increasing.

The survey was carried out in the autumn of 2018 and featured answers from 8,085 soldiers.