Category: World Headlines

PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s cabinet takes oath

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s 43-member cabinet was sworn-in by President Mamnoon Hussain at a ceremony on Friday morning.

The new cabinet includes eight members from South Punjab, five each from Balochistan and Sindh, three from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and one each from FATA and Islamabad.

Sources said party MNAs Daniyal Aziz, Mir Dostain Domki, Ayaz Sherazi and Mumtaz Tarar did not attend the ceremony despite being on the list of new ministers.

Aziz is said to have reservations regarding his appointment as a state minister, according to sources. But Aziz rubbished such claims in a tweet, saying he stands with Nawaz Sharif.

A new ministry of ‘power’ has also been formed after combining the ministries of petroleum and electricity, sources added. A separate ministry of water will be formed as well. The prime minister, who held the portfolio of petroleum and natural resources ministry in the previous cabinet, will head the new power ministry.

The oath-taking ceremony took place at the Presidency and was attended by PML-N members and senior government officials, as well as people from other walks of life.

The members of the cabinet, speaking after the president, repeated their oath of office submitted the signed oaths to the president.

Following the oath-taking, the prime minister chaired the first session of his cabinet. The premier gave directions to the ministers to complete their designated tasks in the stipulated time period.

In the meeting, it was also decided that the cabinet will meet weekly so the ministries’ weekly progress can be gauged.

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Merkel meets with Putin on rare Russia visit

SOCHI, Russia: German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks yesterday with President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine and Syria in a signal of renewed dialogue despite profound rifts on her first visit to Russia since 2015.  “We cannot but use this visit to discuss bilateral relations and the most problematic points, by which I mean Ukraine and Syria and maybe some other regions,” Putin told Merkel at the start of the meeting in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

merkel-putin
SOCHI: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi yesterday. —AFP

The Russian and German leaders have scaled back links as Moscow’s ties with the EU plunged to a post-Cold War low over the crisis in Ukraine.  Berlin has said yesterday’s meeting would “above all” focus on the upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg in July and no breakthroughs were expected on major disagreements, although Putin earlier called for ties “to fully normalize.”

Merkel has strongly backed EU sanctions on Russia for seizing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and supporting the pro-Kremlin separatist insurgency in the east of the country. Moscow has responded with an embargo on agricultural products from the West. A European-brokered peace plan to end the conflict has hit a dead end.
The German leader last visited Russia in May 2015 when she met Putin in Moscow but, like most Western leaders, snubbed a Red Square parade for the 70th anniversary of World War II victory.

‘Difficult context’
Merkel has been the main mediator with Putin over the crisis in Ukraine. She is a key proponent of keeping sanctions on Moscow in place until a stalled peace plan to end the conflict in Europe’s backyard is fulfilled. Merkel and Putin have taken part in a number of four-way meetings, most recently last October, with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and France’s Francois Hollande aimed at implementing the plan the four countries hammered out in February 2015.

Last month, Merkel and Putin participated in a four-way phone conversation with Poroshenko and Hollande, agreeing to step up the peace deal’s implementation. “There are two topics that weigh down relations… the annexation of Crimea contrary to international law and then the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists,” Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert told journalists ahead of the visit.

Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of providing military support to the rebels in eastern Ukraine, a charge it denies. Both sides have also said the talks will cover the conflict in Syria, where Putin’s military backing for leader Bashar al-Assad has set him at odds with the West.
In her first official visit to Russia last week, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini insisted that cooperation between the two sides was “not frozen” but said progress was hampered by profound disagreements on subjects including Ukraine and Syria.

‘Diplomatic ice age thawing’
The G20 is now the only format for Russia to meet the other major international powers after its exclusion from the G8, now the G7. At the G20 summit, Putin is expected to meet US President Donald Trump. Immediately after meeting Merkel the Kremlin strongman is set to hold his third phone call with Trump.

Merkel visited Saudi Arabia on Sunday for talks focusing on preparations for the G20. German broadcaster Deutsche Welle suggested ahead of Merkel’s visit that “the diplomatic ice age… might be nearing an end” as it sends “a strong diplomatic signal” of both sides’ willingness to engage.

The leaders are set to hold a press conference at 1230 GMT between two rounds of talks, Seibert said. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also due to meet Putin in Sochi today. The two leaders have inched closer together on Syria as Erdogan’s ties with Europe have plummeted.  – AFP

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Kim Jong-un oversees display of N Korea military force

New long-range ballistic missiles on show during massive parade celebrating country’s founder as US armada approaches.

North Korea on Saturday displayed what appeared to be new long-range and submarine-based missiles at a massive military parade celebrating the 105th birth anniversary of the nation’s founding president, Kim Il-sung.

The parade, attended by leader Kim Jong-un, saw thousands of soldiers marching through the capital, Pyongyang.

North Korea blames US ‘aggression’ amid tension

Weapons analysts said they believed some of the missiles on display were new types of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), enclosed in canister launchers mounted on the back of trucks.

North Korea’s Pukkuksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) were also on parade. It was the first time North Korea had shown the missiles, which have a range of more than 1,000km, at a military parade.

As a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier group steamed towards the Korean Peninsula, a top North Korean official issued a warning against the United States during the ceremony.

Choe Ryong Hae – widely seen by analysts as North Korea’s second most important official – said US President Donald Trump was guilty of “creating a war situation” by dispatching US forces to the region.

“We will respond to an all-out war with an all-out war and a nuclear war with our style of a nuclear attack,” said Choe.

Al Jazeera’s Nassir Abdulhaq, reporting live from the parade in Pyongyang, said that while it is usual for people in North Korea to mark this anniversary, the scale of this year’s event and the defiance of North Korea’s rhetoric was striking.

“It’s clear that North Korea wants to flex its military muscles amid the recent threats from the deployment of US warships towards the Korean peninsula,” said Abdulhaq.

North Korean soldiers march and shout slogans during the military parade in Pyongyang [Damir Sagolj/Reuters]

State television showed Kim, wearing a black suit and white shirt, stepping out of a black limousine and saluting his honour guard before walking down a red carpet.

He then walked up to a podium and clapped with senior government officials to address the thousands of soldiers and a massive crowd taking part in the parade.

North Korea showcases new missiles at military parade

Kim Jong-un oversees display of N Korea military force

New long-range ballistic missiles on show during massive parade celebrating country’s founder as US armada approaches.

North Korea on Saturday displayed what appeared to be new long-range and submarine-based missiles at a massive military parade celebrating the 105th birth anniversary of the nation’s founding president, Kim Il-sung.

The parade, attended by leader Kim Jong-un, saw thousands of soldiers marching through the capital, Pyongyang.

North Korea blames US ‘aggression’ amid tension

Weapons analysts said they believed some of the missiles on display were new types of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), enclosed in canister launchers mounted on the back of trucks.

North Korea’s Pukkuksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) were also on parade. It was the first time North Korea had shown the missiles, which have a range of more than 1,000km, at a military parade.

As a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier group steamed towards the Korean Peninsula, a top North Korean official issued a warning against the United States during the ceremony.

Choe Ryong Hae – widely seen by analysts as North Korea’s second most important official – said US President Donald Trump was guilty of “creating a war situation” by dispatching US forces to the region.

“We will respond to an all-out war with an all-out war and a nuclear war with our style of a nuclear attack,” said Choe.

Al Jazeera’s Nassir Abdulhaq, reporting live from the parade in Pyongyang, said that while it is usual for people in North Korea to mark this anniversary, the scale of this year’s event and the defiance of North Korea’s rhetoric was striking.

“It’s clear that North Korea wants to flex its military muscles amid the recent threats from the deployment of US warships towards the Korean peninsula,” said Abdulhaq.

North Korean soldiers march and shout slogans during the military parade in Pyongyang [Damir Sagolj/Reuters]

State television showed Kim, wearing a black suit and white shirt, stepping out of a black limousine and saluting his honour guard before walking down a red carpet.

He then walked up to a podium and clapped with senior government officials to address the thousands of soldiers and a massive crowd taking part in the parade.

The display suggested that Pyongyang was working towards a “new concept” of ICBM, Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the US-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, told the Reuters news agency.

“However, North Korea has a habit of showing off new concepts in parades before they ever test or launch them,” Hanham said. “It is still early days for these missile designs”.

Joshua Pollack, editor of the Washington-based Nonproliferation Review, told Reuters that the display indicates North Korea is progressing with its plan to base missiles on submarines, which are hard to detect.

“It suggests a commitment to this programme,” said Pollack. “Multiple SLBMs seems like a declaration of intent to advance the programme”.

Al Jazeera’s Craig Leeson, reporting from Seoul, in the South, said Kim Il-sung’s birthday, also known as the Day of the Sun, is a day for celebration in North Korea, but also a day for analysts to observe the military parade.

“What we’ve seen already is that it’s a very large parade. We had expected it would possibly be the largest that they’ve held,” our correspondent said.

North Korea’s Ballistic Missiles [Al Jazeera]

He said analysts are noting who is standing beside Kim Jong-un – on his right, the country’s second-highest ranking official, who heads the military, and on his left, the country’s premier.

“What analysts believe is that this is sending a message that Kim Jong-un maintains his dual track policy,” Leeson said.

“That is the military deterrent and developing that military deterrent. And on his left, the economic policy, bringing North Korea into the modern world. That includes the business world, engaging China, its biggest trading partner, and maintaining its strength on the peninsula.”

‘Military hysteria’

In his annual New Year’s address, Kim said that the country’s preparations for an inter-continental ballistic missile launch have “reached the final stage”. Analysts say commercial satellite images from recent weeks indicate increased activity around North Korea’s nuclear test site.

North Korea warned the US to end its “military hysteria” earlier on Saturday or face retaliation as the US Navy deployed in the region

North Korea warns US over aircraft carrier deployment

“All the brigandish provocative moves of the US in the political, economic and military fields pursuant to its hostile policy toward the DPRK will thoroughly be foiled through the toughest counteraction of the army and people of the DPRK,” North Korea’s KCNA news agency said, citing a spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army.

DPRK stands for the official name of North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“Our toughest counteraction against the US and its vassal forces will be taken in such a merciless manner as not to allow the aggressors to survive.”

It said the Trump administration’s “serious military hysteria” has reached a “dangerous phase which can no longer be overlooked”.

The US has warned that a policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea is over.

US Vice President Mike Pence travels to South Korea on Sunday on a long-planned 10-day trip to Asia.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally and neighbour, which nevertheless opposes its weapons programme, on Friday again called for talks to defuse the crisis.

“We call on all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, whether in words or actions, and not let the situation get to an irreversible and unmanageable stage,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing.

North Korea, still technically at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce but not a treaty, has on occasion conducted missile or nuclear tests to coincide with big political events and often threatens the United States, South Korea and Japan.

“You have two of the most unpredictable people on the world stage facing off against each other,” Einar Tangen, a China analyst, told Al Jazeera – referring to Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. “You have armed armadas in position, and you have 11,000 – reportedly – pieces of artillery aimed at Seoul. It’s an explosive situation. The question is – how will it be resolved?”

Jim Walsh, a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Al Jazeera that he believed North Korea would conduct a nuclear test but said it was unlikely that the US or its allies would respond militarily.

“I don’t think [the US would] be sending the vice president to Seoul if they were going to respond militarily…also the US policy review on North Korea was concluded last week and basically ruled out military options,” said Walsh.

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India knows why Pakistan sentenced Jadhav to death, says envoy Basit

Pakistan's Envoy to India. Abdul Basit.
Pakistan’s Envoy to India. Abdul Basit.

Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit defended the death sentence given to Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav by a Field General Court Martial, saying he received a fair trial, the details of which could not be made public, but the Indian government was aware of “what [Pakistan] is talking about”.

In an interview with India Today on Wednesday, Basit said Jadhav was “not an ordinary man. He was a serving [Indian navy] officer,” which is why he was tried in a military court “as so many other Pakistanis have been tried before [him]”.

Jadhav was arrested on March 3, 2016, in a counter-intelligence operation in Balochistan’s Mashkel area for his involvement in espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan.

The charges he faced included spying for India, working against Pakistan’s integrity, sponsoring terrorism in the country and attempting to destabilize the state.

Defending Jadhav’s sentencing, the envoy to India said that Pakistan has “arrested hundreds of operatives and foot soldiers on the basis of information provided by Jadhav” ever since his arrest.

When asked why was India not allowed consular access to Jadhav despite regulations under international law, Basit said that consular access is not “automatic”, especially for matters that are “sensitive and related to security”.

“Consular access is not provided across the board, let us remember that,” he maintained.

“We must understand Commander Jadhav had been visiting Pakistan since 2003 on an original, genuine Indian passport under the fake name of Mubarak Hussain Patel. It is for you to tell us why he was travelling under a fake name with an original Indian passport,” the envoy said.

While drawing a parallel between Jadhav’s trial and the trial of Ajmal Kassab — whom India indicted and hanged over the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Basit said: “My advice to you would be that please do not mix apples with oranges lest you draw convoluted conclusions.”

INDIAN RAW AGENT. KULBHUSAN YADAV (CAPTURED BY ISI-PAKISTAN ARMY)
INDIAN RAW AGENT. KULBHUSAN YADAV (CAPTURED BY ISI-PAKISTAN ARMY)

He said Pakistan cannot be blamed “if the trial in the Mumbai attacks had not been fast [enough]”.

Basit further said that Pakistan first submitted a dossier on Jadhav to the United Nations Secretary-General in September 2016. “That was our initial dossier and we have been able to gather more evidence [since then],” he added.

“Now that [Jadhav] has been convicted, he would have the right to appeal. If his verdict is upheld by the appellate court, then he would ultimately have the right to a [mercy] petition,” the envoy confirmed, adding that Jadhav was provided a defence counsel and that his trial was conducted according to the relevant laws, the Pakistan Army Act of 1952, in the country.

Source:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1326535

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US military drops ‘mother of all bombs on IS’ in Afghanistan

The US military has dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat on an Islamic State group tunnel complex in Afghanistan, the Pentagon says.

The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), known as "the mother of all bombs", was first tested in 2003, but had not been used before.

The Pentagon said it was dropped from a US aircraft in Nangarhar province.

The news came hours after the Pentagon admitted an air strike in Syria mistakenly killed 18 rebels.

It said a partnered force had mistakenly identified the target location as an IS position, but the strike on 11 April had killed rebels from the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is backed by Washington.

'Many militants killed'

The strike in Afghanistan follows last week's death of a US special forces soldier fighting IS in Nangarhar.

The 21,600lb (9,800kg) bomb was dropped in Achin district on Thursday evening local time, the Pentagon said. It is more than 9m (30 feet) in length.

"We targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters use to move around freely, making it easier for them to target US military advisers and Afghan forces in the area," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, using another name for IS.

He said necessary precautions were taken to prevent civilian casualties and "collateral damage".

The area where the bomb was dropped is mostly mountainous and sparsely populated, BBC correspondents say. Local sources said the explosion was so powerful it was heard in two neighbouring districts.

The US has not yet confirmed the results of the strike, but a local official told the BBC that many IS militants were killed, allegedly including the brother of a senior leader.


'A huge weapon' - Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent

The clue is in the ungainly name - the MOAB or GBU-43/B massive ordnance air blast is the US military's most destructive conventional (that is non-nuclear) bomb.

It is a huge weapon, and is GPS-guided. This looks to be the first time it has ever been used in combat.

It was dropped from a MC-130 aircraft - the US Special Forces variant of the Hercules transport. The weapon is carried on a special cradle inside the aircraft from which it is extracted by a parachute.

Its principle effect is a massive blast over a huge area. It is a larger version of weapons used during the Vietnam War.

The Trump administration's policy towards Afghanistan remains under consideration but the use of this weapon sends a powerful signal that IS is top of the administration's target list wherever its offshoots may be found.


Gen John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said the jihadist group's "losses have mounted, they are using IEDs, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defence.

"This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption IS fighters have moved from Arab countries into Afghanistan

IS announced the establishment of its Khorasan branch - an old name for Afghanistan and surrounding areas - in January 2015. It was the first time that IS had officially spread outside the Arab world.

It was the first major militant group to directly challenge the Afghan Taliban's dominance over the local insurgency.

However, experts say it has struggled to build a wide political base and the indigenous support it expected in Afghanistan.

Estimates about IS's numerical strength inside Afghanistan vary, ranging from several hundred to a few thousand.

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