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

By Ben Blanchard
| BEIJING

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

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

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

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

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

Suez targets 10 percent revenue growth from Indian water supply | Reuters

Suez targets 10 percent revenue growth from Indian water supply | Reuters

Dec 16, 2016 22:31 IST

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PARIS France’s Suez sees potential for 10 percent revenue growth in India, where it already supplies water for 44 million people, a senior executive said on Friday.The Indian market is largely in public hands and Suez runs 23 drinking water and waste water plants owned by municipalities, mostly under a “Design, Build, Operate” (DBO) model in big cities.Suez had revenue of 100 million euros ($104 million) in India in 2015, of which 40 million came from building plants and about 30 million from services to industry.Our growth potential is about 10 percent per year in India for the next three to five years,” Suez’s chief for Africa, Middle East and India Pierre-Yves Pouliquen told Reuters.

India is small compared to China, where Suez had revenue of 1.2 billion euros in 2015, but rapid urbanisation is creating opportunities and Pouliquen estimates its drinking water market at $3 billion and its waste water market at $750 million.

Suez competes in India with local water specialists such as Vatech Vabag and Ion Exchange and construction giant Larsen & Toubro.($1 = 0.9588 euros)

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Additional reporting by Tommy Wilkes in New Delhi; Editing by Ruth Pitchford and Alexander Smith)

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First Published On : Dec 16, 2016 22:31 IST

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Yahoo under scrutiny after latest hack, Verizon seeks new deal terms | Reuters

By Greg Roumeliotis and Jessica Toonkel
| NEW YORK

NEW YORK Yahoo Inc (YHOO.O) came under renewed scrutiny by federal investigators and lawmakers on Thursday after disclosing the largest known data breach in history, prompting Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) to demand better terms for its planned purchase of Yahoo’s internet business.Shares of the Sunnyvale, California-based internet pioneer fell more than 6 percent after it announced the breach of data belonging to more than 1 billion users late on Wednesday, following another large hack reported in September.Verizon, which agreed to buy Yahoo’s core internet business in July for $4.8 billion, is now trying to persuade Yahoo to amend the terms of the acquisition agreement to reflect the economic damage from the two hacks, according to people familiar with the matter.The U.S. No. 1 wireless carrier still expects to go through with the deal, but is looking for “major concessions” in light of the most recent breach, according to another person familiar with the situation.Asked about the status of the deal, a Yahoo spokesperson said: “We are confident in Yahoo’s value and we continue to work towards integration with Verizon.”Verizon had already said in October it was reviewing the deal after September’s breach disclosure. Late on Wednesday, it said it would “review the impact of this new development before reaching any final conclusions” about whether to proceed. The company declined to comment beyond that statement on Thursday. Verizon has threatened to go to court to get out of the deal if it is not repriced, citing a material adverse effect, said the people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations are confidential.No court in Delaware, where Yahoo is incorporated, has ever found that a material adverse effect has occurred that would allow companies to terminate a merger agreement. Nevertheless, the threat of a court case on the issue has been successfully used by companies to renegotiate deals, and experts said that some concessions from Yahoo are likely, given the magnitude of the cyber security breaches.

Renegotiating the deal’s price tag would be the simplest but also least likely scenario because the impact of the data breaches will not be apparent for some time, according to Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. A more likely concession would be for Yahoo to agree to compensate Verizon after the close of the deal, based on the liabilities that occur. The two companies may also agree to extend the close of the deal to allow for more time for information to come in on the impact of the breaches, Gordon suggested.Verizon shares rose 0.4 percent to close at $51.81, in line with the S&P 500 Index .SPX. Yahoo closed down 6.1 percent at $38.41. BIGGEST BREACH

Yahoo said late on Wednesday that it had uncovered a 2013 cyber attack that compromised data of more than 1 billion user accounts, the largest known breach on record. It said the data stolen may have included names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords and, in some cases, encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers.The announcement followed Yahoo’s disclosure in September of a separate breach that affected over 500 million accounts, which the company said it believed was launched by different hackers. The White House said on Thursday the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation was probing the breach. Several lawsuits seeking class-action status on behalf of Yahoo shareholders have been filed, or are in the works.Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said he was looking into Yahoo’s cyber security practices.

“This most-recent revelation warrants a separate follow-up and I plan to press the company on why its cyber defenses have been so weak as to have compromised over a billion users,” he said in a statement.Warner, who will become the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee next year, described the hacks as “deeply troubling.” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman urged anyone with a Yahoo account to change their passwords and security questions and said he is examining the breach’s circumstances and the company’s disclosures to law enforcement. Germany’s cyber security authority, the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), advised German consumers to consider switching to safer alternatives for email, and criticized Yahoo for failing to adopt modern encryption techniques to protect users’ personal data.”Considering the repeated cases of data theft, users should look more closely at which services they want to use in the future and security should play a part in that decision,” BSI President Arne Schoenbohm said in a statement.The latest breach drew widespread criticism from security experts, several advising consumers to close their Yahoo accounts.”Yahoo has fallen down on security in so many ways I have to recommend that if you have an active Yahoo email account, either direct with Yahoo of via a partner like AT&T, get rid of it,” Stu Sjouwerman, chief executive of cyber security firm KnowBe4 Inc, said in a broadly distributed email. A Yahoo spokesperson, in response to criticism of the company’s security measures, said on Thursday: “We’re committed to keeping our users secure, both by continuously striving to stay ahead of ever-evolving online threats and to keep our users and platforms secure.” (Reporting by Greg Roumeliotis and Jessica Toonkel in New York and Dustin Volz in Washington; Additional reporting by Liana Baker, Anna Driver and Eric Auchard; Writing by Jim Finkle and Jonathan Weber; Editing by Bill Trott and Bill Rigby)

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First Published On : Dec 16, 2016 00:58 IST

Dozens of Afghans deported from Germany as Merkel takes firmer line | Reuters

By Mohammad Aziz and Madeline Chambers
| KABUL/BERLIN

KABUL/BERLIN A group of 34 rejected Afghan asylum-seekers arrived in Kabul from Germany on Thursday, the German interior ministry said, the first to be deported under an agreement reached between the two countries this year.Their expulsion is in line with a tougher approach from the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has faced domestic criticism for letting in more than a million migrants since the start of 2015. As she prepares to run for a fourth term next year, she is throwing out those who do not qualify as refugees.”It was early morning and I was sleeping when four policemen came to my home and arrested me,” said Ali Madad Nasiri, one of the men on board a charter plane that landed in the Afghan capital from Frankfurt.”I didn’t have a chance to take my clothes, cellphone and laptop – all left behind,” added Nasiri, who said he had been living in Germany for three years.Afghans made up a fifth of all migrants entering Europe last year, the second biggest share after Syrians. The deportations are taking place under an agreement reached between Germany and Afghanistan in October. Making clear that more would follow, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in Berlin that granting asylum to those who need it and ensuring that others leave are two sides of the same coin.Only people who can prove they are refugees fleeing persecution, war or violence are eligible for asylum.

“These deportations are right and necessary to keep the asylum system functional,” said de Maiziere.He added that one-third of those deported were criminals convicted of offences, from robbery and drugs crimes to rape and homicide. Of the 50 men due on the plane, 16 had disappeared.

“WHAT SHOULD I DO?”
In response to criticism that returnees may face reprisals in Afghanistan, de Maiziere said that while the security situation was “complicated”, there were large parts of the country that were safe. More than 3,200 Afghans had voluntarily left Germany this year, he added.The Afghan Ministry of Refugees will help returnees get back to their homes, a ministry spokesman said, adding that about 10,000 Afghans had returned from Europe this year.The mass influx of migrants and refugees to Germany has raised concerns about security and integration. The arrest this month of an Afghan refugee suspected of raping and murdering a student in the southern city of Freiburg has caused outrage.

Anti-immigrant groups such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party have surged in popularity, while support for Merkel has waned.Afghanistan’s Western-backed government is battling militants who have stepped up attacks since the withdrawal of most foreign troops in 2014. Western military officials estimate the Taliban control or contest nearly a third of the country. Civilian casualties are near record high levels, with thousands killed and wounded every year. The government is also struggling to develop the economy.”Everyone loves his country. I also love my country but what should I do here?,” said Mati Ullah, 22, who said he had no job prospects in Afghanistan. “Do I have to go and join the Taliban or Daesh?” he asked, referring to Islamic State militants. (Writing by Randy Fabi, Michael Nienaber and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Robert Birsel and Mark Trevelyan)

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First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 21:28 IST

Banks take back $184 billion of old notes, RBI says | Reuters

By Suvashree Choudhury
| MUMBAI

MUMBAI Indian banks have taken back 12.44 trillion rupees ($184.24 billion) of high-value currency that the government abruptly abolished last month, Reserve Bank of India Deputy Governor R Gandhi said on Tuesday.That represents about 80 percent of the 15.44 trillion rupees in 500- and 1,000-rupee notes that were circulating before Prime Minister Narendra Modi abolished them on Nov. 8, in a surprise move targeting counterfeiters and people holding undeclared wealth. Analysts had estimated that only about 13 trillion of those abolished notes would be deposited at banks, because people with undeclared cash would be wary of attracting the scrutiny of tax authorities.Indians have until Dec. 31 to turn in their old notes.Economists said total deposits were likely to reach about 13 trillion to 13.5 trillion rupees by the end of the year, in line with the estimates.”The old notes of 500 and 1000 rupees which have been returned back to the Reserve Bank and the currency chest amounted to 12.44 trillion rupees as of Dec. 10, 2016,” Gandhi said in a short news briefing.

The RBI has printed some 1.7 billion new 500- and 2,000-rupee notes, which will replace the abolished notes, Gandhi said. That is a fraction of the 24 billion individual notes that were withdrawn. Modi’s action has created a widespread cash shortage that has hit many aspects of the economy, from manufacturing to consumer demand.But Modi says it was necessary to crack down on India’s shadow economy, although Indians have resorted to ingenious ways to try to deposit their undeclared assets, such as splitting up their money and paying others to temporarily park it in their bank accounts.

The government and the RBI have vowed strict action against those believed to be trying to deposit undeclared assets, including tougher scrutiny of all deposits of more than 250,000 rupees.The RBI on Tuesday also asked banks to keep all CCTV footage from Nov. 8, in another bid to scrutinise depositors.A source at the Central Bureau of Investigation told Reuters on Tuesday it had arrested an RBI officer in Bengaluru for “unauthorised changing” of 600,000 rupees in old 500- and 1,000-rupees notes.

RBI Deputy Governor S.S. Mundra, at the same news briefing, said a junior central bank official had been “suspended” because “he was recorded to be present in a bank branch where some suspected transaction was happening.” “We have instituted investigation and due action would be taken once the details are ascertained,” Mundra said.($1 = 67.5199 Indian rupees) (Additional reporting by Abhirup Roy, Devidutta Tripathy in MUMBAI and Aditya Kalra in NEW DELHI; Editing by Rafael Nam, Larry King)

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First Published On : Dec 13, 2016 19:49 IST

Syrian army advances in Aleppo but loses Palmyra to Islamic State | Reuters

By Laila Bassam and Suleiman Al-Khalidi
| ALEPPO, Syria/AMMAN

ALEPPO, Syria/AMMAN The Syrian army and its allies made new gains in Aleppo on Sunday, forcing rebels back into an ever shrinking pocket crammed with civilians, but lost control of the desert city of Palmyra to a swift Islamic State attack.Final victory in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city before the civil war, would constitute the biggest triumph yet for President Bashar al-Assad and his coalition of Russian air power, Iran and Shi’ite militias. New army gains on Sunday south of Aleppo’s historic citadel in the besieged insurgent pocket appeared to bring that end closer, with a rebel official saying world powers seemed to be presenting rebels with a choice of “death or surrender”.But the Islamic State attack on Palmyra, 200 km (120 miles) to the southeast, threatens to inflict a serious blow on both Damascus and Moscow, which had trumpeted their capture of the ancient city from the jihadist group in March. Syrian state radio reported on Sunday that the army had evacuated its positions inside Palmyra, whose Roman-era ruins have become an emblem of the nearly six-year conflict. They were redeploying around the city in the face of large jihadist reinforcements after Moscow said its jets had killed hundreds of militants. Islamic State’s advance around Palmyra on Thursday and seizure of the city centre on Sunday despite its months of losses elsewhere showed how far Assad is from regaining control of Syria, even as he stands on the cusp of victory in Aleppo.Analysts have warned that even if Assad defeats the main rebellion, he may still face years of guerrilla insurgency and bombing attacks as he tries to reassert his authority.Heavy shelling and air raids pounded Aleppo’s rebel enclave from midnight on Saturday and throughout Sunday morning, a Reuters reporter in the city said, with explosions at a rate of more than one a minute. Gunfire was also heard. Russian and U.S. officials are meeting in Geneva on Sunday for more talks on an elusive deal for civilians and fighters to leave the city, diplomats said, but the rebel official said the Aleppo insurgents had had no word yet on their progress. FIERCE BOMBARDMENT

Thousands of refugees are still pouring from Aleppo’s areas of fighting. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, said more than 120,000 civilians had left the eastern part of the city as the government advance closed in, but that tens of thousands remained.The Turkey-based official from the Jabha Shamiya rebel group, which is present in Aleppo, said that the insurgents’ enclave was reduced to a narrow strip that was full of civilians and under very fierce bombardment. Without external intervention, the struggle would end badly, the official said: “The result will certainly be a complete end of the district, in a tragic way.” The mostly Sunni rebels include groups supported by the United States, Turkey and Gulf monarchies, but also some jihadist factions that receive no assistance from the West. The army seized the al-Maadi district on Sunday morning before rebels were able to return and continue fighting there, said the Jabha Shamiya official. A Syrian military source said the army and its allies had captured the al-Asila and Aaajam districts, southeast of Aleppo’s ancient citadel, as well as the southern portion of the Karam al-Daadaa neighbourhood.

The Observatory also said the army had advanced in those areas. Reuters reporters on a tour of Old City districts captured by the army saw how its historic covered market had been pounded, with ancient quarters reduced to a warren of defensive positions daubed with rebel slogans. “Embrace death for Aleppo” was one. State television showed footage of the east Aleppo fighting: a tank moving slowly along a street as soldiers ran alongside it, smoke and dust billowing around them.

PALMYRA
The civil war has pitted Assad and his allies against rebel groups but also involves a secondary conflict setting all of them against Islamic State.The jihadist group seized Palmyra in May 2015, one of its last major conquests after nearly a year of advances in Syria and neighbouring Iraq that took advantage of the region’s chaos following the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Its destruction of some of the best-known ruins and killing of the leading archaeologist in the city provoked global outrage and the army’s recapture of Palmyra was presented by Damascus and Moscow as vindicating Russia’s entry into the war. A video released online by the militant group showed images of the city and its ruins taken from near the medieval castle overlooking the area. The governor of Homs Province, where Palmyra is located, said on Sunday that the government would do all it could to retake the city. Islamic State has suffered a string of setbacks since late last year, losing its once long stretch of territory on the border with Turkey, an important source of supplies and recruits, as well as the city of Manbij. The group is fighting an assault on its most important possession in Iraq, the city of Mosul. It is also under attack north of Raqqa, its Syrian capital, following a series of air strikes that have killed some of its most important leaders.Russian news agencies reported that air strikes had killed 300 militants overnight near Palmyra but that more than 4,000 fighters had still managed to launch the attack on the city. (Reporting by Laila Bassam in Aleppo, Tom Perry in Beirut and Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, writing by Angus McDowall; editing by David Stamp)

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First Published On : Dec 11, 2016 21:32 IST

Exclusive: Bangladesh panel finds insiders negligent in central bank heist | Reuters

By Serajul Quadir
| DHAKA

DHAKA A Bangladesh government-appointed panel investigating the cyber-heist of $81 million from its central bank in February found five officials at the bank were guilty of negligence and carelessness, the head of the panel told Reuters on Thursday.In his first detailed comments on the inquiry since a report was submitted to the government in May, former central bank governor Mohammed Farashuddin said the officials were low to mid-level and were not directly involved in the crime. “They were negligent, careless and indirect accomplices,” he said in an interview in his office. “The committee came to the conclusion that the heist was essentially committed by external elements.”Bangladesh has so far refused to make the inquiry report public saying it wanted to deny perpetrators knowledge of the investigation into one of the world’s biggest cyber-heists.It was not immediately known if Bangladesh had shared the report with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the main agency investigating the crime.Farashuddin did not name the officials he found were negligent. A senior central bank official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no action had been taken against any employee since the inquiry report had not been made public.Bangladesh Bank spokesman Subhankar Saha declined comment.

Although over 10 months have passed since the heist, there have been no arrests and no word on who carried out the complex heist. Hackers used stolen credentials to try to transfer nearly $1 billion from Bangladesh Bank’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York through the SWIFT transaction system. Many of the transfer orders were blocked or reversed but $81 million was sent to accounts in a branch of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC) in the Philippines.The money eventually went into the sprawling casino industry in the Philippines and most of it remains untraced.

Like Bangladesh police investigators, Farashuddin said the inquiry panel also found the hackers may have exploited loopholes in the bank’s online security when technicians hooked up the central bank’s local money transfer system with SWIFT’s international payments network late last year. SWIFT has denied charges that its technicians were responsible for exposing Bangladesh Bank’s systems to hackers.Reuters has reported earlier that Bangladesh Bank had not protected its computer system with a firewall, and used second-hand $10 electronic switches to network computers linked to SWIFT, weaknesses that the hackers may also have exploited.Farashuddin said that RCBC was responsible for allowing the stolen funds to be withdrawn and disbursed into the casino industry. Bangladesh has said it wants RCBC to compensate it for its losses.

RCBC has said Bangladesh Bank was “negligent” in letting the initial security breach take place there, and hence the Manila-based bank need not pay any compensation. So far only about $15 million of the stolen funds have been recovered.Farashuddin said his personal opinion was it would be better to make the inquiry report public, since it would make clear that some local officials were negligent but not responsible for the heist.”If the government would publish, then Bangladesh Bank’s position would be strengthened,” he said.Bangladesh’s law minister said earlier this week that his government would share the findings of the inquiry with Philippine authorities. (Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 20:51 IST

About 40 people feared dead in Pakistan plane crash | Reuters

By Jibran Ahmed and Asad Hashim
| PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD, Pakistan A plane carying about 40 people crashed on the slope of a mountain in northern Pakistan on Wednesday, with witnesses on the crash site saying there were unlikely to be any survivors.The military said 21 bodies had been recovered and rescue efforts continued.Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) said its plane lost contact with the control tower en route to the capital, Islamabad, from the northern region of Chitral. The airline said the plane crashed at 1642 local time (1142 GMT) in the Havelian area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, about 125 km (77 miles) north of Islamabad.”All of the bodies are burned beyond recognition. The debris is scattered,” Taj Muhammad Khan, a government official based in Havelian, told Reuters.Khan, who was at the site of the crash, said witnesses told him “the aircraft has crashed in a mountainous area, and before it hit the ground it was on fire”.Images shown on Pakistani TV channels and circulated on social media showed a trail of wreckage engulfed in flames on a mountain slope.Irfan Elahi, the government’s Aviation Secretary, told media the plane suffered engine problems but it was too early to determine the cause of the accident.PIA said the plane was carrying 48 passengers, including five crew members and a ground engineer. But Sohail Ahmed, a PIA official in Chitral, said there were 41 people on board, while the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) earlier put the number of people on board at 47.

A local trader at the site of the crash said the fire was still burning nearly two hours after the crash, with rescue officials now on the site.”They are removing body parts,” trader Nasim Gohar told Geo TV.The military said it had sent troops and helicopters to the site of the crash.A PIA spokesman said the dual turboprop engine plane lost contact with the CAA at around 4.30 p.m. (1130 GMT).”PIA is doing everything possible to help the families of passengers and crew members,” the airline said in a statement.

POP STAR
Junaid Jamshed, a well-known Pakistani pop star turned evangelical Muslim cleric, was on board the crashed aircraft, according to Ahmed, the PIA official in Chitral.Jamshed, a singer in one of Pakistan’s first major rock bands in the 1990s, abandoned his singing career to join the Tableeghi Jamaat group, which travels across Pakistan and abroad preaching about Islam.In his last tweet, Jamshed posted pictures of a snow-capped mountain, calling Chitral “Heaven on Earth”. The region is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Pakistan.

According to the flight manifest, there were three people on board with foreign names.Plane crashes are not uncommon in Pakistan and safety standards are often criticised. In recent years, media have reported on multiple near-misses as planes over-ran runways and engines caught fire.In 2010, a passenger plane crashed in heavy rain near Islamabad, killing all 152 people on board. Two years later, a plane operated by a private Pakistani company, with 127 people on board, crashed near Islamabad. All on board were killed.PIA has also suffered major disasters in the past. In 1979 and 1992, PIA jets crashed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Kathmandu, killing 156 and 167 people, respectively.In 2006, a PIA plane crashed near the central city of Multan killing 45 people. (Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Amjad Ali in ISLAMABAD and Gul Hamad Farooqi in CHITRAL,; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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First Published On : Dec 7, 2016 21:04 IST

Time magazine names U.S. President-elect Trump Person of the Year | Reuters

WASHINGTON Time Magazine named U.S. President-elect Donald Trump its person of the year on Wednesday, citing the upheaval in American politics brought about by the New York businessman’s election campaign and victory.”It’s hard to measure the scale of his disruption,” Time said in its announcement, noting Trump’s career as real estate magnate and reality television star before he won the presidency on Nov. 8.The Republican president-elect, who will be sworn in on Jan. 20, ran an unconventional and controversial campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton. Time noted that views of him were deeply divided.”For those who believe this is all for the better, Trump’s victory represents a long-overdue rebuke to an entrenched and arrogant governing class,” the magazine said.”For those who see it as for the worse, the destruction extends to cherished norms of civility and discourse, a politics poisoned by vile streams of racism, sexism, nativism.”

The magazine said its short list for person of the year included Clinton, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and singer Beyonce.”It’s a great honor, it means a lot,” Trump told NBC’s “Today” show in an interview shortly after the announcement.

But he rejected Time’s characterization of the country as fractured. The magazine’s cover called him the “president of the divided states of America.””I didn’t divide them, they’re divided now,” he told NBC. “We’re going to put it back together.” He added: “I think putting ‘divided’ is snarky.”

Time makes its annual choice based on the impact a person has on world events, for better or for worse. Last year the magazine chose German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Previous winners have ranged from Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler. (Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu and Bill Trott; Editing by Alden Bentley and Frances Kerry)

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First Published On : Dec 7, 2016 20:41 IST

Supreme Court orders cinemas to play national anthem | Reuters

By Tommy Wilkes and Suchitra Mohanty
| NEW DELHI

NEW DELHI Cinemas must play the national anthem before screening a film and the audience must stand and listen, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday in a ruling echoing growing nationalist sentiment under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.The court ordered that an image of India’s national flag also be displayed on screens during the anthem, and it gave cinemas 10 days to comply, saying its decision would help “instil a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism”.”People must feel this is my country and this is my motherland,” the New Delhi court said in an interim order issued in response to a petition from a local retiree.”The time has come for people to realise that the national anthem is a symbol of constitutional patriotism.”Nationalist fervour surged when Modi’s government said in September it had sent troops into territory controlled by bitter rival and neighbour Pakistan to strike at Islamist militants suspected of preparing to attack.

India’s wildly popular Bollywood film industry found itself caught up in the aftermath when a filmmakers’ body banned the hiring of Pakistani actors and some regional politicians said that those prepared to work with their neighbours were unpatriotic.Playing the national anthem in Indian cinemas was common in the 1960s, but the practise fell out of favour as fewer and fewer people paid attention. A few states had since made it compulsory for theatre halls and cinemas to broadcast the anthem, but there is no nationwide law mandating it.

Some commentators mocked the court’s ruling as idiotic. “The Supreme Court’s moral, constitutional and political idiocy in the national anthem order is truly breathtaking. More dark times ahead,” Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research think-tank said on Twitter.Thousands took to the streets early this year in India’s biggest nationwide student protests in 25 years after the arrest of a student accused of sedition, prompting accusations that Modi’s government was clamping down on freedom of expression.

To support his case in the court, petitioner Shyam Narayan Chouksey said the Prevention of Insults to National Honor Act of 1971 had been breached, Indian media reported.The court also ruled that broadcasting a shortened version of the anthem would not suffice, and it prohibited playing the anthem at “undesirable” or “disgraceful” places. (Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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First Published On : Nov 30, 2016 23:44 IST

Newsmaker – Ashwin spins India back to the top | Reuters

By Sudipto Ganguly
| MUMBAI

MUMBAI For those who feared for the future of finger-spin bowling, Ravichandran Ashwin’s stupendous success over the last 16 months has come as a mighty relief.While the art of off-spin has grappled with the menace of chucking, the 30-year-old Indian has risen to the top of the ICC test bowling rankings on the back of seven Man of the Series performances.Apart from skipper Virat Kohli, nobody is more important to India’s test success on home soil and on Saturday he will unpack his bag of tricks in Mohali as the hosts attempt to lock up the five-test series against England.All this success has come against the background of the International Cricket Council’s 2014 declaration of war on off-spinners with illegal actions.Numerous bowlers required remedial work to get back to permissible limits of bend in their elbows and the crackdown wrecked the career of Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal, one of the world’s leading spinners in the post-Muttiah Muralitharan era.Ashwin, though, has managed to fox batsmen without ever needing to bend the rules. A tall off-spinner who bowls in half-sleeves, Ashwin is a rarity in an age when many slow bowlers look to hide the extent of their elbow bend under full sleeves.Against New Zealand in September, Ashwin became the second fastest bowler to take 200 test wickets, taking one more match than former Australia leg-spinner Clarrie Grimmet (36) to achieve the feat.It has not always been plain-sailing for Ashwin, however, particularly outside India. OVERSEAS STRUGGLES

An opening batsman in junior cricket whose father Ravichandran was a club paceman, Ashwin transformed himself into a off-spinner and emerged from the southern city of Chennai to overtake Harbhajan Singh as India’s leading slow bowler.Two years after making his debut against West Indies in 2011, he went wicketless in both innings of the Johannesburg test against South Africa and lost his place as number one spinner to left-armer Ravindra Jadeja when India were overseas.”The criticism that came out of that game got the better of me,” Ashwin said recently.”It told me that I wasn’t good enough and that I needed to improve. It made me raise my standards.”Returning to the nets, he made some tweaks to his action and returned to the side in England in August 2014.

A slow bowler with a penchant for targeting the opposition’s best batsman, his ‘carrom’ ball – a finger-spinner delivered with the knuckle – has flummoxed the best players of spin.He also bowls a slider and has the ability to summon up the occasional leg-break when he feels he needs it.With his refurbished armoury, he picked up 62 wickets from nine tests in 2015 to finish as the highest wicket-taker in the world. He is firmly on course to repeat the feat for a second year with 55 wickets in nine matches so far and three more home tests against England to come.PACE GREATS

Against England at Visakhapatnam, his 5-67 gave him his 22nd five-wicket haul in his 41st test, bringing him level with pace greats Waqar Younis (87 tests), Malcolm Marshall (81), Curtly Ambrose (98), Courtney Walsh (132).On a docile Rajkot pitch in the opening test, Ashwin had managed just three wickets but he made some adjustments and took eight on a Visakhapatnam track that offered little spin.”I’m really hungry in terms of how much I want to achieve as a cricketer,” he said.”It’s not about any specific number. If I get on a bit of a roll, then I don’t really want to settle for anything, I just want to keep going and going and going.”The (Rajkot) wicket was easy paced and I wanted to create some sort of pace into my action, so I tried to be a little slingy and load it up differently.”Ashwin goes to Mohali with 231 test wickets at a strike rate of 50.4 and a batting average of 34.22, good enough to warrant the title all-rounder.His success with the bat – he has four test centuries and eight fifties – has given Kohli the luxury of playing five bowlers and Ashwin has been promoted to number six in the Indian order, ahead of wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha.India are keen to prolong their stay at the top of the ICC test rankings and with another eight tests on home soil before April and Ashwin on fire, it would be foolhardy to bet against it. (Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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First Published On : Nov 25, 2016 19:42 IST

French prosecutor investigates alleged security breach linked to president | Reuters

PARIS The Paris prosecutor’s office said on Monday it had opened an investigation into whether documents left lying on President Francois Hollande’s desk in front of reporters constituted a breach of national security.The inquiry could be embarrassing for Hollande, days before he is expected to announce whether he will run for a second term in next spring’s presidential election. It relates to an article published in Le Monde newspaper on Aug. 24 in which two reporters recall a meeting with Hollande three years earlier, as he waited for U.S. President Barack Obama to decide whether to launch air strikes in Syria.The article later appeared in a book by the reporters, covering the period April 2012 to July 2016, when they met Hollande some 60 times. They describe being in his office with files and documents stamped “classified” lying on his desk.”Hollande consults one (document) in particular. We acquired a copy. Written the day before, Aug. 29, by his chief of staff. It details the timeline of the (French) raid. It’s the vade-mecum of the French intervention,” the article states.The reporters did not say how they obtained the copy.

They also publish extracts of the document in question detailing the operation that would have seen Rafale fighter jets from the French base in Abu Dhabi launching five Scalp missiles on Syrian bases if Hollande gave his go-ahead.The operation never went ahead as Obama eventually decided not to launch strikes.The official at the prosecutor’s office said the Ministry of Defence had been asked to confirm that the documents were classified and to check the extent to which they compromised national security.

The president’s office declined to comment.The investigation comes after opposition conservative lawmakers earlier this month started a process to activate Article 68 of the constitution, potentially allowing parliament to impeach the president, following other revelations in the same book, “A President Shouldn’t Say That”.

The authors quoted Hollande as saying in October 2015 that he had authorised four targeted killings. He appeared to backtrack a month later by saying formal clearance was not given in such cases, but only suggestions to go ahead with a hit.Parliamentary party leaders are due to decide on whether to continue the process on Wednesday, although it is not expected to go much further.Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll, a key Hollande ally, has previously said neither incident breached national security. (Reporting by John Irish and Gerard Bon; additional reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey; editing by Andrew Roche)

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First Published On : Nov 22, 2016 01:27 IST

Murray to take aura of invincibility into new year | Reuters

By Martyn Herman
| LONDON

LONDON Forget the latest addition to Andy Murray’s creaking trophy cabinet, the $2.4 million cheque and the adulation of a nation, the most significant upshot of his ATP World Tour Finals victory over Novak Djokovic is the aura it brings.Murray, the new king of men’s tennis, will take that rare commodity which few achieve in sport into the new season in spades.It is an unquantifiable weapon and one that can sustain lengthy periods of dominance even when form is fickle.Scroll through the annals of sport and there are some striking examples.Steve Waugh’s Australian cricket team had it, winning 16 consecutive tests between 1999 and 2001, so too have various New Zealand rugby union sides. Spain’s national soccer team achieved an aura of invincibility between 2008 and 2012.Individually, Michael Schumacher had it while winning seven Formula One drivers titles, as did squash great Jahangir Khan who was unbeaten between 1981 and 1986. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt exudes it every time he steps on to his blocks.Murray knows only too well the debilitating effect it can have on opponents.He has played and suffered in an era graced by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic who, at various times over the past decade, have had rivals mentally beaten before a point was even played.

EPIC SEMI-FINAL
It looked that way on Sunday when Murray, exhausted after his epic semi-final victory over Milos Raonic when he saved a match point, walked on court to face Djokovic in a showdown for the end-of-year number one spot.Dressed in his now familiar military-grade kit and industrial-strength footwear, the granite-calved Murray looked like an indestructible machine while Djokovic, so often the Scot’s master during their career-long rivalry, appeared lightweight and unsure of himself.Murray duly won 6-3 6-4 and, despite a late Djokovic fightback, played like he knew the outcome was never in doubt.

“There was no serious chance for me to win today’s match.” Djokovic said. “From the very beginning we could see that. He was just a better player all in all.”Murray, 29, is undefeated since September, has won 24 matches in succession and his win-loss record since losing to Djokovic in the French Open final is 53-3.In the last week of the season he beat world number five Kei Nishikori, number four Stan Wawrinka and number three Milos Raonic before swatting aside second-ranked Djokovic with an ease bordering on contempt.And the iron-willed Murray is unlikely to relent.

The sweat had barely dried on Sunday and he was talking about his December training camp and January’s Australian Open where Murray will start as favourite to win a fourth grand slam.Former world number one John McEnroe, another player who at his peak in the 1980s had opponents cowed before battle, said Murray will be well aware that aura, so long in the making, can vanish quickly.”Murray is an amazing athlete. He’s going to try to take advantage of this time because it’s limited, we all know that,” the American told the BBC. Djokovic will need no reminding.”If you had told me six months ago that this would even be an issue, I would have said you’re crazy,” McEnroe said of Djokovic’s sudden vulnerability.”At some point you’re going to hit a wall of some kind, But when it comes, people are surprised, but it always happens.”You just don’t know how long it will last.” (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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First Published On : Nov 21, 2016 19:34 IST

French conservatives choose candidate for next year’s presidential election | Reuters

By Marine Pennetier and Pascale Antonie
| PARIS

PARIS French voters were choosing a conservative presidential candidate on Sunday in a primary contest whose winner is seen as likely to become head of state in next spring’s election.With the French left in disarray under the deeply unpopular President Francois Hollande, pollsters suggest that the centre-right presidential nominee will meet and defeat the National Front’s eurosceptic, anti-immigration leader Marine Le Pen in a vote next May.Former prime minister Alain Juppe, a moderate conservative, had until recently appeared on track to win the nomination of the Les Republicains party and its centre-right allies.But over the past week the contest has been transformed into a tight race between Juppe, former president Nikolas Sarkozy and Francois Fillon, another former prime minister, the polls show.Juppe has lost his lead to surges by two men to the right of him on the political spectrum. Sarkozy has sought to tap into populist sentiment with some of his policy statements while Fillon is proposing tough measures to shake up the economy.The French presidential vote is shaping up as another test of strength between weakened mainstream parties and rising populist forces.After Britain’s vote to quit the European Union and Donald Trump’s surprise U.S. election win this year, few are prepared to write off Le Pen’s chances.NEW CONTEST
There are other uncertainties in Sunday’s vote.

It is the first centre-right primary to be held in France, and anyone who pays 2 euros ($2.12) and signs a form showing support for the party’s values can take part. That means voting patterns are to some extent untested and leaves potential for tactical voting by left and far-right supporters as well.”I’ll be voting Juppe, probably,” Dimitri Cournede, aged 34 from Abbeville in northern France and who considers himself a left-wing voter, told Reuters by telephone.”I think its important to make a statement and send the message that we don’t want the right wing to associate with the FN, or at least to endorse their positions on immigration and stuff like that,” he added.An outright win in Sunday’s primary would require one of the seven candidates to win over half of the votes. That is seen as very unlikely and a run-off between the two leading contenders will otherwise take place next Sunday, Nov. 27.Early indications of the outcome could come within two hours of the end of voting at 1900 local time (1800 GMT), but a tight vote could take a definitive result much later into the night.Much could depend on turnout, with polls saying a high level favours Juppe.

A total of 1.138 million votes had been cast by midday based on a count conducted in 67 percent of the more than 10,000 polling stations, Thierry Solere, president of the committee organising the vote, said on LCI radio.In the first round of a Socialist primary in 2012, 2.6 million voters took part, with 744,527 votes having been counted in two-thirds of polling stations by midday.RIVAL PLATFORMS
Fillon, who until last week trailed far behind in the polls, promises to do away with the 35-hour working week, cut half a million public sector jobs and slash the cost of government.

These policies are hard to sell in a country where proposals for market-oriented reform often arouse protests, but they resonate with voters of the right worried about stagnant economic growth and their income tax bill.Until Fillon’s campaign gathered paced, the bruising campaign battle had focused on the duel between Juppe and Sarkozy and their very different policy platforms, both seeking to counter the rise of populism that threatens mainstream parties in Europe.Against a backdrop of a year-old state of emergency after deadly militant attacks on home soil and in the midst of Europe’s migrant crisis, Sarkozy, 61, styles himself as the voice of France’s “silent majority”.He vows to ban the Muslim veil from public universities and body-covering burkini swimsuits from beaches and wants to renegotiate EU treaties, reining in the powers of the European Commission and reforming the Schengen free-travel zone.Juppe, 71, has sought to galvanise the political centre-right, rejecting the “suicidal” identity politics of Sarkozy that he says will deepen rifts between France’s secular state and religious minorities. But Juppe has struggled to rouse the passions of voters and all the momentum was against him on the eve of the vote.Fillon headed Sarkozy’s conservative government between 2007 and 2012. He promises cost-cutting on a scale to which his rivals do not dare commit in a country with one of Europe’s highest public spending levels. Should Sarkozy or Fillon emerge as Le Pen’s conservative opponent, polls and analysts suggest her electoral prospects could be higher than if she faces Juppe, who is seen as having a wider voter appeal than his two rivals. ($1 = 0.9447 euros) (Writing by and additional reporting Richard Lough and Andrew Callus; Editing by Keith Weir)

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First Published On : Nov 20, 2016 18:50 IST

Wall Street slips; indexes still near record highs | Reuters

By Tanya Agrawal

U.S. stocks were slightly lower in late morning trading on Friday as investors cashed in after the post-election rally, but the three major indexes continued to hover near record levels.The Nasdaq hit a record high earlier in the session, helped by a rise in Microsoft (MSFT.O) and other big tech stocks.U.S. stocks had been on a tear since Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the presidential election last week as his proposals to increase infrastructure spending and reduce taxes are seen benefiting the economy.The rally lost steam this week as investors took to the sidelines, awaiting more clarity regarding Trump’s policies.Still, the three major indexes are on track to close higher for the second week in a row.”I think given the major indexes are at or near all-time highs, we’re probably due for a little bit of a digestion period,” said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.”Equities are generally expected to move sideways until we get a little more of visibility into what some of the policies are going to be with the new administration.”

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Thursday the central bank could raise interest rates “relatively soon”, sending out a clear signal for a December move.Traders are pricing in an 83 percent chance of a December move, according to Thomson Reuters data.St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said he was leaning toward supporting an interest rate increase in December and that the real question now would be the Fed’s rate path in 2017.Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank President Esther George also said that while she supports raising interest rates, the U.S. central bank must do so only gradually.

At 10:56 a.m. ET the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was down 37.08 points, or 0.2 percent, at 18,866.74, about 67 points shy of the record it hit on Nov. 14.The S&P 500 .SPX was down 6 points, or 0.27 percent, at 2,181.12. The index hit a record high of 2,193.81 on Aug. 15.The Nasdaq Composite index .IXIC was down 17.06 points, or 0.32 percent, at 5,316.91.Eight of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were lower, with the health index’s .SPXHC 0.70 percent fall leading the decliners.

Johnson & Johnson’s (JNJ.N) 1.4 percent fall weighed the most on the sector.Gap (GPS.N) and Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF.N) fell more than 10 percent after both retailers warned of a challenging holiday quarter.Salesforce.com (CRM.N) rose 3.7 percent to $77.96, a day after it revenue forecast beat estimates.Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,516 to 1,268. On the Nasdaq, 1,345 issues fell and 1,240 advanced.The S&P 500 index showed 26 new 52-week highs and three new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 137 new highs and 17 new lows. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal and Anya George Tharakan; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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First Published On : Nov 18, 2016 21:29 IST

Returning hero Murray masters Cilic, Nishikori wins | Reuters

Returning hero Murray masters Cilic, Nishikori wins | Reuters

Updated: Nov 15, 2016 04:38 IST

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By Martyn Herman
| LONDON

LONDON If Andy Murray was grateful to Marin Cilic for facilitating his rise to the summit this month it was not evident as he added the Croatian to his lengthening list of victims at the ATP World Tour Finals on Monday.It was Cilic’s defeat of Novak Djokovic at the Paris Masters that opened the door for Murray to seize the number one ranking he had spent his whole career pursuing.Murray repaid the favour with a 6-3 6-2 win — his 20th in succession — although it was far from a drubbing as Cilic tried his utmost to ruin the Scot’s homecoming.Four more performances like that at the O2 Arena this week should guarantee the 29-year-old will end 2016 leading the pack.Murray had lost his most recent meeting with Cilic, the Cincinnati Masters final in August, and on Wednesday he will face Japan’s Kei Nishikori who stopped him in the U.S. Open quarter-finals — Murray’s last Tour level defeat.Nishikori had earlier beaten Swiss Stan Wawrinka 6-2 6-3 in the John McEnroe group — although that match was as one-sided as the scoreline suggested with Wawrinka badly off key.Murray has been handed a tougher-looking group than Novak Djokovic, the man he deposed and who could still snatch back the top ranking, but he cleared the first hurdle in style in front of a near full house who welcomed him home like a returning hero.

“It was a great reception,” Murray, Britain’s first ATP singles world number one, told reporters.”After a long kind of few months, it’s nice to know that I’m going to be finishing the year playing in that sort of atmosphere. It helps you get up for the matches a bit more.”Murray served four double faults in the early stages and came under a fierce assault by Cilic.But in his first match since officially taking over at the top, he showed all the attributes that have made him all but unbeatable since his French Open final loss to Djokovic.

Even when Cilic cancelled out an early break Murray responded immediately to move 3-1 ahead.He conjured an ace to stave off a break point in the next game and eventually took a high-quality opener in 45 minutes.Cilic had chances again at the start of the second set but it was Murray who struck in the fifth game with a blistering forehand winner. Murray then put the hammer down.

“A little bit unfortunate to go 6-3 6-2, it felt it was much, much closer in the first set, beginning of the second,” Cilic, who will play Wawrinka on Wednesday, told reporters.Wawrinka will have to improve considerably.The U.S. Open champion sprayed more than 30 unforced errors against Nishikori in a disappointingly one-sided clash.Wawrinka tried to pump himself up at the start of the second set, delivering a couple of signature backhands, but he looked a shadow of the player who claimed a third grand slam title by beating Djokovic in New York in September.”I thought I could play at a better level today. I was expecting a good match. Didn’t happen today,” Wawrinka said. (Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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First Published On : Nov 15, 2016 04:38 IST

Workers laying roads in Karnataka rescued from debt bondage | Reuters

Workers laying roads in Karnataka rescued from debt bondage | Reuters

Updated: Nov 14, 2016 19:22 IST

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By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A group of 32 labourers caught in a cycle of debt bondage were rescued from a road construction site in Karnataka, police said Monday.The labourers, all from the tribal areas of neighbouring state of Telangana, were building a road between the towns of Nipani and Mudhol when they were rescued by Karnataka police on Saturday.”It is a clear case of (debt) bondage,” revenue department official Geeta Koulgi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.”Their statements have been recorded and we are now in the process of issuing release certificates to the workers. They will then be sent back home in a day or two.”The suspected trafficker and the contractor of the road project have both been arrested under anti-trafficking and bonded labour abolition laws, police said.Activists say Saturday’s rescue is one in a series illustrating the extent of debt bondage across India, the most prevalent form of forced labour in a country where an estimated 18 million people live in some form of modern slavery, according to the latest Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation.

The 22 men and 10 women had all taken loans of up to 60,000 rupees ($885) from the sub-contractor. They had been promised wages of 3,500 rupees ($52) per month but no one had been paid.”In one instance, a worker had taken as little as 500 rupees ($7) as loan and had been working in terrible conditions for three months,” said P.H. Vasudev Rao of the non-profit Foundation for Sustainable Development, which received the first distress call from the family of one of the workers.”It has taken us six months to help these workers,” Rao said.

“The contractor would keep moving them to various project sites in the region. We finally caught up with them now, in Chikodi, and discovered that there were at least six people who had been in bondage for two years.”Officials said that they had also recorded at least two cases of sexual abuse and two infants were among those rescued.In one of the statements, a worker described how he was not allowed to go home when his mother died.

“The trafficker just gave him 100 rupees ($1) and said he should do the ceremonies at the work site. His mother’s last rites were done by relatives back home,” said Rao, who was also part of the rescue team along with a police anti-trafficking unit.”The man was inconsolable when we rescued him.”($ 1 = 67.7599 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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First Published On : Nov 14, 2016 19:22 IST

Agents of India’s ‘migration express’ sell one-way ticket to debt bondage | Reuters

By Anuradha Nagaraj

KANTABANJI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Nijam Khan was on a recruiting spree. All through the autumn, he drove to villages around the town of Kantabanji in India’s eastern Odisha state looking for labour.He zeroed in on poor families, jobless men and desperate couples. He gave them cash to buy food and clothes ahead of the local harvest festival. In return, they gave him their freedom.”There are no jobs here,” Khan said, sitting in the office of his self-styled transport company in Kantabanji, a railway town in the drought-prone district.”The people will starve if we don’t give them these loans and jobs.” What Khan describes as “loans and jobs”, rights groups call debt bondage – the most prevalent form of forced labour in a country where an estimated 18 million people live in some form of modern slavery, according to the latest Global Slavery Index by Walk Free Foundation.In Kantabanji, population 22,000, it’s so prevalent that every second person seems to be a “sardar”, or labour agent.”The booming economy of Kantabanji is like an oasis in the otherwise desolate, poor landscape of Balangir district,” said Umi Daniel, a migrant rights activist with Aide et Action in Odisha.”The railhead thrives on the labour of migrant workers who are sent with the promise of better wages. But the only people making profits are the labour agents sending them out.”Agents prey on the tens of thousands of families who leave their villages in western Odisha each autumn to seek work across India in a mass movement of people called the “annual migration”, which lasts until the spring planting season.Most are duped into offering themselves for work as security against a loan they have taken or debt inherited from a relative, rights activists say. They then spend the next six months – or more – working to pay it back. In 90 percent of cases, they are trafficked by labour agents to brick kilns to feed India’s construction industry.SMUGGLED PAST OFFICIALS
The agents, most in their 30s or early 40s, have found ways to bypass the law, pay off officials and keep up the steady supply of cheap labour. Illegal recruitment is an industry worth $150 billion a year, campaigners say. Alongside the sardars are the so-called muscle men who settle scores with defaulters and bribe officials.These enforcers sneak bonded labourers past authorities by disguising them as marriage parties or splitting families into smaller groups, senior police officer Ashish Kumar Singh told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.Around 230 agents received licences in 2015 to recruit workers legitimately in Balangir district under legislation on the inter-state movement of labour, government data shows. They registered and sent out 17,998 workers to brick kilns nationwide.This year, 170 agents have been granted licences and more than 13,000 labourers have been registered, all scheduled to leave their homes in November.Those figures are dwarfed by the actual number of migrants who leave the district every year – around 500,000, according to activists and agents in Kantabanji.”They are going illegally, which means they are being trafficked,” district labour officer Madan Mohan Paik said. “But we don’t have ways and means to check this effectively. It has been like this for a very long time.”

The exploitation begins with an “advance” of 20,000 rupees ($300) – a welcome sum in a region where poverty is dire. The workers have to pay back the loan after six months.Kilns typically pay 300-400 rupees ($4-6) per 10,000 bricks, which means workers need to make almost 700,000 bricks to pay off the debt.In addition to getting back their advance, agents receive a commission for every worker they send out. They also get 20 rupees (30 cents) for every 1,000 bricks the workers make.Rescued workers say there is often no documentation of loans taken or how much debt has been cleared.”Even before I left my village, I had worked up a debt of nearly 30,000 rupees,” Umesh Mahanand, 17, said. “But I thought I would work hard and repay it quickly. I didn’t realise that the amount can technically never be repaid.”THE NEW NORMAL
It’s all said to have started in the 1970s with a man named Dashrath Suna, known as a champion brick maker. He was one of the first men to migrate from Balangir, one of the poorest districts in western Odisha.”I was very good and could make 6,000 bricks a day,” Suna told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at his home in Belpada village, 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Kantabanji.”The brick kiln owner was happy and asked me to bring in friends to work the next time. I did and slowly it became a business.”Suna would cycle to far-flung villages, offering small loans around the festive time of Nuakhai in September, when farmers celebrate the rice harvest.

“Everyone needs a little extra cash around Nuakhai, to buy clothes, cook a good meal, drink a little and celebrate,” he said.So he convinced families to migrate out of the drought-prone region, where reliable employment is rare.”I was able to convince them and the labour market was built on the trust between the brick kiln owner, the agent and the labourer,” the octogenarian said.As the labour market grew, so did Suna’s fortunes. Over the years, he built a two-storey house in Belpada, where he lives with his children and grandchildren.His success spurred others to become labour agents.”Everyone in this village has profited from migration,” said his son, Ruku Sona, a popular singer in the region.”Even the labourers have benefited. Every home will have a motorcycle now. It wouldn’t have been possible if labour wasn’t sent out. Nobody should really be complaining.”In the bylanes of Kantabanji, Suna’s name is whispered with reverence. But Bablu Khan’s is uttered with fear.One of Suna’s men in the early days, his job was to pay off labour inspectors and railway police and fight other agents to ensure the workers Suna had picked made it onto the “migration express”.Once he’d learnt the ropes, he started out on his own.

Bablu Khan soon became the biggest player in the market, sending out more labour than any other agent and quickly changing the ground rules of migration in Kantabanji.”The market became brutal,” said one sub-agent, declining to be identified. “People were herded like cattle and sent on trains. Many survive the journey and the hardships at the brick kilns. Many others don’t.”In 2013, the brutality of the business hit global headlines when agents chopped off the hands of two labourers for trying to escape debt bondage. The case is still on at a court in Odisha.RAILHEAD TO MISERY
Nijam Khan keeps a tidy desk at the Khwaja Garib Nawaz Transport Office, with two biscuit tins in one corner and a picture of his father. He arrived dressed in a crisp white shirt and blue jeans, preceded by two henchmen who told half a dozen labourers sitting on a bench outside to wait in an alley nearby.Inside, Nijam Khan showed off his labour agent licence and the lists he keeps. They show who has been sent where and how much each worker has been paid in advance.”My father had a licence to send 1,400 labourers and we renew it religiously,” he said. “Everyone is an agent now and everyone is sending a few hundred people out. It’s a way of life here.”Police officials, requesting anonymity, said Nijam Khan sends thousands more workers than his licence allows. Khan denies that he exceeds his legal quota.The proceeds from migrant labour account for 50 percent of the region’s economy, said Haji Mohammad Ayub Khan, Kantabanji’s elected representative in the state assembly. His own brother was one of the bigger labour agents in town.”Government schemes are not reaching remote villages, leaving people with practically no options. If migration is stopped, people will turn criminals. They will take to stealing to stay alive.”To make the process more efficient, he has asked the railway ministry to increase the number of trains heading out of Kantabanji.Politician Khan’s brother, labour agent Haroon Khan, keeps a close eye on goings-on at the Kantabanji railway station.He sat on a chair on the pavement outside his office, reluctant to talk about a “dying business” he says he had given up.But in the next hour, over cups of sweet tea, he talked about “the glorious days when business comes to town”.”The hotels would be full and brick kiln owners would hand over large suitcases of money to be distributed as advances,” he recalled as it got dark. “There would be a certain air of festivity.” ($1=66.723 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj; editing by Timothy Large; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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Pakistanis worry that President Trump may favour rival India | Reuters

By Asad Hashim and Kay Johnson
| ISLAMABAD

ISLAMABAD Donald Trump’s surprise election as U.S. president has Pakistanis wary that he may accelerate what they see as a shift in American policy to favour arch-foe India in the long rivalry between nuclear-armed neighbours, analysts said on Wednesday.Historical allies in the region, Islamabad and Washington have seen relations sour over U.S. accusations that Pakistan shelters Islamist militants, a charge Pakistan denies.They hit new lows in May when a U.S. drone killed the leader of the Afghan Taliban movement on Pakistani territory.At the same time, Pakistan’s ties with traditional rival India have also deteriorated this year, with India saying Pakistan-based militants killed 19 of its soldiers in a September attack on an army base in the disputed Kashmir region.To many Pakistanis, Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric – he once proposed banning Muslims entering the United States – and business ties to India are signs that his administration could shift further toward New Delhi.”America will not abandon Pakistan, but definitely, Trump will be a tougher president than Hillary Clinton for Pakistan,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, Lahore-based foreign policy analyst.”I think India will have a better and smoother interaction compared to Pakistan.”Trump has yet to lay out a detailed policy for South Asia, although he recently offered to mediate between India and Pakistan in their dispute over the divided territory of Kashmir.He also told Fox News in May he would favour keeping nearly 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan “because it’s adjacent and right next to Pakistan which has nuclear weapons.”CONGRATULATIONS, ASSURANCES
On Wednesday, a U.S. diplomat in Pakistan sought to assure the country that Trump’s election did not signal a drastic policy change.”Our foreign policy is based on national interest and they don’t change when the government changes,” Grace Shelton, U.S. Consul General in Karachi, told Geo News television.Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif congratulated Trump.

“Your election is indeed the triumph of the American people and their enduring faith in the ideals of democracy, freedom, human rights and free enterprise,” Sharif said in a statement.Still, the uncertainty of a Trump presidency has many Pakistanis on edge, even if the country has leaned towards China in recent years for investment and diplomatic support.”Trump is a bit of a wild card,” said Sherry Rehman, a Pakistani senator and former ambassador to the United States.”Pakistan obviously cannot rule out engaging with whomever America elects, but his anti-Muslim rhetoric may cast a shadow on relations in times of uncertainty.”INDIA HOPEFUL
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also congratulated Trump on Wednesday.

“We look forward to working with you closely to take India-US bilateral ties to a new height,” Modi said in a tweet.Trump has partnered with Indian businessmen on a handful of real estate ventures, but apart from courting the Indian-American vote he has not articulated how he would develop the bilateral relationship.India-U.S. ties have flourished under President Barack Obama and Modi, who came to power in 2014, with the two countries striking key defence agreements this year.Modi’s government has also waged a campaign to isolate Pakistan diplomatically.Shaurya Doval, director of the India Foundation, a think-tank close to Modi’s government, called Trump’s election “a very positive development”, but added that India and the United States would have continued to grow closer under a Hillary Clinton presidency as well.”My sense is that India-U.S. relations are not dependent on individuals – there are strong institutions and processes there,” he said.One fringe Hindu nationalist group in India held a victory gathering at New Delhi’s speakers’ corner on Wednesday.

“He’s an American nationalist. We are Indian nationalists. Only he can understand us,” Rashmi Gupta of the Hindu Sena, or Hindu Army, told Reuters. “We expect him to support us when it comes to terrorist attacks on India from Pakistan.”AFGHANISTAN WAR
Trump will also have to decide whether to maintain the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan or change the scope of the mission, 15 years after a U.S.-led campaign toppled the hardline Islamist Taliban government.The United States has spent some $115 billion in aid for Afghanistan since 2002, but the country is still caught in conflict, with a third of the country out of government control and thousands of Afghan civilians, soldiers and police dying every year.Afghan officials have voiced concern that the conflict is being forgotten in Washington, and warned privately that the West will pay a huge price if that continues.”The people of Afghanistan are tired of war. We want (Trump) to invest heavily in bringing peace to war-torn Afghanistan and stabilize our region,” said Umer Daudzai, former Afghan minister of interior.Obama’s original aim of pulling out of Afghanistan entirely has been put on hold in the face of mounting gains by Taliban militants, with U.S. air power and special forces still regularly involved in combat.As recently as last week, two U.S. Green Berets were killed near the northern city of Kunduz.Although Afghan security forces have been fighting largely alone since the end of the main NATO-led combat mission in 2014, their performance has been patchy and they continue to rely heavily on U.S. air power.The Taliban on Wednesday urged Trump to withdraw all U.S. troops.”They should not cause damage to their economy and their military in this failed war,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said of the American government in a statement. (Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in KARACHI, Douglas Busvine in NEW DELHI and Hamid Shalizi and James Mackenzie in KABUL; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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Financial services cheer India’s shock bank note curbs | Reuters

By Devidutta Tripathy and Sankalp Phartiyal
| MUMBAI

MUMBAI India’s abolition of 500- and 1,000-rupee notes with virtually no warning caused confusion and concern among ordinary people and in sectors of the economy where cash is king, but banks and electronic payment services are among those licking their lips.Among the biggest losers from the shock move, aimed at flushing out money hidden from the tax man in India’s huge shadow economy, is expected to be property, and the sharp drop in the sector’s stocks on India’s two main exchanges on Wednesday reflected that.It was better news for financial services companies involved in moving money around the formal economy, however, and among them was PayTM, India’s top mobile payment wallet services provider.It said it saw a 200 percent jump in app downloads and a 1,000 percent increase in the amount of money added to its wallets since Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s announcement of the curbs late on Tuesday.MobiKwik, which also offers mobile wallet services, said it saw a more than 40 percent increase in app downloads.”We’ll be a country with a lot more digital transactions and payments now,” said Vijay Shekhar Sharma, chief executive of PayTM, whose biggest shareholder is Alibaba Group.India’s shadow, or “black”, economy is estimated to be the size of about a fifth of its gross domestic product, with millions still having no access to formal financial services.Most financial transactions still happen in cash, although alternative payments and the use of cards have risen fast in recent years.Kotak Securities said it expected a large part of the shadow economy to become part of the formal economy, including the banking system, over time.Banks will benefit from higher savings deposits, while more financial savings also bodes well for insurance, mutual funds and wealth management companies, analysts said.

Shares in top lender State Bank of India rose 2.9 percent on Wednesday on a Mumbai market that closed 1.3 percent lower. The banking sector index edged up 0.1 percent.Global card network providers Visa and MasterCard welcomed the Indian decision, saying it would help cashless transactions. PayPal Holdings Inc called it a “master stroke” to make India a less cash-reliant economy.PAIN FOR PROPERTY, GOLD, FOOD
The crackdown on unaccounted wealth will put further pressure on the real estate sector, considered a safe haven for “black” money and already battling slower home sales.

The impact will likely be felt by smaller developers and in the secondary sales market, making the real estate sector more illiquid for some time, said Anshul Jain, managing director for India at consultant Cushman & Wakefield. “Working capital needs for small and medium developers and other businesses will be a lot higher,” said Jain, adding that prices will correct in markets where substantial speculative investments have been made using unregistered cash.DLF Ltd, India’s biggest listed property developer, slumped more than 17 percent in Mumbai trading on Wednesday, while the sector index fell 11.6 percent.A DLF spokesman, however, said the bank note move would not make “any big difference” for larger real estate companies who carried out transactions through banking channels. “It is only a popular perception that real estate spawns black money, which is actually not true.”

The crackdown is also seen as negative for jewellers, as it could lower the demand for gold despite a short-term rush for the precious metal late on Tuesday, analysts said.”Significant amounts of demand for gold used to get generated (by) unaccounted wealth,” said Surendra Mehta, Secretary at India Bullion and Jewellers Association.”Since such unaccounted money is set to lose value after the scrapping of 500 rupee and 1,000 rupee notes, demand for gold will also drop.”Mehta estimated India’s gold demand would fall by 100-150 tonnes next year from an annual average of about 800 tonnes.The central bank will launch a new series of 500 and 2,000 rupee notes later this week.Other sectors that could be impacted in the short term due to shifts in demand include consumer goods and automobiles, Edelweiss Securities said.Cement makers such as ACC and UltraTech will be hit, as 70 percent of demand comes from housing, HDFC Securities analysts said, adding that they expected cement companies to cut production.Food chain operators such as those run by Jubilant FoodWorks, which operates the Domino’s Pizza and Dunkin’ Donuts chains in India, will also be temporarily affected as students mostly buy in cash, the brokerage added. (Additional reporting by Aditi Shah and Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Euan Rocha and Mike Collett-White)

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Pakistan delays deportation of Afghan girl for a few days | Reuters

Pakistan delays deportation of Afghan girl for a few days | Reuters

Updated: Nov 7, 2016 20:41 IST

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By Jibran Ahmad
| PESHAWAR, Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Pakistan on Monday delayed the planned deportation of Sharbat Gula, the green-eyed “Afghan Girl” whose 1985 photo in National Geographic became a symbol of her country’s wars, an Afghan official said.Now in her 40s with four children, Gula has been hospitalised for most of the time since her arrest last month on charges of living illegally in Pakistan. A judge sentenced her last week to be deported.Waheedullah, a spokesman for the Afghan consulate in Peshawar, said Afghan diplomats had convinced Pakistani authorities to allow her to stay in hospital until Wednesday.

She then would be delivered to the Afghan border authorities at Torkham on Wednesday and from there she would be flown to Kabul where Afghan President Ashraf Ghani would host a function in her honour.”The Afghan president has also announced a house for her in Kabul where she will live with her children,” said Waheedullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

A senior Pakistani official on condition of anonymity confirmed her deportation, planned for Monday, had been delayed until Wednesday.Sharbat Gula became a symbol of Afghanistan’s long wars when a photo of her as a young refugee was published in National Geographic magazine in 1985.

She had been living in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar city for years with her husband and children. Her family has said her Afghan husband died a few years ago. (Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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Delhi under cloud of smog, considers traffic measures to ease pollution | Reuters

By Sanjeev Miglani
| NEW DELHI

NEW DELHI A million school children were forced to stay at home, thousands of employees reported sick and long queues formed outside shops selling face masks on Monday as New Delhi struggled with its worst pollution for nearly 20 years.The Indian capital’s government was considering whether to bring back a scheme to reduce traffic, a minister said on Monday, as air pollution remained many times above what are considered to be safe levels for a second week.New Delhi’s streets were shrouded in a heavy gray haze of smoke, ash and other pollutants, and residents complained of breathlessness, watering of eyes, aggravated coughs and wheezing.”We are now calling this a pollution epidemic. Our advisory to people is to stay at home, if possible work from home,” said K.K. Aggarwal, president of the Indian Medical Association.Levels of PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter that reaches deep into the lungs, were above 700 in the city’s worst affected areas on Monday.That is nearly 30 times a mean guideline of 25 micrograms per cubic meter on average over a 24-hour period set by the World Health Organization (WHO), which says outdoor air pollution killed 3.7 million people globally in 2012.”It’s been a nightmare. My toddler and I woke up from a nap coughing as if pepper had been sprinkled on our throats,” said Tara Chowdhry, a Delhi resident.”I climbed trees in this city. I played near India Gate. Now we are trapped in our living rooms next to air purifiers.”As evening fell, the air quality improved as the wind picked up, but it was still at levels considered unhealthy.Children have been among the hardest hit. Many crammed into Shishu Sadan children’s hospital in west Delhi for respiratory spasms and aggravated asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis.”A few months ago it was dengue and chikungunya in Delhi and now we have this,” said pediatrician Lavraj Gupta, referring to disease outbreaks in the city of 17 million, many of whom live without access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation.

A combination of smoke from burning farm residue in surrounding states, fireworks for the Hindu festival of Diwali, dust from construction work and vehicle emissions have pushed pollution levels to their highest in 17 years.Mohammad Kamil, manager of a store that sells face masks, said he used to sell about six masks on average in a week, but now they had 150 to 200 customers a day.”We have run out of stock, but we are taking orders. We will provide it to everyone,” he said.The demand for air purifiers also jumped, both from locals and foreigners working in India.”BRAND INDIA”

Between 5 and 10 percent of the workforce in Delhi and its surrounding areas had reported sick over the past week, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry said in a survey of 150 companies.It warned that the pollution could deal a blow to “brand India”, as the country seeks to attract investment and create hundreds of thousands of jobs for its young population.India, the world’s fastest growing major economy, is home to four of the world’s 10 cities with the worst air pollution, the WHO said in May. New Delhi ranked 11th.Delhi Health Minister Satyendra Kumar Jain said the administration was preparing to restrict the use of private vehicles through the “odd-even” scheme that was introduced temporarily last winter to combat pollution.Under the system, cars were allowed on the road only on alternate days, according to whether their number plates were odd or even.

“There is a review meeting later this week. We are considering to bring back the odd-even scheme, it is one of many measures,” he told reporters.Delegates attending a global conference on controlling tobacco consumption said they were taken by surprise by the level of pollution.”I was shocked, did not expect this. It’s kind of funny that we are at a conference that aims to have cleaner air and are at a venue that does not have that,” said Irene Ryes, a delegate from the Philippines.U.S. embassy spokesman Joseph Kruzich said the embassy had employed measures, including supplementary air filtration and construction of vestibules, to provide clean air in workspaces.British Prime Minister Theresa May was visiting India, and a reception for her at High Commissioner Dominic Asquith’s residence, located in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, will go ahead on Monday evening as planned, an official said.”Officially, we are saying nothing at all about pollution,” a British diplomat said.Delhi authorities have blamed the governments of nearby states of Haryana and Punjab for compounding the city’s problems by allowing farmers to burn paddy stubble ahead of the wheat sowing season, even though the practice is banned.Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government urged people not to use pollution for political gain.”If we engage in any blame game, the issue won’t get resolved. The problem right now is Delhi’s 20 million people are finding it difficult to breathe,” said Anil Madhav Dave, federal environment minister. (Additional reporting by Krishna Das, Douglas Busvine, Aditya Kalra and Malini Menon; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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Turkey remains non-committal on backing India’s NSG bid

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Turkey on Friday remained non- committal about backing India’s bid for NSG membership, saying New Delhi should first build consensus in its favour in the 48-nation bloc.Turkey was one of the countries which, at the last NSG plenary in Seoul in June, had insisted on no exception to be made for India, a non-signatory to the NPT, while examining its bid for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group that regulates trade in atomic material.Despite strong US support, China had blocked India’s bid on the ground that it was a not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).”In terms of the nuclear disarmament issue, we are going to concur with the NSG and I think Indian government needs to convince the other countries (in the bloc). So, we are for a nuclear disarmed world.”I believe India needs to work on this issue in order to convince the other countries. We are ready to join the consensus if it is reached,” Turkey’s Minister for Development Lutfi Elvan told a press conference here. On free trade pact with India, the Minister said a working group has been set up to address the issue and it has drafted a report but India it yet to ratify it.”Once the Indian Government signs the report the process will be accelerated. We want the free trade agreement because Turkey is a part of the customs union and the free trade agreement will contribute to the economies of both countries,” Elvan said. The Minister said Turkey can act as a gateway for India to countries in Europe, Middle East and Africa.He said the two countries need to converge their economic potential to boost bilateral trade volume.”Right now the trade volume between the two countries amounts to USD 6 billion which is quite low considering the true potential of the countries,” he said. “It is not only the trade volume which we are aiming to realize between the two countries, but also I advise the businesses that they need to set up companies to be able to trade with and export to third countries,” Elvan said.Outlining areas for successful mutual cooperation, he said India could draw from Turkey’s experience in construction sector.

U.S. acts to block North Korea access to financial system | Reuters

U.S. acts to block North Korea access to financial system | Reuters

Updated: Nov 4, 2016 20:05 IST

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WASHINGTON The United States on Friday formally prohibited U.S. financial institutions from opening or maintaining accounts created on behalf of North Korean banks, extending sanctions imposed on the isolated Asian country over its nuclear and missile programs.The U.S. Treasury Department said North Korea was using front companies and agents to conduct illicit financial transactions to support the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to evade international sanctions.“Such funds have no place in any reputable financial system,” Adam Szubin, the department’s acting under secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence said in a statement.It said that while U.S. law already generally prohibited transactions with North Korean financial institutions, the move would support international sanctions and better protect the U.S. financial system from illicit North Korean activity. 

A Treasury Department order requires U.S. financial institutions “to apply additional due diligence measures to prevent North Korean financial institutions from gaining improper indirect access to U.S. correspondent accounts.” The move comes after the Treasury in June declared North Korea a “primary money laundering concern” and proposed the steps to further block its ability to use the U.S. and world financial systems to fund its weapons programs.

Friday’s announcement comes as the United States is pushing for tougher United Nations sanctions against North Korea after its latest nuclear test on Sept. 9.China’s support is crucial for the sanctions to be effective but Beijing has appeared to push back on U.S. efforts to tighten restrictions on North Korean exports.

Beijing expressed concern when the U.S. Treasury plans were announced in June, saying it opposed any country using its domestic laws to impose unilateral sanctions on another country. (Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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Exclusive – Tobacco treaty leaders propose barring delegates linked to state firms | Reuters

By Duff Wilson and Aditya Kalra
| NEW YORK/NEW DELHI

NEW YORK/NEW DELHI The leadership of a World Health Organization (WHO) treaty on tobacco control has proposed barring delegates with ties to state-owned tobacco firms from its conference next week, tightening its application of rules to shut out the industry from policy making.That would include delegates employed by state-owned tobacco companies or those otherwise “working to advance the interests of the tobacco industry,” according to an internal communication document seen by Reuters.The proposal, if adopted at the conference of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in India, could restrict delegations sent by countries like China and Vietnam, where governments own cigarette companies and have in the past sent representatives linked to the industry.Any such members of the 180 delegations at the Nov. 7-12 conference near New Delhi “would be requested to leave the premises”, according to the Oct. 17 “note verbale”, an official diplomatic communication, from the WHO FCTC secretariat on behalf of the treaty’s leadership group to its parties.The FCTC, the world’s first international public health treaty, states explicitly that health policies need to be made independent of tobacco industry influence.Its governing conferences have in the past ejected members of the public and the press after they were believed to have tobacco industry connections.Yet up until now, the treaty’s leaders had not moved to bar employees of state-owned tobacco companies.At the last WHO FCTC conference, in Moscow in 2014, China’s 18-person delegation had four members from the “State Tobacco Monopoly Administration”.At the 2012 conference, in Seoul, two of eight Vietnamese delegates were from the “Vietnam Tobacco Association”.

When asked about the letter, a Vietnamese government official who declined to be identified told Reuters there would be no industry representatives in their delegation.Reuters was unable to immediately contact China’s State Tobacco Monopoly Administration for comment out of office hours.FINAL DECISION YET TO BE MADE
FCTC secretariat official Guangyuan Liu on Thursday confirmed the “note verbale” was sent to parties recently.

When asked about the composition of China’s delegation, Liu, team leader for governance and international cooperation at the secretariat, said: “We are still in contact with China and a final decision has not (been) made yet.””The COP (conference of parties) eventually will make the final decision,” Liu told reporters in New Delhi.The proposed restriction highlights a growing battle between the industry and backers of the treaty, which went into effect in 2005 to guide national laws and policies in an effort to curb tobacco use, which kills an estimated 6 million people a year worldwide.The global tobacco industry is estimated to be worth nearly $800 billion this year. The International Tobacco Growers Association, a non-profit group partly funded by big international cigarette companies, said the proposal was “beyond the wildest imagination”.

António Abrunhosa, chief executive of the group and a Portuguese tobacco grower, said in an email to Reuters that such a step was “unthinkable for a United Nations agency”. John Stewart, deputy campaigns director at Corporate Accountability International, a Boston-based advocacy group that has supported tobacco-control efforts, praised the proposed restrictions.”The tobacco industry has really forced parties and the secretariat into a corner,” he said in an interview. “This is a bold good-government action to ensure that the treaty space, the place where public health policies will save millions of lives, is free of tobacco industry intimidation.”Issues for debate at the conference include alternative livelihoods for tobacco farmers, e-cigarette regulation and trade and investment issues.The secretariat earlier wrote to the treaty’s party nations asking them to exclude people with tobacco interests from their delegations.In the latest note, the secretariat said it then turned to a FCTC leadership group for guidance after receiving a number of nominations from countries that ignored the suggestion. (Additional reporting by Sue-Lin Wong in Beijing; Editing by Tom Lasseter, Robert Birsel and Mike Collett-White)

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Diplomatic spat between India and Pakistan worsens amid border tensions | Reuters

Diplomatic spat between India and Pakistan worsens amid border tensions | Reuters

Updated: Nov 2, 2016 21:44 IST

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By Syed Raza Hassan and Douglas Busvine
| ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI

ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI Pakistan may expel five Indian diplomats for espionage and has revealed their names, local media said on Wednesday, a move sure to exacerbate a rift between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours that has been widening for months.Pakistan declined to comment on the matter ahead of a planned news conference on Thursday, while India said the identity of eight of its diplomats had been revealed by Pakistani media.Vikas Swarup, spokesman of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, declined to comment when asked whether the eight diplomats stationed in Islamabad would be withdrawn.Swarup also said six Pakistani diplomats had left the Indian capital on Wednesday but said they had not been expelled.Last week India ordered one employee of the Pakistani embassy, known as a High Commission, to leave the country on suspicion of espionage, triggering the expulsion of one of its own envoys by Islamabad.

The diplomatic spat comes after months of sharply deteriorating relations that began with civil unrest in Indian-controlled Kashmir and Pakistan’s global lobbying against New Delhi’s crackdown on the Kashmiri activists.In September a group of gunmen killed 19 Indian soldiers at an army camp in Kashmir, an attack India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

India said it had carried out “surgical strikes” inside Pakistan as retribution, but Islamabad denied they even took place and accused New Delhi of fabrication to distract attention from its crackdown on the protests in the part of Kashmir it controls.Artillery duels and skirmishing along the disputed frontier that runs through Kashmir have escalated in recent days, leading India to summon the Pakistani deputy high commissioner on Wednesday to express its “grave concern and strong protest”.In a statement, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs accused Pakistan of violations of a 2003 ceasefire that have caused several fatalities and injuries among its civilians and security forces.

New Delhi also protested against the alleged mutilation of the body of an Indian soldier by an attacker who escaped across the Line of Control after “committing this heinous crime”.Both sides typically refute the other’s version of events. On Wednesday the press wing of the Pakistani military said India had committed 178 ceasesfire violations this year, killing 19 civilians and injuring 80 more. (Writing by Drazen Jorgic and Douglas Busvine; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Oil ends at one-month low on OPEC doubts, expected record output | Reuters

Oil ends at one-month low on OPEC doubts, expected record output | Reuters

Updated: Oct 31, 2016 23:32 IST

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By Ethan Lou
| NEW YORK

NEW YORK Oil prices settled at one-month lows on Monday after dropping over 3 percent on doubts about OPEC’s ability to implement its planned production cuts, with the market further weighed by expectations that the cartel had record output in October.The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) approved a document on Monday outlining its long-term strategy, a sign its members are achieving consensus on managing production.But OPEC has achieved little otherwise. Representatives met on Friday in Vienna, and then again on Saturday with their counterparts from non-member producers. They did not reach any specific terms, and sources said Iran has been reluctant to even freeze output.A Reuters survey found on Monday OPEC’s oil output likely hit a record high in October, rising to 33.82 million barrels per day.Brent’s front-month contract LCOc1, which expires after Monday’s session, was down $1.41, or 2.8 percent, at $48.30 a barrel. It hit a low of $47.98 during the day.

The more active next-month Brent contracts were down $2.03, or 4 percent, at $48.65 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures CLc1 were trading down $1.84, or 3.8 percent, at $46.86 a barrel after falling to $46.71.The settlement for WTI was the lowest price since Sept. 29 and for Brent was the lowest since Sept. 30

“Investors in crude oil and energy stocks must be having a nightmare this Halloween,” said Fawad Razaqzada, technical analyst at Forex.com. “The latest fruitless discussions from the OPEC and non-OPEC members have caused … a technical development that could lead to further momentum-based selling pressure.”Reservations over OPEC’s output cut prompted analysts to leave their price outlooks broadly unchanged, a Reuters poll on Monday showed.

Compounding the bearish sentiment was data from energy monitoring service Genscape, cited by traders, which showed a build of 585,217 barrels of crude at the storage hub and delivery point for WTI in Cushing, Oklahoma, in the week to Oct. 28. Oil prices have risen as much as 13 percent since OPEC announced on Sept. 27 a production cut to support prices after a slump that began in mid-2014. The cartel said how much each member should cut will be finalised at a Nov. 30 meeting.Non-member Russia had agreed to cooperate, but a draft federal budget showed it expects to increase its output by 0.7 percent next year and 0.9 percent in 2018. (Additional reporting by Libby George in LONDON and Aaron Sheldrick and Osamu Tsukimori in TOKYO; Editing by Alan Crosby and Meredith Mazzilli)

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Facebook says will remove fewer pictures, stories after Vietnam photo row | Reuters

Facebook says will remove fewer pictures, stories after Vietnam photo row | Reuters

Updated: Oct 31, 2016 18:25 IST

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By Gwladys Fouche
| OSLO

OSLO Facebook will allow more content on its platform that it would have earlier removed because it violated its standards, a senior company executive said on Monday, following the controversy over the removal of an iconic Vietnam War photo.His comments come after a dispute in September between the company and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg after Facebook deleted the photo of a naked girl fleeing a napalm attack, called “The Terror of War”. “We have made a number of policy changes after The Terror of War photo. We have improved our escalation process to ensure that controversial stories and images get surfaced more quickly,” said Patrick Walker, Facebook’s director of media partnership for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

“(And) in the weeks ahead, we are going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest, even if they might otherwise violate our standards,” Walker told a meeting of the Association of Norwegian Editors in Oslo, to which he was invited following the row, by both the association and the Norwegian culture minister.”We will work with our community and partners to explore exactly how to do this,” he said. “Our intent is to allow more images and stories without posing a safety risk or showing graphic images to minors or others who do not want to see them.”

Facebook re-instated the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph after Solberg and others accused Facebook of censorship and of editing history by erasing the image from their accounts under its restrictions on nudity.

Facebook backed down, ruling that the historical importance of the photo outweighed the company’s nudity rules. (Editing by Alison Williams)

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Box Office: ‘Inferno’ Fizzles With $15 Million as ‘Madea’ Pulls Off Victory | Reuters

By Brent Lang

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – This is how a franchise ends.”Inferno,” the latest big screen tour through Dan Brown’s historical conspiracy theories, flamed out at the weekend box office, earning a frosty $15 million. That’s a fraction of the $46.2 million that “Angels & Demons,” the previous film version of Brown’s novels, earned when it debuted in 2009, and it pales in relation to “The Da Vinci Code’s” $77.1 million opening way back in 2006.”This was a serious meltdown,” said Jeff Bock, box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “It shows how fickle audiences can be. When studios release a sequel they don’t want, they just turn their shoulder.””Inferno” couldn’t muster a strong enough debut to capture the top spot on the domestic box office chart. Lionsgate’s “Boo! A Madea Halloween” nabbed first place for the second consecutive weekend, picking up $16.7 million to bring its stateside total to $52 million. The Tyler Perry comedy’s victory is an upset. Heading into the weekend, “Inferno” was expected to kick off to north of $20 million — a figure that easily would have secured it a first place finish.”Inferno” finds Harvard cryptologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) grappling with amnesia as he tries to piece together clues in order to prevent the release of a global pandemic. Reviewers vivisected the film, saddling it with a 20% “rotten” rating on critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

In addition to the brutal reviews, “Inferno” ran smack up against a World Series battle between the Cubs and the Indians, two franchises that have gone decades without capturing a championship. Those games generated a lot of excitement among “Inferno’s” core audience of older men.Strong foreign grosses could be enough to pull “Inferno” out of the red. The film has earned roughly $150 million overseas. Sony, the studio behind the film, also reined in “Inferno’s” production budget. The picture cost $75 million to make, half the budget of “Angels & Demons.”Sony executives said they always expected “Inferno” to be more of a foreign play than a domestic bet, noting that previous Langdon adventures pulled in more than 70% of their box office from foreign markets.

“Globally, the movie is in really good shape,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s worldwide distribution chief. “We made this film for much less and we felt strongly that it was a film that would resonate internationally.”Still, the results are disappointing, particularly for director Ron Howard, who could use a hit. Once a reliable purveyor of popcorn fare with a certain prestige sheen, such as “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind,” Howard’s commercial radar has been faulty of late. His recent efforts, such as “In the Heart of the Sea,” “The Dilemma,” and “Rush,” all lost money. “Angels & Demons” was his last major studio movie to turn a profit.

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” snagged third place with roughly $9.6 million. The Tom Cruise thriller has earned $39.7 million in two weeks of release. Fourth place went to Warner Bros.’ “The Accountant,” which added $8.5 million to its $61.3 million haul. “Ouija: Origin of Evil” rounded out the top five, earning $7.1 million to bring its domestic total to $24.6 million.In its second weekend, “Moonlight,” a critically acclaimed coming-of-age story, expanded nicely from four to 36 screens, earning $900,826 in the process. The A24 release is expected to be an Oscar contender. It has earned $1.5 million so far.Final numbers are still being tallied, but it appears that ticket sales will outpace the year-ago period. That’s not much of an accomplishment. Last year, “The Martian” held on to the top spot in its fifth week of release, as newcomers like “Burnt” collapsed.Overall, fall ticket sales have lagged behind those of 2015. Most analysts don’t expect a true box office turnaround to happen until “Doctor Strange” debuts next weekend.”We need a box office hero,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. “We need a great movie to get us out of the box office doldrums.”

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Pakistan information minister removed over newspaper leak that angered army | Reuters

Pakistan information minister removed over newspaper leak that angered army | Reuters

Updated: Oct 29, 2016 19:14 IST

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By Asad Hashim and Sheree Sardar
| ISLAMABAD

ISLAMABAD Pakistani Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid has been removed from office over a newspaper leak that sparked a rift between the army and the government earlier this month, the prime minister’s office said on Saturday.Two sources from the Information Ministry told Reuters that Rashid had stepped down from his post until an inquiry confirms whether he was the source for a newspaper article detailing the discussion in a top-level national security meeting.”Evidence available so far points to a lapse on part of the Information Minister, who has been directed to step down from office to enable holding of an independent and detailed inquiry,” a statement by the prime minister’s office said.The inquiry is seeking to identify the source of the Dawn article, published on Oct. 6, which gave an account of a tense, high-level security meeting held between military and government officials.Government and diplomatic sources say the Dawn article soured relations between Sharif’s ruling PML-N party and the military, with army officials blaming PML-N for the leak and demanding the source be punished.

Relations between the civilian government and military have often been strained in a country where several prime ministers, including Sharif himself, have been ousted in coups. Quoting anonymous sources, the Dawn article said civilian government officials called for the military not to interfere if civilian authorities tried to arrest members of anti-India militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba.India has long accused Pakistan’s military of sponsoring these groups to foment unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir and elsewhere, a charge that Pakistan denies.

The office of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has repeatedly rejected the article as inaccurate and the journalist who wrote it was at one point temporarily barred from leaving the country.On Saturday, the prime minister’s office said the Oct. 6 story was “planted” and termed it a “breach of national security”. Dawn newspaper editors have stood by the story and its author.The committee being set up to investigate the leak includes senior officers from the ISI, the most powerful intelligence agency in Pakistan. Military Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau agencies will be in involved in the committee.

The military on Friday said top PML-N leaders – including finance minister, interior minister, and Sharif’s brother – met the army chief Raheel Sharif, who is not related to the prime minister, to discuss the Dawn leak. The head of ISI was also presentRashid did not respond to Reuters requests for comment. The military could not be immediately reached for comment. (Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Stephen Powell)

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Pakistan opposition party says more of its workers arrested, cancels rally | Reuters

Pakistan opposition party says more of its workers arrested, cancels rally | Reuters

Updated: Oct 29, 2016 16:31 IST

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By Asad Hashim
| ISLAMABAD

ISLAMABAD Pakistani police have arrested 30 workers from the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party ahead of planned protests to shut down the capital on Wednesday, a PTI official said on Saturday, as the party cancelled a rally in the capital.On Friday, supporters of PTI leader Imran Khan, a former Pakistani cricket hero, clashed with police in Rawalpindi, 20 km (12 miles) from Islamabad, and Khan accused the government of placing him under virtual house arrest. Police on Thursday arrested 38 PTI workers at a youth rally, hours after local authorities imposed a two-month ban on all public gatherings in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The police and local authorities did not respond to requests for comment. Khan has vowed to ‘lock down’ Islamabad on Wednesday in a bid to force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign over allegations of corruption linked to the Panama Papers leaks. Police say they will block any such attempt.

Chaudhry Rizwan, a senior PTI official for Islamabad, said 30 people were arrested overnight from outside Khan’s home, where some supporters slept.A Reuters reporter saw more than 100 police officers, some in riot gear, posted near Khan’s residence.”Today’s rally has been cancelled. For now, whatever will happen will be at Khan’s Bani Gala residence,” added Rizwan.

PTI’s rally on Saturday was scheduled to act as a prelude for Wednesday’s attempt to lock down Islamabad.There were about 80 PTI supporters near Khan’s road, vowing to protect their leader and demanding that Sharif stand down.

“I came here because I think of Pakistan, and things are very bad here. There is too much corruption here,” said Dost Muhammad, 30, a tailor from Swat region who camped outside Khan’s home overnight.Khan’s latest challenge to Sharif’s government is based on leaked documents from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm that appear to show that his daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. Sharif’s family denies wrongdoing.Holding offshore companies is not illegal in Pakistan, but Khan has implied the money was gained by corruption. Khan admitted in May that he used an offshore company himself to legally avoid paying British tax on a London property sale. (Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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Nadal stunned, Murray cruises, Kyrgios slumps in Shanghai | Reuters

Nadal stunned, Murray cruises, Kyrgios slumps in Shanghai | Reuters

Updated: Oct 12, 2016 21:39 IST

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SHANGHAI Fourth seed Rafa Nadal was stunned by Serb Viktor Troicki in an upset-filled Shanghai Masters second round on Wednesday while Andy Murray breezed past American Steve Johnson and Nick Kyrgios slumped to a listless defeat.Troicki, ranked 31st in the world, overcame Nadal 6-3 7-6(3) in an hour and 34 minutes to secure his first ever victory in five previous attempts against the 14-time grand slam winner.The unseeded Serb broke twice to seal the opening set before Nadal came back strongly in the second. The Spaniard saved a match point at 5-4 down but was defeated in the tiebreak.”I played really well,” Troicki said. “I was aggressive, I served well, I hit the ball nice. It was a great feeling on the court playing like this… against Rafa Nadal, who is a great champion.”Twice Shanghai Masters champion Murray, who claimed the China Open title last week, had no such trouble as he won 6-3 6-2 as he won 70 percent of second-serve return points.

The second-seeded Briton, who scraped through a testing encounter with Johnson at the Rio Olympics in August, also saved the one break point he faced in the first set.He will play Frenchman Lucas Pouille in the third round.”I felt like I was creating a lot of chances on his serve. I thought I moved well for the first match in new conditions,” Murray told reporters.

“I was timing the ball well. I felt like I was controlling a lot of the rallies. Yeah, for a first match after playing pretty different conditions a few days ago, it was good.”Australia’s Nick Kyrgios lost to Germany’s Mischa Zverev 6-3 6-1 with another controversial display in which he appeared uninterested throughout, landing a series of half-hearted serves and barely moving to meet his opponent’s returns.

The 21-year-old also clashed with spectators before being booed off the court after a match that lasted just 48 minutes. Kyrgios, later apologised on his Twitter account, saying his performance was “not good enough”. Seventh seed Tomas Berdych lost to Marcel Granollers of Spain 7-6(4) 7-6(1), while third seed Stan Wawrinka, the U.S. Open Champion, beat Britain’s Kyle Edmund 6-3 6-4 and Canada’s Vasek Pospisil battled past Grigor Dimitrov 7-5 7-6(2). (Reporting by Ian Rodricks in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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What’s a slum? In India, Dharavi’s thriving informal economy defies the label | Reuters

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Malik Abdullah’s plastic recycling business in Dharavi, the sprawling slum in Mumbai that is among the largest in Asia, has survived fire, building collapses, and the criminal underworld for decades. Now, it is threatened by development.For 35 years, Abdullah has carried on the business built by his father, pulverising used plastic cans and bottles into pellets, then selling them to factories to refashion. Thousands of small businesses like his thrive in Dharavi, creating an informal economy with an annual turnover of $1 billion by some estimates.Now, plans to replace the ramshackle workshops and decrepit homes with office blocks and high-rise apartments threaten the businesses that employ thousands of its 1 million residents. “The city doesn’t care about the businesses here, which are our livelihood,” said Abdullah, 52, standing in an alley crammed with towering stacks of plastic containers.”This is where we live, this is where we work. Where will we go if they only build flats and offices?” he said.During the past two decades, there have been several attempts to develop Dharavi, which sprawls over 240 hectares (590 acres). However, residents have opposed many of them, saying they do not consider their interests.Real estate in Mumbai, India’s financial hub, is among the most expensive in the world. The contrast between rich and poor is stark, and about 60 percent of the city’s population of more than 18 million lives in slums.Dharavi has always been a magnet for migrants from across India. Many have lived there for decades, their one-room tenements and low-rise homes dwarfed by the gleaming glass and chrome office towers and luxury hotels that dot the city.Amid Dharavi’s narrow alleys, open drains and canopies of electric cables, migrants who came in search of better economic opportunities have created a community of schools, temples, mosques, restaurants, tailors and mobile phone shops.Tens of thousands work as potters, leather tanners, weavers, soap makers, and in Dharavi’s massive recycling industry.Most homes double up as work spaces, the whirr of sewing machines, the clang of metal and the pungent odour of spices mingling with the call for prayer and the putrid smell of trash.”People think of slums as places of static despair as depicted in films such as ‘Slumdog Millionaire’,” said Sanjeev Sanyal, an economist and writer, referring to the Academy Award-winning movie that exposed the gritty underbelly of Dharavi.”If one looks past the open drains and plastic sheets, one will see that slums are ecosystems buzzing with activity… Creating neat low-income housing estates will not work unless they allow for many of the messy economic and social activities that thrive in slums,” he said.ROOF TOPS

Once a small fishing village, Dharavi was notorious as a den of crime in the 1970s and ’80s. Following a massive crackdown, violent crime is rare and Dharavi has featured in movies, art projects and a Harvard Business School case study.Fed by two suburban railway lines and perilously close to the Mumbai airport, Dharavi has lured developers, too.Recent plans by city officials envisaged private developers clearing the area and building high-rise flats in which each eligible family gets a free 225 sq ft (21 sq metres) unit. The developer in turn gets rights to build commercial space to rent.Dozens of such housing blocks have been built over the years, falling into disrepair as facilities were not upgraded.What these buildings also lack is room for work. The squat tenements are perfectly suited for businesses, with living and sleeping spaces sitting atop work spaces, workers spilling into the alleys, and material stacked outside and on roof tops.In Kumbharwada, the potter’s colony, where migrants from neighbouring Gujarat state make earthen water pots and lamps, potters’ wheels can be seen through open doorways, while ready pots are stacked in the alleys awaiting pickup.The colony is abuzz ahead of the Dussehra and Diwali festivals, when decorated pots and lamps are in demand. With small televisions turned on low, women sit cross-legged on the floor in their homes, painting motifs in red, yellow and green, and gluing on sequins and shiny bits of mica.

Down another alley, a group of women chat and braid leather strips for belts and bags on the stoop of a home.”We want new flats, but they are small,” said Sharada Tape, who earns about 100 rupees ($1.50) a day.”There are no spaces like this where we can all sit and work. It will be difficult, but we need the money,” she said.RESIDENTS WANT MORE SAY
City officials last month submitted a new 250 billion rupee ($3.7 billion) redevelopment plan to Maharashtra state for approval after previous plans failed to attract bidders. The new plan, a public-private partnership, has ample commercial space for businesses, but only for the “formal, legitimate” ones, said Debashish Chakrabarty, head of the Dharavi Redevelopment Authority.”All the licensed businesses will have space under the plan. It will be better, cleaner than what they have now,” he said.

“Those that are engaged in informal businesses have the option of applying for commercial licences, then they can also get a space. If they don’t, then we can’t help them,” he said.It is this narrow definition of what’s legal and permissible that is the biggest challenge, not just to recognising Dharavi’s businesses, but also determining Dharavi’s fate, said Rahul Srivastava, a founder of the Institute of Urbanology in Mumbai.”The biggest impediment to the improvement of many of these settlements is the misconception that they are illegitimate, because residents don’t own the land they occupy,” he said.”Can settlements which are home to fifth-generation migrants be called ‘informal’? We need to transform our perception of these neighbourhoods,” he said.Across the country, plans to build modern Smart Cities will force tens of thousands of people from their slum homes as planners spruce up central business districts and build metro train lines, activists say.Campaigners say until authorities give Dharavi residents more power and recognise the vital role of their businesses, any redevelopment plan is destined to fail.”If we don’t have these small enterprises, it wouldn’t be Dharavi,” said Jockin Arputham, president of the National Slum Dwellers’ Federation in Mumbai.”This is a people-sponsored economic zone, and the redevelopment should be around the economic zone. It is a township, not a slum, and it should be treated as one,” he said.Abdullah, the plastic recycler, is reconciled to his fate.”We want development. We also want to keep our businesses,” he said.”But we have to be prepared for any eventuality. We are not owners of the land, so we may have to shut down,” he said.($1 = 66.5075 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Paola Totaro.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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Radwanska powers past Konta to capture China Open title | Reuters

Radwanska powers past Konta to capture China Open title | Reuters

Updated: Oct 9, 2016 17:18 IST

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Agnieszka Radwanska collected her 20th career WTA title after a dominant 6-4 6-2 victory over Britain’s Johanna Konta in the China Open final on Sunday. Third seed Radwanska, the 2011 champion, did not drop a set on her run to the title and closed out her win over Konta in an hour an 36 minutes. Konta, who is guaranteed a top-10 spot when the new rankings are released and is the first British woman to rise so high since Jo Durie in 1984, committed 34 unforced errors against Radwanska and struggled on serve.The Pole finished with just eight unforced errors and wrapped up victory with an ace.”It’s a very special moment; third final and second title here. It was a really special week for me and it couldn’t be any better,” Radwanska told reporters.

“Every title means a lot, but especially here when you play against the best players in the world, in one of the biggest tournaments. It’s top players from the first round and I’ve been playing my best tennis all week.”Konta, who was 146th in the world 17 months ago, has continued a remarkable rise up the rankings despite her defeat.

On her main draw debut at this year’s Australian Open, Konta became the first British woman into the last four of a grand slam in more than 30 years.She also earned her first WTA title at the Stanford Classic in July.

“I’m very pleased with my progress over the past few years and hopefully many more places to climb. I’m just working hard towards playing matches like these, against players like Agnieszka,” Konta said.Radwanska, who bowed out in the fourth round of the U.S. Open last month, also won the Connecticut Open and Shenzhen Open earlier this year and has qualified for the WTA Finals in Singapore. (Reporting by Ian Rodricks in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)

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Opec agrees modest oil output curbs in first deal since 2008; prices zoom more than 5%

Algiers – Opec agreed on Wednesday modest oil output cuts in the first such deal since 2008, with the group’s leader Saudi Arabia softening its stance on arch-rival Iran amid mounting pressure from low oil prices.

“Opec made an exceptional decision today … After two and a half years, Opec reached consensus to manage the market,” said Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, who had repeatedly clashed with Saudi Arabia during previous meetings.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

He and other ministers said the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would reduce output to a range of 32.5-33.0 million barrels per day. Opec estimates its current output at 33.24 million bpd.

“We have decided to decrease the production around 700,000 bpd,” Zanganeh said.

The move would effectively re-establish Opec production ceilings abandoned a year ago.

However, how much each country will produce is to be decided at the next formal Opec meeting in November, when an invitation to join cuts could also be extended to non-Opec countries such as Russia.

Oil prices jumped more than 5 percent to trade above $48 per barrel as of 2015 GMT. Many traders said they were impressed Opec had managed to reach a compromise after years of wrangling but others said they wanted to see the details.

“This is the first Opec deal in eight years! The cartel proved that it still matters even in the age of shale! This is the end of the ‘production war’ and Opec claims victory,” said Phil Flynn, senior energy analyst at Price Futures Group.

Jeff Quigley, director of energy markets at Houston-based Stratas Advisors, said the market had yet to discover who would produce what: “I want to hear from the mouth of the Iranian oil minister that he’s not going to go back to pre-sanction levels. For the Saudis, it just goes against the conventional wisdom of what they’ve been saying.”.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Tuesday that Iran, Nigeria and Libya would be allowed to produce “at maximum levels that make sense” as part of any output limits.

That represents a strategy shift for Riyadh, which had said it would reduce output to ease a global glut only if every other Opec and non-Opec producer followed suit. Iran has argued it should be exempt from such limits as its production recovers after the lifting of EU sanctions earlier this year.

The Saudi and Iranian economies depend heavily on oil but in a post-sanctions environment, Iran is suffering less pressure from the halving in crude prices since 2014 and its economy could expand by almost 4 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Riyadh, on the other hand, faces a second year of budget deficits after a record gap of $98 billion last year, a stagnating economy and is being forced to cut the salaries of government employees.

OIL PRICE PRESSURES

Saudi Arabia is by far the largest OPEC producer with output of more than 10.7 million bpd, on par with Russia and the United States. Together, the three largest global producers extract a third of the world’s oil.

Iran’s production has been stagnant at 3.6 million bpd in the past three months, close to pre-sanctions levels although Tehran says it wants to ramp up output to more than 4 million bpd when foreign investments in its fields kick in.

Saudi oil revenue has halved over the past two years, forcing Riyadh to liquidate billions of dollars of overseas assets every month to pay bills and cut domestic fuel and utility subsidies last year.

“The Iranians have lived with a very tough macro backdrop for many years…” said Raza Agha, chief Middle East economist at investment bank VTB Capital. “So a sustained drop in oil prices has a more difficult social impact on Saudi.”

However, with unemployment in double digits, Tehran is also facing calls to maximize oil revenues and President Hassan Rouhani is under pressure from conservative opponents to deliver a faster economic recovery.

Oil prices are well below the budget requirements of most Opec nations. But attempts to reach an output deal have also been complicated by political rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which are fighting several proxy-wars in the Middle East, including in Syria and Yemen.

Opec sources have said Saudi Arabia offered to reduce its output from summer peaks of 10.7 million bpd to around 10.2 million if Iran agreed to freeze production at around current levels of 3.6-3.7 million bpd.

Riyadh has raised production in recent years to compete for market share while Iran’s output was limited by sanctions. Minister Zanganeh has said Iran wanted an output cap of close to 4 million bpd. Saudi output drops in winter when it needs less fuel than during summer, when cooling requirements spike.

Modi defends under-fire outgoing RBI chief Rajan | Reuters

NEW DELHI Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised outgoing Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan on Monday, days after the central bank chief made public his decision to stand down after just one three-year term.

In his first comments since Rajan announced his decision, Modi said he had a good working relationship with the central bank chief. Modi also defended Rajan in the face of strident criticism from right-wing members of his ruling political party.

Those who created controversies were being unjust to Rajan, Modi told Times Now TV in a rare interview, adding the central banker’s patriotism was “no less than any of ours”.

(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Douglas Busvine)

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Clinton campaign hits Trump for seeing Brexit as boon to his business | Reuters

WASHINGTON Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign accused Donald Trump on Sunday of caring more about how Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union would benefit his financial bottom line than how it would impact the U.S. economy.

Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook acknowledged parallels between the populist anger and anti-establishment fervor that fueled the Brexit vote and Trump’s rise to the nomination, but said the Republican candidate’s reaction showed he was not fit to occupy the White House.

“Hillary Clinton looks at this through the lens of how it’s going to affect middle-class families, Donald Trump through the lens of how it will help his bottom line,” Mook said on “Fox News Sunday.”

In a national television ad released on Sunday, the Clinton campaign featured the wealthy real estate developer’s comments on Friday that the fall of the British currency after the Brexit vote could mean more business for his golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, where he was speaking.

“Every president is tested by world events, but Donald Trump thinks about how his golf resort can profit from them,” said the 30-second ad.

Paul Manafort, campaign chairman for Trump, rejected the Clinton charge and said Trump was more in sync with the global economic frustration exemplified by the Brexit vote. In contrast, the Clinton ad showed her campaign’s “tone deafness” by focusing on things the American people did not care about, he said.

“The American people care about what is going to happen to their lives, about change. And the issues of Brexit, this kind of phony ad, doesn’t address those things,” Manafort said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

BREXIT PARALLELS IN U.S.

Global stock markets nosedived on Friday and economic experts warned of a potential global recession after the shocking British vote to pull out of the European Union. As the terms of the exit became mired in turmoil over the weekend, markets prepared for the possibility of more pain on Monday.

The unexpected outcome quickly reverberated through the Nov. 8 race for the White House on Friday. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, called Brexit a model for his insurgent campaign, while Clinton, his likely Democratic rival, said the uncertainty underscores the need for “calm, steady, experienced leadership.”

Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Brexit vote highlighted global anxieties about economic stagnation and immigration.

“The genius of what’s happened with the candidacy of Donald Trump is he’s given voice to that, just as was given in the UK,” Corker, who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick for Trump, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

He said he thought Trump’s appearance at his golf course in Scotland after the Brexit vote “was one of his best events” and his comments about the British currency and what it would mean for his businesses were just “an anecdotal statement” about its effects.

“He was giving an example, which is obvious, that when the currency fluctuates, as it does, more Americans are going to be able to travel to the U.K. more cheaply,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the Brexit vote showed people were tired of being dictated to by “unelected bureaucrats in Brussels,” and said there were parallels in the United States.

“You see the same thing here. We have had a regulatory rampage over the last six years. A lot of the people the president has put on these boards and commissions in his government are pursuing policies that we haven’t passed in Congress,” McConnell said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who built his White House campaign against Clinton around populist proposals to eradicate income inequality, remove big money from politics and rein in Wall Street, said the Brexit vote encapsulated many of those concerns.

“What ordinary people are saying is ‘hey, give us an economy that works for all of us, not just the people on top,’ and I think that is to a significant degree what this Brexit vote was about,” Sanders said on CNN.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan and Julia Harte; Editing by Mary Milliken)

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Preview: Messi primed to end Argentina drought in Copa final | Reuters

Chile face Argentina in Sunday’s Copa America final for the right to call themselves South America’s dominant team but perhaps an even bigger question for football fans the world over regards whether Lionel Messi can finally win a major international title.

The Barcelona forward has won every trophy possible with the Spanish club but he has lost three finals with Argentina, including in 2014 World Cup Final in 2014 and the Copa America last year.

Sunday’s game against Chile in New Jersey gives Messi a chance to end both his personal hoodoo and that of Argentina, who have not won a major title since lifting the Copa America in Ecuador in 1993.

“Getting to three finals in a row is impressive,” said Messi, whose first decider was a 3-0 loss to Brazil in the 2007 Copa America. “I hope we can win the Cup that we so desire.”

Argentina lost to Chile on penalties in the final last year and Messi said the squad were better prepared this time around.

“You learn all the time,” said Messi, who turned 29 on Friday.

“We have been working together for another year, we are stronger as a group and we’ve really grown in a lot of ways.”

The five-times world player of the year has been outstanding at the Centenary Copa America, even though he played the first three games as a substitute after injuring his back in a warm-up game.

His sublime free kick in the 4-0 win over the United States took him on to 55 goals and above Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s all-time leading goalscorer.

Messi called the performance against the U.S. “perfect” and he will not have forgotten that Argentina beat Chile 2-1 in their opening match on June 6.

RED HOT CHILE

However, the Chileans have improved since, beating Bolivia and Panama before hammering Mexico 7-0 in what was undoubtedly the performance of the tournament.

Coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, who replaced Jorge Sampaoli in January, is now settled in the job and he has Chile playing the same high-paced pressing and super-fast counter attacks that make them such an exciting team to watch.

“This team has created an identity,” the Argentine-born Pizzi said after the semi-final.

“It’s a group of winners, I can see that just talking with them. That’s not because they win games because we don’t win every time but in their heads they are convinced they are going to win. That mentality allows them to grow stronger and gives them the confidence to keep going.”

Chile will have the dynamic Artur Vidal back after suspension and Pizzi hopes central midfielder Marcelo Diaz will recover from the muscle injury that kept him out the 2-0 win over Colombia in the semi-final.

They are on a high and confident that they will do the double over their neighbours.

But they will not have their home fans behind them this time and there is one other detail. The last time Messi played at the MetLife stadium was also in June and also against a South American side.

Argentina beat Brazil 4-3 in a friendly in 2012. Messi scored a hat-trick.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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Opioid painkillers destined for IS fighters were a legal consignment from India

The Greek authorities which recently seized a massive consignment from the port of Piraeus are investigating the export from India and the intended receiver in Libya for their association in smuggling large shipments of Tramadol with the latter trading the supply to keep the IS militants high and energised on the front-lines. The traces of the consignment containing millions of tiny opioid reliever pills have been found to be shipped from India — a major market for the sale of Tramadol — by an export company based in the by-lanes of old Delhi with the drugs manufactured in Punjab.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Internationally Tramadol is not a controlled drug, its sale for treatment of moderate to severe pain, however, is prohibited over the counter without doctor’s prescription and restricted for medical use only. In Greece, the Financial Crime unit confiscated the container from India as it arrived in May. Officially declared as a cargo but allegedly concealing, 479 cartons filled with packets of 26 million pills of Tramadol Hydrochloride 225 mg. This is the biggest drug haul in Greece with an estimated market value of US $13 million.Located in the eastern Mediterranean port city of Tobruk in Libya which has presence of IS fighters, Al Murooj company is suspected to be dealing with of IS members based in Syria. Earlier another container with opioid painkillers ordered by the same export company was confiscated in Dubai where Tramadol is banned.Greece has stringent rules and requires special permit for export trade including transit of substances like Tramadol as it’s listed on table IV of law 4139/13 “on addictive substances and other provisions”, a statement from authorities told dna. The container in question is found to have furnished inadequate details on the Tramadol cartons, “as a means of covering (cap) in order to mislead the authorities.”Mohammad Rayyan Usman Exporters, who shipped the consignment from Nhava Sheva port near Mumbai, dismissed the allegations of concealing details of the container and supplying drugs to IS fighters. Details accessed by dna show the said container was declared as carrying “bedsheets, towels, quilts, table covers, curtains, blankets and pharmaceutical products.”Receipts from Evergreen Shipping Agency handling the container declare information on 527 cartons of which 479 carry Tamol X and 48 carry linen with clearance stamps from JNPT Customs department on April 19.Based in Old Delhi’s Daryaganj near Jama Masjid, Usman is a registered exporter of handicrafts, table clothes and pharmaceuticals in Gulf and Middle East countries since 1993. Usman regularly exported Tamol X to Syria prior to war. The outbreak of the conflict in 2011 and its spill-over in the region since, dimmed his business prospect. Last year he made a small consignment for 10 cartons to Lebanon.In February, for the first time he got a call from an operative in Al Murooj Company for a consignment of 400 cartons of Tamol X 225 mg. “And it was a specific demand for Tamol X 225 from Royal company, based in Amritsar,” Usman remembers. Of the 262 manufacturers of Tramadol in India, Amritsar-based Royal International whose product was found in the seized consignment is one of the prominent manufacturers and exporters of the drug since 1996.Royal manufactures Tamol X with a dosage of 225 mg of Tramadol Hydrochloride and was therefore a preferred choice, said Usman. Rajanbir Singh, general manager of Royal International, denied the product in question was being supplied by his company and said he had no knowledge of its abuse by IS fighters.An opioid analgesic or a narcotic-like pain reliever, prescribed for moderate or severe pain and cancer treatment, Tramadol is widely abused to experience a sense of euphoria, sexual enhancement and as energy boosters. On drug forums users reported, “anything over 400 mg is when the risk goes up way more.” One user says he took 15 pills and his body started flushing really hot, had bad ringing in ears and whole body shook up for 30 minutes.The Gulf and Middle East countries, where the armed conflicts fueled growth of an illegal drug economy, demand in trafficking of powerful amphetamines and opioid painkillers from source countries like India has increased. Pills like Captagon and Tramadol are favored by militants for their sedative effects as it makes them ‘invincible’ during fighting.Dr GN Singh, who holds the office of Drugs Controller General of India, said Tramadol is a scheduled drug in the country and its manufacturing is regulated. “We will investigate the case to find if Tramadol was being smuggled and if requisite permissions for export were taken.”

Teenagers’ escape from Indian spinning mill prompts crackdown on labour abuses | Reuters

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Tamil Nadu has launched a crackdown on factories violating labour laws after two teenage girls scaled a wall to escape from a spinning mill where they were forced to work 12-hour shifts and subjected to abuse, officials said.

A women-led trade union, which represent female garment workers in the state, said the girls were found unconscious on Sunday on a highway near the mill where they scaled a 14-foot wall before falling on to thorny bushes.

“But because of excessive bleeding they became unconscious and were found two hours later by residents from nearby villagers,” the Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union said in a report.

It said the girls were forced to work overtime, banned from contacting family or studying. They were also pushed and shoved as they worked, the report said.

A senior local official said an investigation had been ordered into the incident with the state labour department initiating a drive to check working conditions in mills across western Tamil Nadu, a hub for India’s $42 billion-a-year textile and clothing export industry.

“The district administration will inspect all mills to ensure that the girls are being paid directly and there is no exploitation,” the official from the state labour department, said requesting anonymity.

Officials at the spinning mill did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Activists said the incident highlights the poor working conditions of textile workers, particularly those trapped in bonded labour – forced to work for little or no money to pay off loans, advances on their salary or recruitment fees.

Mills mainly hire young girls, offering 30,000 rupees to 60,000 rupees ($450 to $900) to their families for three years’ work under so-called “Sumangali” schemes with the money paid at the end of the fixed term.

But former workers say they often do not receive the full amount because of deductions for their food and lodging.

A 2014 study into Tamil Nadu’s textile industry found workers were also often subjected to low wages, excessive and sometimes forced overtime requirements, lack of freedom of movement as well as verbal and sexual abuse.

“Different studies and numerous documented case studies reveal repeated stories of exploitation of the adolescents in various forms in textile sector,” said R Paritha, president of the textile union, said in a statement.

S James Victor, advisor with the textile union, criticised a lack of progress over working conditions for textile workers.

“Nothing is changing,” Victor told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Last week, six children were rescued from a mill in Coimbatore and produced before the child welfare committee.

“These cases are making it to the public domain, many more are not.”

($1 = 67.1760 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Katie Nguyen; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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Modi notches Rajya Sabha gains, eyes Uttar Pradesh battle | Reuters

ALLAHABAD, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has notched up gains in elections to the Rajya Sabha, and is seeking to drive home the advantage when his nationalist ruling party meets to devise a strategy to win Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest state.

Modi drew standing ovations from U.S. lawmakers this week on a visit to Washington D.C. but, like President Barack Obama, has faced a struggle in his two years in power to get legislation through a hostile second chamber.

That job may have become slightly less difficult after his nationalist the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies added five seats in Saturday’s Rajya Sabha polls, but with 74 seats in the 245-chamber they remain in a minority.

BJP leaders were due to meet later on Sunday to finalise their strategy to win the 2017 election in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, knowing that defeat would handicap Modi and sap his chances of winning a second term.

“We have to win Uttar Pradesh to change the destiny of India,” BJP national secretary Sidharth Nath Singh said to Reuters ahead of the two-day meeting in Allahabad, eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The opposition Congress alliance lost three seats to 71, with regional parties holding the balance of power, according to media tallies. With Congress down but not yet out, Modi will still have to cut deals to pass tax, labour and land reforms.

Modi swept Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 general election, helping him to claim the biggest Lok Sabha majority in three decades. But he is unlikely to repeat that result against tough opposition from regional parties.

A senior BJP official said Modi’s closed-door brainstorming session would mobilise grassroots activists to consolidate the majority Hindu vote base and devise a formula to play up Hindu-Muslim polarisation and caste politics.

(Editing by Douglas Busvine and Christian Schmollinger)

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Family will not sue Cincinnati zoo over child-gorilla incident | Reuters

CINCINNATI The family of a 3-year-old boy who fell into an animal enclosure, prompting the killing of an endangered gorilla, said on Wednesday that it would not sue the Cincinnati Zoo over the incident.

The family, whose name has been withheld by police, said through a spokeswoman, Gail Myers, that the boy was doing well. They had said earlier on social media that he had a concussion and scrapes. They asked well-wishers not to send them financial gifts, but to make any donations to the zoo.

A 17-year-old western lowland silverback gorilla named Harambe was shot and killed by zoo staff on Saturday after the boy fell into its enclosure.

Witnesses have said the boy expressed a desire to get into the enclosure and climbed over a 3-foot (1-meter) barrier, then fell 15 feet (4.6 m) into a moat.

Cincinnati police are investigating whether to bring charges against the child’s parents. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters said in a statement that police would confer with his office after they had looked into the matter.

The family declined to comment on the investigation.

Mounting outrage over the killing of Harambe has sparked criticism of the zoo and the child’s parents. Online petitions at change.org have more than 676,000 signatures demanding “Justice for Harambe.”

The Cincinnati Police Department released on Wednesday recordings of emergency calls made by the child’s mother and witnesses.

“My son fell in with the gorillas. There’s a male gorilla standing over him. I need someone to contact the zoo, please,” the mother told an operator. “He’s dragging my son …”

The animal rights group Stop Animal Exploitation Now said on Tuesday it would file a negligence complaint against the zoo with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The group is seeking the maximum penalty of $10,000.

U.S. zoos are left to decide under federal rules how to make animal exhibits safe.

(Writing and additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales and Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Bill Trott, Toni Reinhold)

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U.S. FDA calls for sharp reduction in salt added to foods | Reuters

U.S. health officials recommended cutting the amount of salt added to foods to help Americans reduce their sodium consumption by about a third, according to proposed guidelines that are likely to have a wide-ranging impact on the processed food industry in the United States.

Increased sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke — two major causes of death in the United States.

The average sodium intake in the United States is about 3,400 mg per day. The guidelines set targets for the food industry to help reduce sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a statement. (1.usa.gov/282RWBD)

The health agency said the voluntary guidelines would apply to major food manufacturers and restaurants.

About half of every food dollar goes to food consumed outside the home, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Many U.S. food companies, including Campbell Soup Co, General Mills Inc and Kraft Heinz Co, have already cut salt levels to some extent in anticipation of the guidelines, which have been in the works since 2011.

The FDA said it encouraged feedback over a stipulated comment period that ranges from 90 days to 150 days.

The guidelines come days after the FDA said it plans a major overhaul of the way packaged foods are labeled to reflect the amount of added sugar and specific serving sizes. (reut.rs/1XnPNvj)

(Reporting by Amrutha Penumudi in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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HSBC cutting ‘dozens’ of senior jobs in investment bank – sources | Reuters

LONDON HSBC has begun cutting senior posts in its investment banking division in a cull that could lead to dozens of staff worldwide losing their jobs, according to sources with direct knowledge of the cuts.

HSBC began informing staff in its global banking and markets division in London last week, one of the sources said, with a further round of cuts this week expected to affect around 10 senior people in the unit.

A spokesman for HSBC declined to comment.

The latest round of job cuts at Europe’s biggest bank shows new co-chief of global banking Matthew Westerman is making his mark, two of the sources said.

HSBC announced in February that Westerman would be joining from Goldman Sachs to become co-head of global banking in its investment bank, alongside Robin Phillips. The bank announced at the same time it would enlarge the global banking unit by merging its capital financing business into it.

Capital financing, which helped companies raise funds by debt and equity offerings, had become a separate unit under Spencer Lake in a prior reorganisation in 2013.

Its integration back into the banking division has resulted in a number of duplicated and overlapping roles that are now being eliminated to cut costs, the sources said.

HSBC said last June it would slash nearly one in five jobs, as Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver seeks to combat sluggish growth across the lender’s sprawling empire.

Part of that cull involves cutting back risk weighted assets in the investment banking and trading unit of the bank, known as global banking and markets, by up to one third.

(Reporting By Anjuli Davies and Lawrence White, additional reporting by Sophie Sassard, Freya Berry and Sumeet Chatterjee in Hong Kong; Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Susan Thomas)

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Amber Heard accuses estranged husband Johnny Depp of domestic violence | Reuters

LOS ANGELES Actress Amber Heard obtained a restraining order on Friday against her estranged husband Johnny Depp after accusing the actor of verbal, emotional and physical abuse, days after she filed for divorce to end their 15-month marriage.

Heard, 30, said in court filings that Depp, 52, was abusive to her throughout their marriage, culminating in an argument on Saturday night in which he hurled a cell phone into her face and shattered various objects in her apartment.

The filings includes pictures of Heard’s injured face. She appeared to have a bruise on her right cheek as she left a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

The judge granted a temporary restraining order for Depp to stay at least 100 yards away from Heard and move out of the couple’s shared condominium in downtown Los Angeles. A hearing on the order is scheduled for June 17.

In Heard’s declaration filed with the restraining order application, she said she was seeking $50,000 a month for spousal support.

In a counter argument filed Friday, Depp’s lawyer argued that Heard “is attempting to secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse.”

The judge did not immediately grant Heard’s requests for Depp to undergo anger management sessions or for her to have sole possession of the couple’s pet dog Pistol – the same dog at the centre of the couple’s legal trouble in Australia after Heard breached the country’s tight biosecurity laws.

The actress filed the divorce petition in a Los Angeles court on Monday, citing irreconcilable differences.

Heard declined to speak to reporters as she left court on Friday. Depp was attending a charity event in Lisbon, Portugal and was not in court. His representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One of Hollywood’s top actors and box office draws, Depp currently stars in Disney’s “Alice through the Looking Glass,” opening in theatres on Friday. Disney declined to comment on Depp.

“Given the brevity of this marriage and the most recent and tragic loss of his mother, Johnny will not respond to any of the salacious false stories, gossip, misinformation and lies about his personal life,” a Depp representative said Thursday, according to People.

“Hopefully the dissolution of this short marriage will be resolved quickly.”

Depp and Heard, best known for “Friday Night Lights” and “Pineapple Express,” married in February 2015 after meeting on the set of the 2011 film “The Rum Diary.”

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Additional reporting and writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Trott and Dan Grebler)

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Rosetta spacecraft finds key building blocks for life in a comet | Reuters

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Scientists for the first time have directly detected key organic compounds in a comet, bolstering the notion that these celestial objects delivered such chemical building blocks for life long ago to Earth and throughout the solar system.

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft made several detections of the amino acid glycine, used by living organisms to make proteins, in the cloud of gas and dust surrounding Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, scientists said on Friday.

Glycine previously was indirectly detected in samples returned to Earth in 2006 from another comet, Wild 2. But there were contamination issues with the samples, which landed in the Utah desert, that complicated the scientific analysis.

“Having found glycine in more than one comet shows that neither Wild 2 nor 67P are exceptions,” said Rosetta scientist Kathrin Altwegg of the University of Bern in Switzerland, who led the research published in the journal Science Advances.

The discovery implies that glycine is a common ingredient in regions of the universe where stars and planets have formed, Altwegg said.

“Amino acids are everywhere, and life could possibly also start in many places in the universe,” Altwegg added.

Altwegg and colleagues also found phosphorus, a key element in all living organisms, and other organic molecules in dust surrounding comet 67P. It was the first time phosphorus was found around a comet.Scientists have long debated the circumstances around the origin of life on Earth billions of years ago, including the hypothesis that comets and asteroids carrying organic molecules crashed into the oceans on the Earth early in its history.”Meteorites and now comets prove that Earth has been seeded with many critical biomolecules over its entire history,” said University of Washington astronomer Donald Brownlee, who led NASA’s Stardust comet sample return mission. Scientists plan to use Rosetta to look for other complex organic compounds around the same comet.

“You need more than amino acids to form a living cell,” Altwegg said. “It’s the multitude of molecules which make up the ingredients for life.” Rosetta is due to end its two-year mission at 67P by flying very close to the comet and then crash-land onto its surface this September.

67P is in an elliptical orbit that loops around the sun between the orbits of the planets Jupiter and Earth. The comet is heading back out toward Jupiter after reaching its closest approach to the sun last August.

(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Afghanistan signs draft accord with militant leader | Reuters

KABUL Afghanistan signed a draft agreement with the Hezb-e-Islami militant group on Wednesday in a move the government hopes could lead to a full peace accord with one of the most notorious warlords in the insurgency.

Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is a veteran of decades of Afghan war and rights groups have accused his group of widespread abuses, particularly during the civil war of the early 1990s, when he briefly served as prime minister.

The United States has also linked the group to al Qaeda and the Taliban and put Hekmatyar on its designated terrorist list.

Hezb-e-Islami has played only a minor role in the Taliban-led insurgency in recent years and the deal is unlikely to have any immediate practical impact on security.

But with little sign that the Taliban are ready to join peace talks, the deal offers President Ashraf Ghani’s government a concrete sign that it is making headway in drawing insurgent groups away from the battlefield and into the political process.

Mohammad Khan, deputy to government Chief Executive Abdullah, said the draft accord was a positive step but more work would be needed for a final deal.

“We are optimistic about this agreement and we strongly support it,” he told reporters in Kabul before the accord was signed by a delegation from Hekmatyar’s party and officials from Afghanistan’s High Peace Council. But he added: “This doesn’t mean it’s finalised.”

A tweet from Ghani’s deputy spokesman said the accord was at the stage of endorsement and verification but had not been signed by the president.

The announcement came as officials from Pakistan, the United States, China and Afghanistan held another round of meetings, in Pakistan, aimed at laying the ground for peace talks with the Taliban, who have refused to join the talks.

Human rights groups have criticised the move towards a deal with Hekmatyar’s group but the pressure on the government for some sign of progress in bringing peace appears to have outweighed the concerns.

Under the terms of the draft, members of Hezb-e-Islami would be offered an amnesty, similar to that offered in 2007 to warlords accused of war crimes as well as a release of prisoners held by Afghan authorities.

The government would also work to have the group removed from a U.N. blacklist.

The group, which for years had close ties with Pakistan, would not join the government but would be recognised as a political party and be involved in major political decisions.

In 2003, the U.S. State Department included Hekmatyar on its terrorist list, accusing him of participating in and supporting attacks by al Qaeda and the Taliban.

His group was most recently blamed for a 2013 attack in Kabul in which two U.S. soldiers and four U.S. civilian contractors as well as eight Afghans were killed.

(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Stuttgart relegated after 41 years, late winner saves Werder | Reuters

BERLIN Former champions VfB Stuttgart were relegated from the Bundesliga for the first time in 41 years after losing 3-1 at VfL Wolfsburg in the top-flight season finale on Saturday.

Werder Bremen staged a last-gasp escape with Papy Djilobodji’s 88th-minute strike giving them a 1-0 win over visiting relegation rivals Eintracht Frankfurt.

While Werder kept their place in the Bundesliga, their opponents go into a playoff against Nuremberg, who finished third in the second division.

Stuttgart, who needed a win to have a chance at earning the playoff place, quickly fell two goals behind in the first half as one of the Bundesliga’s founding clubs faced their second relegation after 1975.

Daniel Didavi’s 78th-minute goal gave them a glimmer of hope but Andre Schuerrle sealed Wolfsburg’s win in the final minute with his second goal of the game.

The 2007 Bundesliga champions ended up with the worst ever defensive Bundesliga record, having let in 75 goals and having also scored a record seven own goals in the process.

“It is an extremely bitter and sad day for the club,” said Stuttgart coach Juergen Kramny, who took over from Alexander Zorniger in November.

“The relegation hits us very hard. We will now need some time to process all of this. We had enough chances in the past weeks to get points but failed to do so.”

LEWANDOWSKI RECORD

Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski took the honours as the league’s top scorer with 30 goals after netting in the champions’ 3-1 victory over already-relegated Hanover 96.

The Poland striker is the first player to score at least 30 goals in a season since Dieter Mueller in 1977 and became the first foreign Bundesliga top scorer to net 30 times or more as he won the title for the second time in three seasons.

Bayern’s title celebrations on coach Pep Guardiola’s last home game, before his move to Manchester City, were cut short after several hundred fans invaded the pitch for the traditional beer showers and trophy ceremony.

“Normally these games can be dull but it was an exciting encounter with a lot of intensity,” said Guardiola, whose team face Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup final on May 21.

“Now we will enjoy the day and celebrate and then we will prepare for the Cup final.”

Borussia Moenchengladbach sealed fourth place with a 2-0 win at Darmstadt 98 and will go into the Champions League playoffs.

Borussia Dortmund, 10 points behind Bayern in second place, managed a 2-2 draw at home to Cologne while Bayer Leverkusen, who secured third place weeks ago, rounded off the season with a 3-2 comeback win over visitors Ingolstadt.

Schalke 04, who announced just before their game that coach Andre Breitenreiter would be sacked at the end of the season, crushed Hoffenheim 4-1 away to clinch a Europa League spot.

Mainz 05 battled to a 0-0 draw at Hertha Berlin to finish sixth and snatch the last automatic Europa League spot from the hosts, who will go into the competition’s qualifying rounds.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar)

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Doping programme behind Russian medals at Sochi Olympics – report | Reuters

Dozens of Russian athletes who competed at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, including at least 15 medal winners, were part of a state-run doping programme, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The report is broadly consistent with revelations by an independent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commission last November of widespread state-sponsored doping in Russia, which led to a ban on the country competing in international athletics competitions.

Unless that ban is lifted, Russian athletics competitors will miss the Rio Olympics in Brazil, set to run Aug. 5-21.

According to the New York Times report, which is based largely on evidence from Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of the country’s anti-doping laboratory during the Sochi Olympics, those involved included some of Russia’s biggest stars of the Games, including 14 members of its cross-country ski team and two veteran bobsledders who won two golds.

The newspaper said it could not independently verify Rodchenkov’s account of the doping operation. Reuters was not able to verify details of the New York Times report.

Russian anti-doping experts and members of the intelligence services secretly broke into tamper-proof bottles to replace urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean urine collected months earlier, the New York Times reported, citing Rodchenkov, who ran Russia’s drug testing lab.

By the end of the 2014 Olympics, as many as 100 dirty urine samples were expunged, Rodchenkov told the newspaper.

“We were fully equipped, knowledgeable, experienced and perfectly prepared for Sochi like never before,” Rodchenkov is quoted as saying in the report, which stated he received the prestigious Order of Friendship by Russian President Vladimir Putin after the Sochi Olympics. “It was working like a Swiss watch.”

Rodchenkov resigned from his position last November after the Moscow-based laboratory he oversaw stopped operating when its accreditation was suspended by WADA.

“These allegations are very detailed and very worrying and we ask the World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate immediately,” International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said in a statement. “Based on the findings of a WADA inquiry the IOC will not hesitate to act with its usual policy of zero tolerance for doping and defending the clean athletes.”

The report is the latest alleging widespread performance-enhancing drug use by the country’s athletes. In the past week, CBS News aired an interview with a whistleblower, saying that at least four of Russia’s gold medal winners at the Sochi Olympics were using steroids.

Putin staked his reputation on the Sochi Games, which at around $50 billion was the most expensive in Olympic history. Russia led all countries with 13 gold medals and 33 overall at in Sochi.

Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko dismissed the New York Times report as nonsense, according to the TASS news agency.

“I believe these guys, they are outstanding athletes, the charges are nonsense,” Mutko, who has previously said doping checks at Sochi were under the control of international experts, was quoted as saying. “The charges against them are groundless. We will study this article and see how to react.”

According to the New York Times report, Rodchenkov was given a list that named the athletes involved in the doping programme and their competition schedule and was to substitute their samples if any went on to win a medal.

“This is as bad as we’ve seen assuming what Rodchenkov says is true, and he does have the knowledge of what was going on,” former WADA president Dick Pound, who headed the independent commission last year, told Reuters. “There’s no reason ever to think that track and field was the only sport affected by the Russian system.”

The head of Russia’s Cross-country Skiing Federation Elena Vyalbe told Russia’s R-Sport news agency that there was “no doping.”

Russian skeleton team head coach Willi Schneider told TASS the latest allegations had not been proven. “These are just rumors,” he said.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Bill Rigby)

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Almost two-thirds of Germans think Islam doesn’t belong to their country – poll | Reuters

BERLIN Almost two-thirds of Germans think Islam does not “belong” to their country, a survey showed on Thursday, indicating changing attitudes following militant Islamist attacks in Europe and the arrival of more than a million, mostly Muslim, migrants last year.

Former German president Christian Wulff sparked controversy in 2010 when he said Islam belonged to Germany, a comment repeated by Chancellor Angela Merkel last year.

Six years ago, 49 percent of Germans agreed with Wulff and 47 percent did not.

Thursday’s poll, carried out by Infratest dimap for broadcaster WDR, showed that the mood has shifted, with 60 percent now saying that Islam does not belong to Germany. It showed 34 percent thought it did belong.

Scepticism about the religion was greatest among older people, with 71 percent over the age of 64 believing Islam does not belong to the country.

Germany is home to around four million Muslims, about five percent of the total population, and unease over the religion is on the rise, especially in the wake of deadly Islamic State attacks in Brussels and Paris.

Earlier this month members of the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) backed an election manifesto that says Islam is not compatible with the constitution and calls for a ban on minarets and the burqa.

Just over half of Germans are concerned that the influence of Islam in Germany will become too strong due to the influx of refugees, the Infratest dimap poll showed.

Fears about an Islamist terrorist attack in Germany are also rife, with almost three-quarters of Germans worried about the possibility.

The survey of 1,003 Germans was conducted between May 2 and May 3.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)

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Parties at center of $81 million cyber heist say working together | Reuters

NEW YORK The three parties directly affected by one of the biggest-ever cyber heists said they agreed on Tuesday to work together to recover $81 million that was stolen, track down the criminals involved and protect the global financial system from other breaches.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William Dudley, Bangladesh Bank Governor Fazle Kabir and representatives from global messaging network SWIFT met in Basel, Switzerland on Tuesday to discuss the early-February heist.

“All parties stated their concern over this event and their continued commitment to work together to normalize operations,” they said in a joint statement.

“The parties also agreed to pursue jointly certain common goals: to recover the entire proceeds of the fraud and bring the perpetrators to justice, and protect the global financial system from these types of attacks.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer)

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Scientists peel back the carrot’s genetic secrets | Reuters

WASHINGTON Scientists have gotten to the root of the carrot, genetically speaking.   

Researchers said on Monday they have sequenced the genome of the carrot, an increasingly important root crop worldwide, identifying genes responsible for traits including the vegetable’s abundance of vitamin A, an important nutrient for vision.   

The genome may point to ways to improve carrots through breeding, including increasing their nutrients and making them more productive and more resistant to disease, pest and drought, the researchers said.   

The vitamin A in carrots arises from their orange pigments, known as carotenoids. The study identified genes responsible for carotenoids as well as pest and disease resistance and other characteristics. In addition to eyesight, vitamin A also is important for immune function, cellular communication, healthy skin and other purposes.   

The researchers sequenced the genome of a bright orange variety of the vegetable called the Nantes carrot, named for the French city. The carrot genome contained about 32,000 genes, a typical total for plants, which average around 30,000 genes, which is more than the human genome.   

“Carrots are an interesting crop to work on because of their wide range of diversity. They are familiar to everyone, and generally well-regarded by consumers, but like most familiar things, people don’t necessarily know the background stories,” said University of Wisconsin horticulture professor and geneticist Phil Simon, who led the study published in the journal Nature Genetics.   

Worldwide carrot consumption quadrupled between 1976 and 2013 and they now rank in the top 10 vegetable crops globally, the researchers said. In the past four decades, carrots have been bred to be more orange and more nutritious, with 50 percent more nutrients.   

The earliest record of carrots as a root crop dates from 1,100 years ago in Afghanistan, but those were yellow carrots and purple ones, not orange ones. Paintings from 16th century Spain and Germany provide the first unmistakable evidence for orange carrots.   

Knowledge of the carrot genome could lead to improvement of similar crops, from parsnips to the cassava, the researchers said. Close relatives of carrots include celery, parsley, parsnips, coriander, cilantro, dill, fennel, cumin and caraway. The common weed called Queen Anne’s Lace is a wild carrot.   

The wild ancestors of carrots were white, the researchers said. While orange carrots are most commonly grown, some purple and yellow carrots are grown from the Middle East to South Asia, while some red carrots are grown in Asia.

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Exclusive: Big data breaches found at major email services – expert | Reuters

FRANKFURT Hundreds of millions of hacked user names and passwords for email accounts and other websites are being traded in Russia’s criminal underworld, a security expert told Reuters.

The discovery of 272.3 million stolen accounts included a majority of users of Mail.ru (MAILRq.L), Russia’s most popular email service, and smaller fractions of Google (GOOGL.O), Yahoo (YHOO.O) and Microsoft (MSFT.O) email users, said Alex Holden, founder and chief information security officer of Hold Security.

It is one of the biggest stashes of stolen credentials to be uncovered since cyber attacks hit major U.S. banks and retailers two years ago.

Holden was previously instrumental in uncovering some of the world’s biggest known data breaches, affecting tens of millions of users at Adobe Systems (ADBE.O), JPMorgan (JPM.N) and Target (TGT.N) and exposing them to subsequent cyber crimes.

The latest discovery came after Hold Security researchers found a young Russian hacker bragging in an online forum that he had collected and was ready to give away a far larger number of stolen credentials that ended up totalling 1.17 billion records.

After eliminating duplicates, Holden said, the cache contained nearly 57 million Mail.ru accounts – a big chunk of the 64 million monthly active email users Mail.ru said it had at the end of last year. It also included tens of millions of credentials for the world’s three big email providers, Gmail, Microsoft and Yahoo, plus hundreds of thousands of accounts at German and Chinese email providers.

“This information is potent. It is floating around in the underground and this person has shown he’s willing to give the data away to people who are nice to him,” said Holden, the former chief security officer at U.S. brokerage R.W. Baird. “These credentials can be abused multiple times,” he said.

LESS THAN $1

Mysteriously, the hacker asked just 50 roubles – less than $1 – for the entire trove, but gave up the dataset after Hold researchers agreed to post favourable comments about him in hacker forums, Holden said. He said his company’s policy is to refuse to pay for stolen data.

Such large-scale data breaches can be used to engineer further break-ins or phishing attacks by reaching the universe of contacts tied to each compromised account, multiplying the risks of financial theft or reputational damage across the web.

Hackers know users cling to favourite passwords, resisting admonitions to change credentials regularly and make them more complex. It’s why attackers reuse old passwords found on one account to try to break into other accounts of the same user.

After being informed of the potential breach of email credentials, Mail.ru said in a statement emailed to Reuters: “We are now checking, whether any combinations of usernames/passwords match users’ e-mails and are still active.

“As soon as we have enough information we will warn the users who might have been affected,” Mail.ru said in the email, adding that Mail.ru’s initial checks found no live combinations of user names and passwords which match existing emails.

A Microsoft spokesman said stolen online credentials was an unfortunate reality. “Microsoft has security measures in place to detect account compromise and requires additional information to verify the account owner and help them regain sole access.”

Yahoo and Google did not respond to requests for comment.

Yahoo Mail credentials numbered 40 million, or 15 percent of the 272 million unique IDs discovered. Meanwhile, 33 million, or 12 percent, were Microsoft Hotmail accounts and 9 percent, or nearly 24 million, were Gmail, according to Holden.

Thousands of other stolen username/password combinations appear to belong to employees of some of the largest U.S. banking, manufacturing and retail companies, he said.

Stolen online account credentials are to blame for 22 percent of big data breaches, according to a recent survey of 325 computer professionals by the Cloud Security Alliance.

In 2014, Holden, a Ukrainian-American who specialises in Eastern European cyber crime threats, uncovered a cache of 1.2 billion unique credentials that marked the world’s biggest-ever recovery of stolen accounts.

His firm studies cyber threats playing out in the forums and chatrooms that make up the criminal underground, speaking to hackers in their native languages while developing profiles of individual criminals.

Holden said efforts to identify the hacker spreading the current trove of data or the source or sources of the stolen accounts would have exposed the investigative methods of his researchers. Because the hacker vacuumed up data from many sources, researchers have dubbed him “The Collector”.

Ten days ago, Milwaukee-based Hold Security began informing organisations affected by the latest data breaches. The company’s policy is to return data it recovers at little or no cost to firms found to have been breached.

“This is stolen data, which is not ours to sell,” said Holden.

(This version of the story has been refiled to make amends to attribution of comments by Mail.ru in paragraphs 11-12.)

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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Qatar investigates death at World Cup site as labour rights under scrutiny | Reuters

DOHA The organisers of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup said on Sunday they were investigating the death of an Indian labourer at one of its sites but denied it was caused by working conditions which the wealthy Gulf country is under pressure to improve.

Along with accusations of corruption during its World Cup bid, Qatar has long been under fire from rights groups for labour abuses. Last week, world soccer body FIFA urged Qatar to hasten improvements for builders on World Cup sites and said it would monitor conditions.

Qatar, an energy exporter which has the highest income per capita in the world, is also under pressure from the United Nations to address workers’ rights before World Cup construction peaks in 2017.

Labourer Jaleshwar Prasad, 48, fell unconscious on Wednesday while performing steel work at Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor, 50 km (31 miles) north of Doha, a witness told Reuters.

Organisers said the death was not caused by working conditions.

“Al Khor Hospital reported the cause of death as cardiac arrest,” the Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of the 2022 World Cup said in a statement.

“The family of Mr Prasad were informed of the tragedy immediately. A full investigation is underway.”

Qatar’s efforts to become the competition’s first Arab host have been dampened by accusations including that workers were forced to live in squalor and to work without proper access to water and shelter in the blazing sun.

About 5,100 construction workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh are building stadiums in the country.

Unions and labour protests are banned and authorities penalise dissent with jail terms or immediate deportation.

Prasad is the third Indian employed on a World Cup site to die of a heart attack in the last six months, according to a February report by the Supreme Committee.

Qatar’s Supreme Committee says there have been no work-related fatalities on World Cup sites, but law firm DLA Piper, in a review for the government in 2013, found evidence of dozens of work-related deaths across Qatar among migrant labourers from South Asia.

Qatar’s government has also denied claims there are higher instances of heart attacks among construction workers and does not publish independently-verified statistics on worker-related injuries and fatalities.

Autopsies and post-mortems on people who die sudden and unexpected deaths are forbidden by Qatari law unless a crime is suspected.

“Workers dying suddenly from heart attacks is something we hear about often, the causes are not always clear. But we’re moving now into the hottest time of the year when the risk of fatality increases,” said Amnesty Gulf researcher Mustafa Qadri. “When a worker dies, Qatar needs to get to the bottom of what happened. People’s lives are in danger”.

Amnesty reported on abuses at a World Cup stadium in a wide-ranging report three weeks ago based on the accounts of 132 workers.

DLA Piper recommended that Qatar launch an independent study into cardiac deaths among migrant workers.

The head of Qatar’s Supreme Committee has said Doha is working to reduce abuses he described as occurring on construction sites all over the world.

(Reporting by Tom Finn; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Rescued from bondage in Tamil Nadu, tribals work in brick cooperative | Reuters

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Santa Kumar, who spent nine years in bondage working at a brick kiln in Tamil Nadu, is trying to source soil to make more bricks. He knows that keeping the cooperative brick kiln running is important – it keeps him out of renewed bondage.

One of thousands of Irula tribals rescued from brick kilns and rice mills between 2000 and 2009 in and around Kancheepuram district in Tamil Nadu, Kumar is part of a unique cooperative formed to prevent a second cycle of bondage.

“It is very difficult to run but we have freedom. We own it and that makes everything worth it,” Kumar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, sitting in the non-profit Makkal Mandaram commune next to the brick kiln in Mangalapadi village.

“We can take a day off, stop work if there is an emergency. There are no restrictions any more.”

Kumar’s father, a traditional snake catcher, went into bondage to repay a loan. Kumar was then caught in debt bondage when he took a 20,000 rupee ($300) loan to pay for his marriage.

Father and son worked for nine years to repay their 60,000 rupees ($900) of loans.

India is home to almost half the world’s 36 million slaves, according to the 2015 Global Slavery Index produced by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation.

Many are duped into working in farms, brothels, small shops and restaurants as security against a loan they have taken or a debt inherited from a relative.

This kind of exploitation is common in the construction sector, particularly in the unregulated areas of brickmaking and stone quarrying, experts say.

There are no official figures on the number of people employed to cut, shape and bake clay-fired bricks, mostly by hand, in tens of thousands of brick kilns in India.

A 2015 paper by the Centre for Science and Environment said at least 10 million people work in kilns, many located on the edge of towns and cities, making them easily accessible for urban builders.

ESCAPER HELPED FREE BONDED LABOURERS

“We were 30 families who worked endlessly because we were told the loan was still unpaid. When another labourer, Selvam, escaped, he brought help and suddenly we were freed,” Kumar said.

According to government data, more than a quarter of a million bonded labourers have been rescued and compensated since a government scheme was put in place in 1978. But activists say that many of them slip back into bondage.

“Rescued workers getting into rebondage is a reality because most of them don’t have any other skill,” said R Geeta of the Unorganised Workers Federation. “Cooperatives are an effective way to provide them with a livelihood using a skill they know.”

Aware of the poverty and desperation of Kumar and others, Makkal Mandram first floated the idea of a cooperative brick kiln in early 2000.

“The people rescued had no place to go. They had forgotten where their homes were, having been in bondage for years,” said Jessy Gloria, a member of the group.

“They had been enslaved for so long that they had started behaving like slaves. It took many years for them to actually take ownership of the brick kiln.”

The kiln was built on land given by the government and started with contributions from the compensation each rescued labourer had received.

“We all gave 9,000 rupees from the 20,000 we got and slowly built the business,” Kumar recalled. “We over-baked some bricks, didn’t get the process right and suffered losses in the beginning. But we learned from each mistake.”

Nearly 10 years later, the “people’s brick kiln” has started making marginal profits. Batches of up to 80,000 bricks are sold in and around Kancheepuram.

“The quality of the bricks we make is very good but we are a bit more expensive than other kiln owners, who have easy access to soil on their land. It’s a competitive market, but we are surviving,” said Geeta Charusivam, also a member of the commune.

Kumar now sends his children to school and his ageing father approves. “My father didn’t even dream of this life. We only knew bondage. Now we don’t even have to take a loan,” said Kumar, before returning to the problem at hand – finding soil for the next batch of bricks.

($1 = 66.43 rupees)

(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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India orders tanker with disputed Libyan oil to await U.N. instructions | Reuters

NEW DELHI India has instructed an Indian-flagged oil tanker not to discharge its cargo of oil from Libya’s rival eastern government and await instructions from the United Nations, a senior Indian government official said on Thursday.

Libyan U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi wrote to the 15-member sanctions committee on Monday asking for the Distya Ameya tanker to be blacklisted, a letter seen by Reuters showed. The ship left Marsa el-Hariga port late on Monday and was blacklisted on Wednesday.

Deepak Shetty, director general of shipping with India’s Ministry of Shipping, said he had told the vessel’s operator and separately the charterer to instruct the captain not to discharge the cargo “at all, anywhere”. The ship was currently near Malta.

“They will wait for the guidance from the U.N.,” Shetty told Reuters.

“They are now staying put … no oil will be discharged even if the charterer wants them to. They will wait for the U.N. to tell us where the vessel will have to go.”

(Reporting by Nidhi Verma, writing by Jonathan Saul, editing by Dale Hudson)

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Bangladesh professor hacked to death by Islamist militants | Reuters

DHAKA A university professor was hacked to death on Saturday in northwestern Bangladesh, police said, with Islamic State claiming responsibility for the latest in a series of attacks on liberal activists.

Two assailants on a motorcycle attacked Rezaul Karim Siddiquee, 58, an English professor at Rajshahi University, slitting his throat and hacking him to death, Rajshahi city police chief Mohammad Shamsuddin told reporters, quoting witnesses.

He was found lying in a pool of blood near his home, where he was apparently waiting for a bus to the university campus about 200 kilometres (125 miles) northwest of Dhaka when he was attacked.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the killing of the professor for “calling to atheism”, the U.S.-based SITE monitoring service said quoting the militant group’s Amaq Agency.

Police said the murder was similar to other recent attacks on secular bloggers by Islamist militants. But fellow university teachers said Siddiquee, while active in cultural events, never spoke or wrote anything about religion or Islam.

“Professor Rezaul was killed in a similar fashion as the killings of bloggers,” Shamsuddin said, adding he was a peaceful person and had no enemies.

The Muslim-majority nation of 160 million has seen a surge in violent attacks over the past few months in which members of minority Muslim sects and other religious groups have also been targeted.

Five secular bloggers and a publisher have been hacked to death in Bangladesh since February last year.

A group affiliated with al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the killing of a liberal Bangladeshi blogger earlier this month, the SITE has said.

Bangladesh authorities said the homegrown militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team is behind the attacks on online critics of religious extremism.

The gruesome killing on Saturday triggered a protest by teachers and students of the Rajshahi University, blocking a major road and demanding immediate arrest of the killers. Three teachers at the university have been killed in recent years.

Islamic State has also claimed responsibility for the killings of two foreigners, and attacks on mosques and Christian priests in Bangladesh since September, but police said local militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen was behind those attacks.

The government has denied that the Islamic State or al Qaeda groups have a presence in Bangladesh. At least five militants have been killed in shootouts since November as security forces have stepped up a crackdown on Islamist militants looking to establish a sharia-based Muslim state.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

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Obama takes in Hamlet at the Globe on Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary | Reuters

LONDON U.S. President Barack Obama marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on Saturday by visiting the Globe theatre for a 10-minute performance of a scene from Hamlet, where the Danish prince poses the question: “To be or not to be”.

The Globe, with its timbered, white-washed curved-walls, is London’s best-loved monument to the Bard, famous for its open-air performances of the works of England’s greatest playwright.

With the sun illuminating the theatre’s wooden stage through the open roof, Obama was treated to a short private performance and entertained by a troupe of actors playing violins, mandolins, an accordion and penny whistles.

“That was wonderful. I don’t want it to stop,” Obama said of the tale of the melancholy prince before shaking hands with the actors.

The visit was something of a pilgrimage for the 44th President of the United States who has named Shakespeare’s tragedies as among the top three books that have inspired him.

According to a 2008 interview he gave to Rolling Stone, the other two works were Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” and Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.

In 2011, he quoted from one of those Shakespeare tragedies, Richard II, as he toasted Queen Elizabeth II: “To this blessed plot, this Earth, this realm, this England.”

The Globe, the only building in London with permission to have a thatched roof, opened in 1997 and is a replica of the original theatre which was situated a few hundred yards from today’s Globe. That theatre, partly-owned by Shakespeare, burned to the ground in 1613.

The president might have caught a glimpse of some of the other 400th anniversary celebrations as he arrived at the Globe, which has been surrounded by screens along the river that are showing short films of each of Shakespeare’s 37 plays.

The celebrations of the Bard’s life will culminate in the full performance of Hamlet at the Globe later on Saturday, played by actors who return to London after a two-year tour that has taken in 189 countries.

“Shakespeare’s genius captivated and changed the world and men and women across England continue to do that today,” Prime Minister David Cameron said.

“His words about this nation ‘this precious stone set in the silver sea’ remain as potent as the day he wrote them,” Cameron said, quoting from Richard II.

(Writing by Sarah Young; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Susan Fenton)

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Prominent Sikh figure killed in Pakistan | Reuters

PESHAWAR, Pakistan Armed men opened fire and killed a prominent Sikh figure and opposition party worker in Pakistan’s northwest on Friday, authorities said, the latest attack on a religious minority in the majority-Muslim nation.

Soran Singh was a leading figure in Pakistan’s tiny Sikh community and an adviser to a provincial chief minister, representing cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party.

Singh had come from Peshawar to his native village in the Buner valley when he was attacked by gunmen, local police officer Shaukat Khan said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility by any group.

The PTI condemned the killing, saying that Islam’s laws and the Pakistani constitution provided for the protection of religious minorities.

“The brutal killing of Soran Singh is extremely saddening,” a PTI statement attributed to Khan said, describing Singh as a patriotic Pakistani and a loyal party worker.

Sikhs make up less than 1 percent of Pakistan’s 190 million people but many of them see Pakistan as the place where their religion began.

According to police, at least eight Sikhs have been killed in the northwest in 2013 and 2014 – the first recorded sectarian killings of Sikhs in Pakistani history.

(Additional reporting by Asad Hashim in Islamabad, Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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Brussels raids over, no arrests – Reuters witness | Reuters

BRUSSELS Belgian police ended a search of an apartment complex in the central Brussels district of Etterbeek on Saturday without making arrests after having evacuated the building’s residents, a Reuters journalist at the scene said.

The building, which has a shop on the ground floor, had been cordoned off by police and forensics experts entered the premises. Police said snipers had also been deployed.

On Friday, police detained two key suspects in the Islamic State attacks on Paris and Brussels as they pursued operations to track down militants who have fought with or take direction from leaders in Syria.

(Reporting by Temis Tormo; Writing by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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