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Jharkhand coal mine death toll rises to 16, some still trapped | Reuters

BHUBANESWAR, India The death toll in a coal mine collapse in Jharkhand rose to 16 on Saturday and could rise further, officials said, as some people are still feared trapped at a coalfield run by state-owned Coal India Limited.The accident occurred on Thursday evening at the Lalmatia mine, one of the country’s largest, which is owned by Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL).”At night (on Friday), the rescue operation was slow due to fog,” R.R. Amitabh, a senior officer at ECL, told Reuters, adding that about 30 percent of the collapsed mine waste had been removed.Coal India has a poor safety record, with 135 accidents reported last year, killing 37 people and injuring 141, the company said in a report.

Operations at the mine in Godda district, about 280 km (175 miles) from the state capital, Ranchi, have since been stopped, Amitabh said.The state police spokesman R.K. Mullick said the number of people still trapped may be less than the nearly two dozen assumed earlier, based on the number of families who were searching for their kin.

The mine has an annual capacity of 17 million tonnes and accounts for about half of ECL’s coal production. Last month, ECL accounted for about 9 percent of Coal India’s total production of 50 million tonnes.

The federal coal ministry has ordered an investigation and announced some cash compensation to the families of miners who died in the accident. (Reporting by Jatindra Dash; Writing by Malini Menon; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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First Published On : Dec 31, 2016 18:12 IST

Apple to cut iPhone production in first quarter of 2017: report | Reuters

Apple to cut iPhone production in first quarter of 2017: report | Reuters

Dec 30, 2016 23:43 IST

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Apple Inc (AAPL.O) will trim production of iPhones by about 10 percent in the January-March quarter of 2017, the Nikkei financial daily reported on Thursday, citing calculations based on data from suppliers.The company had slashed output by 30 percent in January-March this year due to accumulated inventory, the paper said. Apple’s shares were down 0.84 percent in midday trading, in line with the Nasdaq stock index.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.

(Reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 23:43 IST

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Israel warns on travel to India, citing immediate threat of attacks | Reuters

Israel warns on travel to India, citing immediate threat of attacks | Reuters

Dec 30, 2016 23:39 IST

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JERUSALEM Israel’s anti-terrorism directorate issued a travel warning for India on Friday, citing an immediate threat of attack to Western and tourist targets, particularly in the south-west of the country.”A particular emphasis should be put on events in the coming days in connection with beach and club parties celebrating the New Year where a concentration of tourists will be high,” part of the warning said.The statement recommended that tourists avoid participation in such parties. It also called on families in Israel to contact their relatives in India and tell them of the threat.In addition, it recommended avoiding markets, festivals and crowded shopping areas. Unusually, the warning was published on Friday evening in Israel, after the start of the Jewish Sabbath, when government offices close for business.

The directorate did not say what prompted the warning.In 2012, the wife of Israeli diplomat stationed in India, her driver and two others were wounded in a bomb attack on her car. Israel and India share close military ties.

(Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Larry King)

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First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 23:39 IST

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Israel issues severe travel warning for India, citing immediate threat of attacks | Reuters

Israel issues severe travel warning for India, citing immediate threat of attacks | Reuters

Dec 30, 2016 23:02 IST

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JERUSALEM Israel’s anti-terrorism directorate on Friday issued a travel warning for India, citing an immediate threat of attack to Western and tourist targets, particularly in the south-west of the country.”A particular emphasis should be put on events in the coming days in connection with beach and club parties celebrating the New Year where a concentration of tourists will be high,” part of the warning said.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Jason Neely)

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First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 23:02 IST

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LIVE Australia Vs Pakistan Live Score

AUS vs PAK | Dec 26th, 2016

PAK 163 10 53.2

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LIVE South Africa Vs Sri Lanka Live Score

SA vs SL | Dec 26th, 2016

SL 281 10 96.3

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Taiwan announces U.S. itinerary for president, upsetting China | Reuters

By J.R. Wu
| TAIPEI

TAIPEI Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will transit through Houston and San Francisco during a January visit to allies in Latin America, her office said Friday, prompting China to repeat a call for the United States to block any such stopover. Tsai’s office declined to comment on whether she would be meeting members of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s team, but the U.S. mission in Taiwan, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), said the visit would be “private and unofficial”.Trump angered China when he spoke to Tsai this month in a break with decades of precedent and cast doubt on his incoming administration’s commitment to Beijing’s “one China” policy.An adviser to Trump’s transition team said he thought “further high-level engagement for the foreseeable future is unlikely” when asked if any meetings were planned. The adviser did not want to be identified by name.China is deeply suspicious of Tsai, who it thinks wants to push for the formal independence of Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing regards as a renegade province, ineligible for state-to-state relations.China’s Foreign Ministry repeated a previous call for the United States not to allow the transit and not send any “wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces”.

“We think everyone is very clear on her real intentions,” the ministry said, without explaining.The United States, which switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, has acknowledged the Chinese position that there is only “one China” and that Taiwan is part of it.Tsai is transiting through the United States on her way to and from visiting Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. She will leave Taiwan on Jan. 7 and return on Jan. 15.Tsai will arrive in Houston on Jan. 7 and leave the following day. On her return, she will arrive in San Francisco on Jan. 13, Presidential Office spokesman Alex Huang told a regular news briefing.

The AIT said the transit did not contradict the “one China” policy.”President Tsai’s transit through the United States is based on long-standing U.S. practice and is consistent with the unofficial nature of our relations with Taiwan,” Alys Spensley, acting AIT spokeswoman, told Reuters.”There is no change to the U.S. ‘one China’ policy,” she added.

Spensley said Tsai’s transits would be “private and unofficial”. The U.S. State Department said AIT chairman Ambassador James Moriarty would greet Tsai in Houston and San Francisco.China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s Communist forces won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists fled to the island.Speaking to members of China’s largely ceremonial advisory body to parliament on Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said next year China would make “unremitting efforts” at unification and developing peaceful relations across the Taiwan Strait, state news agency Xinhua said.Taiwan had as many as 30 diplomatic allies in the mid-1990s, but now has formal relations with 21, mostly smaller and poorer nations in Latin America and the Pacific and also including the Vatican. (Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and James Dalgleish)

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First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 22:41 IST

British police say George Michael autopsy inconclusive, more tests needed | Reuters

British police say George Michael autopsy inconclusive, more tests needed | Reuters

Dec 30, 2016 21:32 IST

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LONDON The cause of singer George Michael’s death this week is unclear after an initial autopsy and more tests are needed, British police said on Friday.British singer Michael, who became one of the pop idols of the 1980s with Wham! and then forged a career as a successful solo artist, died at his home in southern England on Sunday. He was 53.”A post mortem examination was carried out yesterday as part of the investigation into the death of George Michael,” Thames Valley police said.

“The cause of death is inconclusive and further tests will now be carried out. The results of these tests are unlikely to be known for several weeks,” they added in a statement.British police had said that Michael’s death was “unexplained but not suspicious”. Michael’s manager, Michael Lippman, said he had died of heart failure.

In the mid-1980s, “Wham! were one of the most successful pop duos with singles such as “”Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, “”Careless Whisper”, ““Last Christmas” and ““The Edge of Heaven”.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Stephen Addison and Alison Williams)

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First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 21:32 IST

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China blocks India’s request for U.N. to blacklist Masood Azhar | Reuters

NEW DELHI China has blocked India’s request to add the head of the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad to a U.N. Security Council blacklist of groups linked to al Qaeda, India said on Friday.India has accused Jaish-e-Mohammad and its top leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, of masterminding several attacks, including a deadly assault on an Indian air base in January.Pakistani security officials interrogated Azhar and his associates after the attack, and said they found no evidence linking him to it.Jaish-e-Mohammad has already been blacklisted by the 15-nation Security Council, but not Azhar, an Islamist hardliner and long-time foe of India.Foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said that India had requested that Azhar be added to the list nine months ago and had received strong backing from all other members of the council.But China, which put a hold on the move in April, had now blocked it, he said.

“We had expected China would have been more understanding of the danger posed to all by terrorism,” he said in a statement.Swarup added that the inability of the international community to take the step showed the “prevalence of double standards in the fight against terrorism”.China’s foreign ministry said there were different views about the case, so China had put forward a “technical shelving” to give more time for consultation, but that regretfully no consensus had been reached.

China’s aim is to maintain the authority and effectiveness of name listing by the committee discussing the case, which accords with Security Council resolutions and is the responsible thing to do, it said in a statement sent to Reuters.China will continue to maintain communication with all parties, it added.

India has long accused its neighbour and rival Pakistan of using Jaish-e-Mohammad as a proxy to mount attacks on Indian soil, including in the disputed Kashmir region, and earlier gave what it called “actionable intelligence” to Pakistan, including telephone intercepts.Pakistan denies giving any aid to Kashmir-based militants.If Azhar was blacklisted by the U.N. Security Council, he would face a global travel ban and asset freeze. (Reporting by Paritosh Bansal in NEW DELHI and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; editing by Mike Collett-White and Jason Neely)

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First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 19:02 IST

India’s cash crunch making some in Modi’s party anxious | Reuters

By Rupam Jain
| NEW DELHI

NEW DELHI Cash shortages weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s decision to abolish large currency notes are making allies and members of his ruling party anxious, with some distancing themselves from the move ahead of a series of state elections.Modi removed 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, worth around $7.50 and $15 respectively, on Nov. 8, billing it as an attempt to root out corruption, end terror financing and move the country into the age of digital payments.He promised to replace all old bills with enough new currency notes by the end of this month. But his government has struggled to do that, leading to long lines at banks and a slump in economy activity. Nearly 90 percent of transactions in India used to be in cash.Interviews with six lawmakers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a senior leader of the party’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), show his party cadre is starting to worry that the cash crunch could hurt their prospects in several states that go to the polls next year.Some parliamentarians said that while they thought Modi’s decision was good, its execution had been botched and they were faced with constituents who were increasingly upset.”There is no doubt that it is difficult to convince voters that everything will be fine,” said Santosh Gangwar, the junior finance minister who is leading the BJP campaign in Uttar Pradesh.      “Every candidate who will be contesting polls is nervous because they feel people may not vote for the BJP … There is tension and we cannot deny it,” he said.    Of the BJP’s 71 MPs from Uttar Pradesh, 28 have been to BJP President Amit Shah and the finance minister’s office to seek solutions for the cash crunch, said a senior finance ministry official.BJP EXPECTS “BIG VICTORY”

BJP spokesman G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said that despite temporary difficulties, the prime minister continued to enjoy overwhelming support.”Party cadres are highly enthused about a big victory in upcoming elections, and if a few are apprehensive, they will realise the reality soon,” Rao said.    Disquiet within the BJP underscores how Modi’s unprecedented bet is turning into a test of popularity, and could go some way to determining his political future.It has become a central issue in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, where the outcome of elections early next year will be key for Modi’s expected bid for a second term in 2019.    The opposition, led by the Congress party, has joined forces, mocking the government for being ill-prepared for so-called “demonetisation” and blaming it for hardships faced by the poor as a result. It has called for Modi’s resignation.     The senior RSS official said they had counselled Modi days before the move to take time to prepare the ground for such a massive exercise, including setting up two new mints and expanding the banking network, and to roll it out in phases.

    But the prime minister decided to press ahead, and he alone would bear responsibility for its failure or success, the official added.    Earlier this month, N. Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and a political ally of Modi, abruptly distanced himself from the move.    Modi and senior members of his cabinet defend demonetisation. In an interview with India Today magazine on Thursday, Modi said it would give the economy a boost and provide long-term benefits, including forcing the country’s vast shadow economy into the open.”GRIM SITUATION”

    Modi’s announcement enjoyed popular support at first, with many people prepared to endure hardship as long as others were forced to give up ill-gotten wealth or pay tax.But shortages of new 500 and 2,000 rupee notes have caused tempers to rise as millions queue at banks and ATMs to draw money.    Last week, more than three dozen BJP lawmakers, many of whom came from states that go to polls next year, met with Shah to demand that the government sends more cash to their constituencies, and quickly.     The MPs told Shah about severe cash shortages and hardship to local businesses and ordinary people, according to several lawmakers who attended the meeting.They told the BJP president that they did not have the courage to hold election rallies at a time when people still had to stand in line, sometimes for hours, to get money. Some said they had not started door-to-door campaigning.    “The situation is grim, and we cannot ignore it,” Jagdambika Pal, a BJP lawmaker from Uttar Pradesh who attended the meeting, told Reuters. “It is a challenge for every BJP lawmaker to manage the situation, but we cannot do anything if there is no money in the banks.”($1 = 67.9550 rupees) (Additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh and Manoj Kumar; Editing by Paritosh Bansal and Mike Collett-White)

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First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 18:20 IST

Chilean Navy sailors accused of secretly filming female crewmates | Reuters

Chilean Navy sailors accused of secretly filming female crewmates | Reuters

Dec 29, 2016 23:16 IST

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SANTIAGO Chilean authorities said on Thursday they are investigating allegations that female sailors were secretly videotaped in their quarters on a naval vessel and that those images were then shared via social media by other crew members.The Navy detained the sailors accused of secretly recording their female counterparts. It said “it roundly rejects these types of actions that insult our personnel and we reiterate our respect for the privacy of those that form part of the institution.”Chile’s Defense Minister Jose Antonio Gomez said that sanction for these actions would “set an example.”After receiving a complaint from a sailor who had seen the recordings of the women shared on a WhatsApp group, Chile’s naval prosecutor opened an investigation into at least nine seamen, the Estrella de Valparaiso newspaper reported on Thursday. Other local media said eight sailor are being investigated.According to the paper, investigators found “elaborate and complex technical [filming] apparatus” in various strategic locations on the ship.

“If it’s true what happened on the frigate Lynch it is unacceptable,” Chilean President Michelle Bachelet wrote on Twitter.”Let’s end all forms of violence against women!”

Earlier in December, a Chilean business leader sparked a social media storm and criticism by Bachelet for presenting the nation’s economy minister with an inflatable sex doll as a gift at an industry dinner.Despite being South America’s most prosperous nation by most measures, Chile is more socially conservative than many of its neighbors and traditional gender attitudes persist.

Abortion is illegal in all circumstances, divorce was only legalized in 2006, and women’s participation in the labor market remains low. (Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Anthony Esposito and Andrea Ricci)

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First Published On : Dec 29, 2016 23:16 IST

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LIVE Australia Vs Pakistan Live Score

AUS vs PAK | Dec 26th, 2016

AUS 465 6 113.5

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WKTS

OVERS

LIVE South Africa Vs Sri Lanka Live Score

SA vs SL | Dec 26th, 2016

SL 240 5 83.0

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WKTS

OVERS

Cricket Scores

NSE’s IPO under cloud, but unlikely to be derailed | Reuters

By Abhirup Roy and Rafael Nam
| MUMBAI

MUMBAI The disclosure by the National Stock Exchange that some high-frequency trading brokers may have been provided unfair access to its servers is unlikely to derail the Indian bourse operator’s IPO plans, a senior regulatory source and investors said on Thursday.In its draft initial public offering prospectus, India’s biggest exchange said an external panel had found potential instances of some traders having preferential access to its network through co-location facilities – where private servers are placed at exchanges to speed up algorithmic trading.The NSE said the agency found certain employees may have been involved in providing that access, though it could not determine whether there was any collusion.The Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is studying the potential violations, but an official at the capital market regulator said, for now, it would be hard to justify steep penalties against the NSE.”The IPO is totally a disclosure based regime. The NSE has already made adequate disclosures, and they can go ahead,” the SEBI official said, asking not to be named as he was not authorized to talk to the media – though he added that no final decision had been made.The NSE’s IPO could raise as much as $1 billion next year, bankers have estimated, making it India’s largest in six years.An NSE spokesman said the disclosure in the IPO prospectus pertained to “legacy issues”, adding the exchange operator had submitted the full report to the SEBI.

One NSE shareholder, who is among the 27 investors planning to sell shares during the IPO, said the company will have to fix its problems and make sure they don’t recur.A senior NSE official said the exchange was reviewing its trading systems, and looking to standardise procedures.TOUGHER HFT RULES?

The suspected trading violations have been a concern for the SEBI for some months, and come as the NSE has grappled with governance issues.Earlier this year, the exchange operator appointed Ashok Chawla, a former anti-competition commissioner, as chairman, and reconstituted its board. Several people said then that he had been brought in to help shore up the company’s corporate governance standards.The NSE is also scouting for a new CEO after Chitra Ramkrishna resigned last month, citing personal reasons.

The SEBI had ordered the NSE to appoint an external agency probe after a committee appointed by the regulator found sufficient grounds for further investigation.The issue could also spur the SEBI to tighten rules on brokers’ access to increasingly prevalent algorithmic and high-frequency trading.The NSE said on Wednesday it had set aside all revenue generated by co-location facilities over the past two and a half years. That came to 13.1 billion rupees ($192.5 million), or close to 30 percent of its revenue during that period.The SEBI official said the regulator was unlikely to force the NSE to give up that revenue unless it could prove the potential trading violations cited in the report.($1 = 68.0600 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Abhirup Roy and Rafael Nam; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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First Published On : Dec 29, 2016 22:31 IST

Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa opposes land for Chinese investment | Reuters

By Shihar Aneez
| COLOMBO

COLOMBO Sri Lanka’s former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday criticised a government plan to grant 15,000 acres for Chinese investment in his constituency, saying it will deprive people of agricultural land.Rajapaksa, chided by the West and India for his close relations with China during his rule, is now agitating against President Maithripala Sirisena government’s moves to attract investment as he seeks to rally support under a new party.Despite his shock defeat in January 2015, Rajapaksa is still popular among Sinhala Buddhists, who accounts for 70 percent of the population, because of his leadership to end a 26-year war against Tamil Tiger separatists.He is backed by a newly formed party with around 45 legislators from the Sirisena-led Sri Lanka Freedom Party.However, while Sirisena’s coalition still has a two thirds majority in parliament and, under the constitution, the legislature cannot be dissolved until early 2020, local and provincial elections in 2017 could see Rajapaksa making gains.Sirisena government has agreed to give 15,000 acres of land to China in Rajapaksa’s constituency of Hambantota, where China Merchants Port Holdings Company will get 80 percent stake in a $1.5 billion port on a 99-year lease.

The government says the investment zone will create thousands of jobs. “These are people’s agricultural lands. We are not against Chinese or Indians or Americans coming here for investment. But we are against the land being given to them and the privatisation they are doing,” Rajapaksa told the Foreign Correspondents’ Association at his official residence in Colombo.He said he had discussed his concerns with Chinese officials when he visited Beijing on a one-week visit last month.

It is not clear whether his opposition and close ties to China could scupper the investment, creating further economic and diplomatic headaches for the government. China is Sri Lanka’s largest lender.But any groundswell of opposition to giving the land to the Chinese could cause problems, especially if the government ends up having to remove local residents and farmers by force. Some of the land is owned by the government. It is planning to pay compensation for the land it does not own. The deal is expected to be signed in early January.

“We’re worried about it. We don’t mind about an industrial park coming in, but not like this. 15,000 acres is too much. We wanted to give 750 acres (under the last regime). When they (China) asked for 1,000 acres, I said no,” Rajapaska said. Rajapaksa, now a legislator in opposition benches, oversaw $7 billion Chinese financing into Sri Lanka’s infrastructure. Sirisena stopped most Chinese projects, including a $1.4 billion land reclamation project launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping, citing corruption and lack of proper procedures, resulting in a bitter diplomatic relationship with China. However, later Sirisena allowed the resumption of projects with China. (Reporting by Shihar Aneez)

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First Published On : Dec 29, 2016 21:55 IST

Tata Sons asks Cyrus Mistry to return all confidential information | Reuters

Tata Sons asks Cyrus Mistry to return all confidential information | Reuters

Dec 29, 2016 20:20 IST

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MUMBAI Tata Sons demanded former chairman Cyrus Mistry return all confidential information and documents regarding the company in his possession, in its second legal notice in as many days.The letter, sent by Tata Sons’ lawyers, further demanded that Mistry sign a letter pledging not to disclose any confidential information regarding the company, including to affiliates, relatives and family members.”We have credible information that you have wrongfully and dishonestly taken movable property being confidential information,” said the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

The notice comes after Tata Sons, the holding firm for the $100 billion Tata conglomerate, on Tuesday accused Mistry of breaching confidentiality rules, and said it would take legal action against him.

(Reporting by Rafael Nam)

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First Published On : Dec 29, 2016 20:20 IST

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LIVE Australia Vs Pakistan Live Score

AUS vs PAK | Dec 26th, 2016

AUS 465 6 113.5

RUNS

WKTS

OVERS

LIVE South Africa Vs Sri Lanka Live Score

SA vs SL | Dec 26th, 2016

SL 240 5 83.0

RUNS

WKTS

OVERS

LIVE New Zealand Vs Bangladesh Live Score

NZ vs BAN | Dec 29th, 2016

BAN 184 10 42.4

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Researcher found security holes at smartphone-only bank N26 | Reuters

By Eric Auchard
| HAMBURG

HAMBURG German fintech company N26, which made its name mocking traditional banks, has found itself on the receiving end of criticism after a security researcher proved its smartphone apps exposed users to potential account hijacking.N26, previously known as Number26, has expanded rapidly since it launched in early 2015 as a smartphone-only bank with no local branches, with the backing of major global investors including Silicon Valley’s Peter Thiel.     Vincent Haupert, a research fellow and PhD student in the computer science department of the University of Erlangen-Nuernberg, told the Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg how he and two colleagues found N26 security defences riddled with holes that could have been used to defraud thousands of users.     “They say you can open a bank account in just eight minutes,” Haupert said. “As it turns out, you can lose it even faster.”    In a statement, N26 thanked Haupert for alerting the company to “a theoretical security vulnerability” and advising it on fixes, which N26 said it completed this month.    N26 offers a range of online banking and other financial services to 200,000 customers in 17 European countries through a banking licence granted earlier this year by German financial regulator Bafin.    N26 executives have been the most outspoken among new fintech players in arguing traditional banks are failing to serve customers more directly by relying on antiquated local branch relationships instead of modern, phone-based services.

    “I don’t see banks at all as my competitors. They just can’t move fast enough,” N26 Chief Executive Valentin Stalf told Reuters last year.    Haupert told the Chaos conference, Europe’s biggest annual gathering of hackers, how his team had found numerous ways to attack N26 banking apps to hijack individual customer accounts.    “With such a strategy, fintechs squander the trust that banks established over years,” he said.For example, Haupert said he compared data from a leak of 68 million account credentials from online file sharing company Dropbox with information on N26 users he was able to request from the company’s own software feed to identify 33,000 N26 user credentials – without being thwarted by N26 anti-fraud systems.

From there, he said it would have been simple to send a phishing email to these N26 customers that could potentially have allowed him to break into their accounts.     “Don’t worry, we didn’t do this,” Haupert said. “My professor had legal concerns.”    Instead, Haupert disclosed his research findings to N26 on Sept. 25.

    In response, N26 said in a statement it had made customer accounts more secure by reducing and encrypting data transfers, by blocking brute-force attacks in which hackers can quickly guess user credentials, and fixing voice-recognition security weaknesses in its app for the newest Apple mobile devices.     “At no time during these scenarios was personal data of our customers available to third parties,” the statement said. “No N26 customer was impacted by the demonstrated vulnerabilities.”    It added: “We have fully addressed and closed all vulnerabilities promptly and completely” and quoted Haupert as saying earlier this month that all vulnerabilities he had uncovered appeared to have been fixed.  Still, Haupert said regulators needed to take a closer look at the security of banks. “It was Bafin that granted a banking license to N26 only six months ago,” he said, adding that security weaknesses at that time were rampant.A spokesman for the financial regulator declined to comment.  (Reporting by Eric Auchard; Editing by Mark Potter)

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First Published On : Dec 28, 2016 23:34 IST

Takata could pay up to $1 billion to settle U.S. criminal probe – WSJ | Reuters

Takata could pay up to $1 billion to settle U.S. criminal probe – WSJ | Reuters

Dec 28, 2016 22:42 IST

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Japan’s Takata Corp is nearing a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and is expected to pay up to $1 billion to resolve allegations of criminal wrongdoing in handling its faulty air bags, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.The final figure could be in the high hundreds of millions of dollars, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. (on.wsj.com/2htwr9V)

At least 184 people have been injured in the United States in incidents involving potentially deadly Takata air bags.

(Reporting by Arunima Banerjee in Bengaluru)

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First Published On : Dec 28, 2016 22:42 IST

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LIVE Australia Vs Pakistan Live Score

AUS vs PAK | Dec 26th, 2016

AUS 278 2 58.0

RUNS

WKTS

OVERS

LIVE South Africa Vs Sri Lanka Live Score

SA vs SL | Dec 26th, 2016

SA 351 5 80.0

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OVERS

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Dollar stirs from slumber as yield gap yawns | Reuters

By Marc Jones
| LONDON

LONDON The dollar, oil and world stocks rose on Wednesday following upbeat U.S. data that saw the gap between Treasuries and other benchmark global government bonds hit new highs.Europe’s main stock market, London’s FTSE, reopened with a gain of 0.5 percent as it played catch-up after similar run-ups in Germany and France and as Wall Street’s Dow Jones index eyed another crack at 20,000 points.The dollar also drove higher after U.S. consumer confidence shot to its loftiest in more than 15 years in December on hopes that President-elect Donald Trump will nurture further improvements in the world’s biggest economy.Having already jumped 16 percent against the Japanese currency since the U.S. election, the greenback gained a further 0.2 percent to 117.65 yen. It was up a similar amount against the euro and sterling at $1.0390 per euro and $1.2213 to the pound. “Everything is broadly dollar-supportive,” said Societe Generale’s head of currency strategy Kit Juckes.”We have come back from Christmas with some good U.S. data, (U.S.) bond yields are at the top end of their recent range, oil is edging higher and the Dow is flirting with 20,000 points.”Euro zone bond yields fell across the board as concerns about the strength of a rescue plan for Italian banks and normal year-end caution pushed investors to the safety of government debt.Germany’s 10-year yields hit their lowest in seven weeks at 0.18 percent. That in turn widened the yield gap to U.S. Treasuries, which act as the world’s benchmark borrowing rate, to a record high of 237 basis points.Oil prices – the other major market driver in recent weeks – climbed back towards a 1-1/2-year high, as promised output cuts loomed.

Oil has surged more than 50 percent this year despite plunging to a 12-year low in January. Brent was at $56.50 a barrel and U.S. crude at $54.25 after an overnight gain of 1.7 percent.In a sign that the world’s major oil producers may abide by their output agreement, Iraqi Oil Minister Jabar Ali al-Luaibi said on Wednesday his country, which has seen fast production growth in the past two years, would cut supply by between 200,000 and 210,000 barrels per day from January. Gazprom Neft also said it planned to boost oil output by less than it had intended before Russia joined the deal to cut supply.EMERGING JITTERS

Helped by the broadly robust tone to stock and commodity markets, the Australian dollar firmed.Australian stocks gained 1 percent. Indonesian shares added 1.9 percent, while Japan’s Nikkei rose 0.1 percent.Shanghai dipped 0.3 percent to continue a dire 2016. It has slumped the best part of 18 percent this year, having been a star performer in 2015, dampening an otherwise strong rebound in emerging markets after three straight years of losses.With the dollar and bond yields on the rise again and China’s yuan on the slide, investors are wondering whether the rally could falter.

Data from Morgan Stanley showed EM equity funds logged weekly outflows of $3.35 billion, the second largest of the year, while EM bond funds saw outflows of $800 million, which made it seven straight weeks of outflows.It said the cumulative drop in equity funds over the last eight weeks totalled $11.1 billion.Gold dipped though firmer oil prices and the upbeat U.S. data continued to support the wider commodity market. Copper on the London Metal Exchange was up 1 percent at $5,513 a tonne as trading resumed after the Christmas holidays. Iron ore on the Dalian Commodity Exchange extended gains after breaking a nine-day slump the previous day. It was up 3.5 percent at 569.0 yuan ($81.82) per tonne and has now risen about 170 percent this year, boosted by expectations of Chinese stimulus and hopes that the incoming Trump administration will increase U.S. infrastructure spending. “There is strong positive sentiment on the outlook for these industrial metals going into 2017,” said a Perth-based commodities trader.($1 = 6.9541 Chinese yuan) (Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by John Stonestreet and Dale Hudson)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 28, 2016 19:53 IST

Government appoints Viral Acharya as RBI deputy governor

Government appoints Viral Acharya as RBI deputy governor

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The government has appointed Viral V. Acharya, a professor of economics at New York University, as one of the Reserve Bank of India’s four deputy governors for a term of three years, according to a statement on Wednesday.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

The RBI had a vacancy for deputy governor after Urjit Patel was promoted to Governor earlier this year.

The statement did not mention which portfolio Acharya would be assigned. Patel had headed the prestigious monetary policy, which is now overseen by RBI Deputy Governor R. Gandhi as part of a widened remit.

Acharya teaches at the Stern School of Business in New York university. According to his resume, he has research interests in regulation of banks, corporate finance, credit risk and asset pricing.

First Published On : Dec 28, 2016 13:45 IST

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As note ban hits India’s stone cutting units, global diamond business loses sheen

The global diamond industry is facing disruption that could stretch through the first few months of next year, including Valentine’s Day in February, as a result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s radical move to abolish most of the nation’s cash overnight.

In Surat, craftsmen usually spend 10-12 hours a day in small mills or grimy sheds cutting and polishing 80 percent of the world’s diamonds but the business is based on cash and the demonetization of the high-value banknotes from 8 November has prevented many from operating. Thousands of diamond brokers in the area’s narrow lanes are also doing little business.

The lack of cash is not the only problem for an industry that employs 1 million people in India, most of them in this city. Modi’s shock treatment is intended to make it much more difficult for those laundering ill-gotten gains or evading taxes, and that means diamond buyers are demanding proof of tax payments that are often not available, the traders said.

A craftsman checks the shape of a diamond at the polishing department of a diamond processing unit at Surat in Gujarat. ReutersA craftsman checks the shape of a diamond at the polishing department of a diamond processing unit at Surat in Gujarat. Reuters

A craftsman checks the shape of a diamond at the polishing department of a diamond processing unit at Surat in Gujarat. Reuters

Top diamond miners, such as Anglo American-owned De Beers and smaller Canadian producers such as Stornoway Diamond and Dominion Diamond are seeing weaker demand and prices for cheaper stones used in lower-priced jewellery.

The picture for retailers and consumers of diamonds is less clear. The cash crunch has also badly hurt consumer demand for diamond jewellery in India, the world’s third-biggest market.

That means there are more of the cheaper finished stones to export, helping to create a temporary glut and lower prices at wholesaler and store level. However, that may not last if the cutters and polishers of India can’t get back to work soon.

But the luxury buyer doesn’t have to worry. Much of the higher-value jewellery business, with the highest grade one-carat stones usually costing more than $14,500, is protected because cutting and polishing is also done in Israel, Belgium and by bigger Indian companies that rely on bank transactions.

“The knock-on effect of Indian demonetisation has meant a reduction in the prices of lower quality diamonds,” said Tobias Kormind, managing director of 77 Diamonds, an online jewellery retailer based in London. “As a result, we’ve seen an increase in demand for those kinds of diamonds as our clients have snapped up these favourable deals.”

In India, jewellery demand typically climbs in the winter months’ wedding season. But this year sales are plunging as nearly two-thirds of jewellery is usually purchased with cash, which is in short supply.

Ishu Datwani, owner of Mumbai-based Anmol Jewellers, says his sales are down nearly 70 percent since the government scrapped the high-value notes.

The demand is unlikely to revive any time soon as India struggles to dispense enough new notes, industry officials say.

“During the cash crunch, diamonds are one of the last things people want to buy. At least for the next six months demand will remain weak,” says Praveen Shankar Pandya, head of India’s Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC).

The crisis hit at a time when there were plenty of stones in the retail pipeline or was being processed. India’s rough diamond imports between April and November jumped 30.5 percent, while exports of cut and polished diamonds during the period rose 12.2 percent, GJEPC data shows.

Diamond processors bought rough diamonds aggressively, expecting a jump in exports and rising Indian demand, but now they are struggling, said trader Dharmesh Navadiya.

In trading hubs like Hong Kong, many retailers are stuck holding diamonds they bought three years back at higher prices expecting robust demand from China that didn’t materialise.

“There has been no supply crunch as the market is already flooded, especially the low carat diamond,” said Jonathan Rotbart, a distributor of gems in Hong Kong.

Shock to the market

“The market is frozen. We don’t have cash to buy diamonds,” said Kalpesh Savaliya, a trader for 25 years who was sitting cross-legged on a mattress behind a low wooden desk in Surat.

As small operators close, India’s rough diamond imports could decline by up to 25 percent between December and March, said Mehul Choksi, chairman of Gitanjali Gems, India’s biggest diamond jeweller.

Miners are already feeling the pain with some lower-quality stones being discounted by more than 25 percent from prices before demonetization, said Panmure Gordon analyst Kieron Hodgson, in a recent note to clients.

In its final 2016 tender, De Beers said sales were affected by a slowdown in lower-value rough stones, a trend Hodgson expects to see repeated for at least the next three months.

Dominion Diamond, with stakes in two Canadian mines, expects its sales in its fourth quarter ending 31 January to be hurt by the Indian cash crisis, and sees weaker demand for small stones extending to its fiscal first quarter. Demonetization was a “shock to the market,” said Chief Executive Brendan Bell.

Stornoway, which this year finished building Quebec’s first diamond mine, withdrew smaller, lower-quality stones from its first-ever tender in November due to poor demand and prices.

But Mountain Province Diamonds, which owns 49 percent of Canada’s newest diamond mine, Gahcho Kue, indicated it isn’t overly worried. “Small diamonds are roughly 80 percent of your production and 20 percent of your revenue – and the demand for the large diamonds remains robust,” said CEO Patrick Evans.

“The diamond market is fine. Average prices are up 7 to 9 percent this year, but small diamonds are down about 50 percent.”

First Published On : Dec 28, 2016 12:43 IST

Serial testers and cursory checks – India’s flawed generic drug trials business | Reuters

By Zeba Siddiqui
| HYDERABAD

HYDERABAD Vasudeva Prakash left his job as a mechanic in Hyderabad three years ago for what he calls a more lucrative career: taking part in clinical trials on generic drugs.For two years, Prakash participated in trials of drugs being tested to treat HIV/AIDS and other diseases for contract research organizations (CROs) hired by global pharmaceutical companies. The drugs tested at Indian CROs have been key in getting several hundred medicines approved for sale around the world.Yet, Prakash did not follow international guidelines for testing – and the CROs that hired him didn’t require him to. He says that to earn more money he would participate in back-to-back trials on different drugs with gaps of only a few weeks or even a few days, instead of waiting the 90 days that the World Health Organization recommends.Half of more than a dozen volunteers interviewed by Reuters across four cities – Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and New Delhi – also said they waited much less than 90 days between trials. In the past three-to-four years, they said they spent several months at a time in different cities so that they could participate in as many studies as possible.Prakash provided documentation proving he underwent trials with short gaps at Apotex Research Pvt Ltd, owned by Canadian drugmaker Apotex Inc; Lotus Labs, owned by U.S. generics giant Actavis; Ethics Bio Lab, owned since last year by U.S. drugmaker Par Pharmaceutical Inc; and India’s Semler Research Center Pvt Ltd, among others. Ethics Bio and Apotex did not respond to requests for comment. Lotus Labs and Semler said they had systems in place to check for cross-participation by trial volunteers.The guidelines of the WHO, which decides on approvals for drugs sold in several countries dependent on United Nations programs for basic medicines, are not legally-binding for the CROs. While India has guidelines on clinical trials, they don’t specify the length of time participants should take between trials.Still, the serial testing of some volunteers is raising new questions about the level of oversight of India’s generic drug trials industry, after some CROs came under recent international regulatory scrutiny. Last year, the European Medicines Agency banned about 700 medicines across Europe after an investigation revealed data tampering in some trials of generic drugs in India.International medical experts said that undergoing back-to-back trials endangers the health of patients participating. It can also compromise clinical data gathered through these trials, on the basis of which drugmakers seek approval to sell generic medicines around the world.“The time gap between participation in two different trials should be 90 days minimum,” said Stephanie Croft, a lead inspector at the WHO. “When [data] is incomplete or incorrect it could pose a serious risk to patients.”Gyanendra Nath Singh, head of India’s national drug watchdog, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO), said that it has been trying to inspect more CROs in the past two years. The watchdog is also considering the introduction of a track-and-trace system through which patients can be tracked across CROs, he told Reuters.“We are emphasizing on good regulatory practices … some reports have shown that the CROs have deviated from (the) system,” said Singh.India’s Health Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

GLOBAL REACH
Several large international drugmakers, including Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd and Mylan NV, rely on CROs in India to carry out tests on cheaper versions of branded drugs. The aim of these so-called “bioequivalence” studies is to gauge whether non-branded drugs are equally safe and effective. The faster the trials are undertaken, the faster the drugs can come to market.In some major markets, such as the United States, being the first to launch a generic guarantees market exclusivity for a period of time, which can reap millions more in sales.International and local regulators have struggled to keep its oversight in line with the growth of an industry that expanded rapidly in the 2000s, as drugmakers shipped clinical trial work to India to save money. The market is estimated to have crossed $1 billion in 2016, according to consultants Frost and Sullivan.Over the past two years, international regulators have suspended or banned medicines tested by four major Indian CROs after finding manipulation of clinical trial data and other violations.Issues found at Indian CROs are “a big problem that is gaining more and more attention from all sorts of agencies,” said Anders Fuglsang, a consultant and former regulator long involved in audits and inspections of CROs around the world on behalf of international regulatory agencies and companies.Last year, the European Union banned about 700 medicines that had been approved based on clinical trial data provided by GVK Biosciences, then India’s largest CRO. European regulators said they found GVK had manipulated data concerning the heart readings of patients taking part in the study. GVK denied any violation, but several large drugmakers that had won drug approvals based on GVK’s data were asked to re-apply for approval with fresh evidence.

Such re-testing is a headache for drugmakers, as it is expensive, and delays lead to a loss in sales, said Nilesh Gupta, managing director of India’s Lupin Ltd, which was one of the companies to be affected by a U.S. ban on trials by Semler earlier this year.GVK, part of the Indian conglomerate GVK Group, has since limited its business interests in the generic drugs testing business, said Shankar Chelluri, a spokesman for the company. Overall, sentiment toward the generic drug trials business is weak, Chelluri said.Another CRO, Quest Life Sciences, was found last year to have manipulated clinical data on certain trials, according to inspection reports from the WHO and the UK’s medicines authority. The Spanish and German regulators had also found problems with Quest’s trials, and the WHO said it found Quest had falsified data on drugs including the antibiotic doxycycline hyclate and HIV/AIDS drugs lamivudine, zidovudine and nevirapine.Quest managing director T.S. Jaishankar said his CRO, which has conducted dozens of generic drug trials for companies including India’s top drugmaker Sun Pharmaceutical Industries, has since invested heavily in improving its systems and been cleared by all international regulators. In a response to Reuters, a spokeswoman for the European Medicines Agency said they were “closely monitoring” the involvement of Quest in the drug approval applications they receive.India, like other countries, has ethics committees – groups of independent experts – meant to approve the design and conduct of clinical trials. Their stamp of approval is required by foreign regulators considering allowing a generic drug to be sold. However, these committees depend on the CROs for reimbursement in exchange for reviewing trials. Three members of different committees Reuters spoke to said national guidelines did not clearly define their roles and responsibilities.In the wake of trial data manipulation scandals at CROs in the past three years, many large drugmakers including Swiss firm Novartis, have been shifting more critical trials back to the United States and Europe, according to consultants and industry executives.

Novartis is also ramping up its own checks of Indian CROs, said Bodo Lutz, a data integrity officer at the Swiss firm. Speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Hyderabad in July, he said: “We can’t rely on the regulators … we’re increasing our own audits.”VOLUNTEERING “LIKE AN ADDICTION”
Prakash, the former mechanic, said he was never asked by CROs, and their ‘agents’ who approached him for studies, about whether he had recently taken part in another trial.”Everybody does it. Once you start getting the money, it’s very hard to quit. It’s like an addiction,” said Prakash.He said after the first study, he began to regularly receive messages on his phone and Facebook, often from agents working on behalf of CROs, informing him about ongoing clinical trials where volunteers were required. Such messages included three key things: the city where the trial was being conducted, the total pay offered, and the “blood loss”, or the amount of blood the volunteer will need to provide.Venkatesh, from the southern city of Tirupathi, described travelling from Chennai to Hyderabad and then to Bangalore and Mangaluru for different trials.”I know of several people who participate in three or four trials in the same month,” said Venkatesh, who stopped volunteering two months ago and has since married. He did not want to be referred to by his full name.Prakash said he was paid 10,000-30,000 rupees ($147-$441) per trial, depending on the duration and type. He stopped participating after his health began to deteriorate last year at age 25.He now works at a call centre earning 20,000 rupees a month, but, despite knowing the risks, entered two more trials recently to raise cash.”I needed some money desperately so I did it, but I won’t do it again,” he said. (Additional reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Editing by Martin Howell)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 28, 2016 04:47 IST

Scarlett Johansson is 2016 top-grossing movie star | Reuters

Scarlett Johansson is 2016 top-grossing movie star | Reuters

Dec 27, 2016 23:05 IST

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NEW YORK Scarlett Johansson was named the top-grossing actor of 2016 on Tuesday thanks to her roles in superhero movie “Captain America: Civil War” and Hollywood satire “Hail Caesar.”Forbes said Johansson just edged out her “Captain America” co-stars Chris Evans and Robert Downey with box-office earnings of her second 2016 movie, “Hail Caesar.”Johansson’s movies grossed a leading $1.2 billion at the worldwide box office this year, compared with $1.15 billion for “Captain America: Civil War.”Released in May and featuring a conflict between Marvel comic book heroes like Iron Man, Spider-Man, Black Widow and Ant Man, Walt Disney Co’s “Captain America” was the biggest earner worldwide in 2016, according to data from Boxofficemojo.com.Australian actress Margot Robbie, who enjoyed a break-out year, placed fourth with $1.1 billion thanks to roles in two Warner Bros movies “Suicide Squad” and “The Legend of Tarzan.”

The Forbes list was dominated by superhero and comic book movies, including “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Deadpool.”

Britain’s Felicity Jones entered the Forbes list for the first time, with roles in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” thriller “Inferno” and magical children’s story “A Monster Calls.” Jones came in ninth place with $805 million.Forbes made its calculations based on global ticket sales from the films of top Hollywood actors, but it did not count animated movies such as Disney’s “Finding Dory,” the second biggest release of 2016 with $1.02 billion.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Richard Chang)

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First Published On : Dec 27, 2016 23:05 IST

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Tributes flow for soulful British pop idol George Michael, dead at 53 | Reuters

By Edward Baran
| LONDON

LONDON Madonna, Elton John and Paul McCartney paid tribute on Monday to British pop idol George Michael, who has died age 53 after a career of soulful ballads and dance songs that provided a soundtrack to much of the 1980s and 1990s.Michael burst to stardom with “Wham!, one of the most successful pop duos ever, with singles like “”Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “”Careless Whisper”, before reinventing himself as a solo artist with sexually daring lyrics and multimillion-selling albums like “Faith” and “Listen Without Prejudice”.He passed away peacefully over Christmas, according to a statement from his publicist. British police said his death was “unexplained but not suspicious”. His manager, Michael Lippman, said the singer had died of heart failure, according to the BBC.”Heartbroken at the loss of my beloved friend Yog (nickname). Me, his loved ones, his friends, the world of music, the world at large. 4ever loved,” said former Wham! partner and school friend Andrew Ridgeley on Twitter. “Cleft with grief.” “Farewell My Friend. Another Great Artist leaves us,” Madonna tweeted.”George Michael’s sweet soul music will live on even after his sudden death,” said McCartney. “Having worked with him on a number of occasions his great talent always shone through and his self-deprecating sense of humour made the experience even more pleasurable.”

Michael was highly regarded by fellow musicians as a singer and songwriter – in addition to pop phenomenon – and was a 2017 nominee for the Songwriters Hall of Fame, but he was troubled for years by substance abuse and a topsy turvy private life.With flowing blond hair and handsome smile, Michael won legions of fans as a teenage pin-up in the early 1980s before going solo with “Faith” in 1987, among the more than 100 million albums he sold with Wham! and under his own name.While still in Wham!, Michael became the first Western pop act to perform in communist China, in 1985.

He was publicly outed as a homosexual when he was arrested in 1998 for “engaging in a lewd act” in a public restroom in Beverly Hills, California. But he parlayed that tabloid tale into a successful revamp of his career with the hit single “Outside,” accompanied by a video featuring LA police officers which showcased his sense of humour.On Monday, fans laid flowers and candles at his homes in London and Oxfordshire. “I have grown up with him – he was a songbook to the good times, the bad times. And he’s brought me here today just to say thank you, George, for the music,” said Kavita, a fan outside his home in London’s affluent Highgate district.

Michael’s friend and fellow musician Elton John, with whom he collaborated, said: “I have lost a beloved friend – the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans.” Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou on June 25, 1963 in London to a Greek Cypriot family in a flat above a north London launderette. He played music on the London underground train system before finding global fame with Wham!.Michael’s death comes at the end of a year that has seen the passing of several popular music giants, including David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen. Rick Parfitt, the guitarist of British rock group Status Quo, died on Saturday at 68. (Writing by Elisabeth O’Leary; editing by Mark Heinrich)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 26, 2016 21:11 IST

George Michael had his own cultural revolution in China | Reuters

By Cate Cadell
| BEIJING

BEIJING It was strangely muted when George Michael, as part of the British pop duo Wham!, took the stage at the Workers Gymnasium in Beijing in April 1985, recalled one of those who attended that now legendary first Western pop act in Communist China.Around 15,000 concert-goers watched Michael and bandmate Andrew Ridgeley sing hits such as “Careless Whisper” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” – as police grimly stared at them.”I’d never seen so many police in my life,” Mao Danqing, a now well-known Chinese writer who attended the concert, told Reuters on Monday.     The security presence was so intimidating people were too timid to make any noise during the songs, Mao said.    “When you see that many police you feel terrified. Everyone sat in separate sections and each section had police lined up in front, facing the crowd,” Mao said.Michael, who became one of the pop idols of the 1980s with Wham! and then forged a career as a successful solo artist with sometimes sexually provocative lyrics, died at his home in England on Sunday. He was 53.CHINA OPENING UP

    China maintained strict controls on Western music and film in the 1980s, just a few years after adopting historic economic reforms in 1978 following the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. The music of Wham! and their contemporaries remained banned and authorities tightly controlled reports of the concert.The group’s manager at the time, Simon Napier-Bell, said it took 18 months to negotiate the two performances on Wham!’s two-week tour – the other concert was in Guangzhou. Napier-Bell said in a book published on the 20th anniversary of the tour, “I’m Coming to Take You to Lunch”, that he undermined Queen’s candidacy for the tour by presenting Michael as a more “wholesome” alternative to Queen’s frontman, Freddie Mercury. The book’s title was a reference to Napier-Bell’s relentless wooing of Chinese authorities with lunch meetings.A film documenting the tour called “Foreign Skies: Wham! in China” is available on YouTube. It shows Michael and Ridgeley getting chased by photographers along the Great Wall, chatting about cricket at a British Embassy cocktail reception, touring a traditional market and playing an impromptu game of soccer.    Mao, the Chinese writer, received his concert ticket from his university – one of several that were given allocations of tickets for students studying literature.

  “We were like blank pages back then. I’d never seen anything like this before in my life,” said Mao, who said he was seated behind students from North Korea.”In front of me, the foreign students jumped up to dance, the police quickly came and told them to sit down,” Mao said.’HE CHANGED CHINA’

    Despite the tense atmosphere, the Beijing concert has since become legendary among China’s rock royalty.    “They certainly had an impact on China,” said Kaiser Kuo, the front man of a popular Chinese metal band in the 1980s called the Tang Dynasty. “Everyone knew Wham! songs, even people who would go on to play music that diverged starkly from pop.”    Chinese took to social media on Monday to mourn Michael, whose 1984 hit “Careless Whisper” was particularly popular in China.     “That performance marked the beginning of China’s opening up its gate (to Western music),” said one user. “He changed China!”Michael said in music video for the release of Wham!’s single “Freedom” in 1985 that “nobody had any idea what to expect from Chinese audiences”.”I did feel that although we were very privileged to actually be put in the position, that we were acting as ambassadors of a sort.” (Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Alex Richardson)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 26, 2016 21:11 IST

Myanmar says Muslim with links to government murdered in troubled Rakhine | Reuters

By Shwe Yee Saw Myint
| YANGON

YANGON A man has been found dead with stab wounds in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, in what the government said on Monday was the second murder in under a week of a Rohingya who cooperated with authorities as they crack down on suspected insurgents.Coordinated attacks on October 9 killed nine police officers and sparked a military operation in northern Rakhine. The government of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar blamed Muslim Rohingyas supported by foreign militants. State media has reported at least 86 deaths and the United Nations says 34,000 people have fled to Bangladesh.The violence poses a challenge to Aung San Suu Kyi’s government and has renewed international criticism that the Nobel laureate has done too little to help the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in Myanmar.Residents and rights groups say soldiers have raped Rohingya women, burnt homes and killed civilians during the operation near the frontier with Bangladesh.The government denies the accusations, and has launched a social media campaign in an effort to demonstrate that security forces are acting properly in Rakhine.

An administrator in Yae Twin Kyun village, named as Rawphi, was found dead with knife wounds on Sunday, Lieutenant Colonel Aung San Win of the local border guard police told Reuters.He said the killing of the 28-year-old Muslim might be “related to terrorism”. Myanmar’s state counsellor’s office said on Monday evening on its Facebook page that the victim had been “cooperating with members of security forces in administration duties.”

The case is the second murder in Rakhine where authorities have highlighted the victim’s cooperation with the government, appearing to point the finger at Rohingya insurgents.On Friday, the state counsellor’s office said a Muslim man was decapitated after he had denied stories of Myanmar military abuse when speaking to reporters.”He told media that there was no case of arson by the military and police forces, no rape and no unjust arrests,” said a Facebook post accompanied by a picture of a headless body with English text that read: “truth teller beheaded”.

Neither the police nor the state counsellor’s office have said who was responsible for the decapitation.A Rohingya community leader, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, told Reuters many Muslims were sceptical about the government’s account of the beheading.A report by the International Crisis Group said insurgents calling themselves Harakah al-Yaqin were responsible for the attacks on October 9 that sparked the crackdown. The group also have killed Rohingyas who threatened to inform on them to authorities, the ICG said.Reuters could not independently verify the government accounts as access for independent journalists to northern Rakhine has been prohibited since security forces locked down the area. (Reporting By Shwe Yee Saw Myint and Simon Lewis; Writing by Yimou Lee; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

First Published On : Dec 26, 2016 19:49 IST

Pakistan releases 220 Indian fishermen in goodwill gesture, expects India to ‘reciprocate’

Pakistan released 220 Indian fishermen on Sunday as a goodwill gesture aimed at easing tensions with its neighbour, officials said.

The men were arrested more than a year ago, accused of entering Pakistani waters in an area of the Arabian Sea where the border is unclear.

An image from August 2015, when another batch of Indian fishermen was released from prison, in Pakistan. Reuters

An image from August 2015, when another batch of Indian fishermen was released from prison, in Pakistan. Reuters

India is also holding Pakistani fishermen for the same reason and Pakistan hopes its gesture — on the birthday of the nation’s father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, which coincides with Christmas Day — will be reciprocated.

“We have total of 518 Indian fishermen out of which 220 are being released today as a goodwill gesture of the Pakistan government. In the next phase, 219 fishermen will be released on 5 January,” Shunail Husain Shah, a police assistant superintendent, told Reuters.

Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours have been more fraught than usual since a crackdown by Indian forces on dissent in Indian-controlled Kashmir began in July. In September militants killed 18 soldiers at an Indian army base, an attack New Delhi blamed on Pakistan.

“We appreciate Pakistan’s goodwill gesture of releasing Indian fishermen, but we expect a similar reciprocal move by India, 156 Pakistani fishermen including 13 children are languishing in Indian jails,” Muhammad Ali Shah, president of Pakistan Fisher Folk, a fishermen’s rights body, told Reuters.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea states that fishermen who cross territorial waters can be warned and fined but not arrested, and Shah called on both countries to respect that.

One of the fishermen being released, who goes by the single name Naresh, told Reuters: “I am very happy, looking forward to meet my family back in Gujarat. We were treated nicely here, I will request the Indian government release the detained Pakistani fishermen as well.”

First Published On : Dec 25, 2016 21:28 IST

Pakistan releases Indian fishermen in bid to ease tensions with Delhi | Reuters

By Syed Raza Hassan
| KARACHI, Pakistan

KARACHI, Pakistan Pakistan released 220 Indian fishermen on Sunday as a goodwill gesture aimed at easing tensions with its neighbour, officials said.The men were arrested more than a year ago, accused of entering Pakistani waters in an area of the Arabian Sea where the border is unclear. India is also holding Pakistani fishermen for the same reason and Pakistan hopes its gesture – on the birthday of the nation’s father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, which coincides with Christmas Day – will be reciprocated.

“We have total of 518 Indian fishermen out of which 220 are being released today as a goodwill gesture of the Pakistan government. In the next phase, 219 fishermen will be released on Jan. 5,” Shunail Husain Shah, a police assistant superintendent, told Reuters.Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours have been more fraught than usual since a crackdown by Indian forces on dissent in Indian-controlled Kashmir began in July. In September militants killed 18 soldiers at an Indian army base, an attack New Delhi blamed on Pakistan.

“We appreciate Pakistan’s goodwill gesture of releasing Indian fishermen, but we expect a similar reciprocal move by India, 156 Pakistani fishermen including 13 children are languishing in Indian jails,” Muhammad Ali Shah, president of Pakistan Fisher Folk, a fishermen’s rights body. told Reuters.The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea states that fishermen who cross territorial waters can be warned and fined but not arrested, and Shah called on both countries to respect that.

One of the fishermen being released, who goes by the single name Naresh, told Reuters: “I am very happy, looking forward to meet my family back in Gujarat. We were treated nicely here, I will request the Indian government release the detained Pakistani fishermen as well.” (Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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First Published On : Dec 25, 2016 19:44 IST

Egypt confirms Al Jazeera producer’s arrest for provoking sedition | Reuters

Egypt confirms Al Jazeera producer’s arrest for provoking sedition | Reuters

Dec 25, 2016 18:39 IST

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CAIRO Egypt confirmed on Sunday that it had arrested an Al Jazeera news producer, accusing him of “provoking sedition” on behalf of the Qatar-based broadcaster that it considers a mouthpiece of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Judicial sources said Mahmoud Hussain, who was detained on Friday, was being held on charges of disturbing public security and spreading false news.The Interior Ministry said in a statement that Al Jazeera officials “had ordered some individuals collaborating with the channel inside the country to continue implementing its media plan of provoking sedition, incitement against the state, and spreading chaos through broadcasting false news.” It identified Hussain as a person implementing that plan for the channel which is not allowed to operate inside Egypt.

Al Jazeera was not immediately available for comment.Egypt has arrested several Al Jazeera reporters over the past two years, raising concerns over media freedoms in the country.

In May, a Cairo court recommended the death penalty against two of them, charged in absentia with endangering national security by leaking state secrets to Qatar.The Brotherhood is a Qatar-backed movement that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has cracked down on since an army takeover in 2013 stripped former president Mohammed Mursi – a prominent member of the group – of power following mass protests against his rule.

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters including Mursi are in jail and Egypt has designated the group, which says it is non-violent, a terrorist organisation. (Reporting by Haitham Ahmed and Ahmed Mohammed Hassan; Writing by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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First Published On : Dec 25, 2016 18:39 IST

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Anger in Afghanistan at female pilot’s U.S. asylum bid | Reuters

KABUL There was an angry reaction in Afghanistan to news that the first female fixed-wing pilot in the country’s air force was requesting asylum in the United States after completing an 18-month training course.The Afghan defence ministry confirmed on Sunday that Captain Niloofar Rahmani, 25, had sought asylum after the Wall Street Journal quoted her as saying that she feared her life would be in danger if she returned home.A recipient of the U.S. State Department’s “Women of Courage” award in 2015, Capt. Rahmani had been a symbol of efforts to improve the situation of women in her country, more than a decade after the fall of the Taliban regime.Mohammad Radmanish, a defence ministry spokesman, said the government hoped that her request would be denied by U.S. authorities who have spent billions trying to build up Afghan security forces.”When an officer complains of insecurity and is afraid of security threats, then what should ordinary people do?” he said. “She has made an excuse for herself, but we have hundreds of educated women and female civil right activists who work and it is safe for them.”

Capt. Rahmani, who graduated from flight school in 2012 and qualified to fly C-208 military cargo aircraft, had been in the United States on a training course and had been due to return home on Saturday.In a conservative country notorious for the restrictions placed on women, Rahmani’s story stood out as a rare example of a woman breaking through in areas normally reserved for men.

Her success came at a price, however. The citation for the “Women of Courage” award said she and her family had received direct threats not just from the Taliban but also from some relatives, forcing her family to move house several times.However, there was little sympathy on Afghanistan’s active social media networks, which were replete with comments criticizing Rahmani, accusing her of wasting government money spent on expensive training and avoiding her responsibilities.

“Niloofar Rahmani took a million dollars from the pockets of the people of Afghanistan to pay human traffickers to get to America to seek asylum,” one Facebook user wrote in comments typical of others.Dozens of Afghan troops receiving training in the United States have gone missing over the past two years, and at least one has been detained while trying to cross the border to Canada. (Reporting by Mirwais Harooni, writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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First Published On : Dec 25, 2016 18:11 IST

Congo talks near deal for Kabila to step down in 2017 | Reuters

By Aaron Ross
| KINSHASA

KINSHASA Political rivals in Democratic Republic of Congo neared a deal on Saturday for President Joseph Kabila to leave power in 2017 after dozens of people were killed during protests this week at the end of his mandate.Under the agreement, elections would be held next year and Kabila, who took power in Africa’s fourth most populous country after his father was assassinated in 2001, would agree not to change the constitution to run for a third term. Roman Catholic bishops who have mediated during weeks of talks were upbeat about reaching a deal in time for a planned signing ceremony on Friday, but Congo’s main opposition bloc warned that several “significant” differences remained.”We have finished practically 95 percent of the work,” Catholic Bishops Conference president Marcel Utembi told reporters. “There remains a short way to go.”Divisions persisted over whether the prime minister will come from the main opposition bloc and on the composition of the electoral commission, which the opposition accuses of pro-government bias.

“If the divergences are not bridged, it will be difficult to sign this accord,” opposition leader Jean Marc Kabund told reporters. Kabila, whose representatives participated in the talks, did not comment.At least 40 people were killed this week in a crackdown by security forces against demonstrators who blew whistles and banged pots and pans in protests demanding Kabila leave office, according to the United Nations.

Kabila’s critics accuse him of deliberately postponing the presidential election that was due last month in order to cling to power beyond the end of his constitutional mandate.The government say the delay was due to difficulties registering millions of voters and the constitutional court ruled in May that Kabila could stay in office until his successor is elected.Mineral-rich Congo has not had a peaceful power transition since independence in 1960, and Church negotiators have billed the talks as an attempt to stop the country sliding back into war.

Millions of people died in regional conflicts between 1996 and 2003 and Pope Francis has called for a peaceful solution to the current standoff.The last day of the talks between the ruling coalition and opposition parties began at 11 a.m. local time (1000 GMT) after negotiations went through the night. Remaining issues are to be resolved in small groups with the support of the church’s secretariate while the bishops return to their dioceses for Christmas, Utembi said. (Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Sam Holmes and Helen Popper)

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First Published On : Dec 24, 2016 19:22 IST

Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt dies aged 68 | Reuters

Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt dies aged 68 | Reuters

Dec 24, 2016 17:32 IST

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LONDON Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt died in hospital on Saturday in Spain aged 68 after suffering from a severe infection, his manager said.”We are truly devastated to have to announce that Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt has passed away,” his family and Status Quo Manager Simon Porter said in a joint statement.

“He died in hospital in Marbella, Spain as a result of a severe infection, having been admitted to hospital on Thursday evening following complications to a shoulder injury incurred by a previous fall,” his family said.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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First Published On : Dec 24, 2016 17:32 IST

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U.N. Security Council denounces Israeli settlements, U.S. abstains | Reuters

By Michelle Nichols
| UNITED NATIONS

UNITED NATIONS The United States on Friday allowed the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, defying pressure from President-elect Donald Trump, Israel and some U.S. lawmakers who urged Washington to wield its veto.An abstention by the United States paved the way for the 15-member international body to approve the resolution, with 14 votes in favour, prompting applause in the council chamber.”Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the U.N. and will not abide by its terms,” the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has encouraged the expansion of Jewish settlements in land captured by Israel in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbours, said in a statement.The Obama administration’s action broke with the long-standing American approach of shielding Israel, Washington’s long-time ally that receives more than $3 billion in annual U.S. military aid, from such action. The United States, along with Russia, France, Britain and China, has veto power on the council.The resolution, put forward by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal a day after Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and Trump, was the first adopted by the council on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the resolution and Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called on Israel to “respect international law.”The U.S. abstention was seen as a parting shot by outgoing President Barack Obama, who has had an acrimonious relationship with Netanyahu and whose efforts to forge a peace agreement based on a “two-state” solution of creating a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel have proven futile. His administration has argued that continued Israeli settlement building has undermined chances of a peace deal.Israel and Trump had called on the Obama administration to veto the measure. Trump wrote on Twitter after the vote, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” referring to the day he succeeds Obama.Israel for decades has pursued a policy of constructing Jewish settlements on territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbours including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Most countries view Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees.The Obama administration has deemed settlement expansion “illegitimate.” Successive administrations of both parties have criticized settlement activity but have done little to slow their growth.

INDEPENDENT STATE
The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The resolution demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” and said the establishment of settlements by Israel has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.”After the vote, the White House defended the U.S. abstention, saying that in the absence of any meaningful peace process, Obama took the decision to abstain. Criticizing Israel’s settlement policy, it said it had repeatedly warned Israel privately and publicly that settlement activity was increasing Israel’s international isolation.Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, dismissed Trump’s criticism, noting that Obama remains president until Jan. 20.

“We could not in good conscience veto a resolution that expressed concerns about the very trends that are eroding the foundation for a two-state solution,” Rhodes told a conference call.Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said, said the United States did not raise a veto because the resolution “reflects the facts on the ground and is consistent with U.S. policy across Republican and Democratic administrations.”MORE THAN SYMBOLIC
The passage of the resolution changes nothing on the ground between Israel and the Palestinians and likely will be all but ignored by the incoming Trump administration.

But it was more than merely symbolic. It formally enshrined the international community’s disapproval of Israeli settlement building and could spur further Palestinian moves against Israel in international forums.The U.N. action was “a big blow to Israeli policy, a unanimous international condemnation of settlements and a strong support for the two-state solution,” a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement published by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, called the resolution disgraceful, adding he had no doubt the incoming Trump administration and Ban’s successor as U.N. chief, former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres, “will usher in a new era in terms of the U.N.’s relationship with Israel”Israel has said the final status of the Jewish settlements should be determined in talks on Palestinian statehood. The last round of U.S.-led peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians collapsed in 2014.Trump, who called for a veto along with Netanyahu, is likely to be a more staunch supporter of Netanyahu’s right-wing policies. He named a hardline pro-Israel ambassador and vowed to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.Some U.S. lawmakers of both parties condemned the Obama administration’s abstention. Republican Senator John McCain said the abstention “marks a troubling departure from our nation’s long, bipartisan history of defending our ally Israel in the United Nations.”U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, who heads the Senate subcommittee that oversees American U.N. funding, threatened to pull financial support for the international body.The council last adopted a resolution on settlements in 1979, with the United States abstaining. Then it approved a resolution saying Israeli settlements had “no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” (Writing by Will Dunham and Yara Bayoumy; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Lesley Wroughton and Susan Heavey in Washington, Matt Spetalnick in New York and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman)

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First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 21:18 IST

Amazon starts flexing muscle in new space: air cargo | Reuters

By Jeffrey Dastin
| ALLENTOWN, Pa.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. A cargo plane emblazoned with “Prime Air” descended from an empty sky at Lehigh Valley International Airport on Tuesday, ninety minutes from the bustle of New York City, loaded with crates of goods during the peak holiday shopping season.It’s one of 40 jets leased by Amazon.com Inc for a new cargo service to meet delivery demand from the retail giant’s customers. Exclusive payload data reviewed by Reuters and interviews with airport officials around the country show that Prime Air planes are flying nearly full, but with lightweight loads, taking away valued business from FedEx Corp and United Parcel Service Inc.Expanding into transportation, from trucks to planes, is one of Amazon’s most important endeavors as it strives to lure new customers with fast shipping while keeping costs under control. The world’s largest online retailer is sending more packages, more often, and later in the day to serve its estimated 35 million to more than 50 million U.S. members of Amazon Prime, a service that promises two-day shipping for $99 per year. Bulky boxes with goods once purchased in stores, like toilet paper, are a revenue driver at UPS and FedEx. That’s in part because they now are charging customers increasingly by boxes’ volume rather than weight. Shipping its own big, light packages is helping Amazon dodge those rising fees.To date, Amazon has only said it leased the planes to speed up shipping and to backstop cargo partners during the holiday season. FedEx and UPS have delivered items late for Christmas in recent years.”Our own delivery efforts are needed to supplement that capacity rather than replace it,” Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman told Reuters. She declined to comment on eluding cargo airline fees.Amazon’s planes fly to at least 10 airports across the United States, supplying its warehouses nearby. Officials at four airports said Amazon’s flights are operating near capacity but landing with lower-than-average weight — meaning it is placing low-density shipments inside the jets. [For graphic-click tmsnrt.rs/2hZ8uZp]Amazon aircraft on a monthly basis handled only between 37 percent and 52 percent of their maximum loads by weight, according to an analysis of cargo, capacity and landing data from the four airports, with supplementary information from tracking website FlightAware.com. By contrast, FedEx and UPS were at 53 percent and 56 percent capacity, respectively, according to U.S. Transportation Department data for the year ended September 2016, excluding weight carried for free.”You’re dealing with cargo that’s big in dimensions, but in pure weight it’s light,” said an airport ramp manager in California.

Airports in Tampa and Charlotte reported similar payload data for the carriers contracted by Amazon, but they did not specify whether the flights were full by volume or whether they were operated on Amazon’s behalf. A seventh airport outside Chicago said the planes were not full, though daily flights only started in October 2016, and Amazon likely is learning the market, transport experts said.The remaining airports did not comment.FedEx declined to comment. Steve Gaut, vice president of public relations at UPS, declined to comment on Amazon’s airline but said customers commonly handle parts of their logistics in-house.Reuters could not determine the extent to which, if any, Prime Air had an effect on the bottom lines of FedEx or UPS to date. Reuters could also not determine how much Amazon has spent on aircraft leases so far, key to whether the fleet has cut its costs overall.The payload figures Reuters reviewed do not include November or December, when contractor ABX Air, a unit of Air Transport Services Group Inc, paused flights for Amazon after a pilot strike.

FLYING LATER
Flight data shows another way that Amazon is departing from cargo companies’ road map in an attempt of its top goal: rapid delivery.Using FlightAware.com and similar websites, Reuters tracked the schedules of Amazon contractors and verified with airports which flights were on behalf of the retailer.

Many of the company’s eastbound flights leave the states of Washington and California unusually late at night: its flight from Stockton to Wilmington, Ohio departs close to 2:00 AM Pacific Time (10:00 GMT), for instance. FedEx instead schedules most eastbound service no later than 9:00 PM (5:00 GMT) to ensure arrival at its Memphis, Tennessee hub in time for sorting packages overnight.The difference is that cargo airlines stop at airport hubs so they can fill up planes easily with boxes from many origins. Amazon does this much less.But flying without a stopover is faster, helping Amazon cut shipping times from Prime’s two-day standard, to a day or even hours. Scheduling later departures has an advantage, too.”Most people have a tendency to order packages when they’re home” from work, said Brian Clancy, managing director of advisory firm Logistics Capital & Strategy LLC. Amazon is “waiting for the orders.”Amazon also saves time by flying to remote locations like Lehigh Valley, which are near cities and its warehouses but have little traffic. Expectations are for Amazon to stretch well beyond Lehigh Valley and the existing airports Prime Air serves. “We’re just seeing the beginning of this,” said Marc Wulfraat, president of logistics consultancy MWPVL International Inc. “We could see Toronto. We could see Denver.”They’re going to need a lot more planes,” he said. (Editing by Peter Henderson and Edward Tobin)

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First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 20:44 IST

Wall Street dips as retailers lag | Reuters

Wall Street dips as retailers lag | Reuters

Dec 23, 2016 00:49 IST

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NEW YORK U.S. stocks fell on Thursday, weighed down by a dip in retailers, as investors stepped back from a recent rally fuelled by optimism that President-elect Donald Trump will invigorate economic growth. The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI fell 22.95 points, or 0.12 percent, to 19,919.01, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 4.22 points, or 0.19 percent, to 2,260.96 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 24.01 points, or 0.44 percent, to 5,447.42.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 00:49 IST

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Modi govt lobbied hard for ratings upgrade from Moody’s, but US agency didn’t budge

New Delhi: India criticised Moody’s ratings methods and pushed aggressively for an upgrade, documents reviewed by Reuters show, but the US-based agency declined to budge citing concerns over the country’s debt levels and fragile banks.Winning a better credit rating on India’s sovereign debt would have been a much-needed endorsement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s economic stewardship, helping to attract foreign investment and accelerate growth.

Since storming to power in 2014, Modi has unveiled measures to boost investment, cool inflation and narrow the fiscal and current account deficits, but his policies have not been rewarded with a ratings upgrade from any of the “big three” global ratings agencies, who say more is needed.

Previously unpublished correspondence between India’s finance ministry and Moody’s shows New Delhi failed to assuage the ratings agency’s concerns about the cost of its debt burden and a banking sector weighed down by $136 billion in bad loans.In letters and emails written in October, the finance ministry questioned Moody’s methodology, saying it was not accounting for a steady decline in the India’s debt burden in recent years.

ReutersReuters

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It said the agency ignored countries’ levels of development when assessing their fiscal strength.Rejecting those arguments, Moody’s said India’s debt situation was not as rosy as the government maintained and its banks were a cause for concern, the correspondence seen by Reuters showed.Moody’s and one of its lead sovereign analysts, Marie Diron, declined to comment on the correspondence, saying ratings deliberations were confidential. India’s finance ministry did not respond to requests for comment. Arvind Mayaram, a former chief finance ministry official, called the government’s approach “completely unusual”. “There was no way pressure could be put on rating agencies,” Mayaram told Reuters. “It’s not done.”

Debt burden, bad loans

India has been the world’s fastest growing major economy over the past two years, but that rapid expansion has done little to broaden the government’s revenue base. At nearly 21 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), India’s revenues are lower than the 27.1 percent median for Baa-rated countries. India is rated at Baa3 by Moody’s, the agency’s lowest notch for debt considered investment grade. A higher rating would signify to bond investors that India was more creditworthy and help to lower its borrowing costs.

While India’s debt-to-GDP ratio has dropped to 66.7 percent from 79.5 percent in 2004-05, interest payments absorb more than a fifth of government revenues. Moody’s representatives, including Diron, visited North Block, the colonial sandstone building in the Indian capital that houses the finance ministry, on 21 September for a discussion on a ratings review. The atmosphere at the meeting with Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das, one of the ministry’s most senior officials, and his team was tense, according to an Indian official present, after Diron had told local media the previous day that a ratings upgrade for India was some years away.

On 30 September, Moody’s explained its methodology to Indian officials in a teleconference.

Lobbying for an upgrade

Four days later, the finance ministry sent an email to Diron questioning Moody’s metrics on fiscal strength. The government cited the examples of Japan and Portugal, which enjoy better ratings despite debts around twice the size of their economies. “Given that countries are on different stages of economic and social development, should countries be benchmarked against a median or mean number (as is done by Moody’s)” the email asked.

In India’s case, “while the debt burden lowered significantly post 2004, this did not get reflected in the ratings”, the ministry argued. New Delhi urged Diron to look at improvements in the factors – better forex reserves and economic growth – that Moody’s had considered when handing India its last ratings upgrade in 2004. In a reply the next day, Diron said that, not only was India’s debt burden high relative to other countries with the same credit rating, but its debt affordability was also low. She added that a resolution to the banking sector’s bad loan problems was “unlikely” in the near-term.

In a last-ditch effort on 27 October, Economic Affairs Secretary Das sent a six-page letter to Singapore-based Diron, addressed to Moody’s New York headquarters. Reiterating points on India’s fiscal strength, Das asked Moody’s for a “better appreciation of the factual position”. Das dismissed Moody’s concerns on India’s public finances as “unwarranted” and told the agency that there was “scope for further lowering” the political risk perception to “very low”.

“In the light of stable external debt parameters and the slew of reforms introduced in the realm of foreign direct investment, you may like to reconsider your assessment on ‘external vulnerability risk’,” he wrote. Moody’s on 16 November affirmed its Baa3 issuer rating for India, while maintaining a positive outlook, saying the government’s efforts had not yet achieved conditions that would support an upgrade.

First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 00:45 IST

Wall Street recedes and Dow 20,000 slips further away | Reuters

By Noel Randewich

U.S. stocks fell on Thursday as investors stepped back from a recent rally fuelled by optimism that President-elect Donald Trump will invigorate economic growth.The dip pulled the Dow Jones industrial average further away from the 20,000 mark after it nearly breached the level this week for the first time. Following a sharp rally since the Nov. 8 U.S. election, the Dow is up about 14 percent for the year and the S&P 500 is 11 higher on bets that the economy will benefit from Trump’s plans for deregulation and infrastructure spending.Some investors believe that recent gains may have made stocks too expensive, and that Congress may water down or prevent major infrastructure spending or tax cuts proposed by Trump.”There are issues hanging over the market,” said Donald Selkin, chief market strategist at Newbridge Securities in New York. “You need to digest these gains, and once he becomes president, we’ll see what is actually going to get passed.” Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, tapped by Trump on Wednesday as a special adviser for regulatory issues, said in an interview on CNBC that he was concerned about the stock market in the short term following its recent surge.

A report earlier showed that the U.S. economy grew faster than initially thought in the third quarter, notching its best performance in two years. Gross domestic product increased at a 3.5 percent annual rate instead of the previously reported 3.2 percent pace, the Commerce Department said.Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, rose 0.2 percent in November, below the estimated 0.3 percent gain.The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI was last down 0.07 percent at 19,928.76 points and the S&P 500 .SPX had lost 0.15 percent to 2,261.79. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 0.36 percent to 5,451.49.

Seven of the 11 major S&P sectors were lower, with the consumer discretionary index’s .SPLRCD 0.94 percent fall leading the decliners. The discretionary sector was weighed by a 0.57 percent drop in Amazon (AMZN.O) shares.The S&P telecommunications index .SPLRCL led the gainers with a 1.08 percent rise.Apple (AAPL.O) fell 0.74 percent after Nokia (NOKIA.HE) said it had filed a number of lawsuits against the iPhone maker for patent infringement. The stock was the biggest drag on the S&P 500 and Nasdaq.

ConAgra (CAG.N) rose 3.30 percent after the packaged foods maker’s quarterly profit beat estimates.Red Hat (RHT.N) slumped 12.6 percent after the Linux software distributor’s quarterly revenue missed estimates.Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.26-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.55-to-1 ratio favored decliners.The S&P 500 posted 11 new 52-week highs and 3 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 100 new highs and 43 new lows. (Additional reporting by Tanya Agrawal in Bengaluru; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

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First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 23:38 IST

Trump calls for expanded U.S. nuclear weapons capability | Reuters

PALM BEACH, Fla./WASHINGTON U.S. President-elect Donald Trump called on Thursday for the country to expand its nuclear weapons capabilities until the world “comes to its senses” – a signal he may support costly efforts to modernize the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal.During the next decade, U.S. ballistic missile submarines, bombers, and land-based missiles – the three legs of the nuclear triad – are expected to reach the end of their useful lives.Maintaining and modernizing the arsenal is expected to cost at about $1 trillion dollars over 30 years, according to independent estimates. [nL2N1C21ED]”The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” Trump said in a post on Twitter.

Trump, who is at his Florida resort for the Christmas holiday, gave no details about what prompted his tweet. Representatives for his transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.Trump, who won election on Nov. 8 and takes office on Jan. 20, campaigned on a platform of building up the U.S. military, but also pledged to cut taxes and control federal spending.

Trump met on Wednesday with a dozen Pentagon officials involved with defense acquisition programs, as well as the chief executives of Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) and Boeing Co (BA.N), the country’s two largest defense contractors. Trump said he talked with the CEOs about lowering costs for two high-profile programs: Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets and Boeing’s replacement 744-8s for the presidential Air Force One plane.

Defense stocks were little changed after Trump’s tweet, but shares of small uranium miners including Uranium Resources Inc (URRE.O) and Uranium Energy Corp (UEC.A) rose sharply. [nL1N1EH15P] (Reporting by Melissa Fares in Palm Beach, Florida and Lewis Krauskopf in New York; Writing by Susan Heavey and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Frances Kerry)

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First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 23:37 IST

U.S. consumer spending slows; business investment perking up | Reuters

By Lucia Mutikani
| WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON U.S. consumer spending increased modestly in November as household incomes failed to rise for the first time in nine months, suggesting the economy slowed in the fourth quarter after growing briskly in the prior period.But the economy remains on solid footing, with other data on Thursday showing new orders for U.S.-manufactured capital goods rising last month amid demand for machinery and primary metals, indicating that some of the oil-related drag on business spending was fading.And while the number of Americans applying for unemployment aid hit a six-month high last week, it remained below a level that is associated with labor market strength. The Commerce Department said consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, rose 0.2 percent after increasing 0.4 percent in October. When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending edged up 0.1 percent last month after a similar gain in October. But the moderation in consumer spending is likely to be temporary against the backdrop of a labor market that is near full employment and consumer confidence that is at cycle highs.Still, last month’s modest gain in consumption, coming on the heels of weak industrial production and housing starts in November, implied gross domestic product growth estimates for the fourth quarter, currently around a 2.6 percent rate, could be trimmed.The Commerce Department said in another report on Thursday that the economy grew at a 3.5 percent annual rate in the third quarter instead of the previously reported 3.2 percent pace. That was the strongest growth rate since the third quarter of 2014 and followed the second quarter’s anemic 1.4 percent pace. The upward revision reflected stronger growth in consumer spending, business investment in structures and intellectual property products than previously estimated, underscoring the economy’s solid fundamentals, which contributed to the Federal Reserve raising interest rates last week.The U.S. central bank lifted its benchmark overnight interest rate by 25 basis points to a range of 0.50 percent to 0.75 percent, also encouraged by a sturdy labor market. The Fed forecast three rate hikes in 2017.The dollar was trading lower against a basket of currencies. U.S. government bonds fell as did stocks on Wall Street.

Slower consumer spending last month held back inflation. The personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, excluding food and energy, was unchanged after edging up 0.1 percent inOctober. That lowered the year-on-year increase in the core PCE price index to 1.6 percent, the smallest gain since July. The core PCE index increased 1.8 percent in October, which was the biggest gain since July 2014. The core PCE is the Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation measure and is running below its 2 percent target.INCOME FLAT
Consumer spending last month was restrained by a 0.6 percent drop in purchases of long-lasting manufactured goods such as automobiles. Spending on services rose 0.3 percent.

Personal income was flat last month after increasing0.5 percent in October. Wages and salaries fell 0.1 percent. With consumer spending outpacing incomes, savings fell to $780.9 billion, the lowest level since May 2015, from $809.1 billion in October. While consumer spending might be cooling, there are signs that business investment is perking up after a prolonged slump.In a third report, the Commerce Department said non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, increased 0.9 percent after gaining 0.2 percent in October. A collapse in oil prices last year, together with a surge in the dollar, pressured manufacturing. Much of the impact has been through weak business spending on equipment, which has contracted for four consecutive quarters.

With oil prices hovering above $50 per barrel, manufacturing, which accounts for 12 percent of the U.S. economy, is starting to show signs of life. Gas and oil well drilling has risen over the last several months.Economists expect business spending to rebound in 2017, driven in part by president-elect Donald Trump’s perceived business-friendly policies.The incoming Trump administration has promised to slash taxes, remove some regulations and increase infrastructure spending. But manufacturing gains are likely to be limited by renewed dollar strength in the wake of Trump’s victory.Since Trump’s Nov.8 election victory, the dollar has increased 4.4 percent against the currencies of the United States’ main trading partner on concerns that the business mogul’s policy agenda could fan inflation.Last month, shipments of core capital goods rose 0.2 percent after falling 0.3 percent in October. Core capital goods shipments are used to calculate equipment spending in thegovernment’s GDP measurement.A third report from the Labor Department showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 275,000 for the week ended Dec. 17, the highest since June.Despite the increase, it was the 94th straight week that claims were below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market. That is the longest stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller. Claims tend to be volatile around this time of the year because of different timings of the various holidays. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, increased 6,000 to 263,750 last week. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 21:58 IST

Retailers weigh on Wall Street, Dow 20,000 slips away | Reuters

By Noel Randewich

U.S. stocks fell on Thursday, weighed down by weakness in retailers, as investors stepped back from a recent rally fuelled by optimism that President-elect Donald Trump will invigorate economic growth.The decline pulled the Dow Jones industrial average further away from the 20,000 mark after it nearly breached that level this week for the first time.Retail stocks fell after CNN reported Trump’s transition team is considering a tariff of as much as 10 percent on imports. The S&P 500 consumer discretionary index .SPLRCD lost 1.01 percent, its biggest one-day decline since October. Home Depot (HD.N) fell 1.02 percent and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT.N) lost 2.32 percent, both weighing more than any other stocks on the Dow.Following a sharp rally since the Nov. 8 U.S. election, the Dow is up about 14 percent for the year and the S&P 500 is 11 higher on bets that the economy will benefit from Trump’s plans for deregulation and infrastructure spending.Some investors believe that recent gains may have made stocks too expensive, and that Congress may water down or prevent major infrastructure spending or tax cuts proposed by Trump.

“There are issues hanging over the market,” said Donald Selkin, chief market strategist at Newbridge Securities in New York. “You need to digest these gains, and once he becomes president, we’ll see what is actually going to get passed.” Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, tapped by Trump on Wednesday as a special adviser for regulatory issues, said in an interview on CNBC he was concerned about the stock market in the short term following its recent surge.A report earlier showed that the U.S. economy grew faster than initially thought in the third quarter, notching its best performance in two years. Gross domestic product increased at a 3.5 percent annual rate instead of the previously reported 3.2 percent pace, the Commerce Department said.Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, rose 0.2 percent in November, below the estimated 0.3 percent gain.

The Dow finished 0.12 percent lower at 19,918.88 and the S&P 500 .SPX lost 0.19 percent to end at 2,260.96. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 0.44 percent to 5,447.42.Apple (AAPL.O) fell 0.66 percent after Nokia (NOKIA.HE) said it had sued the iPhone maker for patent infringement. The stock was the biggest drag on the S&P 500 and Nasdaq.ConAgra (CAG.N) rose 3.39 percent after the packaged foods maker’s quarterly profit beat estimates.

Red Hat (RHT.N) slumped 13.89 percent after the Linux software distributor’s quarterly revenue missed estimates.Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.26-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.55-to-1 ratio favored decliners.The S&P 500 posted 11 new 52-week highs and three new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 100 new highs and 43 new lows. With many investors already away for the end-of-year holidays, volume was very low. About 5.5 billion shares changed hands in U.S. exchanges, well below the 7.3 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions. (Additional reporting by Tanya Agrawal in Bengaluru; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and James Dalgleish)

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First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 21:04 IST

Scale of child slavery shocking in India’s spinning mills – research | Reuters

By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Various forms of slavery, including child labour, are present in more than 90 percent of south India’s spinning mills which produce yarn for Western brands, researchers said, calling for mapping of supply chains and tougher audits.The India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), a human rights organisation, spoke to workers from almost half the mills in Tamil Nadu, the largest producer of cotton yarn in the country.Most female workers employed in the 734 mills involved in the research were aged between 14 and 18, it said, and up to 20 percent of the workers were younger than 14.It said employees were forced to work long hours by employers who often withheld their pay or locked them up in company-controlled hostels. Many also faced sexual harassment.”We have raised the issue for five years now, but even to us the scale of this problem came as a shock,” ICN Director Gerard Oonk said in a statement.K. Venkatachalam, chief advisor of the Tamil Nadu Spinning Mills Association, said he was not aware of the research.He said the state government had recently filed a report to the Madras High Court “clearly stating that these issues are no longer prevalent in the industry”.”The matter has been closed,” Venkatachalam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“TORTURE”
India is one of the world’s largest textile and garment manufacturers. The southern state of Tamil Nadu is home to some 1,600 mills, employing between 200,000 and 400,000 workers.Traditionally the dyeing units, spinning mills and apparel factories have drawn on cheap labour from villages across Tamil Nadu to turn cotton into yarn, fabric and clothes, most of it for Western high street shops.Most workers are young women from poor, illiterate and low-caste or “Dalit” communities, who often face intimidation, sexually offensive remarks and harassment.

ICN said in more than half of the mills it researched, workers were not allowed to leave company-controlled hostels after working hours.Only 39 mills paid the minimum wage and in half the mills, a standard working week involved 60 hours or more of work. “Supervisors torture girls to extract work beyond their capacity,” ICN quoted an 18-year-old former worker as saying.Another teenage girl, Kalaichelvi, who earned around 8,000 rupees ($118) a month, told researchers she was forced to work for 12 hours straight with no breaks for lunch or to use the bathroom.

She said she suffered from burning eyes, rashes, fever, aching legs and stomach problems due to the working conditions. About a third of the yarn produced by workers like Kalaichelvi is used in export factories in Tamil Nadu that produce garments for many global brands.Citing poor enforcement of labour laws and “superficial audits” by buying brands, the ICN called on the industry and government to map supply chains and publish sourcing details.It also called for factories that upheld standards to be rewarded.($1=67.8650 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 19:34 IST

Hundreds resist eviction from Delhi slum as new housing falls short | Reuters

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Hundreds of residents in a New Delhi slum are resisting eviction by city officials and police in the third such protest this month in India’s capital city, as anger mounts over a shortfall in housing for the urban poor, campaigners said.Evictions began this week in Kathputli Colony, home to 3,500 families of street performers and puppeteers, after authorities marked it for development as part of a plan to upgrade the city.City officials say residents were notified of the plan which involves moving them to a temporary location while a private builder constructs modest high-rise homes for a nominal sum.They say more than 500 families have already moved to temporary accommodation.”Residents were given sufficient notice. The police are on hand to maintain law and order,” said J.P. Agrawal, a principal commissioner with the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).But some residents said they were not given the option of relocation, and that they received no notice of the eviction.

“No one told us it would be this week. Suddenly one morning we woke up and found hundreds of policemen in the colony,” said Dilip Bhatt, head of an artistes’ cooperative in the settlement.”We are surrounded by the police like we are criminals, and they have cut off water and power,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.Television images showed police in riot gear, holding assault rifles and shields as residents gathered around them.

About a third of India’s 1.25 billion population lives in cities, with numbers rising every year as tens of thousands of people leave villages to seek better prospects. Many end up in overcrowded urban slums.A government plan to provide housing for all by 2022 is meant to create 20 million new urban housing units and 30 million rural homes.But the slow pace of implementation is leaving thousands homeless, according to advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN).

More than 33,000 families living in urban areas across India were forcefully evicted since January 2015 to make way for redevelopment projects, HLRN said on Thursday. In rural areas, more than 75,000 people were displaced.Only 2,776 houses were built in urban areas under the housing plan from June 2015 to August 2016, HLRN said.In several evictions, violence and arbitrary detentions have been reported, and there has been little or no consultation, advance notice, consent or compensation, HLRN said.”It is a sad irony that despite claims of providing ‘housing for all’, the government has destroyed many more homes than it has built over the last two years,” said Shivani Chaudhry, executive director of HLRN. (Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 18:50 IST

Mumbai police bust baby trafficking racket amid fears more children at risk | Reuters

By Roli Srivastava

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Mumbai police have arrested a gang of six people accused of stealing babies or convincing single women to sell their children in the latest bust in a series of baby trafficking rackets.A police spokesman said the group, which included five women, sold the infants to childless couples in various states across India.The arrests followed the rescue of five children – four boys and one girl – aged between four months and one year in the states of Goa, Gujarat and Karnataka, and came less than a month after a similar trafficking racket was busted in West Bengal.Officers are now investigating if the couples that purchased the babies, for between 200,000 to 400,000 rupees ($3,000-6,000), were aware that the children had been kidnapped or bought from their biological parents.”The gang was operating for the last two to three years. We are still investigating the number of children they may have kidnapped and sold,” senior police inspector Naresh Kasale told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.”We suspect more people are involved in the racket.”The police spokesman said one child has been reunited with its biological parent but the others were at a rescue home.Local media reported that police were looking into whether the group was linked to cases of kidnapping in hospitals.

‘ALARMING TREND’
Kasale said police first uncovered the racket in early December while investigating the case of a missing child in Sathe Nagar slum in Mankhurd, eastern Mumbai.They found a woman from that slum was also missing and tracked her by her mobile phone to Goa where she was detained.

She told police she had sold the child and gave them details of the racket.”She had told the couple that it was her own child and that her husband was dead and she wanted to remarry. We rescued the child and have reunited him with his parents,” Kasale said.Last month, 13 babies were rescued and the remains of two other infants discovered in a series of raids in West Bengal in what police suspect is an international child trafficking racket.Eighteen people, including doctors, midwives and the owners of charities and clinics, were arrested, suspected of taking babies from women immediately after they had given birth and telling them their children were stillborn.

Adoption experts said that two gangs busted in quick succession is indicative that baby trafficking is becoming a widespread and organised crime in India.”This is an alarming trend,” said Sunil Arora, president of Federation of Adoptive Agencies. Arora said there are laws in place for women to give up their children if they are unable to keep them but single mothers are often unaware of these processes and, fearing social stigma, may hand over children to trafficking gangs.Reports of human trafficking in India increased by 25 percent in 2015 to about 6,877 compared to the previous year. More than 40 percent of cases involved children being bought, sold and exploited as slaves, according to government data.($1=68.0181 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Roli Srivastava, Editing by Ed Upright.; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 18:44 IST

Taliban claim attack on house of Afghan member of parliament | Reuters

By Mirwais Harooni
| KABUL

KABUL Tha Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on the house of an Afghan member of parliament on Wednesday night that officials said killed at least five people and wounded a number of others.A security official said one attacker blew himself up at the house of Mir Wali, a member of parliament from the volatile southern province of Helmand, killing three security guards and allowing two other gunmen to get into the compound, where a meeting was underway.Mir Wali was wounded by shattered glass and other guests were also hurt in the attack, in which at least two civilians were killed.

Among the dead was Hafiz Barakzai, son of another prominent member of parliament, who was shot and killed while helping people to escape from the compound, his brother told Reuters.The incident underlined the fragile security situation in Kabul, which has seen repeated attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen in recent months. Helmand, one of the strongholds of the Taliban and source of much of the world’s opium, has fallen increasingly under insurgent control over the past two years.

The main Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s incident. He said “an important military meeting” of officials from Helmand was underway when the attack took place.Officials said police special forces were at the scene and were concentrating on evacuating people from the house and nearby areas.

The surviving gunmen were still believed to be inside the house, with local news station Tolo News quoting local residents as saying the sound of gunfire and explosions could be heard. (Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 00:51 IST

Nokia sues Apple for infringing technology patents | Reuters

Nokia sues Apple for infringing technology patents | Reuters

Dec 22, 2016 00:16 IST

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Finland’s Nokia Corp (NOKIA.HE) said on Wednesday it had sued Apple Inc (AAPL.O), accusing the iPhone maker of violating 32 technology patents.Apple sued Acacia Research Corp (ACTG.O) and Conversant Intellectual Property Management Inc [GEGGIM.UL] on Tuesday, accusing them of colluding with Nokia to extract and extort exorbitant revenues unfairly and anticompetitively from Apple.Nokia’s lawsuits, filed in courts in Dusseldorf, Mannheim and Munich, Germany and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, cover patents for displays, user interfaces, software, antennas, chipsets and video coding.

“Since agreeing a license covering some patents from the Nokia Technologies portfolio in 2011, Apple has declined subsequent offers made by Nokia to license other of its patented inventions which are used by many of Apple’s products,” Nokia said in a statement.

Apple and Acacia did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Ted Kerr)

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First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 00:16 IST

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India’s crackdown on cash imperils pivotal national tax reform | Reuters

By Rajesh Kumar Singh
| NEW DELHI

NEW DELHI Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s crackdown on the cash economy has shattered the consensus needed for a new national sales tax, plunging his boldest reform into limbo and threatening to entrench an economic slowdown.Modi’s government already had its work cut out to finalise a deal with India’s 29 federal states to launch a Goods and Services Tax (GST) on April 1 that would transform Asia’s third largest economy into a single market for the first time.But his decision to scrap 86 percent of the cash in circulation, in a bid to purge the economy of illicit “black money”, has caused huge disruption. A slump in business activity stemming from the cash crunch has caused the revenue of state governments, which collect value-added tax on goods and other duties, to slump by 25-40 percent.The states won’t risk another setback by rushing the sales tax into force.”The investment and economic environment in the country is in bad shape,” said West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra, who earlier head a panel tasked with building a consensus on the GST. “How is the country going to absorb the dual shock of GST and demonetisation?”The GST is India’s biggest tax overhaul since independence in 1947. It would replace a plethora of federal and state levies with one tax, easing compliance, broadening the revenue base and boosting productivity.It took Modi more than two years to forge a political compromise on the tax in August. Now, demonetisation “has created a trust deficit,” said Kerala Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac. “After this, I am not going to sit and compromise. They don’t deserve it.”LEFT IN THE LURCH

Failure to break the deadlock could tip India into a fiscal crisis: The GST would need to come into effect by mid-September, when the old system of indirect taxation is due to lapse.The lingering uncertainty is worrying companies needing to understand financial implications of the new tax. “With so many vital details still missing, they are feeling left in the lurch,” said Saloni Roy, a senior director at Deloitte.Modi’s shock move last month to scrap 500 and 1,000 rupee notes was aimed at India’s shadow economy. But the ensuing cash crunch has caused job losses, disrupted supply chains and slowed construction activity.With cash shortages showing no signs of abating, some economists are calling for emergency stimulus to cushion the economy against the impact of demonetisation.

Ambit Capital, a Mumbai brokerage, forecasts growth this fiscal year will be only half of the roughly 7 percent level many expect. The Reserve Bank of India has shaved its growth outlook by half a percentage point to 7.1 percent.To make up for their losses, states are seeking compensation and will press their case at a meeting in New Delhi on Thursday and Friday with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.He has already agreed to cover states’ revenue losses for five years after the GST’s launch, but further concessions would narrow his room for manoeuvre in his annual budget presented in February.One top finance ministry official dismissed demands for compensation for demonetisation as unreasonable. But states are adamant. “They have brought it upon us,” V. Narayanasamy, chief minister of Puducherry, told Reuters. “Now they must pay for our loss.”

COUNTING COSTS
The quibble is not just over lost revenue. Some states worry about the social and political costs of demonetisation.Take Kerala, where credit cooperatives that farmers and retired government workers rely on cannot swap old bills or issue fresh notes. The state alleges this has encouraged commercial banks to scout for their deposits, sparking a “run” on them.Odhisa’s chief minister has written to Modi, saying curbs imposed on primary agriculture societies were making it difficult for farmers to access crop loans and procurement payments.With the states smarting, they have hardened their stance on how to collect the new GST, which will have federal and state elements.They want sole control over businesses with annual turnover of 15 million rupees ($220,000) and so-called “dual control” over bigger firms. Jaitley opposes this, fearing tax collectors could end up at cross purposes.”We reached this far because states were willing to compromise,” said Isaac, Kerala’s finance minister, told Reuters. “If they want the GST, they will have to now concede to the states.” (Additional reporting by Manoj Kumar in New Delhi, Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneswar and Subrata Nagchoudhury in Kolkata; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Richard Borsuk)

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First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 23:13 IST

Gunmen attack house of Afghan member of parliament | Reuters

Gunmen attack house of Afghan member of parliament | Reuters

Dec 21, 2016 23:08 IST

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KABUL Gunmen attacked the house of an Afghan member of parliament in the capital Kabul on Wednesday night, killing as many as five people, officials said.One police official said three gunmen attacked the house of Mir Wali, a member of parliament from the volatile southern province of Helmand and killed three security guards and two members of the MP’s family.The incident underlined the fragile security situation in Kabul, which has seen repeated attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen in recent months. Helmand, one of the strongholds of the Taliban and source of much of the world’s opium, has fallen increasingly under insurgent control over the past two years.

Officials said police special forces were at the scene of the attack and were concentrating on evacuating people from the house and nearby areas.

The gunmen were still believed to be inside the house, with local news station Tolo News quoting local residents as saying the sound of gunfire and explosions could be heard.

(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; writing by James Mackenzie)

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First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 23:08 IST

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Rahul Gandhi accuses Narendra Modi of taking cash payments | Reuters

By Rupam Jain
| NEW DELHI

NEW DELHI Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Bharatiya Janata Party denied allegations by Congress politician Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday that Modi had accepted $6 million in suspicious cash payments in the months before winning a 2014 general election.Gandhi, heir apparent to the leadership of the Congress party that has governed India for most of its seven decades of independence, levelled the allegations at a rally in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.He has threatened for weeks to cause an “earthquake” by exposing what he called Modi’s personal corruption. The ensuing row paralysed parliament and caused its winter session to be one of the most acrimonious and unproductive on record.Yet when Gandhi finally went public with the details it turned out that they were known, and were part of a case now before the Supreme Court that was filed by Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer known for pursuing corruption cases.Bhushan’s case rests on evidence recovered during income-tax raids on two business houses, Aditya Birla Group and Sahara that he alleges contains evidence of cash payments to Modi. Spokesmen for both companies could not be reached when called on their mobile numbers after working hours on Wednesday.One recipient of alleged payments in late 2013 and early 2014 totalling at least 400 million rupees ($5.9 million) is listed in the records as “Gujarat CM”. Bhushan alleges this refers to the chief minister of the western state who was Modi at the time.

Modi has not commented either on the Bhushan suit or Gandhi’s allegations but his law minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, denounced them on Wednesday.”I condemn the irresponsible, baseless and shameless allegations of Rahul Gandhi,” Prasad told a hastily convened news conference in New Delhi.The heated and increasingly personal exchanges come as Modi faces growing public anger over a six-week-old crackdown on “black money” that seeks to purge the economy of the proceeds of crime, corruption and tax evasion.

Modi’s cancellation of high-value banknotes worth 86 percent of the cash in circulation last month has caused disruption to the daily lives of people and businesses and could affect elections in key swing states next year.”Prime Minister Narendra Modi, demonetisation is not a surgical strike on black money, but against the poor and honest people of the this country,” Gandhi said in Gujarat, one of the states that goes to the polls next year.The tax authorities did not pursue investigations at the time because they concluded the entries related to a local company.

“We have proof to show that it is a clear case of personal corruption and the court must investigate the payments made by Sahara and Birla to Modi,” Randeep Surjewala, a spokesman for Gandi’s opposition Congress party, told Reuters.Surjewala, addressing a separate news conference, said Modi should come forward and “say whether he took money” from the two companies, and subject himself to an investigation if necessary.Bhushan, the lawyer, confirmed to Reuters that Gandhi’s allegations were based on the evidence he had provided to the Supreme Court. ($1 = 67.8989 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Rupam Jain; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 21:01 IST

Modi’s cash crackdown supporter Chandrababu Naidu shows unease as anger grows among citizens

A leading political ally of Narendra Modi has abruptly distanced himself from the Indian prime minister’s move to scrap high-value banknotes, as broad initial support for the radical monetary reform showed signs of crumbling.

The shift by N. Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, came six weeks after Modi announced to a stunned nation that he would scrap 86 percent of the cash in circulation.

While Modi remains by far India’s most popular politician, any crack in his authority could have negative implications in state elections next year that will set the tone for his expected bid for a second term in 2019.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTIPrime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Naidu’s regional party is allied to Modi’s nationalists and he heads a central committee set up to find ways to soften the impact on ordinary people of the crackdown against tax evaders, racketeers and bribe takers who rely on so-called “black cash”.

“I am breaking my head daily but we are unable to find a solution to this problem,” Naidu told party workers on Tuesday in the city of Vijayawada.

Modi, announcing the reform on 8 November, cautioned that people would face temporary hardship. He promised to restore normalcy by the end of the year, when a deadline to deposit old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes expires.

His announcement enjoyed popular support at first, with many people prepared to endure hardship as long as others are forced to give up their ill-gotten wealth or pay tax.

But continuing shortages of new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes have caused tempers to rise as millions queue at banks and ATMs to draw money. With new Rs 500 notes, worth $7.50, in very short supply it is hard for people to buy necessities because of a shortage of change.

“Modi is now a one-man army, every political ally will blame him if the cash crisis does not come to an end in the next 10 days,” said P. Raja Rao, a political science professor in Hyderabad.

Furious over the lack of cash, mobs attacked six bank branches in Uttar Pradesh on Tuesday, forcing police to rescue bank staff.

The northern state, home to one in six Indians, is due to hold an election in early 2017 that is increasingly being viewed as a referendum on Modi’s demonetisation drive.

In the last 20 days, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won several local elections in western and northern states. Party officials said the wins were a clear endorsement of the new cash policy.

“Each and every Indian understands the genuine intention behind the bold move. They trust the prime minister and we hope our political allies put an end to their doubts,” said BJP spokesman Siddharth Nath Singh.

First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 18:24 IST

Mexico fireworks market explosion kills at least 29, hurts scores

Mexico: A massive, multicoloured explosion decimated a fireworks market outside the Mexican capital on Tuesday, leaving it a charred wasteland and killing at least 29 people with dozens more injured.

Television images showed a flurry of pyrotechnics exploding into the early afternoon sky as a giant plume of smoke rose above the market. Fireworks detonated in a peal of clattering bursts reminiscent of a war zone.

The technicolour blast was the third such explosion in just over a decade to hit the popular San Pablito marketplace in Tultepec, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Mexico City. The detonations struck in the run-up to the busy Christmas holiday when many Mexicans stock up on fireworks.

“People were crying everywhere and desperately running in all directions,” said 20-year-old witness Cesar Carmona.

Some 13 children suffered burns to over 90 percent of their bodies and were being sent to the U.S. city of Galveston in Texas for treatment, said Eruviel Avila, the governor of the State of Mexico where Tultepec is located. He put the death toll at 29.

Avila also vowed to find and punish those responsible for the blast and provide economic assistance to those who had lost their livelihoods.

Isidro Sanchez, the head of Tultepec emergency services, said a lack of sufficient safety measures was the likely cause of the blast.

The federal police said it had sent a forensic team to investigate the incident, adding that at least 70 people had been injured. Videos from the scene showed people frantically fleeing, while aerial footage revealed blackened stalls and a flattened tangle of metal and wood.

Over 80 percent of the 300 stalls at the market were destroyed by the explosion, said state official Jose Manzur. Local media reported there were 300 tonnes of fireworks at the market at the time of the explosion.

Federico Juarez was present when the first explosion rocked the market.

“Everyone started running to escape as bricks and pieces of concrete fell everywhere,” said Juarez.

The blast is the latest in a long-running series of fatal explosions and industrial accidents that have roiled Mexico’s oil, gas and petrochemical industries.

A blast struck the Tultepec fireworks market in September 2005 just before independence day celebrations, injuring many people. Almost a year later, another detonation gutted the area again.

“I offer my condolences to the relatives of those who lost their lives in this accident and my wishes for a speedy recovery for the injured,” President Enrique Pena Nieto said in a tweet.

Pena Nieto is the former governor of the State of Mexico, the country’s largest which surrounds the capital.

First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 09:30 IST

Mexico fireworks market blast kills at least 27, hurts scores | Reuters

Mexico fireworks market blast kills at least 27, hurts scores | Reuters

Dec 21, 2016 05:26 IST

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MEXICO CITY At least 27 people died in an explosion at a fireworks market outside the Mexican capital on Tuesday, according to a local emergency services official.The blast at the San Pablito fireworks market in Tultepec, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Mexico City, also injured at least 70 others, according to a tweet from federal police.Isidro Sanchez, the head of Tultepec emergency services, said the death toll was preliminary as rescue workers scoured the site.

Local television showed a flurry of multi-colored fireworks exploding in all directions as a massive plume of smoke rose above the market while people frantically fled.Aerial footage showed charred stalls and destroyed buildings.

A blast struck the popular market in September 2005 just before independence day celebrations, injuring many people.

(Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 05:26 IST

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Cake and sympathy – beaten women forget pain of domestic abuse in Chennai cafe | Reuters

By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Measuring flour, whisking eggs and folding batter, K. Asma forgets the deep scars that run down her face and neck as she bakes cupcakes in an upscale cafe in the Indian port city of Chennai.Four years ago, Asma poured kerosene on herself and lit a match, after reaching breaking point in an abusive marriage. By setting herself on fire, Asma had meant to scare her husband into stopping the violence. “I was thinking a small burn mark, some ointment and back to work as a sweeper cleaning the city roads after a day,” Asma told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.”I didn’t think the fire would consume me and my life would become a living hell.” The 29-year-old is one of seven victims of domestic abuse hired by Writers’ Cafe in a pilot project to help them regain their self-esteem while learning new skills that could provide some financial independence.India first recognised domestic violence as a criminal offence in 1983 and amended the penal code to include cruelty by a husband or his family against a married woman as a crime.Last year, there were a reported 327,394 crimes against women in India, 35 percent of which were classified as “cruelty by husband or relatives”, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.The overall crime rate was down by 3.1 percent compared to 2014, but data showed an 8 percent increase in cases brought under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. In 2015, 461 cases were registered against 426 in 2014. SUICIDE BID
Hiding bruises and staying quiet, many women in India, especially in rural areas, accept violence as a normal part of life.

Many envisage suicide as the only way out with hanging, poisoning and self-immolation common causes of death.Like Asma, Parimala Gopi is also part of the Writers’ Cafe pilot project, and had also tried to set herself alight after enduring years of domestic violence. “I could see the horror in the face of my children when they saw me,” Gopi, 35, said. “I could deal with my pain but seeing theirs broke my spirit.”At Chennai’s Kilpauk Medical College burns ward, one of the largest in southern India, doctors treat up to 100 women a month for burns from kerosene and alcohol. Often the injuries are self-inflicted.Counsellors at the hospital said that 60 percent of the cases have third-degree burns that prove fatal.”Among those who survive, we found that many were dying after discharge from the hospital,” said Prasanna Gettu of International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care, a support agency for victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

“They did not have enough money to take care of their diet or the medication they needed to heal. Families were not being supportive and many were just withering away. They needed jobs.”HAPPINESS
At Writers’ Cafe, Swiss baker Silke Stadler and chef Karan Manavalan, who are training the women to bake cakes, said their aim is to create a positive workplace where the women are not judged for past actions.”It is a good space to make things right for them,” Stadler said.

Aniruddha Sen, the chief executive of CC Fine Foods South India Private Limited, which opened Writers’ Cafe, said his company planned to open similar cafes in 2017.”We want them (the women) to have permanent livelihood through this venture,” he said.Projects like this and Sheroes’ Hangout, a cafe run by survivors of acid attacks in the western city of Agra, are helping women find their place in society, campaigners say.”It has been a long journey for these women to simply say yes to a job,” Gettu said.”They have battled stigma and their own insecurities before stepping out of their homes, boarding a bus, ignoring the stares and getting to work.”Asma does not mind that many people on the bus choose not to sit next to her during her daily commute to work. “I just think about the work and the 10,000 rupees ($147) I earn every month,” she said.”Baking that cake makes me forget everything, even my gnarled hands and scarred face. I find a little bit of happiness,” Asma said. (Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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First Published On : Dec 21, 2016 00:05 IST

Killer of Russian ambassador took sick leave on day of attack | Reuters

By Orhan Coskun and David Dolan
| ANKARA

ANKARA The 22-year-old Turkish policeman who gunned down the Russian ambassador in Ankara called in sick on the day of the attack and promised to bring a doctor’s note for his supervisors, a senior security official told Reuters.The government has identified Mevlut Mert Altintas as the gunman who shouted “Don’t forget Aleppo!” and “Allahu Akbar” as he opened fire repeatedly on envoy Andrey Karlov while he was giving a speech at an art gallery in the Turkish capital.The attack, caught on video and widely circulated on social media, was a grisly reminder of the spillover faced by both Turkey and Russia from the Syrian civil war, where they are on opposing sides and where Russian-backed Syrian forces last week ended rebel resistance in the northern city of Aleppo.On Monday morning, Altintas called the division of the Ankara riot police where he had worked for 2-1/2 years and said he was unwell and would bring a doctor’s note upon his return, the official said.Altintas, who lived in a shared flat in the Demetevler neighbourhood on the outskirts of Ankara, spent the night before the attack at a hotel in central Ankara close to the gallery, the official said.”He walked from the hotel … to the gallery. He showed his police ID at the entrance,” the official said.

This allowed him to bypass a security check and bring his gun into the venue.SMARTLY DRESSED

Karlov was speaking at an event for the gallery’s showing of an exhibition of photos from Russia, entitled “From Kaliningrad to Kamchatka”. Media present captured the killing in graphic detail.In one photo, Altintas – dressed smartly in a suit, necktie and white shirt – is seen standing just behind Karlov as the ambassador spoke. In a video from moments later, Karlov is shown crumpling as he appears to be shot from behind.Altintas fired some 11 shots with nine of those hitting Karlov, the official said, citing the initial police report. Photographs from the incident showed a wall marked by what appeared to be gunfire.

Turkish special forces stormed the gallery and gunfire was heard for some time after, according to a Reuters cameraman at the scene. As they entered the building, Altintas initially waited by the ambassador’s body and would not allow him to be treated, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.A source familiar with the gallery said Altintas was spotted at the exhibition on the opening night, the Friday before the attack.”There was a ceremony for the opening of the exhibition on Friday evening and the attacker came to that event,” the person said. “Probably he was doing reconnaissance.” (Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay and Daren Butler; Writing by David Dolan; Editing Giles Elgood)

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First Published On : Dec 20, 2016 22:54 IST

German police say arrested man may not be Christmas market attacker | Reuters

By Michelle Martin and Sabine Siebold
| BERLIN

BERLIN A Pakistani asylum-seeker arrested on suspicion of killing 12 people by mowing through a Berlin Christmas market in a truck may not be the attacker, and the real perpetrator could still be on the run, German police said on Tuesday.The truck smashed into wooden huts serving mulled wine and sausages at the foot of the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church, one of west Berlin’s most famous landmarks, at about 8 p.m. on Monday. Forty-eight people were injured, 18 severely.News of the arrest of the 23-year-old Pakistani led politicians in Germany and beyond to demand a crackdown on immigration.Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters: “There is much we still do not know with sufficient certainty but we must, as things stand now, assume it was a terrorist attack.”She added: “I know it would be especially hard for us all to bear if it were confirmed that the person who committed this act was someone who sought protection and asylum.”In a dramatic twist, police later said the suspect had denied the offence and might not be the right man. “According to my information it’s uncertain whether he was really the driver,” Police President Klaus Kandt told a news conference.Berlin police tweeted that they were “particularly alert” because of the denial. “Please be alert,” they added.Die Welt newspaper quoted an unnamed police chief as saying:”We have the wrong man. And therefore a new situation. The true perpetrator is still armed, at large and can cause fresh damage.”The truck belonged to a Polish freight company and its rightful driver was found dead in the vehicle. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said a pistol believed to have been used to kill him had not yet been found.German media said the arrested man had jumped out of the driver’s cab and run down the street towards the Tiergarten, a vast park in central Berlin. Several witnesses called police, including one who chased the suspect while on the phone, constantly updating officials on his whereabouts.”STATE OF WAR”
The attack fuelled immediate demands for a change to Merkel’s immigration policies, under which more than a million people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere have arrived in Germany this year and last.

“We must say that we are in a state of war, although some people, who always only want to see good, do not want to see this,” said Klaus Bouillon, interior minister of the state of Saarland and a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).Horst Seehofer, leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, said: “We owe it to the victims, to those affected and to the whole population to rethink our immigration and security policy and to change it.”The record influx has hit Merkel’s ratings as she prepares to run for a fourth term next year, and boosted support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD). Senior AfD member Marcus Pretzell blamed Merkel for the attack on Twitter.AfD leader Frauke Petry said Germany was no longer safe and “radical Islamic terrorism has struck in the heart of Germany”.The incident evoked memories of an attack in Nice, France in July when a Tunisian-born man drove a 19-tonne truck along the beach front, mowing down people who had gathered to watch the fireworks on Bastille Day, killing 86 people. That was claimed by Islamic State.EUROPE DIVIDED

The mass influx of migrants and refugees to the European Union has deeply divided its 28 members and fuelled the rise of populist anti-immigration movements that hope to capitalise on public concerns next year in elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands.Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico said the latest attack would change perceptions of migration. “I think that the cup of patience is beginning to spill over and Europe’s public will rightfully expect rather stronger measures,” he said.Nigel Farage of Britain’s UK Independence Party tweeted: “Terrible news from Berlin but no surprise. Events like these will be the Merkel legacy.”On Tuesday morning, investigators removed the black truck from the site for forensic examination. People left flowers at the scene and notes, one of which read: “Keep on living, Berliners!” One woman was crying as she stopped by the flowers.Bild newspaper cited security sources as saying the arrested man was Naved B. and had arrived in Germany a year ago. In legal cases German officials routinely withhold the full name of suspects, using only an initial.A security source told Reuters the suspect had been staying at a refugee centre in the now defunct Tempelhof airport.Die Welt said police special forces stormed a hangar at Tempelhof at around 4 a.m. (0300 GMT). A refugee there who gave his name only as Ahmed told Reuters security guards had told him there was a raid at around 4 a.m.Prosecutors declined to immediately comment on the report.

“FEAR OF EVIL”
Merkel and de Maiziere both stressed the need for Germans to remain uncowed by the attack.”We do not want to live paralysed by the fear of evil,” said the chancellor, who discussed the attack by phone with U.S. President Barack Obama and convened a meeting of her security cabinet.”Even if it is difficult in these hours, we will find the strength for the life we want to live in Germany – free, together and open.”Other European countries said they were reviewing security.Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said he had told the heads of regional police forces to intensify surveillance measures. He called for biometric and fingerprint checks to be introduced along the Balkan route travelled by many migrants arriving in Europe, in order to better control foreign jihadist fighters’ movements.London police said they were reviewing their plans for protecting public events over the festive period.Flags will be hung at half-mast around Germany on Tuesday and Berlin Christmas markets were closed for the day out of respect. The German soccer league announced a minute’s silence at all matches on Tuesday and Wednesday, at which players will wear black ribbons.Dresden tourist information service said authorities had erected concrete blocks around the Striezelmarkt, one of Germany’s oldest Christmas markets, to increase security.Festive markets selling ornate, often hand-crafted decorations, seasonal foods and hot spiced wine are a beloved tradition in Germany.Manfred Weber, head of the centre-right European People’s Party, said: “It’s not an attack on a country; it’s an attack on our way of life, on the free society in which we are allowed to live.” (Reporting by Michelle Martin, Caroline Copley, Joseph Nasr, Emma Thomasson, Paul Carrel, Madeline Chambers in Berlin; additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla in Vienna; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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First Published On : Dec 20, 2016 19:54 IST

Rebel Aleppo’s final agony | Reuters

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Ellen Francis
| AMMAN/BEIRUT

AMMAN/BEIRUT As the bombardment of Aleppo intensified in the days before the collapse of the city’s rebel enclave, Mahmoud Issa would try to comfort his terrified children.”My small daughter would sleep with her hands over her ears … I would tell her ‘don’t be afraid, I am next to you.'” Issa told Reuters there was another motive too. “What being close means of course is that we die together, so no one who stays alive would be sad about the others.”Thousands of people trapped in eastern Aleppo faced cold, hunger, destitution and an uncertain wait to leave their city as refugees while government forces seized the last rebel pocket, a major prize in the Syrian war.As reports spread of killings by government soldiers and allied militiamen, denied by Damascus, many were hit by the painful reality that they may never return home.The battle for Aleppo had begun in 2012, a year after the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, but it was only this summer that the army and allied Shi’ite militias backed by Russian air power besieged the rebels’ eastern zone.On Nov. 24, the attackers made a sudden advance prompting retreats by the rebels that ended with their acceptance of a ceasefire and agreement to withdraw last Tuesday.Despite the evacuation of around 10,000 people, many more remained stuck after the agreement broke down, hostage to complex negotiations between armed groups on each side.Images from within the last rebel-held area in recent days showed crowds of people huddling around fires, clothes pulled tight against the bitter weather, seeking shelter among piles of rubble and twisted metal.”NOBODY TO BURY THEM”
“All the residents were crammed in three or four districts. People were in the streets, so any mortar shell that fell caused a massacre. The dead needed somebody to bury them. There was nobody to bury them,” a man in his 40s who was evacuated from the city told Reuters.Like others interviewed for this article, the man asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. On Wednesday, the area was pummelled by air strikes and artillery fire, a bombardment that reached a climax before midnight.”The shells were falling around us at the rate of my breathing,” said Modar Shekho, a nurse whose father and brother were both killed by bombs in the last two weeks. He escaped Aleppo last week in a convoy to rejoin his family in the rebel-held countryside outside the city.The White Helmets civil defence rescue group, which operates in Syria’s rebel-held areas, had suspended organised service after volunteers were scattered in the retreat and much of its equipment was lost or rendered useless by fuel shortages.”We are working with our hands just to get people from under the rubble,” said Ibrahim Abu Laith, a civil defence official.Bodies were lying in the streets, residents said.

Photographs sent by a medic showed a man in a field clinic picking his way between people lying on the floor under blankets in a corridor with blood smeared on the wall. FAMILIES SEPARATED IN CHAOS
Most people had only a bag or two of possessions with them.”Everyone in Aleppo has moved nearly ten times. There was no longer any place. Every time I move to a house it gets shelled,” said Adnan Abed al-Raouf, a former civil servant.In the chaos, families were split up. Wadah Qadour, a former construction foreman, described how a man carried his bleeding wife looking for help had failed to realise their daughter was not following behind — one of the families separated in the chaos. “The girl was put in an orphanage,” said Qadour. One Reuters photograph showed a mother cradling her child in a blanket as they sat by the side of a road beside rubble.

“It got dark outside. People squatted in the streets, and they started making fires to keep warm. Most people hid from the cold in open shops,” said Shekho, the nurse whose father and brother had died. “Thousands of families slept in the streets waiting for the buses to come back.” Crowds attempted to reach buses on Thursday, when at least three convoys managed to leave Aleppo for the rebel-held areas in countryside to the west.When vehicles arrived at midnight, everybody rushed for a place. “Each of us picked up his stuff and we went right away,” said Shekho. “Thousands of families were crowding into the buses.” He managed to leave Aleppo. Still, thousands of people remain stranded, with estimates as high as tens of thousands. “They were still waiting in the streets and it got really cold and the buses were late,” said another nurse in Aleppo. REPORTS OF KILLINGS
Growing panic centred around unconfirmed reports of summary killings and other accusations of abuses by the army and its allies in captured areas. Five people told Reuters about the same incident involving young men from their neighbourhood in al-Kalasa who had fled into the basement of a clinic. They were not heard of again and their former neighbours were convinced they had been killed in the government advance.

Six other people from the Bustan al-Qasr quarter said they had been told by people who remain that the bodies of nine members of a family called Ajami had been found in a house. Damascus and its allies – which include the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and the Iraqi militia Harakat al-Nujaba – have denied that any mass arrests or summary killings took place. An elderly man told Reuters his identity card had been confiscated at a government check point and he was told to go to a school to collect it. Once there, he and some younger men were put into a room. Soldiers told them they would be killed but at the last minute took him and some others out. Then they heard shooting from inside the room, he said. Reuters was not able to verify the reports independently. HARD CHOICES
For rebels trying to decide what to do in the face of defeat, fear for families and other civilians weighed heavily.After vowing never to leave, rebels acknowledged they had no alternative as bombardments pounded residential areas. They accepted the terms of a withdrawal set out in a U.S.-Russian proposal that offered them safe passage out of the city, after it was presented to them by U.S. officials, rebel officials said. But no sooner had they embraced the idea of surrendering, than Russia declared there was no deal.Rebel commanders decided their only option was to fight to the death, said the commander of the Jabha Shamiya rebel group. “They were very hard days, because we were responsible for civilians – women, children, the elderly,” said Abu Ali Saqour, speaking from eastern Aleppo. Later that night, the army and its allies made another lightning advance, taking the Sheikh Saeed district after intense fighting and pushing the rebels back during the next day to a last tiny pocket. New talks between Russia and Turkey, the main foreign supporter of the rebels, led to a new evacuation deal, but implementation would be halting at best, leaving thousands of people in limbo in freezing temperatures. Yousef al Ragheb, a fighter from the Fastaqim rebel group, was ordered by his commanders to shred stacks of documents and dump equipment from a headquarters. After hearing that the ceasefire was holding, Abdullah Istanbuli, a protester-turned-fighter, spent hours burning his belongings and smashing his furniture to prevent it being looted after he left. “We are burning our memories … No I don’t want any one to live in my house after me,” he said. (Reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman and Ellen Francis in Beirut. Additional reporting by Tom Perry and Lisa Barrington in Beirut. Writing by Angus McDowall in Beirut; Editing by Michael Georgy and Peter Millership)

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First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 21:52 IST

Five men sentenced to death for 2013 Hyderabad bombings | Reuters

Five men sentenced to death for 2013 Hyderabad bombings | Reuters

Dec 19, 2016 20:48 IST

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NEW DELHI Five men were sentenced to death by a court on Monday for their role in two deadly bombings in 2013 in the city of Hyderabad, including the co-founder of an outlawed Islamist group accused of involvement in a series of attacks.The convictions last week of Yasin Bhatkal, founder of Indian Mujahideen, and the others marked the first time members of the group had been found guilty, the National Investigation Agency, India’s chief counterterrorism organisation, said after the sentences were handed down.Two bombs ripped through a busy market in Hyderabad, a major information technology centre in southern India, in February 2013, killing at least 17 people.

The man police accuse of masterminding the blasts remains on the run.The trial took place in a special court run by the NIA and the five convicted are expected to appeal against the judgment.

India sentences dozens of people to death each year but had been reluctant to carry out executions. An undeclared moratorium on capital punishment ended in 2012 when India executed a militant convicted for an attack in 2008 in Mumbai.

(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Alison Williams)

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First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 20:48 IST

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Pakistani cinemas quietly show Indian films again as tensions ease, losses mount | Reuters

By Syed Raza Hassan
| KARACHI, Pakistan

KARACHI, Pakistan Pakistani movie theatres began screening Bollywood films again on Monday, ending an 11-week boycott in response to political and military tensions with India, theatre officials said.Some theatre owners said the restoration was because tension was easing, but others said it was because audiences had dropped so sharply since the boycott that began on Sept. 30.In Karachi, the Atrium Cinema started with a screening of the Indian sports romantic comedy “Freaky Ali”. Still, the screenings were kept low key, with no publicity posters and scant attendance in theatres visited by Reuters.Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours and foes have been more fraught than usual since an crackdown by Indian security forces on dissent in Indian-controlled Kashmir began in July.The tension worsened in September after militants killed 18 soldiers in a raid on an Indian army base, an attack New Delhi blamed on Pakistan.After exchanges of fire across the Line of Control in Kashmir – claimed by both countries and occupied in part by each – cinema owners announced the boycott.

Pakistan’s state censor soon imposed a ban on Indian content and channels on cable television.However, the boycott has cost Pakistani cinemas dearly.”The absence of Bollywood content from theatres resulted in losing over 80 percent of customers,” estimated Khurram Gultasab, general manager at Super Cinemas, which runs 10 cinemas in cities across Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Indian films are popular both at the cinema and on bootlegged DVDs in Pakistan.”If Bollywood films are not resumed, cinemas will be forced to close down,” Gultasab said.Nadeem Mandviwalla, whose Mandviwalla Entertainment runs eight cinemas in Karachi and the capital, Islamabad, said the resumption of Bollywood films was a step towards warming relations.

“Someone has to take a step towards bringing normalcy back so we have initiated the process to bring back peace and harmony,” Mandviwalla said.”As for losses, everyone knows that the suspension (of the boycott) is going to curtail huge losses on both sides.”Pakistan’s domestic film industry has seen a revival in recent years, but is dwarfed by India’s Bollywood. Pakistani actors have increasingly been appearing in big budget Bollywood films in the past few years. (Editing by Kay Johnson and Alison Williams)

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First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 20:26 IST

Killings in Indian police custody go unpunished, says rights group | Reuters

By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Senthil Kumar’s mother saw him being dragged off by policemen on charges of extortion. Standing outside the Vadamadurai police station in Tamil Nadu, she heard him scream for mercy. The next day she was told her son was dead.”He didn’t die, he was killed,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, recalling the events of April 2010.”And I know the name of every policeman who did it.”Kumar is one of the 591 people who have died in police custody in India since 2010, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Monday, calling for the strict implementation of existing laws on arrest and detention.Citing government data, the report said 97 people died in police custody in 2015 alone, and there was not a single known case in the past five years in which a police official had been convicted for a custodial death.”In almost all cases, the police passes off these deaths as suicide or a heart attack,” said Jayshree Bajoria, author of HRW’s report.”And the brotherhood kicks in to shield the guilty, who are their own colleagues. The entire system collaborates to protect the guilty policemen instead of taking action against them.”

K S Dhatwalia, spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi, the government department responsible for police, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday the ministry would “look into the report and take necessary action”. The report examines investigations into 17 deaths in custody between 2009 and 2015. In each case, the police did not follow proper arrest procedures, making the suspect more vulnerable to abuse, Bajoria said.Leonard Valdaris trusted the policemen who wanted to talk to his son about a theft in the neighbourhood in April 2014.But when he walked into the Wadala railway police station in Mumbai the next day, the report said, his son was “crying bitterly” and told him the police had beaten him all night and would kill him.

Three days later, Agnelo Valdaris, 25, died, HRW said.”When I saw my son in the hospital, there everything changed,” Valdaris was quoted as saying in the report. “There I saw the reality. He had been beaten black and blue with a belt.”Forms of torture recorded in the report include severe beatings with boots and belts and sometimes suspending people from their wrists. Autopsy reports examined by HRW show injuries consistent with blunt force trauma.

India has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.According to the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure policemen are expected to prepare a memo of arrest with the date and time of arrest, ensure a medical examination is carried out on the accused, inform the family of the arrest and present the suspect before a magistrate within 24 hours.According to government records, in 67 of the 97 deaths in custody in 2015, police failed to present the suspect before a magistrate or the suspect died within 24 hours of arrest.”If police follow the rules designed to deter torture and mistreatment, deaths in custody could be prevented,” said Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch.”India can only boast of rule of law when those charged with enforcing it are held accountable.” (Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 19:44 IST

‘Uberisation’ of India’s domestic work market has benefits and risks | Reuters

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A booming digital market matching Indian domestic workers with employers may offer benefits for some housemaids but won’t end low wages and discrimination and may exclude the poorest women who don’t have smartphones, according to new research.Domestic help in India is relatively cheap, and demand for cooks, cleaners and babysitters is growing as incomes rise and more women work full-time.Domestic workers, who are generally women, typically have little or no education, and the market is almost entirely unregulated, with no fixed wages or benefits for workers.On the back of the popularity of taxi-hailing mobile apps such as Uber and home-grown Ola, a handful of companies have launched apps that offer domestic workers on demand.”This ‘Uberisation of domestic work’ can offer some benefits, (but) it also risks further entrenching a culture of low incomes, insecurity and discrimination,” according to a study by the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI).A typical middle-class Indian home may have a part-time cook and a part-time cleaner. Some households have a full-time worker, while wealthier households may have a live-in helper.Workers are typically hired by word of mouth. Most do not receive health insurance or retirement benefits.While on-demand technology can increase workers’ access to opportunities, it is “not automatically empowering, and there is a great risk that marginalised groups will remain excluded,” ODI said in the report released last week.DECENT WORK
Women make up about 80 percent of an estimated 67 million domestic workers globally, according to ODI.

In India, many domestic workers, most of them women, are forced to work up to 18 hours a day and face dire living conditions, abuse and violence.A draft domestic workers’ bill in 2015 had proposed a minimum salary of 9,000 rupees ($133) per month for skilled, full-time household help, along with benefits such as social security cover and mandatory time off. That bill was not passed.On-demand domestic work companies including MyDidi (sister), BookMyBai (maid) and TaskBob say they are helping meet demand for reliable help, while also enabling workers to secure better wages and conditions.”The workers are trained, they know what they are getting paid, they get regular hours and greater flexibility,” said Anupam Sinhal, co-founder of BookMyBai and NanoJobs.But campaigners say there is no oversight of agencies working to match domestic workers with employers and complaints of exploitation, trafficking and enslavement abound.

“There is no regulation or monitoring of agencies or these new companies that provide on-demand services,” said Shalini Sinha at WIEGO, a lobby group for informal women workers.”Do they really ensure fair conditions for the workers? Do the workers get paid on time? What we need is a law to protect these women, and regulation and monitoring of these agencies.”FIXED SALARY
ODI’s study of the on-demand model in South Africa showed that it disproportionately benefits employers. For the workers, it meant low wages and discrimination, it said.India’s on-demand domestic work companies are expanding by up to 60 percent month-on-month, according to ODI.

The model is different from Uber’s: BookMyBai gives workers on its payroll a fixed salary of 16,000 rupees ($235) a month, as well as health insurance and some benefits, regardless of how many hours they work, said Anupam Sinhal.Also, it is the company that designates a maid to a household, as many workers don’t have smartphones, he said.More than half of India’s domestic workers are illiterate, and few own smartphones or have bank accounts, making it harder for the women to navigate the platform themselves.MyDidi opens a bank account for each worker, while another company sends a text message to the husband of the worker every time she is assigned a job, so he knows her whereabouts. “The demand-supply gap is so huge, that we need these services to help address it,” Sinhal said.”The system gives the worker the benefits of a more formal economy, despite the challenges now.”($1 = 67.7347 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 19:24 IST

Box Office: ‘Rogue One’ scores massive $155 million debut as Star Wars fans flock to theaters | Reuters

By Brent Lang

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” sold out multiplexes around the country and brought fanboys and fangirls out in force over the weekend. The “Star Wars” prequel scored the second largest December opening in history, the second largest launch of the year, and one of the top debuts in history, opening to a massive $155 million.Globally, the film has earned $290.5 million, after touching down in nearly every major foreign market save for China and South Korea.Disney, which shelled out $4 billion to buy “Star Wars” creator LucasFilm in 2012, had been trying to downplay expectations for “Rogue One.” Executives noted that the film is the first “Star Wars” movie to exist outside of the main Skywalker clan storyline. It’s also a darker, war-themed tale; one that has an unusually high body count for a popcorn flick.But the “Star Wars” pedigree proved irresistible to audiences, and the film seems positioned to play well through the holidays. Disney is planning to do more “Rogue One”-style spinoffs. The company is already working on a film about the early years of Han Solo that will star Alden Ehrenreich.

Most studios steered clear of “Rogue One,” but Warner Bros. and New Line offered up “Collateral Beauty” as counter-programming for audiences unmoved by tales of Jedi warriors. The drama about a grieving ad executive (Will Smith) was savaged by critics, and only managed to eke out a paltry $7 million debut for a fourth place finish. That’s a rough start for the picture and continues Smith’s bumpy period at the box office. The actor scored with last summer’s “Suicide Squad,” but struck out with the likes of “Focus,” “After Earth,” and “Concussion.” “Collateral Beauty” cost $36 million to produce. Village Roadshow also backed the picture. The opening weekend crowd skewed female and older, with women comprising 59% of the audience and 58% of ticket buyers clocking in over the age of 35.Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. domestic distribution president, acknowledged that the poor reviews hurt the film, but stressed that its A-minus CinemaScore indicated that audiences were enjoying “Collateral Beauty.”

“I’m disappointed,” he said. “But the film plays well with an older audience, and we hope that over Christmas, they’ll have more free time available to go out and discover it.”Disney’s “Moana” snagged second place, picking up $11.7 million and pushing its stateside gross to $161.9 million. Paramount’s “Office Christmas Party” nabbed third, earning $8.4 million and bringing the raunchy comedy’s total to $31.5 million after two weeks of release.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” rounded out the top five, picking up $5 million to push the Harry Potter spinoff’s domestic total to $207.7 million.Oscar-frontrunner “La La Land” performed nicely in its expansion. The acclaimed musical picked up $4 million after moving from five to 200 theaters. That brings its total to $5.3 million. Lionsgate is backing the film, which stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as two Angelenos in love.Amazon and Roadside’s “Manchester by the Sea” capitalized on a slew of Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations, adding $4.2 million to its $14 million haul while moving from 356 to 1,200 theaters.In limited release, “Fences” picked up $128,000 in two theaters. Paramount is backing the adaptation of the August Wilson play, with Denzel Washington directing the film and co-starring opposite Viola Davis. It cost just over $20 million to make.

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First Published On : Dec 18, 2016 22:35 IST

Real survive scare to win club cup with Ronaldo hat-trick | Reuters

Real survive scare to win club cup with Ronaldo hat-trick | Reuters

Dec 18, 2016 21:43 IST

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By Chris Gallagher
| TOKYO

TOKYO Real Madrid suffered an almighty fright before a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick hauled them back from 2-1 down and gave them a 4-2 win over rank outsiders Kashima Antlers in the Club World Cup final on Sunday.Two goals from Gaku Shibasaki stunned the European champions as the Japanese hosts took a 2-1 lead early in the second half before a Ronaldo penalty brought Real level on the hour.The 11-times European champions then survived several more scares and a possible sending-off for captain Sergio Ramos before Ronaldo scored twice more in the first period of extra-time.Real, who won the tournament for the second time in three years and were crowned champions for a fifth time overall, appeared set for an easy victory when Karim Benzema gave them a ninth-minute lead but Shibasaki changed the story by levelling one minute before halftime.Kashima were the first Asian team to reach the final although they qualified for the tournament as champions of host nation Japan. Asian champions Jeonbuk Motors had lost in the quarter-finals.”We knew it was not going to be an easy one. They were very aggressive,” Real coach Zinedine Zidane told reporters. Real went ahead when Luka Modric’s volley was parried by Hitoshi Sogahata and Benzema tapped in the rebound.

Kashima refused to be overawed, continued playing their neat football and snatched a shock equaliser just before the break.Shoma Doi’s cross found Shibasaki, whose first touch was poor but he was gifted a second attempt when Raphael Varane failed to clear and he smashed the ball into the net.Shibasaki struck again six minutes after the break when he collected a poor Real clearance, got away from three opponents and fired a low shot past Keylor Navas from 25 metres.Real were facing their first defeat since they lost to VfL Wolfsburg in April, a run of 36 competitive games, until Lucas Vazquez was bundled over by Shuto Yamamoto and Ronaldo converted the resulting penalty on the hour.

Kashima continued to give as good as they got and had three good chances in the final minutes of normal time.Fabricio’s goalbound drive was tipped over by Navas and the Costa Rican goalkeeper came to the rescue again one minute later by blocking Mu Kanazaki’s shot after he got free of the Real defence.Yasushi Endo could have won it with the last kick but fired wide at the far post while Sergio Ramos was lucky to escape a second yellow card for a push on an opponent, a decision which Kashima coach Masatada Ishii said “lacked courage”.Ronaldo ended Kashima’s dream when he collected Benzema’s sliderule pass and fired past Sogahata eight minutes into extra-time, then settled the match six minutes later with an emphatic finish into the roof of the net.

“We gave Real Madrid problems,” said Ishii. “That’s what we were able to do. But we made small mistakes in positioning and judgment so it’s frustrating.” (Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis)

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First Published On : Dec 18, 2016 21:43 IST

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Afghan migrants taken to hospital as Croatia arrests Bulgarians over trafficking | Reuters

BELGRADE Dozens of migrants, mainly from Afghanistan, have been taken to hospital in Croatia after police stopped a van carrying 67 people, and arrested two Bulgarian citizens suspected of human trafficking, the police said. The van, with British licence plates, was halted on the highway between the Serbian and Slovenian borders on Saturday evening during routine traffic control, according to the police. Forty-two migrants were taken immediately to hospital and some were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, health minister Milan Kujundzic was quoted by the Hina news agency as saying. He said two of the 42 were boys aged 10 to 12, while the others were between 15 and 20. “Some of them were unconscious, some vomited when they were found,” Kujundzic said. “They were in serious condition, dehydrated and apparently have not eaten for five days.”

Some 650,000 people passed through Croatia from September 2015 to March this year on the so-called Balkan route used by migrants, mainly from Syria, heading towards western Europe, especially Germany.The route was largely shut down in March after a series of border closures.

Many migrants have turned to smugglers to help them cross borders illegally.

Austrian police found 71 dead migrants locked into a lorry in August 2015, and many officials fear another similar disaster. (Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

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First Published On : Dec 18, 2016 19:24 IST

Monte dei Paschi to launch share issue Dec. 19 | Reuters

Monte dei Paschi to launch share issue Dec. 19 | Reuters

Dec 18, 2016 19:02 IST

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MILAN Troubled Italian bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena will offer new shares for sale between Monday and Thursday in a last ditch attempt to raise 5 billion euros ($5.2 billion) by the end of the year and avoid a state bailout.The European Central Bank has told Italy’s third-largest bank to raise capital this year and offload 28 billion euros in bad loans but finding investors has proved difficult amid political turmoil and this month’s change of government.Monte dei Paschi said on Sunday its share offer for institutional investors, which accounts for 65 percent of the total, would run until 1300 GMT on Thursday.The offer aimed at current shareholders and retail investors will end at 1300 GMT on Wednesday.Monte dei Paschi said in a document on its website that, if successful, the share issue could raise up to 3.2 billion euros.

The rest of the capital needed would come from a voluntary debt-to-equity conversion offer on the bank’s junior debt which has already raised around 1 billion euros. On Friday, the bank said it was reopening the conversion offer until Wednesday and extending it to retail investors owning 2.1 billion euros of its junior debt.Italy is ready to step in to rescue the country’s third-largest bank should the fundraising plan fail.

Under new rules Europe introduced in the wake of the financial crisis to shield taxpayers, investors in a failing lender must bear losses before public money can be tapped.A source familiar with the matter on Friday said Italy’s government would inject capital into Monte dei Paschi only after the forced conversion of 4.1 billion euros worth of subordinated bonds into shares.

The bank said in the offer document that its liquidity of 11 billion euros as of Dec. 14 could run out in the following 12 months due in part to its main depositor taking around 2 billion euros out of its current account.($1 = 0.9574 euros) (Reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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First Published On : Dec 18, 2016 19:02 IST

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China will give back seized drone, criticises U.S. hyping up the issue | Reuters

By Ben Blanchard
| BEIJING

BEIJING China’s Defence Ministry said on Saturday it had been in talks with the United States about returning an underwater drone taken by a Chinese naval vessel in the South China Sea, but the U.S. was not helping by “hyping up” the issue.The drone was taken on Thursday, the first seizure of its kind in recent memory, about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay off the Philippines, just as the USNS Bowditch was about to retrieve the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), U.S. officials said.The Defence Ministry said a Chinese naval vessel discovered a piece of “unidentified equipment” and checked it to prevent any navigational safety issues, before discovering it was a U.S. drone.”China decided to return it to the U.S. side in an appropriate manner, and China and the U.S. have all along been in communication about it,” the ministry said on its website.”During this process, the U.S. side’s unilateral and open hyping up is inappropriate, and is not beneficial to the smooth resolution of this issue. We express regret at this,” it added.U.S. President-elect Donald Trump weighed in to the row on Saturday, tweeting: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act.”Without directly saying whether the drone was operating in waters China considers its own, the ministry said U.S. ships and aircraft have for a long period been carrying out surveillance and surveys in “the presence” of Chinese waters.”China is resolutely opposed to this, and demands the U.S. stops this kind of activity,” it said.

China will remain on alert for these sorts of activities and take necessary steps to deal with them, the ministry said without elaborating.Earlier, the Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, cited an unidentified Chinese source as saying they believed the issue would be resolved smoothly.The United States says the drone was operating lawfully.”The UUV was lawfully conducting a military survey in the waters of the South China Sea,” a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s a sovereign immune vessel, clearly marked in English not to be removed from the water – that it was U.S. property,” the official said.

The Pentagon confirmed the incident at a news briefing on Friday, and said the drone used commercially available technology and sold for about $150,000.Still, the Pentagon viewed China’s seizure seriously since it had effectively taken U.S. military property.”It is ours, and it is clearly marked as ours and we would like it back. And we would like this not to happen again,” Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said.

HEIGHTENED CONCERNS
The seizure will add to concerns about China’s increased military presence and aggressive posture in the disputed South China Sea, including its militarization of maritime outposts.A U.S. research group said this week that new satellite imagery indicated China has installed weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea.The drone seizure coincided with sabre-rattling from Chinese state media and some in its military establishment after Trump cast doubt on whether Washington would stick to its nearly four-decades-old policy of recognising that Taiwan is part of “one China.”Those comments came after Trump took a telephone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Dec. 2, prompting a diplomatic protest from China.President Barack Obama said on Friday it was appropriate for Trump to take a fresh look at U.S. policy toward Taiwan, but he cautioned that a shift could lead to significant consequences in the U.S. relationship with Beijing, as the notion that Taiwan is part of “one China” is central to China’s view of itself as a nation. (Additional reporting by Josephine Mason and Meng Meng; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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First Published On : Dec 17, 2016 20:56 IST

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