Online news channel!

Tag: latin america

India, Brazil ink four MoUs

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> India and Brazil on Monday signed four Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) during a bilateral meeting held in Goa’s Salcete city. The four MoUs that have been signed are on genetic resources, agriculture, animal husbandry, natural resources and fisheries, on pharmaceutical products regulation, on cattle genomics and assisted reproductive technologies, and on investment cooperation and facilitation treaty. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazilian President Michel Temer witnessed the signing of the MoUs. India and Brazil share a very close and multifaceted relationship at bilateral as well as multilateral fora such as IBSA, BRICS, BASIC, G-20, G-4 or the larger multilateral arena such as the UN, WTO, UNESCO, WIPO, etc. Bilateral relations between India and Brazil have acquired the dimension of a strategic partnership in the last decade. Brazil is one of the most important trading partners of India in the entire LAC (Latin America and Caribbean) region. India-Brazil bilateral trade has increased substantially in the last two decades. However, the global drop in commodity prices and the economic recession in Brazil in 2015 affected Brazil?s overall trade. Evidently, some negative impact was felt in the India- Brazil bilateral trade as well. Indian exports to Brazil stood at USD 4.29 billion in 2015 as compared to USD 6.63 billion in 2014 and USD 6.36 billion in 2013. Indian imports from Brazil stood at $3.62 billion compared to $4.789 billion in 2014 and $3.13 billion in 2013. Thus the overall bilateral trade was at $7.9 billion, decreasing 30.7 percent from $11.424 billion in 2014. About 39 percent of Indian exports were value added petroleum products such as diesel. The other prominent export items from India were organic chemicals and pharmaceutical products valued at USD 730 Million. Boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances were other major items in India?s export basket. The other important export items included textile products (cotton, apparels, accessories etc.) which amounted to USD 150 million. (ANI)Ends KR/ADNNNNani

World Rabies Day: Vaccinate the stray dogs, don’t kill them, say experts

While some Kerala politicians seem to have stumbled upon the most barbaric way of dealing with the problem of stray dogs, global experts have said that culling does not help reduce the number of deaths from dog bites. In fact, it may prove detrimental in efforts to address the issue.

Politicians from Kerala’s Youth Front (Mani) killed 10 stray dogs and paraded their carcasses apparently as a reaction to the deaths of two women in recent days from canine bites and Union Minister Maneka Gandhi’s appeal to the state to save stray dogs. They also called Maneka Gandhi — one of the very few politicians to advocate against animal abuse in India — an agent of the vaccine lobby.

The 10th World Rabies Day observed on 28 September has as its theme — ‘Rabies: Educate, Vaccinate, Eliminate’. If the Kerala government takes this theme seriously it should know which people it needs to educate immediately — as an urgent public welfare measure (sending them for psychological counselling should greatly help matters too).

Representational image. News18

Representational image. News18

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) cannot emphasise enough the importance of vaccination and sterilisation, as the only proven and effective method for achieving zero-rabies deaths and controlling the stray population.

“Research is showing that culling dogs may have very little impact and even have detrimental impact on rabies. Especially, if there are concurrent dog vaccination campaigns, removing dogs means removing the protective buffer of transmission as the vaccinated dogs that are culled are quickly replaced by new unvaccinated populations of puppies,” said Bernadette Abela-Ridder, director of the Neglected Zoonotic Diseases at WHO.

The PLOS 2015 report ‘Estimating the Global Burden of Endemic Canine Rabies’ also makes a similar conclusion: “Fear of rabies transmission from dogs regularly prompts mass dog culling in many countries. This creates a territorial vacuum and encourages potentially rabid dogs to move into the area. Experts agree that indiscriminate dog culling does not stop rabies.”

“If you want to stop rabies, there is only one way to do it and that is you need what we call ‘herd immunity’. It means that you need to have 70 percent of your dog population vaccinated,” Louis Nel, executive-director of GARC, said.

“The blood of a vaccinated dog has all the antibodies to kill the virus. The blood of a vaccinated dog is a soldier. So that animal becomes a soldier in the fight against rabies — that is the simple message,” he added.

Globally, the statistics of deaths from rabies are staggering. The numbers are even worse for India.

World-wide there is one death every 10 minutes from rabies which adds up to 160 deaths per day and 60,000 deaths annually. Sixty percent of the victims are children. Additionally, it is estimated that there are 3-5 million animal deaths per year from the dreaded viral disease.

Annual economic losses stand at around $8.6 billion (mostly due to premature deaths, but also because of the cost of human post-exposure vaccines, lost income for victims of animal bites, livestock losses, and other costs). There is, also, over 3.7 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).

About a third of these global deaths — 21,000 per year — are in India.

“We have very, very poor data on this. We probably are underestimating the burden of disease because of under-reporting and also under-diagnosis of the disease,” Abela-Ridder.

Every year, it is estimated that more than 29 million people receive post-bite treatment to prevent rabies at a direct cost of over $1.7 billion. India spends about $8.2 billion in first-exposure treatment. It is way cheaper for governments to engage in mass vaccination campaigns for dogs than to vaccinate or treat human beings after a bite.

“To control this disease and to eliminate it, we have to cure the virus at its very source. So we simply have to vaccinate dogs. It makes obvious epidemiological sense, but also makes economical sense,” said Nel.

The Indian dog population is as high as 25 million. But only 15 percent of the dogs are vaccinated in the country.

“A concern to us is that it (death from rabies) is not notifiable in India,” said Nel.

Rabies, caused by Lyssavirus (named after Lyssa, the Greek goddess of rage and madness), is 99.9 percent fatal (one of the highest fatality rate of any known disease) but 100 percent preventable. It affects the central nervous system by the transmission through the saliva and nervous tissue of an infected animal, causing symptoms such as delirium, aggression and hallucinations, hydrophobia (fear of water) and foaming at the mouth, paralysis, before killing the patient.

More than 99 percent of human rabies cases are canine-mediated though it can also be transmitted through bats, foxes and raccoons. Interestingly, according to the End Rabies Now campaign, domestic dogs cause over 99 percent of human rabies deaths.

But bat-rabies is “something that will stay in the background”, says the UN. Pre-exposure prophylaxis for a high-risk population as has been done for Indians in Peru is imperative.

For individuals bitten by a rabid dog, effective treatment, known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) — a series of injections and sometimes along with rabies immunoglobulin (RIG) injection given on day 0 into the wound — can help save lives if received within a brief period of time after exposure, and before symptoms appear. But RIG is facing a critical shortage world-wide. In India only three vaccine producers with high manufacturing costs produce it. This translates into high costs of purchase for the poorer sections of the society who are the most vulnerable to the disease.

GAVI, the vaccine alliance, with WHO is gathering some data to understand the needs of the most affected countries, the at-risk population and the extent of unmet need for vaccine. It will shortlist candidate vaccines next year and finally decide in 2018 on what vaccines to fund for the next five years.

WHO considers rabies as one of the 15 neglected tropical diseases (NTD) and a zoonotic – a disease that is passed on from animals to humans — neglected disease. It is endemic to every part of the world except Antartica and some island territories. The disease has been wiped out from North America and western Europe. But the flip side to this is precisely because of this, there is very little funding from rich governments for research on diagnostics or vaccines when 95 percent of the cases of this miserable disease find home in Africa and Asia.

However, this does not mean that poorer countries with comparable problems as India have remained passive in addressing the problem. Some regions have achieved tremendous results by dint of their sheer political will. Latin America has reduced deaths from rabies by 90 percent and has 60 percent of its dogs vaccinated with an aggressive campaign for dog vaccination, coordination between the different ministries and inter-regional coordination for dog vaccination. Ditto for Philippines that is on its seventh round of dog vaccination campaign in Bali.

“There are strategies to vaccinate stray animals. It is like that in many other parts of the world. It needs to be a priority, it needs to be recognised as an issue,” said Nel.

Since dogs are not of any economic or cultural value unlike livestock such as cows, sheep or goat, they often fall through the cracks of welfare programmes by the animal husbandry and the agriculture departments. Diagnostics are extremely outdated and still involve scooping out from the brain of a dog. There is only one rabies diagnostic laboratory in Bengaluru in India.

“Agricultural ministries tend to invest more in livestock. It is important to consider the one-health approach,” says the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) whose mandate includes both food security and animal health.

“If rabies is not controlled in dogs, then humans, livestock and other farm animals can become infected, with serious consequences for the lives and livelihoods especially of rural communities and farming families,” said Juan Lubroth, chief of the animal health service of FAO.

“For the world, Latin America has become a proof of concept that it is possible to reduce rabies transmission in dogs and bring down rabies deaths to zero,” said Abela-Ridder.

Experts believe that the big impediments in India vis-à-vis rabies elimination are the lack of coordination between the various departments, lack of a national plan, lack of a regional approach (since India shares its borders with six countries that are rabies-endemic) and simply, a lack of political will to prioritise the issue.

The UN health agency has vowed to stamp out deaths from rabies by 2030. However, it may be a tall order if countries like India are not on board.

“One of the solutions to reaching zero-rabies deaths by 2030 would be to improve access to health of these at-risk populations, meaning getting commodities like vaccines to people at need even those that are moving from one place to next,” the UN official said.

“India has the opportunity to be a leader in the fight against rabies as it has been in eliminating polio and yaws, maternal and neo-natal tetanus. India has all the elements in making rabies elimination a success —skilled experts in the field of rabies, health services catering to patients, dogs and human vaccination and immunoglobulin production and growing capacity in awareness and dog vaccination campaigns,” Abela-Ridder stated.

MEA justifies India’s stance to abstain as UN appoints LGBT rights watchdog

India has abstained at the UN Human Rights Council voting in Geneva to appoint an independent expert to look into cases of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a resolution which was passed by a narrow margin.In a 23-18 vote with six abstentions, the 47-member Human Rights Council on Thursday called for the creation of a three-year position for an independent expert to look into wrongdoing against gays, lesbians and transgender people. Defending India’s decision, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup in New Delhi said India took the decision considering the “legal” reality in the country.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”The issue of LGBT rights in India is a matter being considered by the Supreme Court (SC) under a batch of curative petitions filed by various institutions and organisations. The SC is yet to pronounce on this issue.”As such we had to take this into account in terms of our vote on the the UN resolution to institutionalise the office of an independent expert to prevent discrimination against the LGBT persons,” Swarup told reporters.The expert is expected to be appointed at the next meeting of the Geneva-based body in September.The resolution was strongly supported by Latin America and the West, while many African and Middle Eastern countries joined China to vote against it. The expert’s duties will include assessing international human rights laws, raising awareness of violence based on sexual orientation and engaging in dialogue with member states and other stakeholders.The decision to create the post comes weeks after Afghan-origin Omar Mateen massacred 49 people at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida.

Senior jounalist Syed Nazakat elected member for GIJN

Senior award-winning journalist from India Syed Nazakat has a huge task in hand –to promote and educate people about investigative journalism in India, and 26 other countries. Nazakat has recently been elected to the board of directors of Washington DC-based Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), a prestigious global media body, for a two-year term and will be representing the Asia Pacific region. <!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Nakazat, who is also the editor-in-chief of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit organization promoting the cause of watchdog journalism in India, agrees that investigative journalism at present is restricted just to select media organisations at present.“The situation is the same is most countries, including India, Pakistan and its neighbouring countries,” Nazakat told dna. He added that most people complain that the atmosphere is these countries is not conducive to investigative journalism and stiff government resistance to media. “But the truth is how many journalists file RTIs, go through audit reports an the huge chunks of data available? My aim will be to spread more awareness on the subject,” he said.However, he said in India there has been remarkable work done by the India media in terms of breaking reports on the Augusta Westland scam, the Adarsh scam, among others.Last year, Nazakat had also set-up a data journalism start-up called DataLEADS which conducts data analysis, boot camps and runs India’s first data-driven website dedicated to healthcare reporting, called Health Analytics India. Nazakat said he is currently looking forward to an worshop on investigative journalism at Nepal in September this year, where training on investigative journalism will be provided to jounalists. Aside that, he periodically conducts trainings across colleges and professionals, a recent one included a workshop for IIT engineers. The Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) is an international association of more than 100 media organisations in 50 countries. GIJN holds conferences, conducts trainings, provides resources and consulting, and strengthens and promotes watchdog reporting worldwide. GIJN’s second Asian Investigative journalism conference will be held in Kathmandu on September 23-25, 2016.GIJN reserves six board seats for Africa, Asia/Pacific, Europe, Latin America, Middle East/North Africa, and North America.

Brazil judge orders WhatsApp blocked, affecting 100 mln users | Reuters

SAO PAULO A Brazilian judge ordered wireless phone carriers to block access to Facebook Inc’s (FB.O) WhatsApp for 72 hours throughout Latin America’s largest country on Monday, the second such move against the popular messaging application in five months.

The decision by the judge in the northeastern state of Sergipe applies to the five main wireless operators in Brazil and affects WhatsApp’s more than 100 million users in the country. The reason for the order is not known due to legal secrecy in an ongoing case in the Sergipe state court.

In a statement, WhatsApp said the company is “disappointed at the decision” after doing the utmost to cooperate with Brazilian tribunals.

The decision “punishes more than 100 million users who depend upon us to communicate themselves, run their business and more, just to force us hand over information that we don’t have,” the statement said, without elaborating.

It was the second time since mid-December that the text message and internet voice telephone service for smartphones has been the target of a blocking order. A São Paulo state judge ordered the service be shut down for 48 hours on Dec. 15, after Facebook failed to comply with an order, although another court interrupted that suspension shortly afterward.

Judge Marcel Maia Montalvão of Sergipe state is the same judge who in March ordered the imprisonment of a Brazil-based Facebook executive for failing to comply with an attempted block on WhatsApp. He was jailed and subsequently freed.

Executives at the five carriers – Telefonica Brasil SA, América Móvil SAB’s Claro, TIM Participações SA, Oi SA and Nextel Participações SA – did not have an immediate comment.

(Reporting by Alberto Alerigi Jr and Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Editing by Mary Milliken and Dan Grebler)

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

Murray survives Paire scare to reach Monte Carlo quarters | Reuters

MONTE CARLO Andy Murray avoided following Novak Djokovic out of the Monte Carlo Masters exit door after surviving a scare against local favourite Benoit Paire to reach the quarter-finals with a 2-6 7-5 7-5 victory on Thursday.

A day after world number one Djokovic suffered a stunning defeat by 55th-ranked Czech Jiri Vesely, Murray looked in trouble against Paire before subduing his opponent to set up a meeting with Canadian Milos Raonic.

World number two Murray was 5-4 down in the third set when Paire cracked under pressure and lost the remaining three games to hand victory to the Briton.

“I panicked. It’s the biggest disappointment of my career,” said Paire, who won the first set easily and was two breaks up in the second before Murray fought back.

Eight-times Monte Carlo champion Rafa Nadal was made to work hard by Dominic Thiem before advancing to the last eight 7-5 6-3 after the Austrian wasted 15 of 16 break points in the opening set.

The Spaniard will next face Stan Wawrinka after the Swiss, who won the claycourt Masters in 2014, demolished Frenchman Gilles Simon 6-1 6-2.

“From the start I was very strict with myself. I had to keep my tactics, be patient, attack him whenever I had the opportunity,” said fourth seed Wawrinka.

“My concentration was very good. This is important against Gilles. From the start I needed to dominate and be very present on the court. I succeeded in doing that.”

Third seed Roger Federer, back in action after a 10-week layoff, eased past Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2 6-4.

The Swiss will face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after he beat fellow Frenchman Lucas Pouille 6-4 6-4.

France’s Gael Monfils, the 13th seed, ended the run of Djokovic’s conqueror Vesely with a 6-1 6-2 win.

(Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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

Bankers steer clear of Tata Steel’s UK sale | Reuters

LONDON Britain’s biggest steel business is such an unattractive prize that most major investment banks are not even angling for the opportunity to advise potential buyers on one of the year’s highest profile deals.

The fate of Tata Steel’s (TISC.NS) lossmaking UK division, including its flagship Port Talbot plant in South Wales, has dominated headlines since the Indian company announced on March 30 that it would seek a buyer.

Normally a deal of that prominence and complexity would have bankers salivating at the prospect of fees.

But out of 10 major investment banks contacted by Reuters, bankers at only two said they were sounding out potential buyers. Five said they were not seeking any role and three said they had not made a decision.

Even the two bankers who were looking for a role said they were approaching entrepreneurs and family offices, rather than major steelmakers, who were unlikely to be tempted because of the protracted slump in prices.

“This business burns cash. Would you pay money for that?” said one of the two, who spoke about prospects for future business on condition of anonymity.

Not only would potential bidders be hard to find, but the likely need for a role for the British government in helping any deal could mean a political squeeze on potential fees, bankers said.

Restructuring specialists said privately that they are not seeking mandates either, as the situation is currently a distressed sale rather than a debt restructuring.

Tata Steel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Even the seller hasn’t hired a bank, although sources earlier had told Reuters that Tata would name one. Instead, Tata has appointed accounting and professional services company KPMG and law firm Slaughter and May as advisors on the deal.

KPMG and Slaughter and May already worked on Tata’s sale of its Long Products Europe division in northern England to family office Greybull Capital for 1 pound ($1.42), announced this week, with no investment bank advising either side.

Greybull, which rescued struggling Monarch Airlines in 2014, was advised by consulting firm Alix Partners. The deal included a 400 million pound investment and financing package and saved 4,400 jobs. Greybull has so far not ruled out a bid for Tata’s other British assets.

UNUSUAL

While a deal for the rest of Tata’s British business could in theory be done without any investment bank hired to give advice, it would be unusual for the sale of such a major asset.

Tata’s UK operations employ 10,000 workers and require large funding capabilities, as well as complex negotiations over everything from pension liabilities to energy subsidies.

Bankers usually try to find a role on deals early on. They argue that their relationships providing corporate clients with other financial services make them ideally suited to advising buyers and sellers alike. They can also provide access to financing where needed.

Apart from Greybull, the only other would-be buyer to have publicly emerged is metals firm Liberty House. Its boss, Sanjeev Gupta, has approached banks to advise on a potential deal, several sources said, but has yet to appoint anyone.

“We, as well as other interested parties, will need to analyze carefully the information received in order to seek an economical and sustainable future for the business,” a spokesman for Liberty House said in an emailed statement.

“Liberty will be appointing a strong and reputable team to carry out that analysis and in the days and weeks ahead.”

Gupta said on Wednesday that he expected Tata to set a deadline for bids on its UK assets at the end of May and believed there would be other bidders involved.

Even then, bankers said the politics of the sale and the loss-making nature of the assets meant fees were likely to be small.

“When the UK government are involved, fees tend to dwindle. Some bank could do it for a million pounds, maybe. But you’re going lower down the totem pole in terms of fees,” one said, discussing prospective business on condition of anonymity.

British business secretary Sajid Javid has hinted that the government could take a stake in the assets to help save jobs. The government has also said it could offer state loans to tempt private bidders.

The ranks of experienced steel bankers have also been thinned by a dearth of activity in the sector. Some have left banks, while others have shifted to cover other areas.

Banking fees for the steel industry have been in steady decline, reaching just $688.3 million last year, according to data from Thomson Reuters and Freeman Consulting, the lowest since 2005. The overall value of steel M&A activity in 2015 was $14.1 billion, the lowest since 2009.

“We’re not following up. There have been very few steel deals,” said one banker at a major European institution who said nobody was covering the sector at his bank.

(Reporting By Freya Berry; additional reporting by Promit Mukherjee and Sandrine Bradley at IFR; Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Peter Graff)

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

Maharashtra claims most success in finding missing children | Reuters

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The western state of Maharashtra has traced the largest number of missing children in the country as part of a national campaign to find them, kindling hopes that new measures put in place will also help check trafficking in the state.

The state is one of the largest destinations for trafficked children in the country.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said this week it has traced more than 12,000 children as part of the national Operation Smile and Muskaan (smile), launched first in January last year to find and reunite children with their families.

A child goes missing every eight minutes in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Almost 40 percent of them remain untraced.

While some are kidnapped or trafficked and forced to work, some are abandoned by families who cannot afford to care for them. Older boys may be runaways seeking better opportunities.

“Maharashtra has shown good results in bringing back the children and connecting to their families,” Fadnavis told the state assembly.

The state’s efforts have also boosted the conviction rate for perpetrators to 52 percent from 9 percent before the campaign, he said.

Few cases of missing children in the country were even filed with the police until the Supreme Court, in response to a petition by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), made it mandatory in 2013 to register all cases of missing children.

Police must assume missing children are victims of kidnapping and trafficking, and conduct an investigation when a child is recovered to ascertain the involvement of organised gangs in trafficking and child labour, the court had said.

In Maharashtra, first information reports – the first step to an investigation – had been filed with the police for less than a quarter of the children found, said the state’s Inspector General of Police Brijesh Singh.

“Most children are not even registered as missing,” Singh told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Thursday. “That makes it very hard to trace them and return them to their families.”

Nationwide, almost 29,000 children were rescued in two month-long operations last year, according to the home ministry. National data for this year’s January campaign are not yet available.

In Maharashtra, 4,244 children were rescued in January, of whom only 665 had been recorded as missing, Singh said.

Last July, 4,296 children were traced in the state, of whom about 1,400 were girls, he said. A similar number were rescued in January 2015.

Some children were found begging on the streets, and others had been forced to work. Some had been trafficked from the eastern states of Bihar and Orissa, Singh said.

As part of the campaign, police stations in the state appointed child welfare officers, and the state’s 12 anti-human trafficking units worked closely with child welfare centres. Police also tapped NGOs for help with rehabilitation.

These measures, if sustained, could also help check trafficking, said Jyoti Nale, head of the anti-human trafficking programme at Save the Children India in Mumbai.

“Sustaining the momentum may be difficult, as this was a concentrated effort,” she said. “But they have shown that it can be done, that we can get good results with these measures.”

(Reporting by Rina Chandran, Editing by Alex Whiting.; 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.)

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

Rate cut expected, with RBI seen staying ‘accommodative’ | Reuters

MUMBAI The Reserve Bank of India is expected to cut its policy interest rate by a quarter percentage point on Tuesday, lowering it to a more than five-year low while dangling the prospect of another cut later this year if inflation trends stay benign.

Controlling inflation is the central bank’s priority, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government would welcome any move to improve business conditions for industrialists who remain hesitant to invest, despite data depicting India as one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Most analysts polled by Reuters expect the RBI to cut the repo rate INREPO=ECI to 6.50 percent – the lowest since January 2011.

The RBI is also expected to say that it is retaining its “accommodative” stance, raising the prospect of another 25 bps rate cut later this year.

“We expect the RBI to cut the policy rate by 25 basis points and then wait, keeping the door open for more rate cuts,” A. Prasanna, an economist at ICICI Securities Primary Dealership Ltd, said.

Inflation easing to 5.18 percent in February, and a government budget that kept borrowing and spending in check, has given the RBI room to make its first cut since September, resuming an easing cycle that was in full swing last year.

Bonds have rallied on these expectations.

The 10-year bond yield IN075926G=CC slumped 16 basis points in March following the government’s pledge in February to stick to a fiscal deficit target of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product, and data last month showing inflation easing for the first time in seven months.

Chances for further rate cuts could rest on trends in global oil prices and the impact of the monsoon rainy season on food prices after back-to-back droughts in the two previous years.

The RBI is focussed on attaining inflation targets – aiming for around 5 percent by March 2017, and 4 percent in the medium term.

BRIGHTER BUSINESS SURVEY

In all, the RBI reduced by repo rate by 125 bps in 2015, but it has been frustrated by commercial banks failure to pass on the full benefits to the wider economy.

Complaining of tight liquidity in the financial system, banks only passed on about half of the RBI’s rate reductions to borrowers so far.

And, despite the RBI easing last year more aggressively than at any time since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, annual economic growth slowed to 7.3 percent in the October-December quarter from 7.7 in the previous quarter.

The slowdown left the economy further adrift of the government’s 8.0 percent growth target, a rate needed to generate jobs for the millions of Indians joining the workforce each year.

More positively, a business survey released on Monday showed Indian manufacturing activity expanded for the third straight month in March and at the fastest pace since July, driven by stronger demand which allowed companies to raise prices at the fastest pace in 16 months.

The latest Nikkei/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index INPMI=ECI showed the new orders sub-index, a proxy for domestic demand, also rose to an eight-month high, encouraging firms to increase output. Foreign demand also rose though at a slightly more moderate pace.

(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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

India allows gold repayments to make scheme attractive for temples | Reuters

NEW DELHI India on Friday tweaked its gold monetisation scheme to allow repayments in gold for medium- and long-term deposits, making the plan more attractive for temples that are sitting on thousands of tonnes of the metal.

The Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple or Tirupati, the world’s richest Hindu temple whose participation is crucial to the success of mobilising India’s idle gold, had requested repayment of deposits held for more than three years in the yellow metal.

The government will charge a fee of 0.2 percent on the value of gold redemptions but the interest will be paid in cash, the country’s central bank said in a statement.

Depositors will still have the option of redeeming deposits in cash.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year launched the Gold Monetisation Scheme to mobilise gold stashed with individuals, institutions and rich temples for recycling and to reduce imports. The scheme has garnered about three tonnes of gold in four months out of a national hoard of over 20,000 tonnes.

(Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; editing by Susan Thomas)

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

Oil posts best quarter since mid-2015 but glut still worries | Reuters

NEW YORK Oil prices jumped more than 10 percent in March in the best quarter since mid-2015 although some analysts said the rally could fade soon as an output freeze plan by major crude exporters fails to alleviate worries of a glut.

A weak dollar and data showing a drawdown in crude stocks at the U.S. futures delivery hub helped oil settle steady to firmer in Thursday’s session.

But traders remained worried that a tentative agreement among the world’s largest producers to keep oil output at January’s levels will barely make a dent on global supplies.

Analysts said crude futures also appear to have overextended gains with a 50 percent rally since the deal was proposed mid-February, amid little improvement in fundamentals.

“Oversupply still persists due to resilient U.S. production, even if declining moderately; high OPEC output, led by Saudi Arabia and Iraq; and the gradual return of Iran starting Q1 2016,” said Mike Wittner, global head of oil research at Societe Generale.

Brent crude for May delivery LCOK6, which expired as the front-month contract, settled up 34 cents, or 0.8 percent, at $39.60 a barrel. June Brent LCOM6 closed 0.7 percent higher at $39.75.

The benchmark’s front-month soared 10 percent higher in March – its best month since April 2015 – and jumped 6 percent in the first quarter – its best quarter since the second quarter in 2015. U.S. crude futures CLc1 settled at $38.34, up 2 cents on the day, rising 14 percent in March and 4 percent in the quarter – also its biggest quarterly gain since June 2015.

In a Reuters poll, oil analysts raised their average price forecasts for 2016 for the first time in 10 months – Brent averaging $40.90 and U.S. crude $39.70 in 2016 – but cautioned the rally could fade near term.

On Thursday, the dollar .DXY hit a mid-October low, making greenback-denominated oil more attractive to holders of the euro EUR= and other currencies.

Data from market intelligence firm Genscape showed a 807,496-barrel drawdown in stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma delivery hub for U.S. crude futures in the week to March 29, traders said.

Inventories at Cushing have receded from record highs for two consecutive weeks, with U.S. government data on Wednesday showing a 272,000-barrel drawdown in the week ending March 25.

Total U.S. crude stocks, however, rose 2.3 million barrels last week to 534.8 million barrels, a record high for a seventh straight week.

OPEC crude output rose in March to 32.47 million barrels per day from 32.37 million bpd in February, a Reuters survey said.

Analysts also expect an April 17 meeting of major oil producers in Doha to discuss the output freeze to fall short of expectations.

“There is a clear risk of disappointment and for a temporary setback in prices ahead or immediately after the Doha meeting,” Carsten Fritsch, commodities analyst at Commerzbank, told the Reuters Global Oil Forum.

(Additional reporting by Libby George in LONDON; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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

Cautious Yellen pushes back on Fed officials eying hike | Reuters

NEW YORK Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Tuesday the U.S. central bank should proceed only cautiously as it looks to raise interest rates, pushing back on a handful of her colleagues who have suggested another move may be just around the corner.

In her first comments since the Fed decided to hold rates steady two weeks ago, Yellen said inflation has not yet proven durable against the backdrop of looming global risks to the U.S economy, including still-low oil prices and concerns over China.

The comments, which boosted stocks and bonds and hit the dollar, come as healthier measures of U.S. inflation and manufacturing have prompted some other Fed officials to say another policy tightening could come as soon as April.

But Yellen was not about to change tack just yet.

“Given the risks to the outlook, I consider it appropriate for the Committee to proceed cautiously in adjusting policy,” she said of the Fed’s policy-making Federal Open Market Committee.

At its March policy meeting, the Fed had nodded to an overseas slowdown and early-year market turmoil in justifying a pause to its policy tightening. At the time, Fed officials also downgraded economic expectations and predicted only about two more rate hikes this year, down from a December prediction of four.

Yellen said she still expected that headwinds from weak growth abroad, low oil prices and uncertainty over China would abate and allow the U.S. recovery to continue alongside a “gradual” series of rate hikes.

But, she added, the overseas developments “imply that meeting our objectives for employment and inflation will likely require a somewhat lower path for (rates) than was anticipated in December,” when the Fed hiked for the first time in a decade.

In response to her comments at the Economic Club of New York, the dollar dropped to a one-week low while equities and gold rebounded.

U.S. inflation measures have shown some recent strength, with the Fed’s preferred annual measure flat at 1.7 percent in February, though still below its target of 2 percent. Another closely watched 12-month measure was up 2.3 percent from a year ago.

That, along with a partial rebound in oil prices and relative tranquility in global markets, appear to have given some other Fed officials confidence that the economy can soon absorb tighter policy after seven years of near zero rates.

San Francisco Fed President John Williams, a close ally of Yellen who is usually among the core of decision-makers, said earlier on Tuesday in Singapore that the U.S. central bank should stay on track with its tightening plan.

That echoed public comments last week by Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, another centrist, and James Bullard of the St. Louis Fed, who has a vote on policy this year. Those so-called hawkish views had convinced some investors that the Fed was poised to raise rates at policy meetings in April or June.

On the other hand, sluggish consumer spending and a large trade gap last month has slowed the Atlanta Fed’s closely watched estimate of economic growth to only 0.6 percent in the first quarter of the year.

Diane Swonk, founder of DS Economics in Chicago, said Yellen’s “key points today emphasize her bias to raise rates later, not sooner, and more importantly, to sideline inflation hawks who want to raise rates in April.”

Futures traders expect the Fed to wait until November to raise rates another 0.25 percent, from around 0.37 percent now, according to CME Group.

Yellen, who has run the Fed for more than two years, said policymakers held rates steady this month in part to “get ahead” of an overseas slowdown even though the U.S. economy has so far proven “remarkably resilient.”

On a busy day for the world’s most influential central bank, Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan used similar language to describe his outlook, saying the Fed should proceed gradually and cautiously on rate hikes.

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Masayuki Kitano in Singapore, Jennifer Ablan in New York, and Lindsay Dunsmuir and Howard Schneider in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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

India need 161 against Australia to reach semis | Reuters

MOHALI, India India’s bowlers pulled Australia back from a blistering start to restrict them to 160 for six wickets on Sunday with their final World Twenty20 Super 10 game serving as a knockout match to secure a place in the last four versus West Indies.

Hosts India, inaugural World T20 champions in 2007, and reigning 50-over title holders Australia have won two matches each, with their only loss against New Zealand, and the winners of the Group Two clash will meet the Caribbean side in Thursday’s semi-final in Mumbai.

New Zealand face England in the other semi-final.

Australia’s Aaron Finch (43) and Usman Khawaja (26) smashed the bowlers to all corners of the ground after captain Steve Smith won the toss and opted to bat on a pitch that was used for the women’s game between India and West Indies earlier on Sunday.

Left-handed Khawaja’s first six scoring shots were all boundaries, four of them coming against paceman Jasprit Bumrah in one over, with Australia racing past 50 before the completion of the fourth over.

Finch, Australia’s captain in the format before he was replaced by Smith shortly before the tournament, then launched into India’s bowling mainstay Ravichandran Ashwin, hitting the off-spinner for two consecutive sixes over long-on.

But some smart bowling from left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja and part-timers Yuvraj Singh and Hardik Pandya, who picked up two wickets, in the middle overs halted Australia’s progress as they struggled to hit the boundaries.

Dangerman Glenn Maxwell (31) took his time at the crease but got out just as he started opening his arms.

Wicketkeeper Peter Nevill smashed Pandya for a four and a six off the last two balls of the innings as Australia, yet to win the World T20 title, took 15 runs in their final over to ensure India must score more than eight runs an over in their chase.

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Ken Ferris)

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

Belgium names Brussels bomber brothers, key suspect on run | Reuters

BRUSSELS Belgium’s chief prosecutor named two brothers on Wednesday as Islamic State suicide bombers who killed at least 31 people in the most deadly attacks in Brussels’ history but said another key suspect was on the run.

Tuesday’s attacks on a city that is home to the European Union and NATO sent shockwaves across Europe and around the world, with authorities racing to review security at airports and on public transport. It also rekindled debate about lagging European security cooperation and flaws in police surveillance.

The federal prosecutor told a news conference that Ibrahim El Bakraoui, 29, one of two men who blew themselves up at Brussels airport on Tuesday, had left a will on a computer dumped in a rubbish bin near the militants’ hideout.

In it, he described himself as “always on the run, not knowing what to do anymore, being hunted everywhere, not being safe any longer and that if he hangs around, he risks ending up next to the person in a cell” – a reference to suspected Paris bomber Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested last week.

His brother Khalid El Bakraoui, 27, detonated a bomb an hour later on a crowded rush-hour metro train near the European Commission headquarters, prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said.

Both men, born in Belgium, had criminal records for armed robbery but investigators had not linked them to Islamist militants until Abdeslam’s arrest, when police began a race against time to track down his suspected accomplices.

That seems to have prompted the bombers to rush into an attack in Belgium after months of lying low, according to the testament found on the laptop.

At least 31 people were killed and 271 wounded in the attacks, the prosecutor said. That toll could increase further because some of the bomb victims at Maelbeek metro station were blown to pieces and victims are hard to identify. Several survivors were still in critical condition.

The Bakraoui brothers were identified by their fingerprints and on security cameras, the prosecutor said. A second suicide bomber at the airport had yet to be identified and a third man, whom he did not name, left the biggest bomb and ran out of the terminal before the explosions.

Belgian media named that man as Najim Laachraoui, 25, a suspected Islamic State recruiter and bomb-maker whose DNA was found on two explosives belts used in last November’s Paris attacks and at a Brussels safe house used by Abdeslam before his arrest last Friday.

Some media reported he had been captured in the Brussels borough of Anderlecht on Wednesday morning, but they later said the person detained was not Laachraoui.

Khalid El Bakraoui rented under a false name the apartment in the city’s Forest borough, where police hunting Abdeslam killed a gunman in a raid last week. He is also believed to have rented a safe house in the southern Belgian city of Charleroi used to mount the Paris attacks.

“BLACK DAYS”

The Syrian-based Islamist group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks, warning of “black days” for those fighting it in Syria and Iraq. Belgian warplanes have joined the coalition in the Middle East, but Brussels has long been a hub of Islamist militants who operated elsewhere.

A minute’s silence was observed across Belgium at noon. Prime Minister Charles Michel cancelled a trip to China and reviewed security measures with his inner cabinet before attending a memorial event at European Commission headquarters with King Philippe, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

“We are determined, admittedly with a strong feeling of pain in our stomachs, but determined to act,” Michel told a joint news conference with Valls. “France and Belgium are united in pain more than ever.”

Valls played down cross-border sniping over security, saying: “We must turn the page on naivete, a form of carefreeness that our societies have known.

“It is Europe that has been attacked. The response to terrorism must be European.”

EU justice and interior ministers will hold an emergency meeting in Brussels on Thursday, the Dutch EU presidency said.

Valls urged the European Parliament to pass immediately a law allowing the sharing of airline passenger name records (PNR), long blocked by the left. But his own French Socialists said the bill was in the works and French and European political leaders should stop making scapegoats.

“The truth is that PNR would not have stopped either the Paris attacks or the Brussels ones,” the French Socialist group in the European legislature said in a statement.

More than 1,000 people gathered around an improvised shrine with candles and street paintings outside the Brussels bourse.

Belgium’s crisis coordination centre kept the level of security alert at the maximum as the man hunt continued. Some buses and trains were running but the metro and the airport were closed, along with key road tunnels in Brussels.

The blasts fuelled political debate across the globe about how to combat militants.

Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republicannomination to succeed Obama in November’s U.S. election, suggested suspects could be tortured to avert such attacks. He also said in a British television interview that Muslims were not doing enough to prevent that kind of violence.

After a tip-off from a taxi driver who unwittingly drove the bombers to the airport, police searched an apartment in the Brussels borough of Schaerbeek late into the night, finding another bomb, an Islamic State flag, 15 kg of the same kind of explosives used in the Paris attacks and bomb-making chemicals.

An unused explosive device was also found at the airport.

CLOSING IN

Security experts believed the blasts were probably in preparation before Friday’s arrest of locally based French national Abdeslam, 26, whom prosecutors accuse of a key role in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks.

He was caught and has been speaking to investigators after ashootout at an apartment in the south of the city, after which another Islamic State flag and explosives were found.

About 300 Belgians are estimated to have fought withIslamists in Syria, making the country of 11 million the leadingEuropean exporter of foreign fighters and a focus of concern inFrance and other neighbours over its security capabilities.

Reviving arguments over Belgian security policies following the Paris attacks, in which 130 people died in an operation apparently organised from Brussels, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin spoke of “naiveté” on the part of “certain leaders” in holding back from security crackdowns on Muslim communities.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders retorted that each country should look to its own social problems, saying France too had rough high-rise suburbs in which militants had become radicalised. Valls said France had no place teaching Belgium lessons and had problems with its own communities.

Brussels airport seemed likely to remain shut for several days over the busy Easter holiday weekend, since the departure hall was still being combed as a crime scene on Wednesday and repairs can only begin once investigators are finished.

(Editing by Paul Taylor and Janet Lawrence)

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

Bangladesh duo suspended from bowling for illegal actions | Reuters

NEW DELHI Bangladesh’s World Twenty20 campaign suffered a body blow on Saturday when paceman Taskin Ahmed and left-arm spinner Arafat Sunny were suspended from bowling in international cricket with immediate effect because of illegal actions.

Both the bowlers were reported after their side’s opening match in the ongoing World Twenty20 against the Netherlands in Dharamsala on Wednesday.

“As a consequence of these suspensions, the Bangladesh cricket team is permitted to apply … for approval to replace the two bowlers in the squad for the remainder of the event,” the International Cricket Council (ICC) said in a statement.

Both bowlers were assessed at the ICC-accredited testing centre in Chennai this week, the governing body said.

Arafat’s elbow extension for the majority of his deliveries exceeded the 15 degrees limit and not all of Taskin’s deliveries were found to be legal.

Bangladesh qualified for the main draw in style but went down to Pakistan in their first Super 10 match and face Australia in their next match on Monday.

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty; editing by Ed Osmond)

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

Suicide bombing kills five, wounds 36 in central Istanbul | Reuters

ISTANBUL/ANKARA A suicide bomber killed himself and four others in a central Istanbul shopping and tourism district on Saturday, wounding at least 36 people in the fourth such attack in Turkey this year.

The blast sent panicked shoppers scurrying into side alleys off Istiklal Street, a long pedestrian avenue lined with international stores and foreign consulates, a few hundred metres from where police buses are often stationed.

The attack will raise further questions about NATO member Turkey’s ability to protect itself against a spillover of violence from the war in neighbouring Syria.

Turkey faces threats from Kurdish militants, whose insurgency has spread from the largely Kurdish southeast and who Ankara sees as closely linked to a Kurdish militia in Syria, and from Islamic State fighters, who have also recently targeted it.

Germany shut down its diplomatic missions and schools on Thursday, citing a specific threat. Meanwhile, U.S. and other European embassies had warned their citizens to be vigilant ahead of Newroz celebrations this weekend, a spring festival largely marked by Kurds which has turned violent in the past.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, which two senior officials said could have been carried out by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), fighting for Kurdish autonomy in the southeast, or by an Islamic State militant.

Both groups have targeted Turkey in recent months. A PKK offshoot claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings in the capital Ankara over the past month, which killed a total of 66 people. And Islamic State was blamed for a suicide bombing in Istanbul in January which killed at least 12 German tourists.

One of the officials said the bomber had planned to hit a more crowded location but was deterred by the police presence.

“The attacker detonated the bomb before reaching the target point because they were scared of the police,” the official said, declining to be named as the investigation is ongoing.

Another official said investigations were focusing on three possible suspects, all of them male and two of them from the southern city of Gaziantep near the Syrian border. There was no further confirmation of this.

Armed police sealed off the shopping street where half a dozen ambulances had gathered. Forensic teams in white suits searched for evidence as police helicopters buzzed overhead.

“I saw a body on the street. No one was treating him but then I saw someone who appeared to be a regular citizen trying to do something to the body. That was enough for me and I turned and went back,” one resident told Reuters.

Istiklal Street, usually thronged with shoppers at weekends, was quieter than normal as more people are staying home after a series of deadly bombings.

Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu confirmed that 36 people had been wounded, seven of those were in serious condition and twelve of the wounded were foreigners.

Broadcaster NTV said six of the wounded were Israeli tourists and two others were from Iceland. Israel’s foreign ministry confirmed some of its citizens were among the wounded, as did Ireland, which said “a number” of Irish were injured.

INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNATION

Saturday’s blast came as Turkey is still in shock from a suicide car bombing on Sunday at a crowded transport hub in the capital Ankara which killed 37 people. A similar bombing in Ankara last month killed 29. An offshoot of the PKK claimed responsibility for both bombings.

The Istanbul suicide bombing which killed German tourists in January struck at its historic heart and was blamed by the government on Islamic State.

Saturday’s attack brought condemnation from around the globe.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, on an official visit to Istanbul, said it showed “the ugly face of terrorism”, while France condemned it as “despicable and cowardly”.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg described the attack as “another terrorist outrage against innocent civilians and ally Turkey” on Twitter, while Germany urged tourists in Istanbul to stay in their hotels.

Turkey’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a Kurdish-rooted opposition party, condemned the bombing.

“Just as in the Ankara attack, this is a terrorist act that directly targets civilians,” the HDP said in an e-mail. “Whoever carried out this attack, it is unacceptable and inexcusable.”

Turkey is a member of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. It is also battling the PKK in its own southeast, where a 2-1/2-year ceasefire collapsed last July, triggering the worst violence since the 1990s.

In its armed campaign in Turkey, the PKK has historically struck directly at the security forces and says it does not target civilians. However, recent bombings suggest it could be shifting tactics.

One of the Turkish officials said the PKK was looking to carry out attacks during the Newroz holiday.

At the height of the PKK insurgency in the 1990s, the festival was often marked by violent clashes between Kurdish protesters and security forces. It coincides with the spring thaw, a time when in previous years PKK fighters re-entered Turkey from mountain hideouts in northern Iraq.

(Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley, Asli Kandemir, Humeyra Pamuk and Daren Butler in Istanbul, John Irish in Paris, Paris Hafezi in Ankara, Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Hans-Edzard Busemann in Berlin; Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Writing by David Dolan and Nick Tattersall; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Alexander Smith)

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

U.S. SEC says Amazon should allow shareholder vote on gender pay | Reuters

Amazon.com Inc should allow shareholders to vote on a proposal on gender pay equality, the U.S. securities regulator decided this week in rejecting the retailer’s request to omit the measure from its annual ballot.

Arjuna Capital, the activist arm of investment firm Baldwin Brothers Inc, said it submitted the proposal to Amazon and eight other technology companies, including eBay Inc and Intel Corp.

Only Amazon sought permission from the Securities and Exchange Commission to omit the proposal, Arjuna said.

Arjuna called for an October deadline for Amazon to report the difference between males’ and females’ pay and its plans to close the gap, according to a filing on the SEC’s website.

While such proposals generally face long odds, just getting one on the ballot of a high-profile company like Amazon can be a catalyst for change.

In a ruling on Tuesday, the SEC said it did not agree with Amazon that the proposal was “so inherently vague or indefinite” that it would impede implementation.

Amazon, which estimates that as of July women made up 39 percent of its global workforce and 24 percent of managers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it would include the proposal on its ballot.

“We’re committed to fairly and equitably compensating all our employees, and we review all employee compensation on at least an annual basis to ensure that it meets that bar,” Amazon said in an emailed statement.

Amazon added that it was already working with organizations such as Code.org, the Anita Borg Institute and Girls Who Code to increase women’s and minorities’ involvement in the technology industry.

The SEC ruling comes as technology companies face scrutiny over diversity and compensation equity issues.

“It’s not simply a social justice issue,” said Natasha Lamb, director of shareholder engagement at Arjuna. “It’s an issue that affects performance, affects the company’s ability to attract and retain top talent.”

Lamb said Arjuna withdrew proposals at Apple Inc and Intel after they took action on the issue. Intel, for example, earmarked $300 million for diversity and said it found its male and female employees were equally paid.

EBay shareholders rejected Arjuna’s first proposal on gender pay equity last year after the board opposed it. Arjuna said it resubmitted the proposal at eBay this year and expanded its effort to a total of nine companies.

EBay declined to comment.

(Editing by Stephen R. Trousdale and Lisa Von Ahn)

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

Vijay Mallya’s date with Indian investigators clashes with F1 opener | Reuters

LONDON Drinks tycoon and motor racing boss Vijay Mallya faces a sensitive diary clash this week as the season-opening Australian Formula One Grand Prix coincides with an appointment to appear before Indian investigators.

Mallya, under pressure from banks to repay $1.4 billion owed by his collapsed Kingfisher Airlines, left India for Britain on March 2. His departure sparked outrage in parliament, after creditors had asked courts to ensure he stayed in the country.

A senior official from the Enforcement Directorate, said last week that Mallya had been summoned for questioning this Friday as part of an investigation related to one of the bank loans.

Friday is also the first official practice day before Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix. Mallya, who co-owns Britain-based team Force India and regularly attends races, did not respond to a request for comment on whether he plans to go.

If he does, without first making a pit stop back home, it is likely to trigger further uproar in India. Mallya, who sports a goatee, an ear stud and a ponytail, is one of the country’s most flamboyant entrepreneurs and a fixture in the society pages.

The self-styled “King of Good Times” and chairman of the Federation of Motorsports Clubs of India has denied fleeing the country, saying on Twitter he was the victim of a media witch hunt. He said in his posts that he would comply with domestic laws.

A spokesman for Force India told Reuters last week that he did not know about Mallya’s plans. In February, the team’s chief operating officer, Otmar Szafnauer, said he expected Mallya to attend more than half of this year’s 21 races.

Force India cars were reported to be coming and going last week at Mallya’s 11.5 million pound ($16.5 million) mansion in the village of Tewin, just north of London. The run-up to a season-opener is a hectic time for teams, as cars must be readied for air freight.

Mallya bought the sprawling Hertfordshire estate last year from Anthony Hamilton, father of triple Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton. The house boasts two swimming pools, multiple cars and at least 20 windows, all of which had their curtains drawn tight when a Reuters reporter visited on Friday.

(Reporting by Richa Naidu and Alan Baldwin; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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

‘Zootopia’ rules, Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘Brothers Grimsby’ bombs | Reuters

(Variety.com) – Disney’s “Zootopia” cruised to another box office victory this weekend, picking up $50 million and barreling across the $100 million mark domestically.

After two weeks of release, “Zootopia,” the critically acclaimed story of a plucky rabbit policewoman, has earned $142.6 million stateside. In its second weekend, “Zootopia” only dropped 33% — an impressive show of endurance at a time when major releases routinely see their grosses cut in half after a big opening. The animated offering is benefiting from a lack of family fare. It’s been more than six weeks since “Kung Fu Panda 3” landed in theaters and the next big film aimed at younger audiences doesn’t hit until April 15 with “The Jungle Book.”

“Family audiences have been underserved for months, so this movie is perfectly timed to get more bang for the buck,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore.

Despite the continued strength of “Zootopia,” Paramount and Bad Robot’s “10 Cloverfield Lane” was able to connect with audiences, earning $25.2 million from 3,391 locations. That’s a strong return given that the film about a woman who finds herself trapped in a doomsday bunker, waiting out the apocalypse with the neighborhood survivalists, cost $13 million to produce. The studio also kept marketing costs in check, holding off its campaign until eight weeks before the film opening, with its biggest spending coming with a Super Bowl teaser.

Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore credited Bad Robot chief J.J. Abrams with coming up with the concept for the twisty thriller while he was in production on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” He said the key was to make sure that none of the advertisements revealed any of the film’s surprises.

“We wanted to give people just enough clues to keep them excited, interested, and wanting more,” said Moore. “That’s rare in this day and age, when so much [information] is given out so early.”

All was not well with “The Brothers Grimsby.” The Sony spy comedy from Sacha Baron Cohen opened to a terminal $3.2 million from 2,235 locations, raising questions about the comic mind behind “Borat” and “Bruno’s” continued bankability.

“We certainly wanted more,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution chief. “Sacha is amazing and we love him, and we tried to crack the code on it, but it just didn’t happen for us.”

Cohen’s most recent starring effort, 2012’s “The Dictator,” disappointed with roughly $180 million on a $65 million budget, and he tends to have a long period of time between projects, which may have diminished his popularity. Whatever the case, “The Brothers Grimsby,” with a $35 million budget, ranks as the biggest flop of Cohen’s career. He will try to rebound with a supporting turn in next summer’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” a sequel to “Alice in Wonderland.”

Focus’ faith-based play, “The Young Messiah,” had a lackluster launch, debuting to $3.4 million from 1,761 locations. Also opening, Lionsgate’s romance “The Perfect Match,” which unfolded in 925 locations to $4.2 million for the weekend.

In limited release, Bleecker Street’s drone thriller “Eye in the Sky” generated $117,050 from five locations for a $23,410 per-theater average. Roadside Attractions and Sony’s Stage 6 Films also opened “Hello, My Name is Doris,” an off-beat comedy about an older woman (Sally Field) who becomes smitten with a young co-worker, in four screens in New York and Los Angeles, where it pulled in $85,240 for a per-screen average of $21,310.

The domestic box office year-to-date was up more than 9% after last weekend. However, those gains have largely been on the backs of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which opened in 2015, but did more than $400 million worth of business this year, as well as recent hits like “Zootopia,” “Kung Fu Panda 3” and “Deadpool.” That’s led to a severe case of haves and have nots. There have been a litany of wide releases that have stumbled or fallen flat in recent months — a collection of also-runs and bombs that includes “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” “Gods of Egypt,” “The 5th Wave,” “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies” and “Eddie the Eagle.”

“It’s a traffic jam out there,” said Dergarabedian. “The marketplace is monumentally overcrowded and there are too many films that don’t have a solid chance to do well.”

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

Trump blames ‘our communist friend’ Sanders for Chicago clashes | Reuters

CHICAGO U.S. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Saturday blamed supporters of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders for protests that shut down his Chicago rally, calling the U.S. senator from Vermont “our communist friend”.

Trump’s Republican rivals, meanwhile, hurled scorn at the New York billionaire, saying he helped create the increasingly tense atmosphere that is now sweeping the race for the White House with his fiery rhetoric.

Trump, who has rallies in Ohio and Missouri on Saturday, canceled the Chicago event on Friday after it turned chaotic, with scuffles breaking out between protesters and backers of the real estate magnate.

The clashes follow a slew of recent incidents of violence at Trump rallies, in which protesters and journalists have been punched, tackled and hustled out of venues, raising concerns about degrading security leading into the Nov. 8 election.

“All of a sudden a planned attack just came out of nowhere,” Trump said at a rally in Dayton, Ohio, Saturday morning, calling the protest leaders “professional people”.

He said his own fans “were taunted, they were harassed by these other people, these other people by the way, some represented Bernie, our communist friend.”

“Now really Bernie should tell his people…he should really get up and say to his people ‘stop, stop,'” he said.

A spokesman for Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier on Saturday Trump called the protesters thugs.

“The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!” Trump said on Twitter.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech and assembly. The Chicago rally came ahead of five primary elections on Tuesday, including contests in Ohio and Illinois.

Trump rival, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, cast wide blame for what he called “third world” images out of Chicago, from the protesters to the media, with his harshest criticism directed at Trump.

“This is a frightening, grotesque, and disturbing development in American politics,” he said, speaking to reporters before a rally in Pinellas County, Florida.

John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio who is also running for president, told journalists before a campaign event in Cincinnati on Saturday that Trump has created a “toxic environment”.

“And that toxic environment has allowed his supporters, and those who seek confrontation, to come together in violence,” he said. “There is no place for a national leader to pray on the fears of the people who live in our great country.”

In a statement, Republican candidate, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, called the incident “sad” and said the protesters should have let the rally happen.

Trump has drawn fervent support as well as criticism for his calls to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and to impose a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.

His rallies often attract small groups of protesters, but Friday’s was the first at which there may have been as many protesters as supporters.

Asked by CNN interviewer Don Lemon if he would take back anything he had said, Trump said: “Now, getting back to before tonight, when I talked about illegal immigration, I have no regrets whatsoever.”

“If I didn’t bring up illegal immigration, it wouldn’t even be a subject of the campaign,” he added.

At the University of Illinois-Chicago stadium rally the two sides shouted at each other until a Trump staffer appeared and said the event would be put off until an unspecified date for security reasons.

Police said five people were arrested, including CBS News reporter Sopan Deb. Two officers were injured, with one requiring stitches, police said.

The cancellation followed an appearance by Trump in St. Louis on Friday during which protests forced him to halt his speech repeatedly.

Trump has a significant lead in primary contests over the three remaining Republicans vying for the White House. He is looking to cement it on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Catherine Koppel in Chicago, Ian Simpson, Idrees Ali and Amanda Becker in Washington, and Letitia Stein in Pinellas County, Florida; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Mary Milliken)

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

Four on death row in Saudi Arabia for terrorism – newspaper | Reuters

DUBAI Death sentences against four Saudi men convicted of terrorism have been confirmed by 13 judges, a Saudi newspaper reported, raising the possibility of a new round of executions two months after 47 people including a prominent Shi’ite cleric were put to death.

International rights groups said the families of three young Shi’ite Muslim men feared their sons, arrested for involvement in anti-government protests while under the age of 18, were among those facing the death penalty. One is a nephew of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the cleric whose execution in January led to a rupture of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Officials from the Saudi justice ministry and the interior ministry were not immediately available to comment.

Saudi newspaper Okaz said: “The four terrorists awaiting the implementation of the death sentences complement the first group of 47.” It said a total of 13 judges had considered the cases in three levels of hearings, but did not identify the four men.

Rights group Reprieve, which campaigns against the death penalty, said: “While details of the four in line for execution remain unclear, the reports will raise fears for three juveniles who are awaiting execution after their sentences … were upheld in the SCC (Specialised Criminal Court) last year.”

The three are Dawoud al-Marhoon, arrested in 2012; Abdullah Hassan al-Zaher, who was 15 when he was arrested in 2011; and Ali al-Nimr, aged 17 when he was detained in 2012. France has called on Saudi Arabia not to execute Nimr, arguing he was a minor at the time.

Amnesty International said: “If these executions go ahead, Saudi Arabia will demonstrate its utter disdain for international law, which prohibits executions of people for crimes committed under the age of 18.”

In November last year, two Saudi newspapers reported that Saudi Arabia was planning to execute more than 50 people for “terrorist crimes” that killed more than 100 civilians and 71 security personnel.

The 47 executed on Jan. 2 were mostly Sunnis convicted of al Qaeda attacks in the kingdom a decade ago. Four, including the older Nimr, were members of the Shi’ite minority who were accused of involvement in shooting policemen.

Nimr’s execution sparked demonstrations in eastern Saudi Arabia and in Shi’ite Iran, where angry crowds ransacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran, prompting Riyadh to break off ties with Iran.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi, Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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

India, Middle East countries in talks on oil-for-food scheme | Reuters

NEW DELHI India is in talks with some Gulf nations to buy oil to fill its strategic reserves and sell food in return, seeking to use its position as the world’s third-largest oil importer to both secure energy supplies and boost exports.

Indian Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan told reporters the idea was still fluid, but New Delhi had held preliminary conversations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, have discussed the issue twice, Pradhan said.

“We are discussing various models,” Pradhan added.

India imports about four-fifths of its oil needs, with bulk of that supplied from the Middle East. A global supply glut has oil-rich countries there struggling to boost sales.

India is also the world’s biggest rice and wheat producer after China and has large stocks of the staples.

Countries in the Middle East import food in large quantities as the region has less arable land and water.

The cost of food imports there could double to $70 billion in 20 years, as climate change hits crop yields and the population rises, an analyst at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas told the Thomson Reuters Foundation last year.

On Feb. 1, rice stocks at the state-run Food Corporation of India were 16.2 million tonnes, against a target of 7.6 million tonnes. Wheat stocks totaled 20.3 million tonnes, higher than the government-set target of 13.8 million.

“They can buy food from here and store in India or in their countries; and we can buy oil from there and store in our strategic storage,” Pradhan said.

Pradhan said such a deal would help Indian farmers secure a new market for their produce, mainly rice and wheat.

The mechanism envisaged by India will be different from the United Nations-designed oil-for-food programme, in which Iraq was allowed between 1996 and 2003 to sell oil in exchange for goods that met basic humanitarian needs, including food and medicines.

Pradhan said India had offered the UAE a part of its Mangalore strategic reserves to store oil. Under the arrangement being proposed by the Indians, the Gulf state would be allowed to use about a third of that oil for trade, while keeping the rest for India to use as strategic reserves.

India will complete the first phase of its strategic reserve to store 39 million barrels by May and later this year begin work on the second phase which will have a capacity to hold 91.6 million barrels, Pradhan said.

(Additional reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj in NEW DELHI; Editing by MarkPotter)

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

Disney’s ‘Zootopia’ opens big with $73.7 million debut | Reuters

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – Disney’s “Zootopia” scored the fourth biggest March opening ever, debuting to $73.7 million over the weekend.

The animated story about a rabbit who joins the police force ranks as the biggest Disney Animation launch (though not the best Pixar debut), outstripping “Frozen,” the 2012 blockbuster that bowed to $67.4 million. With no major family film opening until “The Jungle Book” lands on April 15, “Zootopia” is well positioned to be the de facto choice for moviegoers with children for the next month.

“There’s an absence of competition,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s distribution chief. “We are set up to have a big, big run.”

Disney did not release a budget, but most animated films cost in excess of $100 million. “Zootopia” screened in 3,827 locations.

Overseas, where “Zootopia” has been playing for three weeks, the film added another $63.4 million to its haul, pushing its global total to $232.5 million. The film continues a sterling comeback run for Disney Animation, which had reached a creative and commercial nadir in the early aughts with the likes of “Home on the Range” and “Treasure Planet.” Since Pixar’s Ed Catmull and John Lasseter took the reins following Disney’s 2006 acquisition of their company, the animation arm has roared back to life, fielding hits such as “Frozen,” “Tangled,” and “Wreck It Ralph,” and winning Oscars.

“They brought a focus on quality,” said Hollis. “They recognize that quality is the best business plan.”

Beyond the bunnies, Gerard Butler managed to wash out some of the sour taste in his mouth after “Gods of Egypt” flopped spectacularly. “London Has Fallen,” the Scottish actor’s followup to “Olympus Has Fallen,” opened solidly to $21.5 million from 3,490 locations for a second place finish. That does, however, trail the first film’s $30 million debut.

Focus Features fielded the picture, which carried a $60 million price tag. It played older, with more than 76% of the audience clocking in over the age of 25, while men made up 60% of ticket buyers.

“We’re really pleased with the opening and we think we’re going to leg out well from here,” said Jim Orr, Focus’ distribution chief. “That older demographic doesn’t necessarily rush out on opening weekend.”

Tina Fey was not as lucky as Butler. The actress’ “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” stumbled with a $7.6 million launch from 2,374 venues. Paramount backed the $35 million dramedy about a war reporter who gets hooked on the adrenaline rush of covering Afghanistan. War films and political comedies can be tough sells — witness the financial failures of “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Our Brand is Crisis,” and “Jarhead” — and “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” appears to be no exception. The studio isn’t ready to wave a white flag yet. Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore said that he hoped the audience would build in the coming weeks, as it did for Fey’s recent hit “Sisters.”

“We were hoping for more,” he said. “But Tina’s last movie played to a good multiple and we had a good Saturday, so we have a chance of playing for a little while to a reasonable outcome.”

After four weeks in theaters, “Deadpool” barreled past the $300 million mark. The comic book movie finished in third place with $16.4 million, pushing its domestic haul to $311.1 million.

“Gods of Egypt” rounded out the top five, picking up $5 million. The $140 million action epic has earned a meager $22.8 million domestically after two weeks — a terrible result for a picture that was intended to usher in a new franchise.

Fresh off its best picture win at last weekend’s Academy Awards, newspaper drama “Spotlight” capitalized on the Oscar love by pulling in $1.8 million. The film has netted $41.6 million during its theatrical run.

In limited release, Broad Green debuted “Knight of Cubs,” Terrence Malick’s lyrical portrait of the spiritual journey of a writer (Christian Bale), in four theaters where it earned $56,688 for a $14,172 per-screen average.

March was once seen as a dumping ground for movies, but the success of spring releases like “The Hunger Games,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Cinderella,” and now “Zootopia” has shattered that prejudice, analysts say.

“This proves March is now a blockbuster month,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. “You can open a blockbuster any time of the year.”

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

Police charge ex-U.N. climate panel chief R.K. Pachauri with stalking, sex harassment | Reuters

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The former chair of a U.N. panel of climate scientists, Rajendra K. Pachauri, was charged on Tuesday with stalking, intimidating and sexually harassing a woman who worked at a think-tank he headed for more than 30 years, police said.

Pachauri, 75, was accused in February last year of sexual harassment by a researcher working at Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) where Pachauri was director general.

Pachauri, who quit as the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) a year ago, denies the charges.

After a year-long investigation into the allegations, which has been closely followed by the Indian media, police said they had sufficient evidence to file charges.

“A chargesheet was filed today in the Metropolitan Magistrate court of Shivani Chauhan in Saket,” said a senior Delhi police official connected to the investigation.

“Dr Pachauri has been charged with various misconduct and offences,” the official, who declined to be named, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The official said the charges included stalking, sexual harassment, “outraging the modesty of a woman” and criminal intimidation.

The most serious charges – sexual harassment and stalking – carry a maximum jail term of three years under Indian law.

The chargesheet ran to more than 1,000 pages and referred to SMS, Whatsapp and email correspondence between Pachauri and the researcher, who was 29 at the time the complaint was filed.

The chargesheet also included the testimonies of 25 witnesses, many of them past or present employees at TERI, the police official added.

Pachauri’s lawyer Ramesh Gupta said his client was being vilified. He said Pachauri could not be arrested because he had been granted anticipatory bail by a court which means police cannot take him into custody for now.

The court will convene on April 23 to decide whether to extend the anticipatory bail or withdraw it, Gupta said.

“My client is innocent in the case. He has not committed any offence. I have not seen the chargesheet. As soon as I will see it, I will decide the next course of action,” Gupta told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The woman claims Pachauri began harassing her via email, Whatsapp and text messaging soon after she joined the non-profit thinktank in September 2013. She said Pachauri persisted despite her requests that he stop.

An internal inquiry committee of TERI found Pachauri guilty of misconduct and the organisation has removed him as director general. Last month however he was appointed as the thinktank’s executive vice-chairman. The victim has resigned from TERI.

Pachauri, who quit IPCC over the allegation, has accused the complainant of using the media to sensationalise the case.

He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 on behalf of the IPCC for its scientific assessment of the risks and causes of climate change and was jointly awarded with former U.S. vice-president and environmental campaigner, Al Gore.

(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty. Writing by Nita Bhalla; 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)

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

Indian man kills 14 members of own family, then hangs himself | Reuters

NEW DELHI A man in India stabbed 14 members of his own family to death, including seven children, before hanging himself, police said on Sunday, in one of the country’s worst – and grizzliest – massacres in recent years.

Thirty five year-old Hasnin Warekar killed his parents and several of his sisters and their children at the family home shortly after midnight in the city of Thane, about 27 kms (16.8 miles) north of Mumbai, police spokesman Gajanan Kabdule said.

One of Warekar’s sisters survived the attack, and is being treated for her injuries in hospital.

“He used a big knife. He killed his parents, his sisters and his sisters’ children. He slit their throats,” Kabdule told Reuters.

Police are investigating the possibility that a property dispute lay behind the massacre, although a motive is yet to be established, he said.

Local media reported that Warekar had laced his family’s food with a sedative before slaughtering them, but Kabdule said this was unconfirmed as samples taken from the house were still being analysed.

(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

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

DiCaprio is Oscar shoo-in, but host Chris Rock may shock | Reuters

LOS ANGELES Suspense and surprises mark the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday after a rollercoaster awards season dominated by the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and no clear front-runner for the top honor of best picture.

It’s the movie industry’s biggest celebration, but all eyes this year will be on Oscars host Chris Rock, the outspoken black comedian who is expected to take aim at a Hollywood diversity crisis that produced an all-white acting nominee line-up for the second year running.

“I think Chris Rock will address it head on, which is exactly what the show and the Academy needs,” said Variety awards editor Tim Gray.

Director Spike Lee and actor Will Smith have shunned the Academy Award ceremony, although a wider Oscar boycott largely failed to gather steam with Hollywood A-listers.

Nevertheless, the under-representation of people of color in the film and TV industry has muted the congratulatory tone of awards season and prompted pledges to bring more women and minorities into the industry and the Academy.

In a break with tradition, Rock has given no interviews or hints of what he plans to say on Sunday’s show, but in a cryptic tweet on Friday he wrote “see you Sunday…#blackout #Oscars”.

Civil rights leader Al Sharpton has called for protests near Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, the Oscars venue, and for Americans to “tune-out” the live telecast, the most watched non-sports TV event of the year.

Going into Sunday’s ceremony, there was no consensus on which of the eight best picture nominees will take home the top prize.

“All the tea leaves are pointing in a different direction. It could be ‘The Revenant’, ‘Spotlight,’ ‘The Big Short’ or even ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’,” said Tom O’Neil, founder of awards website Goldderby.com.

With a leading 12 nominations, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA, 20th Century Fox’s “The Revenant” and its ambitious tale shot in sub-zero temperatures has the epic qualities that traditionally appeal to the 6,200 voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

If “The Revenant,” directed by Mexican Alejandro Inarritu, wins best picture, it would mark the first time in Academy Awards history that a filmmaker directed two best picture winners in a row. Inarritu’s “Birdman” won the 2015 best picture Oscar.

Open Road Films’ “Spotlight”, which traces the journalism probe of sex abuse in the Boston Catholic Church, is also in the mix, along with Paramount’s Wall Street misdeeds comedy “The Big Short,” pundits say.

Warner Bros well-reviewed “Mad Max: Fury Road” has 10 nominations and could turn out to be a rare action-adventure best picture winner.

SCROLLING ‘THANK YOUS’

Among the sure bets, popular Leonardo DiCaprio is seen as certain to win his first ever Oscar for his role as an 1820s fur trapper bent on revenge in “The Revenant.”

“I would be really stunned if he doesn’t win,” said Gray.

Rising star Brie Larson, 26, is the heavy favorite to take home the best actress Oscar for her compelling depiction of an abducted young woman in indie movie “Room.”

And 40 years after the first “Rocky” movie, Sylvester Stallone, 69, appears to have the sentimental edge over “Bridge of Spies” actor Mark Rylance in the supporting actor race thanks to Stallone’s role as a boxing trainer in “Creed.”

Oscar producers are hoping for a few less “thank yous” from the winners this year. In a bid to speed up the 3 and 1/2 hour ceremony and encourage more interesting acceptance speeches, a scrolling list will run on screens of the agents, managers, director and friends that each winner wishes to acknowledge.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Mary Milliken)

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

Leaders of Nepal and India mend fences after friction | Reuters

NEW DELHI The leaders of Nepal and India have overcome mutual misgivings, India’s foreign secretary said on Saturday, after talks to ease tensions over Nepal’s recently-adopted constitution.

Prime Minister K.P. Oli visited New Delhi for talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi after a months-long freeze in relations triggered by the grievances of plains dwellers in southern Nepal who have close historical ties to India.

Nepal, which moved from absolute to constitutional monarchy in 1990, made changes to its constitution to ensure greater participation of the Madhesi community in parliament.

But community leaders said the amendments failed to address their central fear that provincial borders would be redrawn in a way that would divide them.

“Our prime minister appreciated the progress made towards consolidation of constitutional democracy in Nepal,” Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyan Jaishankar told a news briefing.

A four-month border blockade by the Madhesis ended only after amendments to the constitution that sought to address their concerns about representation. India welcomed the amendments, paving the way for Oli’s visit.

“After decades of struggle, the framing and promulgation of Nepal’s constitution is an important achievement,” Modi told reporters after meeting Oli, adding its success would depend on consensus and dialogue.

Modi and Oli inaugurated a power transmission line between India and Nepal and signed a framework agreement for reconstruction work in areas affected by last year’s earthquakes that killed nearly 9,000 people.

India had offered $1 billion in aid to Nepal, but reconstruction efforts have been slow to get started due in part to political turmoil and food and fuel shortages in the isolated state.

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Douglas Busvine/Ruth Pitchford)

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

British PM Cameron says to hold EU referendum on June 23 | Reuters

LONDON Prime Minister David Cameron said on Saturday he would hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union on June 23.

“I will go to parliament and propose that the British people decide our future in Europe through an in-out referendum on Thursday the 23rd of June,” he said.

“My recommendation is clear. I believe that Britain will be safer and stronger and better off in a reformed European Union.”

Cameron, speaking outside his Number 10 Downing Street residence, clinched a deal with other European Union leaders at a summit in Brussels which he hopes will keep the country in the bloc.

He met with his cabinet on Saturday morning which agreed that the government’s position would be to recommend that Britain remains in the EU.

(Reporting by William Schomberg, writing by Kate Holton and Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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

Umberto Eco, Italian author of The Name of the Rose, dies at 84 | Reuters

ROME Italian author Umberto Eco, who became famous for the 1980 international blockbuster “The Name of the Rose”, died on Friday, Italian media reported. He was 84.

La Repubblica newspaper said it had been informed by the family that Eco died late on Friday night at his home in northern Italy.

Eco was virtually unknown outside university circles until well into middle age, when he found himself an international celebrity overnight after he published his first novel, an unorthodox detective story set in a medieval monastery.

“He was an extraordinary example of European intellectualism, uniting a unique intelligence of the past with an inexhaustible capacity to anticipate the future,” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency Ansa.

For the professor from Bologna University, then aged 48, it was a late introduction into the world of international literary fame and one that took many critics by surprise.

“The “Name of the Rose”, with its highly detailed description of life in a 14th-century monastery and learned accounts of the philosophical and religious disputes of the time, at face value was hardly a novel to appeal to the average modern reader.

But the book’s popularity lay in a clever plot line, the masterfully evoked atmosphere of fear and gloom brooding over the monastery, and the attractive central figure, unashamedly modelled on the famous detective Sherlock Holmes.

As the novel opens an ageing priest, anxious to record the story before he dies, looks back on events that took place in 1327 when as an 18-year-old novice he visited a sinister Italian monastery with his master, Brother William of Baskerville.

During their stay several of the monks are gruesomely murdered and William and his young assistant are soon involved in a detective hunt to track down the villain.

The unusual juxtaposition of a gripping storyline and erudite scholasticism helped to explain why the “”Name of the Rose” was translated into dozens of languages, sold more than 14 million copies and won several international literary prizes.

HIT FILM

The book was also the subject of a lavish film production directed by Frenchman Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Scottish actor Sean Connery as Brother William.

Eco attributed the book’s success to the similarity of experiences shared by mankind in the fourteenth and late twentieth century.

““I hope readers see the roots, that everything that existed then – from banks and the inflationary spiral to the burning of libraries – exists today,” he said in an interview with the New York Times Book Review in 1983.

But he also expressed irritation about the apparent reluctance of the international press to let him move on from that achievement.

““I can’t spend the rest of my life talking about a book I left behind me five years ago,” he once complained.

The novel form was a new departure for Eco, who until “”The Name of the Rose” was best known for his highly academic writings on semiotics, the study of signs, and more topical weekly articles in the influential Italian political magazine L’Espresso.

His second novel, “”Foucault’s Pendulum,” was less successful internationally but still highly acclaimed.

His last novel, “Numero Zero” (Number Zero), which was set in an Italian newspaper newsroom, was published last year.

Born in the northwest Italian city of Alessandria on Jan. 5, 1932, Eco was the son of an accountant employed by a manufacturer of iron bathtubs.

His father wanted him to become a lawyer but he chose instead to study philosophy at the northern University of Turin, where he became fascinated by the medieval world.

After taking his doctorate in 1954, Eco started working for the recently established national broadcasting network RAI preparing cultural programmes and gaining a lasting interest in mass communication.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ author Harper Lee dies at 89 | Reuters

Harper Lee, who wrote one of America’s most beloved literary classics, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and surprised readers 55 years later with the publication of a second book about the same characters, died at the age of 89 on Friday.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was published in 1960 as the civil rights movement was heating up and its unflinching examination of racial hatred in the U.S. South made it especially poignant. Its theme could be summed up with the advice that Atticus gave Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

A statement from Tonja Carter, Lee’s attorney in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, said Lee had “passed away early this morning in her sleep” there and that her death was unexpected. She would have a private funeral.

Lee lived an almost reclusive life for decades and it had appeared that her sole literary output would be “To Kill a Mockingbird,” especially since she acknowledged she could not top the Pulitzer Prize-winning book. That was what made the July 2015 publication of “Go Set a Watchman” such a surprising and somewhat controversial literary event.

In the first book, Atticus Finch was the adored father of the young narrator Scout and a lawyer who nobly but unsuccessfully defended a black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman. But in “Watchman,” an older Atticus had racial views that left the grown-up Scout greatly disillusioned.

Lee reportedly had written “Go Set a Watchman” first but, at the suggestion of a wise editor, set it aside to tell a tale of race in the South from the child’s point of view in the 1930s.

For many years, Lee, a shy woman with an engaging Southern drawl who never married, lived quietly and privately, always turning down interview requests. She alternated between living in a New York apartment and Monroeville, where she shared a home with her older sister, lawyer Alice Lee.

After suffering a stroke and enduring failing vision and hearing, she spent her final years in an assisted living residence in Monroeville.

“When I saw her just six weeks ago, she was full of life, her mind and mischievous wit as sharp as ever,” her agent, Andrew Nurnberg, said in a statement. “She was quoting Thomas More and setting me straight on Tudor history.”

The movie version of “To Kill a Mockingbird also became an American classic. It won the Academy Award for best picture in 1963 while Gregory Peck, who played Atticus and would become Lee’s good friend, was named best actor.

SAD DAY IN MONROEVILLE

Spencer Madrie, owner of the Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe dedicated to the work of Lee and other Southern authors, said Monroeville was in a somber mood.

“You wish somebody like that could go on forever and be this lifelong legend,” he said. “You don’t ever consider somebody like that passing, even though her legacy will last for generations after.”

Lee’s state of mind would become an issue last year when plans were announced to publish “Go Set a Watchman.” Some friends said that after the death of her sister Alice, who handled Harper’s affairs, lawyer Carter had manipulated Lee to approve publication.

Carter had said she came across the “Watchman” manuscript while doing legal work for Lee in 2014 and an investigation by Alabama state officials found there was no coercion in getting Lee’s permission to publish.

A family friend, the Reverend Thomas Lane Butts, told an Australian interviewer that Lee had said she did not publish again because she did not want to endure the pressure and publicity of another book and because she had said all that she wanted to say.

Lee essentially quit giving interviews in 1964 and rarely made public appearances. She did regularly attend an annual luncheon at the University of Alabama, however, to meet with the winners of a high school essay contest on the subject of her book.

In November 2007, she went to the White House to accept a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, who at the time called her book “a gift to the entire world.”

Bush said in a statement on Friday that he and his wife, Laura Bush, a former librarian, mourned Lee. “Harper Lee was ahead of her time and her masterpiece ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ prodded America to catch up with her,” he said.

News of Lee’s death spread widely on social media and tributes poured in from well-known figures, such as Apple Inc Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, who quoted the author in a tweet by saying, “Rest in peace, Harper Lee. ‘The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.'”

CHANGING RACIAL VIEWS

Nelle Harper Lee was born April 28, 1926, in Monroeville, the youngest of four children of A.C. and Frances Finch Lee and a descendant of Civil War General Robert E. Lee. Like Scout, Lee grew up a tomboy.

Lee had studied law at the University of Alabama but, six months before finishing her studies, she went to New York in the early 1950s to pursue a literary career while working as an airline reservation clerk.

In 1956 friends Michael and Joy Brown gave Lee a special Christmas gift, a year of financial support so she could work full time on “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

An estimated 30 million copies of the book were sold. It would become required reading in many American schools but the American Library Association said it was frequently challenged by those who did not like its subject matter.

Lee also played a key role in researching another great American book by Truman Capote, her childhood friend and the inspiration for the frail, precocious Dill in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

In 1959 she accompanied Capote to Holcombe, Kansas, to work on “In Cold Blood,” the chilling account of the murders of a farming family. Her mannerly, down-home approach undoubtedly smoothed the way for the flamboyant Capote.

There was speculation that Capote helped her write “To Kill a Mockingbird” but in his 2006 biography, “Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee,” Charles J. Shields disputed that. He also said Lee’s contribution to Capote’s “In Cold Blood” was greater than believed.

Lee’s sister said the authors eventually fell out because Capote was jealous of Lee’s Pulitzer, which she won in 1961.

In 2006 Lee wrote a piece for O magazine about developing a childhood love of books, even though they were scarce in Monroeville.

“Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books,” she wrote.

(Reporting and writing by Bill Trott; Additional reporting by Letitia Stein and Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Grant McCool)

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

Province in Muslim Pakistan passes landmark Hindu marriage bill | Reuters

KARACHI, PakistanPakistan’s southern province of Sindh on Monday became the country’s first region to give its small Hindu minority the right to register their marriages officially.

Non-Muslims make up only about three percent of the 190 million population of Pakistan, which was founded as a haven for the sub-continent’s Muslims on independence from the British in 1947 with a promise of religious freedom to minorities.

But Hindus have had no legal mechanism to register their marriages. Christians, the other main religious minority, have a British law dating back to 1870 regulating their marriages.

“The objective of this bill is to provide a formal process of registration of marriage for Hindus,” said the bill passed by the legislature in Sindh, where most of Pakistan’s Hindus live.

The law can be applied retroactively to existing marriages.

Without the law, Hindus say their women were easy targets for rape or forced marriage and faced problems in proving the legitimacy of their relationships before the law. Widows have been particularly disadvantaged.

Pakistan’s Hindus and other minorities have faced a surge of violence in recent years as militant Islamists attack groups that do not share their strict interpretation of Islam.

All of Pakistan’s minorities – Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis and even Shi’ite Muslims – say they feel the state fails to protect them and sometimes even tolerates violence against them.

Many complain the problem has become worse since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif won an election in 2013. Sharif has close ties with Saudi Arabia, whose brand of conservative Wahhabi Islam is preached by many of the people who denounce minorities.

The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom said in a recent report that conditions in Pakistan had “hit an all-time low” and governments had failed to adequately protect minorities and arrest those who attack or discriminate against them.

But many see the passage of the bill as a ray of hope.

“Now after the passage of this bill in the Sindh assembly, after 70 years, Hindus will also have a marriage certificate just like Muslims do,” said Shahnaz Sheedi, the coordinator for South Asia Partnership Pakistan, a civil rights movement.

“We hope that bill will be soon adopted at the national level,” she said. The National Assembly in Islamabad has been considering such a bill it is still in committee.

(Editing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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

Facebook India MD Kirthiga Reddy resigns | Reuters

Facebook Inc’s (FB.O) India managing director, Kirthiga Reddy, said on Friday she is resigning.

Reddy, who joined Facebook in 2010 as its first employee in India, said she would be relocating to the United States in the next 6-12 months.

“I have also begun to explore new opportunities at Facebook back at Menlo Park,” Reddy said in a Facebook post. (on.fb.me/1TXdWr3)

Reddy said she was working closely with William Easton, MD of emerging markets (Asia Pacific), and Dan Neary, vice president of Asia Pacific, to search for her successor.

The move comes days after India introduced rules to prevent Internet service providers from having different pricing policies for accessing different parts of the Web, in a setback to Facebook’s plan to roll out a pared-back free Internet service.

The service, earlier known as internet.org, has also run into trouble in other countries that have accused Facebook of infringing the principle of net neutrality – the concept that all websites and data on the Internet be treated equally.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg was disappointed with the Indian ruling and said that the company was still “working to break down barriers to connectivity in India and around the world.”

(Reporting by Kshitiz Goliya in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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

North Korea brings forward rocket launch to as soon as Sunday | Reuters

TOKYO/SEOUL North Korea could launch a rocket that it says will carry an earth observation satellite as soon as Sunday, after bringing forward and shortening the time frame for the launch, the Japanese and South Korean governments said on Saturday.

North Korea had earlier told the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) it would launch the rocket some time between Feb. 8 and Feb. 25, triggering international opposition from governments that see it as a long-range missile test.

Japan and South Korea said North Korea had issued a Notice to Airmen that the launch would take place some time between Sunday and the following Sunday, Feb. 14. The IMO, a United Nations agency, also said on Saturday it had received a notification from North Korea of the change.

Isolated North Korea says it has a sovereign right to pursue a space programme. But it is barred under U.N. Security Council resolutions from using ballistic missile technology.

Tension has been high on the Korean peninsula following the North’s fourth nuclear test, on Jan. 6. A rocket test now would compound fears about North Korea putting a nuclear warhead on a missile that could reach not only South Korea and Japan but possibly even the west coast of the United States.

North Korea last launched a long-range rocket in December 2012, sending into orbit an object it described as a communications satellite.

The new time frame was set amid rising expectations that a launch was likely to happen soon, with U.S. government sources on Friday saying North Korea could be ready by the U.S. Super Bowl kickoff on Sunday, which will be Monday in Korea.

Satellite images taken this week of North Korea’s Sohae rocket launch site show apparent fuelling activity seen in the past shortly before a rocket launch, said Washington-based 38 North, a North Korea-monitoring project.

North Korean state media has not reported on the changed schedule.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with President Xi Jinping of China, North Korea’s main ally and neighbour, and agreed that a North Korean launch would represent a “provocative and destabilising action,” the White House said.

Obama and Xi also said they would coordinate efforts to respond to North Korea’s nuclear test last month and said they would not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapon state.

“The leaders emphasized the importance of a strong and united international response to North Korea’s provocations, including through an impactful UN Security Council Resolution,” the White House said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticised North Korea in remarks made on Friday in Namibia, according to a report released on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website, calling on the UN Security Council to take further action.

The United States and China have appeared divided over how to respond to North Korea, with Washington urging tougher sanctions and Beijing stressing the need for dialogue.

Japan has said it would shoot down the rocket if it threatens the country, and on Saturday accelerated the deployment of two additional PAC-3 missile units in response to the revised launch time frame, a Japanese defence ministry official said.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul and Matthew Miller in Beijing; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Robert Birsel and Elaine Hardcastle)

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

Zika scare: Andhra to spread awareness about mosquito bites, set up helpdesks at airports

Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh government on Friday decided to set up help desks in the airports and sea ports in the state as part of efforts to deal with Zika virus.

Health Minister Kamineni Srinivas, who held a video conference with health officials, directed them to spread awareness among people on the menace of the mosquito bites, especially during day time.

The Zika virus under a microscope. APThe Zika virus under a microscope. AP

The Zika virus under a microscope. AP

Those returning from Zika virus-hit countries of Latin America and others should be taken care of, he said.

The minister told the officials to conduct blood tests for pregnant women suffering from symptoms of the virus, a release from his office stated.

The necessary blood tests for determining Zika virus should be conducted free of cost in all district and area hospitals, the minister said.

He asked them to earmark at least two beds each in all district and area hospitals for treatment of zika virus-hit patients.

Srinivas also directed that sanitation measures be taken up in coordination with Panchayat Raj, Municipal Administration and local bodies, the release added.

PTI

U.S. oil falls for third session on rising crude stocks, oversupply | Reuters

SINGAPORE U.S. oil futures extended losses into a third session in early Asian trade on Wednesday as U.S. crude stocks last week surged to more than half a billion barrels, stoking concern over global oversupply.

Milder weather forecast for the last eight weeks of the U.S. November-March winter heating season has further dampened demand hopes.

The front month contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) CLc1 was down 40 cents at $29.48 at 0035 GMT, after settling down $1.74, or 5.5 percent, in the previous session.

That came as U.S. crude stocks rose by 3.8 million barrels to 500.4 million in the week to Jan. 29, data from industry group, the American Petroleum Institute showed on Tuesday.

“The U.S. crude inventory is already at the highest levels since the 1930s,” ANZ said in a note on Wednesday.

Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub rose by 141,000 barrels, the API said.

The increase led to renewed fears of overflowing oil tanks at the key U.S. storage hub, causing the spread between prompt and forward U.S. crude oil futures to slump to an 11-month low.

Traders fear that filling tanks to the brim could cause the next leg of a rout on distressed selling.

Meanwhile, Iran is aiming for crude exports of 2.3 million barrels per day in the coming fiscal year beginning on March 21, the managing director of the National Iranian Oil Company was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

That is higher than the 1.44 million bpd Iran is expected to export in February and 1.5 million bpd in January, according to data on Iran’s preliminary tanker loading schedules.

Russia is ready to implement further cooperation in the oil market with OPEC and non-OPEC countries, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday while on a visit to Abu Dhabi.

(Reporting by Keith Wallis)

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

WHO says on watch for spread of Zika virus to Africa, Asia | Reuters

GENEVA The Zika virus linked to a microcephaly outbreak in Latin America could spread to Africa and Asia, and the World Health Organization will set up monitoring sites in the poorest countries with the highest birth rates, it said on Tuesday.

The WHO on Monday declared an international public health emergency due to Zika’s link to thousands of recent birth defects in Brazil.

It called for the urgent development of better diagnostic tests to detect the virus in pregnant women and newborn babies. Seen as a relatively rare condition, the virus may lead to babies being born with small heads and often experiencing neurological disorders and learning disabilities.

“Most important, we need to set up surveillance sites in low- and middle- income countries so that we can detect any change in the reporting patterns of microcephaly at an early stage,” said Dr. Anthony Costello, WHO director for maternal, child and adolescent health.

A WHO global response unit “using all the lessons we’ve learned from the Ebola crisis” has been set up, he said. Some 20 to 30 ‘sentinel sites’ for surveillance could be established worldwide, mainly in poor countries lacking robust health systems.

“Clearly we want to get as many centres as we can collecting the kind of data so that we can pick up any change in the pattern of microcephaly cases at an early stage,” Costello told a news briefing.

“The most important thing from my perspective is to see if we can get Zika virus diagnostics improved.”

But he added: “It may be too early to pick up associations in cases in other regions, because remember if you’re affected early in pregnancy it may take several months before it emerges that there is a case of microcephaly.”

The fear is that the disease could travel to other areas of the world where populations may not be immune, he said.

“And we know that the mosquitoes that carry Zika virus – if that association is confirmed – are present … through Africa, parts of southern Europe and many parts of Asia, particularly South Asia…”

The WHO office for Southeast Asia, in a statement, urged countries in the region to “strengthen surveillance and take preventive measures against the Zika virus disease which is strongly suspected to have a causal relation with clusters of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities”.

Costello said the WHO was drafting guidelines for pregnant women worldwide and rallying experts to work on a definition of microcephaly including a standardised measurement of baby heads.

“At the moment we believe the association is guilty until proven innocent,” he said, referring to the connection drawn in Brazil between the virus and babies with small heads.

“Mass community engagement” to rid areas of mosquitoes is needed, he said. “If we learned one thing from Ebola, mobilising communities is an absolute critical public health measure.”

“So removing stagnant pools of water in urban areas, looking at upturned flower pots, at rubbish, at tyres, at all the kinds of things that you can do to get rid of breeding sites for the mosquitoes.”

Rapid development of diagnostic tools are essential to curbing the virus, especially as a vaccine may be years away, said Costello, a paediatrician.

Sanofi has launched a project to develop a vaccine against Zika, the most decisive commitment yet by a major vaccine producer to fight the disease. {ID:nL8N15H101]

(Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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

Djokovic domination total as he wins sixth Melbourne title | Reuters

MELBOURNE Novak Djokovic vanquished Andy Murray for the fourth time in an Australian Open final on Sunday to win a record-equalling sixth title and serve notice to his rivals that he could surpass even his stellar 2015 this year. The Serbian’s fifth crown in six years on his favourite court not only allowed him to match Roy Emerson’s record Australian Open tally but also brought him level with Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg on 11 grand slam titles. He has won four of the last five slams, 38 of his last 39 matches, and at this rate Roger Federer’s record 17 is within range of the 28-year-old.

The post Djokovic domination total as he wins sixth Melbourne title
| Reuters
appeared first on Firstpost.

Apple shares fall most in two years in wake of earnings report | Reuters

Apple Inc (AAPL.O) shares fell more than 6.5 percent on Wednesday, the biggest percentage drop in two years, after the company reported its slowest-ever rise in iPhone shipments and forecast that quarterly sales for the current period would post the first drop in 13 years.

At least 16 analysts cut their price targets on the stock. The median price target is $135, according to Reuters data.

“Cook & Co have a few tough quarters ahead until we get to the buildup around iPhone 7 later this year, which is what bulls are focussed on to turn this ship back into growth waters,” FBR & Co analyst Daniel Ives said.

Shares fell to $93.42, knocking off more than $36 billion from Apple’s market value of about $554 billion. While currently the most valuable publicly traded U.S. tech company, the decline put it closer to Alphabet Inc(GOOGL.O), which ended the day worth roughly $486.5 billion.

The March quarter is likely to be the weakest this year in terms of iPhone sales. But analysts said long-term value investors could view the depressed stock price as a buying opportunity.

“We are looking for March to mark the trough in year-on-year iPhone unit growth, which should provide an attractive entry point into the stock,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote in a note.

Tepid demand for the latest iPhones, which succeeded blockbuster sales of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, led Apple to sell 74.8 million iPhones in the first quarter. One analyst estimated, based on the revenue estimates Apple provided, that it will sell 50 million to 52 million units in the March quarter.

Apple usually launches new iPhones in September and sells the most devices in the December quarter. Unit sales typically drop over the next few quarters, picking up after the next iPhone launch.

Apple said the average selling price for iPhones rose to a record $691 in the holiday quarter.

This indicated that despite a saturated smartphone market, consumers were keen to buy the newer and more expensive iPhone versions – good news for the iPhone 7 cycle, Pacific Crest Securities analysts said.

The iPhone 7 is expected to sport a new look with features such as waterproofing and wireless headphones, according to media reports.

(Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee, Tenzin Pema and Tripti Kalro in Bengaluru; Editing by Sayantani Ghosh, Stephen R. Trousdale and David Gregorio)

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

India has largest diaspora population in world: UN report

India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world with 16 million people from India living outside their country in 2015, according to a latest UN survey on international migrant trends.The survey conducted by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) said the number of international migrants – persons living in a country other than where they were born – reached 244 million in 2015 for the world as a whole, a 41 per cent increase compared to 2000.The 2015 Revision, nearly two thirds of international migrants live in Europe (76 million) or Asia (75 million), according to the Trends in International Migrant Stock.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”The rise in the number of international migrants reflects the increasing importance of international migration, which has become an integral part of our economies and societies,” said Wu Hongbo, UN Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.”Well-managed migration brings important benefits to countries of origin and destination, as well as to migrants and their families,” Hongbo added. India has the largest diaspora in the world, followed by Mexico and Russia. In 2015, 16 million people from India were living outside of their country, a growth from 6.7 million in 1990, the survey stated Mexico’s diaspora population stood at 12 million.Other countries with large diasporas included Russia, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Ukraine.Of the twenty countries with the largest number of international migrants living abroad, 11 were in Asia, 6 in Europe, and one each in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and Northern America, the survey said.This figure includes almost 20 million refugees.The survey further said that in 2015, two thirds of all international migrants were living in only 20 countries, starting with the US, which hosted 19 per cent of all migrants at 46.6 million, followed by Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates.India ranked 12th out of these 20 countries, hosting 5.2 million migrants in 2015, a drop from 7.5 million in 1990.