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Four soldiers killed in Afghan army base attack

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Four soldiers killed in Afghan army base attack

Posted on 28 March 2017 by GGS News

Four soldiers killed in Afghan army base attack

Kabul : At least four Afghan soldiers were killed and five injured in an overnight attack by Taliban militants on an army base in Kandahar province, an official said on Tuesday.
“Militants stormed an army camp in Khakrez district late on Monday. The clash lasted for hours,” Xinhua news agency quoted an official as saying.

According to him, several militants were also killed and wounded during the gun battle.

Kandhar province, about 450 km south of Kabul, has been the scene of clashes between Taliban and security forces over the past years.

IANS |

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Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to lead ‘American Innovation’ office at White House

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Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to lead ‘American Innovation’ office at White House

Posted on 28 March 2017 by GGS News

Washington : US President Donald Trump has appointed his son-in-law Jared Kushner as the head of a newly-created office inside the White House to overhaul the federal government with input from the private sector.
Kushner, 36, currently a senior adviser to the president whose portfolio already has included acting as the administration’s point person on Mideast peace, will head the Office of American Innovation (OAI).

The new office will make recommendations to the President on policies and plans that improve government operations and services, improve the quality of life for Americans now and in the future and spur job creation.

These recommendations will be developed in collaboration with career staff along with private-sector and other external thought leaders, the White House said.”As a former leader in the private sector, I am proud to officially announce the White House Office of American Innovation, which will develop innovative solutions to many problems our country faces,” Trump said in a statement.

“One of the primary reasons I ran for President was the need for new thinking and real change, and I know the Office and its team will help us meet those challenges,” Trump said.

“The Office of American Innovation will bring a creative and strategic approach to many critical issues and intractable problems that affect Americans’ quality of life,” Kushner said.

“We have an opportunity to identify and implement solutions by combining internal resources with the private sector’s innovation and creativity, enabling the Federal Government to better serve Americans,” he added.

As part of this effort, individuals involved have already hosted listening and working sessions with more than 100 private-sector CEOs, other external thought leaders, and senior Government officials.

OAI will create task forces to focus on initiatives such as modernising Government services and information technology, improving services to veterans, creating transformational infrastructure projects, implementing regulatory and process reforms, creating manufacturing jobs, addressing the drug and opioid epidemic, and developing “workforce of the future” programmes, the White House.

PTI |

 

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Man arrested in connection with vandalism at Colorado mosque

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Man arrested in connection with vandalism at Colorado mosque

Posted on 28 March 2017 by GGS News

Fort Collins (US) : Police arrested a suspect in connection with the vandalism at a mosque near Colorado State University, a case they are investigating as a hate crime.
Joseph Scott Giaquinto, 35, was arrested on suspicion of several charges, including a crime motivated by bias, The Coloradoan reports.

Police had asked for the public’s help in identifying the person who overturned benches, broke windows and threw a Bible into Islamic Center of Fort Collins, which is about 60 miles north of Denver.

A police spokeswoman told the newspaper that she did not have details on how police came to identify Giaquinto as the suspect.

Police released two clips of surveillance video that captured the vandalism at the Islamic Center of Fort Collins before dawn Sunday. In one, a man wearing a hoodie, believed to be in his late teens or early 20s, is shown picking up a paving stone and walking away. In another clip, he kicks a door.

The center’s president, Tawfik Aboellail, said the man tried to break into the mosque about 4 am Sunday, but he did not get inside.

The vandalism prompted the center to cancel religious classes for children that morning, but it has also led to an outpouring of support.

The Coloradoan reports that congregants from Plymouth Congregational Church visited after their morning service, and later about 1,000 people gathered at the mosque for a rally of support organised by a rabbi Sunday evening.

Many have also been making donations online to pay for repairs and improved security.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations had urged police to investigate the case as a possible hate crime. Police Chief John Hutto, who attended the support rally, said the incident has a “very real impact on our Muslim friends and neighbors.”

“The criminal act against their sacred space is unacceptable,” he said in a statement.

The vandalism comes about a month after someone threw a rock through a window at a mosque in the Denver area. The incident at the Colorado Muslim Society was also captured on surveillance video, but no one has been arrested.

PTI |

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Veteran anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada dies after brain surgery

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Veteran anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada dies after brain surgery

Posted on 28 March 2017 by GGS News

Cape Town : Veteran South African anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada, who was sentenced to life imprisonment with Nelson Mandela for treason, died on Tuesday after complications following surgery, his foundation said on Twitter.
“Ahmed Kathrada has passed on. Details to follow,” the Kathrada Foundation said just before 6 am local time (0400GMT).

Affectionately known as “Uncle Kathy”, the 87-year-old liberation struggle stalwart was hospitalised in Johannesburg earlier in March after surgery to relieve blood clotting on the brain.

On Monday, the Foundation said his condition had deteriorated rapidly and was “serious” with pneumonia affecting both lungs.

Kathrada, who dedicated his life to fighting the racial injustice of white-minority rule, was also one of the most senior African National Congress (ANC) leaders to criticise President Jacob Zuma`s presidency as allegations of government corruption and maladministration mounted.

Last year, Kathrada wrote an open letter calling on Zuma to resign as a series of scandals, from using taxpayers money to upgrade his rural Nkandla home to summarily firing former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in 2015, rocked Africa`s most industrialised economy.

“I am not a political analyst, but I am now driven to ask: “Dear Comrade President, don’t you think your continued stay as President will only serve to deepen the crisis of confidence in the government of the country?,” Kathrada said then.

Born to immigrant Indian parents in the small town of Schweizer-Reneke in the North West province just before the Great Depression in 1929, Kathrada became involved in politics at the age of 12 when he distributed leaflets for the Young Communist League of South Africa.

Following decades of activism, Kathrada was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labour in 1964, together with seven other ANC luminaries such as Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki, after a guilty verdict during the Rivonia treason trail.

Jailed at the age of 34, Kathrada spent the next 18 years at the maximum security section on apartheid`s most notorious prison, Robben Island, a few miles offshore Cape Town city.

He was moved to Pollsmoor prison in 1982 and was released from jail on 15 October 1989 at the age of 60, having spent just over 26 years in jail for his anti-apartheid activities.

Reuters |

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South Korea prosecutors seek arrest of ex-president Park over corruption scandal

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South Korea prosecutors seek arrest of ex-president Park over corruption scandal

Posted on 27 March 2017 by GGS News

Seoul : South Korean prosecutors sought an arrest warrant on Monday for ousted president Park Geun-Hye, they said, days after questioning her over the corruption and abuse of power scandal that brought her downPark, 65, had her removal from office confirmed by the country’s top court earlier this month, ending her executive immunity, and her prosecution has been a key demand of the millions of people who took to the streets to protest against her.

The former president is accused of multiple offences including bribery, leaking government information, and abuse of power in the scandal.

“The accused abused her enormous power and status as president to receive bribes from companies or to infringe upon the rights to freedom of corporate management and leaked important confidential information on state affairs. These are grave issues,” the prosecutors said in a statement.

“A large amount of evidence has been collected so far but the accused is denying most of the charges, and there is a risk of destroying evidence in the future,” it said.
Choi Soon-Sil, Park’s secret confidante at the heart of the scandal, is already on trial for forcing top local firms to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations she allegedly used for personal gain.

Prosecutors said it would be “counter to the principle of fairness” if Park was not arrested.

If Seoul Central District Court approves the warrant, Park will become the third former leader to be arrested over corruption in Asia’s fourth-largest economy, where politics and big business have long been closely tied.

Two former army-backed leaders who ruled in the 1980s and 1990s — Chun Doo-Hwan and Roh Tae-Woo — both served jail terms for charges including bribery after they retired.
Park has been named as Choi’s accomplice for allegedly offering governmental favours to top businessmen who enriched her friend, including Samsung heir Lee Jae-Yong, who was arrested last month and charged with bribery last month.

She is also accused of letting Choi, a high school graduate with no title or security clearance, handle a wide range of state affairs including nomination of top officials.
Park, daughter of late dictator Park Chung-Hee, is also said to have ordered aides to leak secret state files to Choi, and to have cracked down on thousands of artists who had voiced criticisms of her or her father’s iron-fisted rule from 1961 to 1979.

Park was elected in 2012, largely thanks to a bedrock of support among older, conservative voters who benefited from rapid economic growth under her father’s rule.

 

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Al Qaeda wants to create local leadership in South Asia: US official

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Al Qaeda wants to create local leadership in South Asia: US official

Posted on 27 March 2017 by GGS News

Washington: The top al Qaeda leadership has started nurturing terror units in South Asia, including in India, to give a local face to their outfit, according to a senior US defence official.
“We believe that Qaeda’s senior most leadership realises that their presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been under pressure for quite some time. So, they wanted to create an organisation with more of a local face. People that are South Asian as opposed to Egyptian or something else that can last there long term,” the senior defence official said.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official was responding to a question on the activities of Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and its relationship with Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

According to the official, the creation of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent is part of the long-term planning of the Qaeda leadership to develop local leadership in the region.

“We believe it was created specifically as Qaeda’s permanent presence within South Asia,” the official said.

“So by South Asia means Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh…That whole region. Not just Afghanistan. And, certainly some of the intelligence that we found through raids in Afghanistan have indicated that there are connections between AQIS (Qaeda in Syria) guys in Afghanistan and people in Bangladesh and elsewhere within South Asia,” the official said.

“So, there’s a definite direct connection there. In the long-term planning, there, as well. We believe that Al Qaeda’s senior most leadership realises that their presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been under pressure for quite some time,” the official said.

Responding to questions, the official, who keep tracks of development on al Qaeda and ISIS front, said that there are “definite” links between the Islamic State leadership in Syria and Iraq and those in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The core of Al Qaeda leadership is still in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the official pointed out.

Announcing the formation of Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent, its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had said it would be “good news for Muslims in Burma, Bangladesh and in the Indian states of Assam, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir, where they would be rescued from injustice and oppression”.

PTI |

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Pakistan starts fencing Afghanistan border in ”high-threat zones”

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Pakistan starts fencing Afghanistan border in ”high-threat zones”

Posted on 27 March 2017 by GGS News

Pakistan starts fencing Afghanistan border in ”high-threat zones” Photo By Reuters

Islamabad : Pakistan has begun building a fence on its disputed 2,500 km (1,500 mile) border with Afghanistan to prevent incursions by militants, Pakistan`s army chief said, in a move likely to further strain relations between the two countries.
Pakistan has blamed Pakistani Taliban militants it says are based on Afghan soil for a spate of attacks at home in recent months, urging Kabul to eradicate “sanctuaries” for militants.
Citing the attacks, Islamabad earlier this month temporarily shut the main crossing points along the colonial-era Durand Line border, drawn up in 1893 and rejected by Afghanistan.

General Qamar Javed Bajwa said initial fencing will focus on “high threat zones” of Bajaur and Mohmand agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which border eastern Afghan provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar.

“Additional technical surveillance means are also being deployed along the border besides regular air surveillance,” the military said in a statement over the weekend, citing Bajwa.There was no immediate comment from Afghan authorities.

Relations between Kabul and Islamabad have been tense in recent years, with both countries accusing each other of not doing enough to tackle Pakistani and Afghan Taliban militants.

Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to Afghan Taliban commanders on its soil and even of supporting the militant group, something Islamabad denies.
Bajwa said Pakistan was working on plans to “evolve a bilateral security mechanism” with Afghanistan.

“A better managed, secure and peaceful border is in mutual interest of both brotherly countries who have given phenomenal sacrifices in war against terrorism,” Bajwa added.
Pakistan has long harboured ambitions to seal its border, which is largely unpatrolled and mountainous for large chunks.

In 2007, the military said it was fencing and mining a 35 km (22 miles) stretch of border in the North Waziristan region of FATA to prevent militants crisscrossing the rugged terrain.

Efforts to establish a more permanent presence on the disputed frontier have angered Kabul. Last year, Pakistan`s attempt to build a barrier on the main Torkham crossing ended in brief cross-border skirmishes.

In recent weeks at least two US drone strikes have targeted Pakistani militants on the Afghan side of the frontier.

Reuters |

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Anti-corruption protests sweep Russia; Opposition leader held

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Anti-corruption protests sweep Russia; Opposition leader held

Posted on 27 March 2017 by GGS News

Moscow : Russia’s main Opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was arrested at an anti-corruption protest he organised here on Sunday.

Thousands of people joined rallies nationwide, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev over corruption allegations, BBC reported.

At least 500 other protesters were detained in the capital and across the country.

In a tweet after his detention, Navalny urged fellow protesters to continue with the demonstration.

“Guys, I’m fine. No need to fight to get me out. Walk along Tverskaya (Moscow main street). Our topic of the day is the fight against corruption,” he said (in Russian).

Navalny, a lawyer and anti-corruption blogger who heads Russia’s Progress Party, called for the nationwide protests after he published reports claiming that Medvedev controlled mansions, yachts and vineyards — a fortune that far outstripped his official salary.

Medvedev’s spokeswoman called the allegations “propagandistic attacks”, but the Prime Minister himself has not commented on the claims.

In Moscow, protesters filled Pushkin square and some climbed the monument to poet Alexander Pushkin shouting “impeachment”. Turnout was estimated to be between 7,000 and 8,000, according to police.

The police said 500 protesters had been arrested in the capital alone, but a rights group, OVD Info, put that number at at least 700.TV pictures showed demonstrators chanting “Down with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin!”, “Russia without Putin!” and “Putin is a thief!”.

The marches appeared to be the biggest since anti-government demonstrations in 2011/2012, BBC added.

Demonstrations were also held in Saint Petersburg, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk, Tomsk and several other cities, where arrests had also been reported.

Navalny became known as one of the leading critics of Putin and the ruling United Russia party during protests in 2011 against Putin’s return to the presidency.

IANS |

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US-backed forces capture Islamic State-held airport near Euphrates dam in Syria

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US-backed forces capture Islamic State-held airport near Euphrates dam in Syria

Posted on 27 March 2017 by GGS News

US-backed forces capture Islamic State-held airport near Euphrates dam in Syria

Beirut : A United States-backed Syrian alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias on Sunday took a military airport in northern Syria held by Islamic State, close to the country`s largest dam that may be in danger of collapse.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by a U.S.-led international coalition, said in a statement it had seized the air base.

Earlier, SDF spokesman Talal Silo said its fighters had seized “60 to 70 percent” of the airport but were still engaged in intense clashes with the ultra-hardline militants inside the air base and on its outskirts.

The SDF, backed by U.S. special forces in a campaign that has driven Islamic State from large swathes of northern Syria, fights separately from other rebel groups that seek to topple President Bashar al-Assad`s rule.

The SDF has been battling the militants near the Tabqa dam and air base west of the Syrian city of Raqqa in an accelerating campaign to capture Islamic State`s stronghold.
Hundreds of families were fleeing the city of Tabqa to the relative safety of outlying areas as U.S.-led coalition air strikes intensified in the past few days, according to former residents in touch with relatives.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said a week-long campaign of U.S-led strikes on Tabqa and the western countryside of Raqqa province had killed at least 90 civilians, a quarter of them children, while injuring dozens.

A media representative for the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State said it was looking into the Observatory`s assertion.

Last week, the Pentagon said there were no indications a U.S.-led coalition air strike near Raqqa had hit civilians, in response to an Observatory statement that at least 33 people were killed in a strike that hit a school sheltering displaced people near the city. The Pentagon added it would carry out further investigations.

A group of civic bodies and local and tribal notables from Raqqa province warned of an impending humanitarian crisis in the city of Raqqa as a result of the escalating campaign to seize the de facto capital of the militants.

“We call for immediate efforts to save people and protect them,” the statement of the Turkey-based opposition-run Local Council of Raqqa Province said, urging the international coalition to provide safe passage to civilians and ending bombing of infrastructure in the fight against Islamic State.

The Pentagon said last Wednesday it had for the first time airdropped local ground forces behind enemy lines near Tabqa in a move aimed at retaking the major dam.

Islamic State said on its social media channels that Tabqa dam had been put out of service and all flood gates were closed. It said the dam was at risk of collapse because of air strikes and increased water levels.

Islamic State captured the Tabqa Dam, also known as the Euphrates Dam, which is about 40 km (25 miles) upstream from Raqqa and the air base, at the height of its expansion in Syria and Iraq in 2014.

The United Nations warned this year of catastrophic flooding in Syria from the Tabqa dam, which is at risk from high water levels, deliberate sabotage by Islamic State and further damage from air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition.

The director of the Syrian government`s General Authority of Euphrates Dam that formerly operated the huge project blamed U.S. strikes in the past two days for disrupting internal control systems and putting the dam out of service, and warned of growing risks that could lead to flooding and future collapses.

“Before the latest strikes by the Americans, the dam was working. Two days ago, the dam was functioning normally,” Nejm Saleh told Reuters.

“God forbid … there could be collapses or big failures that could lead to flooding,” Saleh said.

An SDF spokesman denied that coalition strikes hit the structure of the dam and said the air drop landing last week was conducted to prevent any damage to the main structure by engaging the militants away from the dam.

“The capture of the dam is being conducted slowly and carefully and this is why the liberation of the dam needs more time,” Silo said, adding that militants dug inside the dam knowing they would not be hit for fear of damaging the dam.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had also learned from its own sources that the dam had stopped functioning but that Islamic State remained in control of its main operational buildings and turbines.

The dam is about 4.5 km (2.8 miles) long. The SDF has advanced a small distance along the dam from the northern bank but its progress is slow because Islamic State has heavily mined the area, the Observatory said

Reuters |

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US varsities register decline in Indian student applications: Survey

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US varsities register decline in Indian student applications: Survey

Posted on 27 March 2017 by GGS News

Washington : US universities have registered a sharp decline in the number of applications from Indian students after a spate of hate crimes and fear and anxiety about potential changes to visa policies by the Trump Administration.

According to the preliminary results of a survey of more than 250 American colleges and universities conducted by six top American higher education groups, students from India this fall registered a 26 per cent decline in undergraduate applications and 15 per cent decline has been reported in graduate applications.The full version of the ‘Open Doors 2016’ report is slated to be released later this week.

These higher educational institutions reported a drop of an average of 40 per cent application from international students.

The report said that India and China currently make up 47 per cent of US international student enrollment, with almost half a million Indian and Chinese students studying in the US.

China reported a drop of 25 per cent application in undergraduate studies and 32 per cent from graduate studies, said the survey report.

The survey was conducted jointly by American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, the Institute of International Education, Association of International Educators, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and its focus subgroup International Association for College Admission Counseling (ACAC).

The most frequently noted concerns of international students and their families, as reported by institution-based professionals, include perception of a rise in student visa denials at US embassies and consulates in China, India and Nepal and perception that the climate in the US is now less welcoming to individuals from other countries.

It also includes concerns that benefits and restrictions around visas could change, especially around the ability to travel, re-entry after travel, and employment opportunities and concerns that the Executive Order travel ban might expand to include additional countries.

“I’d say the rhetoric and actual executive orders are definitely having a chilling effect on decisions by current applicants/admitted students, and by extension are likely to affect future applicants as well,” Wim Wiewel, Portland State’s president, who was recently in India told Inside Higher Education.

“India’s demonetisation policy and the weakness of the value of the rupee against the dollar,” are other factors according to Wiewel, the news report said.

The Portland University has registered 27 per cent drop in Indian students this fall.

“However, we were struck by how much US higher education is still considered the holy grail, and that especially in the southern half of India almost every middle class family seems to have a relative in the US… Thus, if nothing too bad happens in the future we will recover from this, but people are watching,” he noted.

A lot of universities are concerned about declines in master’s students from India, John J Wood, the senior associate vice provost for international education, at the State University of New York at Buffalo, was quoted as saying by Inside Higher Education.

“A lot of the master’s students coming from India are ultimately hoping to get on the job market here through OPT (Optional Practical Training) and eventually H-1B,” Wood said.

The optional practical training programme allows international students to work for one to three years on their student visas after graduation.

“There’s a lot of fear and anxiety about potential changes to H-1B and/or OPT that would limit their opportunities. Making the decision to invest in a master’s program when the uncertainty on the other end is there is an issue for a lot of students in India,” he was quoted as saying by the report.

Recent killing of an Indian engineer in Kansas and other hate crime is another factor that would have an impact on application of students from India, Woo said.

“Those events affect us, whether we like it or not. The impact is not just going to be on Indian nationals. It could impact other students from other countries who may now be concerned about coming,” Ahmad Ezzeddine, associate vice president for educational outreach and international programs, at Wayne State University, told a media outlet that focuses on higher education. — PTI

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