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New Zealand: Sushma Swaraj reaches out to help family of Indian youth stabbed to death

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A 26-year-old youth from Sirsa in Punjab was stabbed to death allegedly by a girl in New Zealand last week and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has stepped in to help his family bring back home his mortal remains.Swaraj directed the Indian High Commission in New Zealand to help the family of deceased Hardeep Singh after they reached out to her on twitter.”Deol family – Rania (Sirsa) : I hv seen news report and given instructions to our High Commissioner in New Zealand,” the External Affairs Minister tweeted.According to Hardeep’s grandfather Baldev Singh Deol, he had gone to New Zealand on a study visa to pursue a course in hotel management.According to reports in New Zealand media, Hardeep suffered serious injuries during an assault on Christmas on Sunday at Cashmere house. He was taken to Christchurch Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.Local police said a 22-year-old woman has been arrested and charged with wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, adding the charge was likely to be replaced with a murder charge.They said the inquiry has been upgraded to a homicide investigation.The Minister, who is recuperating after undergoing a kidney transplant on December 10, is known for her prompt response to Indians who are in distress abroad, many of whom approach her through twitter for help.

Goa Elections 2017: Church to issue guidelines for members to help them decide ‘right candidates’

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Goa Church will issue guidelines to Christians to help them decide “the right candidate” to vote for in the next year’s Assembly elections.The Church, however, clarified that it will not canvass for any candidate or the party. “Elections to the legislative Assembly are approaching and Church leadership in Goa will take up this duty bound task once again.”We do issue guidelines to our faithful on how to exercise their franchise and thus fulfill one of their sacred civic duties,” Archbishop of Goa and Daman Rev Fr Filipe Neri Ferrao said today here while addressing a customary reception on Christmas.He said though the guidelines are read out in churches, they never mention name of any candidate or any political party. The function was attended by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Goa Governor Mridula Sinha and Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar among others. However, the archbishop said the faithfuls are requested to vote as per their conscience. He lamented that “certain elements today accuse the church in India of being involved in conversions.” “Our institutions have been attacked, robbed, burnt down and the perpetrators of this crime often goes scot free.It is almost as if the tiny three percent is posing a serious threat for the disintegration of the whole nation,” Ferrao said. Referring to the illegal mining issue, the archbishop said the church is the trustee of this land.”It is our solemn duty to ensure that the value of the land is passed on to our future generation. All generation and all within a generation would benefit equally.”But what we see is extensive environmental and social damage to Goa which has generated rampant corruption and even weakened governance. It has been an assault on our community and our natural wealth, more distressingly it has been a loss to our children and our future generation,” he said.

Dollar stirs from slumber as yield gap yawns | Reuters

By Marc Jones

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

Don’t believe in Santa Claus? 64 children from Mizoram would beg to differ

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Over 64 children in the Christian – dominated Mizoram state still believe in Santa Claus visiting them on December 24 midnight with Christmas presents, prompting them to leave an empty plate near their beds for receiving the gifts. What happened in Saitual village, about 100 km from here, is out of the ordinary as 64 children received their Christmas presents inside the home of local petty trader Lalrinliana.Lalrinliana and his wife were farmers who had discontinued with farming and opened their own grocery shop in their own house a few years back and were doing good business, one village leader of Saitual said. A few children of the village, learning about the generosity of the couple, began to leave their plates in their home on Christmas eve and were never disappointed.The couple liked to play Santa Claus and more children came to their home for receiving presents during Christmas but this year saw the largest number of children coming for Christmas presents from the Santa Claus. Meanwhile, a small restaurant owner at Haulawng village in south Mizoram’ Lunglei district also did something extraordinary.

Kerala: Rs 27 lakh stolen from Indian Overseas Bank

Mon, 26 Dec 2016-03:31pm , Thiruvalla , PTI
<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In a major heist, thieves broke open the safe of public sector Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) in Tholassery and decamped with Rs 27 lakh in old and new currency notes, police said on Monday.The theft came to light on Monday morning, when the bank opened after Christmas holiday, they said.Rs 16 lakh in old currency notes and Rs 11 lakh in new currency notes were found to have been stolen, police said.Finger print experts and dog squads are combing the bank premises, they added.

PM Modi reiterates govt’s move to push cashless economy, unveiled two schemes

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Reiterating his government’s push for moving towards a cashless economy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled two schemes—Lucky Grahak Yojana and Digi Dhan Vyapaar Yojana—during 2016’s last Mann ki Baat, his radio talk, on Sunday. These schemes will reward consumers and traders for making e-payments and using digital transactions through a lucky draw.Reminding the nation that Jesus not just served the poor but also appreciated the service done by poor, Modi said: “This is real empowerment.” As a Christmas gift, the PM said as many as 15,000 people will receive rewards of Rs 1,000 each over the next 100 days. To be eligible, consumers and traders will have to use mobile banking, e-banking, RuPay cards, Unified Payments Interface and USSD modes of payment.”These schemes have been designed keeping all sections of society in mind, with a special focus on the poor and the lower middle-class segments. Therefore, only those who make a purchase worth more than Rs 50 and less than Rs 3,000 will benefit,” said Modi.The Prime Minister lavished praise on the people for the encouraging response to the Centre’s push for cashless transactions in its fight against black money. “During the past few days, cashless transactions or cashless trading has increased by 200-300 per cent,” he said.Modi also spoke about other incentives for traders using digital payment modes. “Those businessmen who adopt digital transactions, and those who develop online payment process instead of cash transactions in their trade activities will get Income-Tax (I-T) rebate,” he added.During his talk, Modi also sought to justify the Centre’s frequent rule changes for deposit and exchange of old currency notes following demonetization. “This government is for the people. The government continuously endeavours to take feedback. What are the areas of difficulty? What are the rules that are creating hindrances? And what are the possible solutions? This government, being sensitive towards the common man, amends rules as required, keeping the convenience of the people as its foremost consideration, so that citizens are not subjected to hardship,” said Modi.Responding to letters written by citizens detailing their hardships and suggestions, the PM said that he appreciate the pains they are taking, calling them the “real agents of change” and “pioneers of transformation”.Referring to the multiple raids by the I-T department to recover hoarded new currency, the PM said: “I offer my heartiest salutations to my dear countrymen for one very remarkable thing. These days you must be seeing on TV and newspapers everyday that many new people are being taken into custody, currency notes are being seized, and raids are being carried out. Influential persons are being caught. How have all these been made possible? Should I let out the secret? The secret is that my sources of such information are the people themselves.”

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)

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

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

Delhi Metro’s Christmas spoiler: Commuters hassled as trains run late, hundreds stranded on Blue Line

New Delhi: Metro commuters in the capital on Sunday had a harrowing time for Christmas when they were left stranded on its Blue Line, with hundreds of them waiting at a single station for about 40 minutes.

Despite the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s (DMRC’s) intimation that there will be “slight” inconvenience in the Metro services on 25 December, the commuters were not quite prepared for the travails which they faced while going to offices, or meeting friends on the holiday.

“Let’s get down here, we can take an auto or something to reach Jantar Mantar,” a group of friends was heard saying at the Ramakrishna Asharam Marg Station where the train remained stood for over half an hour.

Representational images. PTIRepresentational images. PTI

Representational images. PTI

A couple deboarded the train at the same station for fresh air, since the prolonged delay caused the train to be filled to the rafters, many thought it better to wait outside the coach than inside.

Scores of others followed suit. The deboarded the train at the RK Ashram Marg Station, choosing to go with some other mode of transport.

The travails of the passengers were not limited to the inside of the train. One was faced with an extended line at the token counter — a fallout of returning passengers who had gone out and returned to the station after a slight breather.

Ill-managed planning added to the pains of the passengers when the train which were supposed to go till Indraprastha stranded passengers at Barakhamba Station, asking everyone to disembark.

“It took me three hours to reach here from Shadipur Station, which normally takes not more than half an hour,” Alisha, a psychologist at Apollo Hospital, told IANS.

Another man who was due to send ‘prasad’ to his home-state expressed his dismay when he was forced to deboard at the Barakhamba Station.

“This had happened last week too. I need to send the prasad (holy offering) to my hometown Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, how will I able to do that in time as my deliverer is due to leave soon,” Gopikrishna, a devotee at Ayyappa temple in RK Puram, said to IANS.

Sunil Sehgal, who owns a shop in Sadar Bazaar, said that he had to let go of five Metro trains at RK Ashram before he boarded one, only to deboard that two stations later.

The DMRC had issued an advisory on Friday that Metro services will be affected slightly owing to track maintenance work between Indraprastha and Yamuna Bank Stations, between 12 to 3 p.m.

First Published On : Dec 25, 2016 17:43 IST

Thank you for supporting demonetization: Full text of PM Modi’s Christmas special Mann Ki Baat

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Prime Minister Modi said many people had written to him and some had praised the government’s move to demonetise Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 currency notes. However, they have also spoken about the problems they faced due to demonetization, he said.‘Many are writing to me- ‘Modi ji thak mat jaana, ruk mat jaana aur jitna kathor kadam utha sakte ho uthao’. The people wrote to me about the problems they faced during recent times, some praised demonetisation and how it is an effective step in fighting corruption. Gurumani on MyGov app have appreciated government’s effort to curb black money, his sentiments are shared by rest of the country. I thank the people as they not only went through hardships but also answered back those who tried to mislead them,’ he added.‘Lot of questions are being raised on frequent change of rules, but I want to say that I have decided to take those indulging in corruption,’ he said. Prime Minister Modi said black money hoarders are being nabbed across the country. ‘Secret is that information by common people enables us to do it,’ he added.Assuring the nation that this is not the end but the beginning of his government’s endeavor to fight against corruption, Prime Minister Modi said, ‘It is our priority to do whatever it takes for the betterment of our nation. People are spreading rumours that political parties are exempted, this isn’t true.’Regretting the washout of the Winter Session of Parliament, Prime Minister Modi said, ‘If Parliament would have functioned there would have been fruitful discussions.’Read the full text below: My fellow countrymen, Namaskar, many felicitations and season’s greetings to you on the occasion of Christmas. Today is the day to give importance in our lives to service, sacrifice and compassion. Jesus had said – “The poor do not need our favours but our acceptance with affection.” In the Gospel According to Saint Luke, it is written that – “Jesus not only served the poor but also praised the service done by the poor,” and this is what real empowerment is. A tale associated with this incident is also very popular. It has been mentioned in that story that Jesus was standing near the treasury of a temple; many rich people came and donated bountifully; then a poor widow came and parted with only two copper coins. Now just two copper coins really do not amount to much. Thus it was natural that there was a lot of curiosity in the minds of the disciples gathered there. Then, Jesus declared that the widow was the greatest of those donors because while the others had donated substantially, that widow had given away all she possessed. Today, 25th December, is also the birth anniversary of Mahamana Madan Mohan Malviyaji, who kindled resolve and self confidence in the psyche of the Indian people and gave a new direction to modern education. My most sincere and heartfelt tributes to Malviyaji on his birth anniversary. About two days ago, I had the opportunity to launch many a developmental work in Banaras, the sacred workplace of Malviyaji. I also laid the foundation stone of Mahamana Madan Mohan Malviya Cancer Centre in BHU at Varanasi. This Cancer Centre is going to be a boon for the people of not only eastern Uttar Pradesh but for the people of Jharkhand and Bihar also. Today is also the birthday of Bharat Ratna and former Prime Minister Venerable Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ji. This country can never forget Atalji’s contributions. Under his leadership, the country proudly grew in stature in the field of nuclear power also. Whether in the role of a party leader, Member of Parliament, a minister or the Prime Minister, Atalji always established an ideal. I salute Atalji on his birthday and pray to God for his good health. As a party worker I had the privilege of working with Atalji. Many memories emerge before my eyes. This morning when I tweeted, I shared a video, in which you can see for yourself how as a small party worker one had the fortune of having affection showered upon him by Atalji. Today, on Christmas Day, as a gift the countrymen are going to get the benefit of two schemes. In a way it is the beginning of two new schemes. Throughout the entire country, be it villages or towns, the educated or the illiterate, there is an atmosphere of curiosity as to what is cashless, how cashless business can take place, how can one make purchases without using cash! Everybody wants to understand and learn from each other. To encourage this trend, to strengthen mobile banking and to inculcate the habit of making e-payments, the Government of India is launching from today encouragement schemes for consumers as well as traders. To encourage customers, the scheme is ‘Lucky Grahak Yojana’ and to encourage traders the scheme is ‘Digi Dhan Vyapaar Yojana’. Today, on 25th December, as a Christmas gift, fifteen thousand people will get rewards through a draw system, whereby each of the fifteen thousand winners will have one thousand rupees into their accounts and this will be not for today only; starting today this scheme will continue for the next 100 days. Everyday fifteen thousand people are going to receive rewards of one thousand rupees each. In the next 100 days, lakhs of families are going to receive crores of rupees as gift, but you will be entitled to this gift only if you make use of mobile banking, e-banking, RuPay Card, UPI, USSD – such means and methods of digital payment. The draw for rewards will be done based on your use of such digital payment methods. In addition, there would be a grand draw once every week for such customers in which the prize money will be in lakhs of rupees and three months later on April 14th, on the occasion of the birth anniversary of Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar, there would be a mega bumper draw where rewards would be in crores of rupees. ‘Digi Dhan Vyapar Yojana’ is mainly for traders and businessmen. Traders should adopt this scheme themselves and should encourage their customers too in order to make their business cashless. Such traders will also be rewarded separately and there would be thousands of these rewards. The traders will run their business activities smoothly and will also have an opportunity to win rewards. This scheme has been designed keeping all sections of society in mind, with a special focus on the poor and the lower middle class segments. Therefore only those will get its benefits who make a purchase worth more than 50 rupees but less than three thousand rupees. Those who make purchases of more than three thousand rupees will not be entitled to rewards under this scheme. Even the poor people can use USSD on simple feature or ordinary mobile phones to buy and sell goods as well as make payments and thus all of them can also become prospective beneficiaries of this reward scheme. In rural areas too, people can buy or sell through AEPS and they can also win rewards. Many will be surprised to know that now there are about 30 Crore, i.e. 300 million RuPay Cards in India, out of which 200 million RuPay Cards belong to poor families which have ‘Jan Dhan’ accounts. These 300 million people can immediately become part of this rewards scheme. I have confidence that the countrymen will evince interest in this system and if you enquire from the young people around you, they would surely be aware of these things and on your asking will tell you about these. Come on, if there is a child studying in 10th or 12th standard in your family, he or she will also be able to teach you well about this. It is as simple as sending WhatsApp messages on the mobile. My dear countrymen, I feel delighted to learn that the awareness about how to use technology, making e-payments, making online payments is spreading very fast. During the past few days, the cashless transactions, or cashless trading has increased by 200 to 300%. To give cashless trading a big impetus, Government of India has taken a very major decision. The business community, our traders can well comprehend how momentous this decision is. Those businessmen who adopt digital transactions, who develop online payment process instead of cash transactions in their trade activities will get Income Tax rebate. I congratulate all the states and union territories, who have promoted this campaign in their own way. The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Chandrababu Naidu is the head of a committee which is considering various schemes under this. However, I have seen that the governments also have initiated and implemented many schemes. I’ve been told that Assam Government has decided to grant a 10% discount on property tax and business license fee if payments are made through digital transaction. The branches of Grameen, that is, Rural Banks there getting 75% of their customers to make at least two digital transactions between January and March will get 50 thousands rupees rewards from the government. They have announced that under the ‘Uttam Panchayat for Digi-Transaction’, rewards of 5 lakh rupees will be given to villages doing 100% digital transaction till 31st March, 2017. Assam Government has decided to reward 5 thousand rupees to the first 10 farmers as ‘Digital Krishak Shiromani’, who will buy seeds and fertilizers entirely through digital payments. I congratulate Assam Government and also all those state governments who have taken such initiatives. A number of organisations have also successfully carried out many experiments to promote digital transactions amongst the rural folk and poor farmers. I have been told that GNFC or Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers & Chemicals Limited, which primarily manufactures fertilizers, has installed a thousand PoS machines for sale of fertilizers for the convenience of farmers and in just a few days 35 thousand farmers were sold 5 lakh sacs of fertilizers on digital payment and this was accomplished in only two weeks! And the interesting fact is that compared to last year the fertilizer sales of GNFC have gone up by 27 percent. Brothers and sisters, the informal sector occupies a major segment in our economy and in our pattern of life and mostly these people are paid wages for their labour and hard work in cash. They are paid their salaries in cash and we know that due to this, they are exploited also. If they are to receive 100 rupees, they get only 80 rupees, if they are to be paid 80 rupees, they are given only 50 rupees. They are deprived of facilities like insurance and those associated with health sector. But now the practice of cashless payment is being adopted; the money is being directly deposited into banks. In a way, the informal sector is getting converted into the formal sector, exploitation is coming to an end, the cut, which had to be paid earlier, has stopped now and it has become possible for the worker, the artisan, such poor persons to get their full amount of money. In addition, they are also becoming entitled to the other benefits due to them. Our country is blessed with the maximum number of young people. Thus, we are favourably placed for using technology. A country like India should be ahead of everybody else in this field. Our youth have benefitted quite a lot from ‘Start-Ups’. This digital movement is a golden opportunity for our youth. They should impart to this as much strength as they can with their new ideas, technology and processes. But we must also connect with the drive to rid the country of black money and corruption with all our might. My dear countrymen, I request every month before ‘Mann Ki Baat’ that you please give your suggestions, share your thoughts; and of the thousands of such suggestions received this time on MyGov, on NarendraModiApp, I can definitely say that 80 to 90% suggestions were pertaining to the war against corruption and black money, there was mention of demonetization. After I examined all the suggestions, I can say that these can macroscopically be roughly divided into three categories. Some have written in detail about people facing difficulties and encountering inconveniences. The other group of correspondents have stressed that this is such a good work being carried out for the welfare of the country, such a sacred task but they have also noted that in spite of this there are many scams being committed and new avenues of dishonesty are being explored. The third group is the one which has, while wholeheartedly supporting the action being taken, clearly stressed that this fight must be carried forward; corruption and black money must be completely destroyed and if this requires even more tough steps to be taken, those must be taken. We have many people writing this most emphatically. I am thankful to the countrymen for helping me by writing these innumerable letters to me. Shriman Gurumani Kewal has written on MyGov – “This step of reigning in black money is praiseworthy. We citizens are facing some difficulties, but we are all fighting against corruption and we are happy that we are making a contribution in this fight. We are battling corruption, black money etc on the lines of Military Forces.” The sentiment behind Gurumani Kewalji’s text is being echoed in every nook and corner of the country. All of us are experiencing it. When the people face problems, undergo hardships, rare will be a fellow human being who will not empathise. I feel as much pain as you do. But when a task is taken up with a noble objective, to realise a lofty intent, with a clear conscience, the countrymen stay firm courageously amidst all these trials and tribulations. These people are the real Agents of Change, pioneers of transformation. I thank people for one more reason. They have not only braved hardships, but have also powerfully given a retort to those limited few who have been trying to mislead them. So many rumours were spread, even the fight against corruption and black money was sought to be tainted with shades of communalism. Somebody spread a rumour that the spelling on the currency note was faulty, someone said salt prices had spiraled, someone proclaimed that the 2000 rupee note would also be withdrawn, even 500 and 100 rupee denominations notes were rumoured to be on their way out. But I have seen that despite rampant rumour mongering, citizens have stood firm with their faith intact. And not just that, many people came to the fore and through their creativity and intelligence, exposed the rumour mongers, brought out the falsity of the rumours and established the truth. I salute this great ability of the people also from the core of my heart. My dear countrymen, I am experiencing one thing every moment. When a hundred and twenty five crore countrymen are standing by you, nothing is impossible. The people represent the will of the Almighty and their blessings become His blessings. I thank the people of this country and salute them for participating in this Mahayagya against black money and corruption with utmost zeal. It was my earnest wish that the ongoing campaign against corruption and black money, including the realm of political parties and political funding, be discussed extensively in the Parliament. Had the House functioned properly, there would have been comprehensive deliberation. Some people are spreading rumours that political parties enjoy all kinds of concessions. These people are absolutely in the wrong. The law applies equally to all. Whether it is an individual, an organisation or a political party, everyone has to abide by law and one will have to. People, who cannot endorse corruption and black money openly, resort to searching for faults of the government relentlessly. Another issue which comes up is this. Why are rules changed time and again? This government is for the sake of the people. The government continuously endeavours to take a feedback from them. What are the areas of difficulty for the people? What are the rules that are creating hindrances? And what are the possible solutions? The government, being a sensitive government, amends rules as required, keeping the convenience of the people as its foremost consideration, so that citizens are not subjected to hardships. On the other hand, as I’d said earlier, on the 8th to be precise, this drive, this war is an extraordinary one. For the past 70 years, what kind of forces are involved in this murky enterprise of perfidy and corruption? How mighty are they? When I have resolved to wage battle against them, they too come up with new tactics everyday to thwart the government’s efforts. To counter these new offensives, we too have to devise appropriate new responses and antidotes. When the opponents keep on trying out new tactics, we have to counteract decisively, since we have resolved to eradicate the corrupt, shady businesses and black money. On the other hand, many people have mentioned in their letters all kinds of wrongdoing which are going on; how newer wily ways and means are being devised. In this context, I offer my heartiest salutations to my dear countrymen for one very remarkable thing. These days you must be seeing on T.V. and newspapers, everyday many new people are being taken into custody, currency notes are being seized, raids are being carried out. Influential persons are being caught. How has all this been made possible? Should I let out the secret? The secret is that my sources of such information are people themselves. Information being received from common citizens is many times higher than that being obtained through government machinery. And we are by and large being successful in our operations on account of the awareness and alertness that the people have displayed. Can anyone imagine the level of risk, which the aware citizen of my country is taking to expose such elements! The information received has largely proved to be fruitful. For those of you wanting to share such information, you can send it on an e-mail address set up by the government for this purpose. You can also provide it on MyGov. The government is committed to fight all such wrongdoings and maladies. And when we have your active support, this fight becomes much easier. Thirdly, there is another group of letter writers, also existing in large numbers. They say – Modiji, do not feel exhausted, do not stop and take the most stringent measures that you can. Now that you have chosen this path, the journey should culminate at its intended and logical destination. I specially thank writers of such letters, since their writing exudes a certain confidence, fortified with blessings. I sincerely assure you that this is in no way going to be a full stop. This is just the beginning. We have to win this battle and the question of feeling exhausted or stopping simply does not arise. Armed with the good wishes of a hundred and twenty five crore countrymen, there is no question of a retreat. You are possibly aware of a Law about Benami Property in our country which came into being in 1988, but neither were its rules ever framed, nor was it notified. It just lay dormant gathering dust. We have retrieved it and turned it into an incisive law against ‘Benami Property’. In the coming days, this law will also become operational. For the benefit of the Nation, for the benefit of the people, whatever needs to be done will be accorded our top priority. My dear countrymen, I had mentioned in last month’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’ that even amidst these hardships our farmers toiled tirelessly and broke last year’s record in sowing. It is a sign of good times for the agricultural sector. The diligent hard work by this country’s workers, and farmers, and youth has scripted a new chapter of success with flying colours. Recently India proudly inscribed her name in various sectors of the global economic scenario. It is solely on account of the tireless exertions of our countrymen that on myriad indicators, India has charted an upward trajectory in global rankings. India’s ranking has gone up in the Doing Business Report of the World Bank. We are trying our best to raise the level of the business practices in India to match the best practices in the world on equal footing. And we are succeeding in that. In the World Investment Report released by UNCTAD, India’s position has risen to third in the Top Prospective Host Economies for 2016-18. In the Global Competitive Report of the World Economic Forum, India has made a big leap upwards by 32 ranks. In the Global Innovation Index 2016, we have moved up 16 rungs and in the Logistics Performance Index 2016 of the World Bank, we have risen by 19 ranks. There are many reports whose evaluation indicate that India is taking rapid strides ahead. My dear countrymen, this time the session of Parliament became the object of ire of our countrymen. Indignation was expressed everywhere about the activities in the Parliament. The President and Vice President also explicitly expressed their displeasure. But even in such a situation, sometimes good things also take place which create a sense of satisfaction in the mind. Amid the din in Parliament, an excellent task was accomplished, which has not attracted due attention of the country. Brothers and sisters, today with pride and joy I would like to mention that a bill in connection with my government’s mission on Divyangjan, that is, differently or specially abled people was passed in Parliament. For this, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. On behalf of millions of Divyangjan of the country I express my thanks. Our government is committed to the welfare of Divyaangs. Personally too, I have strived to lend momentum to this campaign. My intention was to ensure that the Divyangjan secure their due rights and also the honour and dignity that they are entitled to. Our efforts and our trust were fortified by our Divyaang brothers and sisters when they returned with 4 medals from the Paralympics. With their triumph, not only did they do the Nation proud, they pleasantly surprised many people through their capabilities and prowess. Our Divyaang brothers and sisters are an invaluable heritage, a precious endowment, just as every citizen of the country is. Today I am immensely delighted that the passing of this Law for the welfare of the Divyaangjan will open up additional avenues of employment for them. In government jobs, the extent of reservation for them has been enhanced to 4%. Special provisions have been provided for in this Law for their education, facilities and also for grievances. The extent of sensitivity of the government towards the Divyaangs can be assessed by the fact that during the last two years, the central government set up 4350 camps for Divyaangs, spent 352 crore rupees for distributing implements to 5,80,000 Divyaang brothers and sisters. The government has passed the new law in consonance with the spirit expressed by the United Nations. Earlier there were seven Divyaang categories; now adding fourteen new categories this has been expanded to twenty-one categories. Many such new categories of Divyaangs have been included thereby providing them for the first time justice and opportunities. For example, categories like Thalassemia, Parkinson’s, or for that matter Dwarfism have been included. My young friends, during the last few weeks, news items coming in from the world of sports have made all of us proud. Being Indians, it is but natural for us to feel elated. In the cricket series against England, India has triumphed 4-0. In this, the performance of some of the younger players deserves a special word of praise. The young Karun Nair scored a triple century and K. L. Rahul played a brilliant 199 run innings. Test captain Virat Kohli batted extremely well and also provided inspiring leadership. Indian Cricket team’s off-spin bowler R. Ashwin has been declared ‘Cricketer of the Year’ as well as ‘Best Test Cricketer’ by the ICC for the year 2016. My heartiest congratulations and many good wishes go to all of them. After a gap of 15 years, there was good news, in fact grand news from the hockey arena too. The Junior Hockey Team lifted the World Cup. This festive occasion came to us after fifteen years as the Junior Hockey team won the World Cup. Heartiest congratulations to these young players for this grand feat. This achievement is a very good omen for the future of our Hockey team. Last month our Women players too won laurels. Indian Women’s Hockey Team won the Asian Champions Trophy and just a few days ago in the under-18 Asia Cup, Indian Women’s Hockey Team secured the Bronze Medal. I congratulate all our Cricket and Hockey team players from the core of my heart. My dear countrymen, may 2017 be a year full of joy and enthusiasm; may all your resolves be crowned with success; let us scale newer heights of progress; may the poorest of the poor get an opportunity to lead a better and fuller life of happiness and contentment; may 2017 be like this for all of us. For the year 2017, my best and brightest wishes to all my countrymen. Many, many thanks.

Odisha: Sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik creates 1,000 Santa Claus sculptures on Puri beach

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Internationally acclaimed sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik on Sunday said that creation of 1,000 sand sculptures of Santa Claus by him and his students at Puri sea beach on the eve of Christmas has become a record to feature in Limca Book of Records.Pattnaik said Senior Editor of Limca Book of Records, Arthy Muthanna Sindh has congratulated him on the feat through an e-mail communication and has confirmed it as a world record that would feature in Limca Book of Records.The Santa festival started at Puri on Saturday evening and will continue till January 1, he said. With 1,000 Santa Clauses, Sudarsan was eyeing to break his 2012 Limca Book record of sculpturing 500 sand Santa Clauses.Sudarsan said it took him and his team of 35 students from his sand art school four days and about 1,000 tons of sand to carve thousand sand Santa Clauses. “I am extremely happy it has become a record to find a place in the Limca Book of Records,” said Sudarsan.He said he wanted to create awareness about global happiness through sand Santas.

Christmas 2016: Celebrating birth of an impoverished migrant has a message for today’s world

An evocative line-drawing did the rounds of social media in the days leading up to Christmas. It showed an open stable with a bright star over it, fir trees on either side, and only a cow, a sheep and a donkey around an empty manger inside the stable.

A comic depicting the nativity scene. Image Courtesy: Joanna Wieruszewska, Marek Wieruszewski

A comic depicting the nativity scene. Image Courtesy: Joanna Wieruszewska, Marek Wieruszewski

The caption was thought-provoking: “A nativity scene without Jews,  Arabs,  Africans or refugees.”

Scenes commemorating the nativity (birth) of Jesus normally show an infant in the manger, surrounding by Mary, Joseph, shepherds and three ‘wise men from the East,’ — who are often depicted as Africans but could very well have been from India.

Amid the bright lights, presents, parties and decoration-festooned shopping splurges, it is easy to forget that Jesus’ parents were impoverished travellers who had been given shelter in a cattle shed, where he was born.

He remained poor through his life. Yet, without influence, social standing or political ambition, he resisted the rich and powerful. One of his most striking teachings is that it is tougher for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

That is reminiscent of the Prophet Mohammed’s claim that ‘poverty is my pride.’ It also brings to mind Guru Nanak’s mendicant ways, Buddha’s insistence on begging, and the Jain emphasis on abnegation. The birth legends of Jesus and Krishna have some parallels too: both were predicted to be dangerous for tyrannous regimes.

Indeed, Jesus met a gruesome death, by crucifixion, partly owing to his trenchant criticism of the established clergy of his time. Accusing them of having turned the temple into a den of thieves and gamblers, he broke up a normal day’s gathering of the movers and shakers of his time in Jerusalem’s grand temple. He taught inclusivity, and privileged the poor and socially marginal.

Modern concerns

Amid the pomp and pageantry of religious practice, it is easy to forget the nature, values and attitudes of the man whose birth Christmas celebrates. But it is worth focusing on what Jesus actually represented, especially at a time when impoverishment, xenophobia, racism and refusal to give refuge, have become very potent issues — as that recent sketch on social media highlighted.

The issue of poverty came into prominence in the middle of the 20th century too, when the Western Church faced a lot of soul-searching.

The World Council of Churches, established by several leading Protestant and Orthodox Churches in 1948, pressed for social responsibility, environmental conservation and fraternal relations not only between different Church traditions but also different faiths. They grappled with apartheid, hunger, gender discrimination, and human rights in Latin America and elsewhere. ‘Justice,
Peace and the Integrity of Creation’ became the Council’s watchword around the 1970s and 1980s.

For the Roman Catholic Church too, the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were a period of wrenching turbulence. Given its size and influence, that was of huge historical import. After Pope John XXIII called for a rethink of the Church’s modern agenda, a pro-poor, culturally ‘indigenised’, inclusive vision emerged.

Difficult journey

By the time the Vatican Council ended in 1965, a new pope was in office. Uneasy about rocking the boat, he sought to ease in changes moderately. But the election of the little known John Paul as his successor in 1978 jolted the establishment. This short-lived pope resisted traditional royal pageantry at his installation, and made it clear he wanted to clean out the system in the Vatican.

John Paul did not last. And, under Pope John Paul II and his lieutenant, Cardinal Ratzinger (who succeeded him as Pope Benedict XVI), the liberal, inclusive, gender-sensitive and pro-poor vision that the Vatican Council had set out were put aside.

Many observers thought that those two popes had erased the liberal legacy of the Vatican Council through their appointments of cardinals and bishops in the 35 years from 1978 to 2013. Indeed, among the electors in even 2005, only one cardinal other than Ratzinger had been appointed before 1978.

And yet, the spirit of the Vatican Council remained alive. It is clearly visible in Pope Francis — almost as if John Paul were back.

Like John Paul, Pope Francis has faced resistance to his efforts to change the ethos of the prelates who run the Church. For the third year running, he has complained about this publicly during his Christmas speech to Vatican prelates. Christmas is “the feast of the loving humility of God, of the God who upsets our logical expectations, the established order,” he told them on 22 December.

Indeed, a leaf out of Jesus’s life can upset those who thrive on fear and prejudice — those who are becoming today’s ‘established order.’

First Published On : Dec 25, 2016 08:46 IST

India-Pakistan ties: 439 Indian fishermen to return to home in January

Mumbai: Despite a complete halt to bilateral talks between India and Pakistan, 439 Indian fishermen languishing in Pakistani jails will return home in two batches, a pressure group said on Friday.

The move would bring good cheer to the fishing community as the first batch is scheduled to be home on Christmas.

Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) spokesperson Jatin Desai said that while 220 fishermen would be back on Sunday, the remaining 219 would return on 5 January 2017.

“The release is important as there is no bilateral talks and there is complete pause on the dialogue,” he added.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Desai said the PIPFPD has even urged the Indian government to reciprocate by releasing Pakistani fishermen languishing in Indian prisons.

Currently, there are 516 Indian fishermen nabbed and put in Karachi jails, while 80 Pakistani fisherfolk were put in prisons in Gujarat.

“The India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners (IPJCP), set up in 2008 must meet urgently,” Desai said pointing out that both countries must pursue a ‘No Arrest Policy’ as far as fishermen were concerned.

They should also release all the confiscated fishing boats as it was their only means of livelihood, he added.

The IPJCP used to meet regularly every six months, but did not meet since the BJP-led government assumed power, Desai said.

First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 13:32 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)

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

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

DNA Evening Must Reads: Najeeb Jung resigns; Ravichandran declared ICC Cricketer of the Year; and more

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>1. Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung submits his resignation, Kejriwal ‘surprised’Najeeb Jung, the 20th Lieutenant Governor of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, stepped down from his position on Thursday. He was appointed to the post of Lt. Governor in 2013, replacing Tajender Khanna, another IAS officer. Read more here.2. After PM Modi mocks Rahul’s ‘earthquake’, Congress VP says ‘answer me’A combative Gandhi hit back at PM Modi for mocking his speech wherein the Congress vice president had accused him of having taken money from corporate groups, saying he could make fun of him but needed to answer the charges of personal corruption levelled against him. Read more here.3. Berlin Christmas market attack: Tunisian suspect’s fingerprints found on truck door, 4 arrested – mediaInvestigators found fingerprints of a Tunisian suspect in the Berlin Christmas market attack on the door of the truck that ploughed through the crowds, killing 12, German media said on Thursday, as a nationwide manhunt for the migrant was underway. Read more here.4. Damage to India’s economic growth will be bigger than RBI’s estimates: ReportDamage to India’s economic growth is likely to be bigger than the RBI’s estimates, as there could be a sharper slowdown in the near-term as cash shortage is likely to extend into the first quarter of next year, says a Nomura report. Read more here.5. Great news for Indian cricket as Ravichandran Ashwin is declared ICC Cricketer of the Year for 2016It turned out to be double delight for Ravichandran Ashwin at the ICC Annual Awards on Thursday as he became only the third Indian player ever to win the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy after being named the ICC Cricketer of the Year besides the ICC Test Cricketer of the Year. Read more here.

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

DNA Morning Must Reads: 12 dead in suspected terror attack in Berlin; Turkish gunman shoots Russian envoy; and more

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>1. At least 12 dead, 48 injured after truck ploughs into crowd at Berlin Christmas marketA truck crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin in a suspected terrorist attack. Read more.2. Demonetization breathes life into ‘zombie’ accounts; Rs 2,000 crore deposited in 72,000 dormant accountsFinancial Intelligence Unit (FIU) data shows deposits of Rs 2,000 crore in 72,000 dormant accounts from November 8-25. Read more.3. Ankara: ‘Don’t forget Aleppo’, ‘Allahu Akbar’: Gunman shouted as he shoots Russian envoy Andrei KarlovShouting “Don’t forget Aleppo”! a Turkish policeman in a suit and tie fatally shot Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. Read more.4. I haven’t broken any bad habits: Priyanka Chopra spills the beansPriyanka Chopra spills secrets — from her favourite breakfast food to the television show she wants to be trapped in! Read more.5. IND vs ENG: Karun Nair’s day of 3 cheersRookie batsman gives a workout to statisticians as he makes his first entry in century column with 303*; India register their highest-ever innings total of 759/7 to dominate England on Day 4. Read more.

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.

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

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

Ahead of Christmas, Mizoram govt inks truce with rebel outfit to ensure peace

Aizawl: Days before Christmas, the Mizoram government signed a ceasefire agreement with a militant outfit to facilitate people of the Christian-dominated state to celebrate the carnival and New Year under undisturbed ambience, an official said in Aizawl on Saturday.

The Mizoram government has been holding peace talks with Manipur-based terror outfit Hmar People’s Convention-Democratic (HPC-D) to find a solution of the outfit’s demand for an autonomous council.

Silent for now. ReutersSilent for now. Reuters

Silent for now. Reuters

The third round of talks between the Mizoram government and the HPC-D held in Aizawl on Friday in which the outfit members deposited three AK-47 rifles, one INSAS rifle, four point 9 mm pistols, 17 magazines of different arms and 74 rounds of ammunition. These arms and ammunition were earlier snatched by the terror outfit from the Mizoram police.

The six-member HPC-D team was led by the group’s working chairman LT Hmar and the outfit’s leaders from Manipur and Mizoram while the government delegation was headed by additional secretary (home department) Lalbiakzama.

“We have signed a temporary ceasefire agreement with the militant outfit to make easy people of the state to celebrate Christmas and New Year under a peaceful environment. The third rounds of talks were held under friendly atmosphere,” Lalbiakzama said, adding that both sides agreed to resume the fourth round of talks by mid-February next year.

The first round of peace talks between the Mizoram government and the HPC-D was held on 10 August and the second round on 5-6 October.

Lalbiakzama said that issues discussed in the talks included more autonomy and power to Sinlung Hill Development Council, which was functioning since 1994 in the northeastern part of the state neighbouring Manipur where a large number of tribals belonging to Hmar tribes are living.

HPC-D A leader LT Hmar after the meeting, said, “The demand for Hmar autonomous district council was no longer included in the talks.”

The Manipur-based militant outfit of the Hmar tribals has been triggering intermittent violent activities in Mizoram since 1994 demanding a separate autonomous district council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution by carving out areas adjoining southern Manipur, northern Mizoram and southern Assam.

The negotiations between the state government and the HPC-D reached an impasse in 2013 on the issue of extension of the period of suspension of operations.

A six-month ceasefire between the Mizoram government and the militant outfit expired on 31 July 2013.

The state government held inconclusive talks with the outfit on 14 August 2013, to extend the period of ceasefire.

After the talks broke down over the suspension of operations against the terror group, a host of leaders of the outfit were arrested.

On 28 March 2015, the HPC-D guerillas ambushed a legislator’s convoy near Zokhawthlang village in north Mizoram, leaving three policemen dead and six others seriously wounded.

Mizoram is the first and only state in India which received Rs 182.45 crore from the central government in 2000-01 as “Peace Bonus” for keeping peace after decades of insurgency.

As Mizo National Front’s founder leader Laldenga, a former Indian Army official, became chief minister in 1986 after his group took to mainstream politics, peace and law and order returned to the Christian-majority Mizoram.

First Published On : Dec 17, 2016 16:21 IST

Maneka Gandhi writes to DoNER Ministry to put ban on illegal dog meat trade

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi has written to DoNER Minister Jitendra Singh, requesting him to put an end to illegal trade and consumption of dog meat in the north-east region and has also sought the intervention of NIA in tracing these traders as they indulge in drugs and arms trafficking.The letter cites Food Safety and Standards Regulation, 2011 which doesn’t allow dogs, cats and other animals to be slaughtered for food. The letter adds that dog meat consumption, therefore, is “illegal” and “cruel”.”I am writing to request you to please look into the blatantly illegal dog meat trade in Nagaland and Mizoram,” starts the letter which was written earlier this month.The letter also describes the brutal treatment meted out to the dogs while they are being smuggled. “In Nagaland alone, more than 30,000 dogs are illegally smuggled from neighbouring states in jute sacks where they have their mouth either tied our stitched shut. These animals are starved with no food or water and brutally beaten to death before they are torched and sold as meat to consumers,” the letter said.The letter then talks about how the same set of smugglers also indulge in drugs and arms trafficking. “There is not only illegal smuggling and slaughter of dogs but also smuggling of arms and ammunition along with narcotic drugs, blatantly carried out by the same gangs.””This is a serious cause for concern for the security of the region and I suggest that agencies such as the NIA (National Investigation Agency) must be asked to establish the persons involved in this thoroughly organised racket,” Maneka wrote.Attached with the letter is a survey in Nagaland carried out by Humane Society International (HSI) which estimates that at least 40 dogs per day and 15,000 dogs per year are sold each in Kohima and Dimapur. One kg of dog meat costs Rs 200 here and the consumption peaks during Christmas, according to HSI.No such estimates are cited for Mizoram. However, the letter mentions how Mizoram government had issued orders in 2007 to stop illegal trade of dogs but that has not been implemented. Unlike in China or Korea, dogs are not farmed in Nagaland and are instead smuggled from neighbouring states.According to Section 428 and 429 of IPC killing or maiming of any animal is punishable with a fine or imprisonment of up to 5 years and under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 killing an animal or offering it for sale can invite a jail term of 3 months.

Costlier, comfortable rides ahead as Railways set to launch new services

New Delhi: Though there was no fare hike proposal in the Rail Budget this time, passengers will have to cough up more for travelling on new trains with added facilities in the coming days.

New trains in the offing. AFPNew trains in the offing. AFP

New trains in the offing. AFP

Railways is gearing up to introduce a few special services with improved passenger amenities for which the regular fares will not be applicable, according to a senior railway ministry official.

As per the plan, new trains with brand names like Humsafar, Tejas and Utkrisht Double-decker Air-conditioned Yatri (UDAY), are likely to be pressed into service this year with the hike in fare ranging between 15 and 30 percent over the regular tariff.

All these trains were announced in the Rail Budget 2016-17 and the routes and destinations of these services are
being worked out.

Railways have already launched Suvidha trains on dynamic fare system.

“Suvidha trains are run periodically to cater to the growing demand on certain routes,” the official said adding
“these trains are demand-driven so the fare goes up with increased demand.”

While all coaches in Humsafar will have AC three-tier coaches, the Tejas trains will have a 130 km/hour speed. UDAY
are newly designed Double-decker trains with 40 percent higher carrying capacity.

All these new trains will have improved passenger amenities in the specially designed coaches so the fares will also be on the higher side, the official said.

Railways have recently introduced Mahamana Express and Gatimaan Express. Since both trains have improved amenities,
fares are also higher than the regular service.

Passengers do not mind paying more if the service is also better, he said.

Besides, the special trains to deal with the festive rush during Christmas season, Chhath, Holi, Durga Puja and
during Kumbh Mela will also have special fares, higher than the regular trains.


How UK’s Yorkshire might have a solution to India’s recurring floods

North Yorkshire, a district in the UK, that has experienced heavy flooding during the Christmas time since the past decade, has found a solution to prevent the floods altogether reported The Guardian.Planting trees and other natural approaches have saved the UK government £500,000, which had been set aside for a proposed flood wall.Watch the video below to get an idea of Yorkshire’s plight before they took to using traditional methods to reduce the flow of the river.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>AT A GLANCEAbout 40,000 trees were planted which reduced the measured peak river flow by 15-20 per cent.The Pickering project for natural flood management was set up in 2009 after severe floods caused massive damage to life and property in Yorksire.This traditional method of preventing flooding has helped save many lives and a lot of money in the UK and we cannot help but wonder whether this would be a feasible solution in India as well.The country has been hit by massive floods in the last year alone, with Chennai floods in December 2015 topping the list. While Chennai saw unprecedented damage and loss of life floods wreaked havoc in other parts of India too; flash floods in Kashmir, the Gujarat cyclone in June which brought heavy rains and flooding as well as Assam in August.These floods not only reminded us of the effects of climate change but also brought out the deficiency of disaster management in our urban and metropolitan regions. A wake-up call that the country is not equipped to deal with heavy rainfall, a standing example being Mumbai which gets flooded every year during the monsoons.Could Yorkshire’s simple and natural technique be a possible solution for tackling the menace that has claimed thousands of lives in the last year alone?

Prove Azam Khan’s ‘PM met Dawood’ charge or apologise: BJP to Akhilesh Yadav

Hitting out at SP leader Azam Khan for his “PM met Dawood” claim, BJP on Sunday asked Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav to either prove his cabinet colleague’s charges or apologise for the “baseless remark”.BJP also targeted Azam Khan over the Muzaffarnagar riots and slammed him for “touching new low in his practice of vote bank politics”, saying his remarks are a “desperate attempt to hide the failures of Akhilesh government and divide people”. “Azam Khan should either prove his charges or Akhilesh Yadav should apologise for levelling such malicious and baseless charges against the PM,” BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma said.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”Mufazzarnagar riots are Azam Khan’s creation. It was under his pressure that UP police failed to act against molesters in Muzaffarnagar. This inaction sowed the seeds of riots which took a communal colour.” “All probes have highlighted Azam Khan’s role in Muzaffarnagar riots…. His latest remarks make up yet another attempt to divide the society for appeasement and vote bank politics, and to cover up for Akhilesh government’s governance failures in UP,” Sharma said.Training the guns on Akhilesh Yadav, the BJP leader said despite his young age and engineering education, the UP Chief Minister has been “unable to break free from the appeasement brand of his father Mulayam Singh and fundamentalist Azam Khan”. “Akhilesh Yadav’s performance as UP Chief Minister has been disappointing. His image is in tatters. “His cabinet colleague’s false charges against the PM are a means of deflecting attention from SP’s failings, and attempts to polarise people as UP elections draw closer, ” Sharma said.BJP alleged that all UP leaders be it Mayawati, Mulayam Singh or those from Congress have ruined the state and are now trying to create an atmosphere of negativity and hurdles in the path of PM Modi.”UP citizens don’t have to access to even basic power, water, health and education facilities. Law and order situation is deteriorating with each passing day. “The state is being run by Azam Khan which is why its crime graph is rising. Akhilesh Yadav has no control left over the UP administration nor can he rein in Azam Khan, known for his controversial remarks,” Sharma said.Government had yesterday rubbished as “false and baseless” the allegation of Azam Khan, who plumbed new depths to claim that the Prime Minister had met underworld don Dawood Ibrahim in Lahore at the residence of his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif during his Christmas Day visit.

dna Morning Must Reads: From North Korea’s long-range rocket launch to the flavour of IPL auction 2016

North Korea fires long-range rocket; defies international warningsNorth Korea on Sunday defied international warnings and launched a long-range rocket that the United Nations and others call a cover for a banned test of technology for a missile that could strike the US mainland. Read More here<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Azam Khan claims PM Modi met Dawood in Pakistan; government rubbishes allegation as ‘false & baseless’Government on Saturday rubbished as ‘false and baseless’ the allegation of senior Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan, who plumbed new depths to claim that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met underworld don Dawood Ibrahim in Lahore at the residence of his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif during his Christmas Day visit. Read more hereIPL 2016 Auction: Performers, not stars, are season’s flavourThe 2016 IPL auctions in Bengaluru on Saturday might have been the most drab in comparison to its previous editions, but it could be a defining one in the years to come. Read More hereAll you need to know about the Fleet Review being hosted by Indian Navy in VizagThe Indian Navy’s biggest event ever, The 11th Fleet Review and 2nd International Fleet Review (IFR) 2016 was held at Vishakhapatnam yesterday and was inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee. Fleet Review is a practice that dates back to the 14th century. Read more here CID: The wacky world of fan fiction based on India’s longest-running TV showDive into the wacky, wonderful fan fiction universe pivoted on India’s longest-running TV show. Read more here

Dawood was present when Modi met Sharif: Azam Khan

Just as you can count on Narendra Modi to grab a child’s ears in front of a camera, you can count on SP leader Azam Khan to say the most preposterous things feasible. The man who is best known for using the state machinery to search for his missing buffaloes was recently quoted saying by India Today that Dawood Ibrahim was present when PM Modi met Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on Christmas day last year. Saying that he had proof of Dawood’s presence at the meeting: “I will give proof, let PM Modi deny.”<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>While Modi had surprised many with his impromptu visit to Pakistan, this is by the far the most startling accusation made about the man who promised to bring back Dawood pre-elections.Paris attacks, a reaction to killing of innocents in Arab countries But this isn’t the first time Azam Khan has made such preposterous claims. He had earlier said that the Paris terror attack was a ‘reaction to the killing of innocents in Arab countries by superpowers’. Even Francois Richier, French Ambassador expressed his sadness at the comments. Reacting to the incident Shahnawaz Hussain, said: “The language used by leaders like Azam Khan is not acceptable. It is unfortunate. IS has become the enemy of Islam. Acts of IS have shamed the Muslims world over. Time has come for the people to eliminate IS and its philosophy. “Kargil was won by Muslim soldier He had also raked up a controversy when he said in a rally in Ghaziabad that Kashmir was won by Muslim soldiers and not Hindu soldiers. He had said: “isliye mohabbat karo ki Kargil ki pahadiyo ko fateh karne wala koi Hindu nahi tha, balki Kargil ki pahadiyo ko nara-e-takbeer Allah-Hu-Akbar kehkar fathe karnewale Musalman fauji the… (love us because peaks of Kargil were not conquered by Hindus, but by Muslim soldiers raising the battlecry of God is the Greatest).”Taliban paid for Mulayam’s buggyIn 2014, during Mulayam Singh Yadav’s 75th birthday celebration, ‘Netaji’ was seen riding a Victorian buggy. When asked about the buggy’s price Mulayam had sarcastically replied: ““Why does it matter where the money for celebrations is coming from? Some have come from Taliban, some from Abu Salem, some from Dawood(Ibrahim), some from terrorists…”

BJP elders complained to Sangh on style of party functioning?

When four BJP elders went into a huddle at Murli Manohar Joshi’s house on Christmas eve, another stinging statement was expected. But, as news of the meeting spread in the media, the option of a statement was ticked off.Their first joint statement, in which they took on the party leadership after the BJP’s Bihar debacle, had sparked off a flutter. So the silence after the second meeting, a day after party MP Kirti Azad was suspended, left it open to speculation on what was brewing.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>What had continued to worry the four leaders–LK Advani, MM Joshi, Yashwant Sinha and Shanta Kumar– was the ‘lack of a consensual’ character in the BJP’s style of functioning, according to one of the leaders. One of the options the leaders explored was taking up the matter with the party’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), sources familiar with the developments said.The leaders also felt that the Modi government had taken ‘U-turns’ on stands taken by the party and Sangh on issues like approach to Pakistan, WTO negotiations at the Doha round, FDI in multi-brand retail and Genetically Modified (GM) crops.They were of the view that while electoral defeats and victories would come and go, the important question was whether the consensual character in BJP’s style of functioning will be reverted or it would continue to be a “show of a handful”.Joshi is understood to have been to Nagpur, though it’s not known whether the concerns of the party elders were flagged with RSS leaders.However, there also appeared to be an acknowledgment sinking down among the veterans that neither the RSS brass nor those in positions of power in the BJP were in any mood to upset the apple cart. Besides, the Sangh would refrain from making any move that could give fuel to the Opposition to target the Modi government, sources said.The leaders’ statement issued after the Bihar result did not name anyone but was apparently targeting Amit Shah, who is all set to be re-elected as party president for a full-fledged term. With Shah having the blessings of the RSS, even the elders, particularly Advani and Joshi, would be reluctant to oppose it.The Sangh, on its part, wants the party to ensure that Shah’s new team of office bearers would have credible faces, sources said. With the BJP in power at the Centre, several of its senior leaders are in government and the party, on several occasions, relies on ministers to hold press conferences on crucial matters. The party would have to bring in young leaders from states, they said.

TERI report contradicts AAP govt claims, terms Delhi’s air quality ‘very poor’ on 2nd day of odd-even plan

Experts maintained that Monday would be a “big test” for the effectiveness of the scheme as traffic flow is expected to swell due to reopening of colleges and rejoining of office goers after Christmas and New Year festivities.


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