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

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

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

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

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

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

Rail crash toll hits 146, survivor search called off | Reuters

By Jitendra Prakash and Rupam Jain
| PUKHRAYAN, India/NEW DELHI

PUKHRAYAN, India/NEW DELHI Rescuers on Monday called off a search of the mangled carriages of a derailed train after pulling more bodies from the wreckage, taking to at least 146 the number of passengers killed in the disaster.Sunday’s derailment in Uttar Pradesh was India’s deadliest train tragedy since 2010 and has renewed concern about poor safety on the state-run network. A lifeline for millions, the railways suffer from chronic underinvestment, which has left it with ageing tracks and outdated rolling stock.Rescue teams worked through the night with cranes and cutters to disentangle the train before police halted the search of the 14 carriages that derailed in the early hours while most passengers slept.”The rescue operations are over. We don’t expect to find any more bodies,” said Zaki Ahmed, the police inspector general in the city of Kanpur, about 65 km (40 miles) from Pukhrayan, the crash site. All of the carriages, some crumpled beyond recognition, have since been removed from the tracks. The crash came during India’s busy wedding season and media said blood-stained bags of saris and wedding cards carried by at least one wedding party on board were scattered beside the wreckage. The derailment injured close to 200 people, scores of them seriously, officials said. After the tragedy, relatives thronged hospitals in a search for survivors.

A railways spokesman said the train carried 1,000 people travelling on reservations, but 700 more were estimated to have squeezed into the unreserved carriages. AGEING BADLY
The largely colonial-era railway system, the world’s fourth largest, carries a saturation-level total of about 23 million people daily. Ageing badly, its average speeds top just 50 kph (30 mph) and train accidents are common.

The crash is a stark reminder of the obstacles facing Prime Minister Narendra Modi in delivering on his promise to turn the railways into a more efficient, safer network befitting India’s economic power.Modi this year pledged record levels of investment and has announced a new high-speed line funded by Japan, but the main network has made little progress on upgrading tracks or signalling equipment.He has also shied away from raising the highly subsidised fares that leave the railways with next to nothing for investment. By some analysts’ estimates, they need 20 trillion rupees ($293.34 billion) of investment by 2020.

Modi held a political rally on Sunday about 210 km (130 miles) from the crash site in Uttar Pradesh, which heads to the polls early next year in an election his Bharatiya Janata Party is vying to win.Mayawati, the state’s former chief minister who uses only one name and is a Modi critic, said the government should have “invested in mending tracks instead of spending billions and trillions of rupees on bullet trains”, media reported.Junior railway minister Manoj Sinha said a fractured track might have caused the train to roll off the rails on its journey between Indore and Patna. The government has ordered an inquiry to determine the precise cause.Sunday’s crash is India’s worst rail tragedy since the collision of a passenger and a goods train in 2010, which the government blamed on sabotage by Maoist rebels.In 2005, a train was crushed by a rock and another plunged into a river, each disaster killing more than 100 people. In what was probably India’s worst rail disaster, a train fell into a river in the eastern state of Bihar of 1981, killing an estimated 500 to 800 people. (Reporting by Rupam Jain and Jitendra Prakash; Additional reporting by Krishna N. Das; Writing and additional reporting by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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First Published On : Nov 21, 2016 20:53 IST

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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Modi’s Saudi visit part of push to ‘de-hyphenate’ India from Pakistan | Reuters

NEW DELHI Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday is part of a diplomatic effort to put pressure on arch rival Pakistan by forging ties with some of Islamabad’s closest allies, Indian ruling party and government officials said.

Modi is expected to sign trade agreements, including contracts to secure investment for infrastructure projects, and offer security and military cooperation, such as training and joint exercises, the officials said.

The Indian premier’s visit is just over seven months after he travelled to another Pakistan ally, the United Arab Emirates, and signed a security cooperation agreement that includes regular meetings between top security advisers.

“It’s simple. We have to do everything to deal with Pakistan – use economics, strategy and emotional ties to win the hearts of Islamabad’s friends,” said Ram Madhav, national general secretary of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. New Delhi has long accused Islamabad of sponsoring a separatist movement and militancy in the Himalayan region. Pakistan denies the charge and accuses India of occupying Kashmir and fomenting trouble in its restive provinces, like Baluchistan.

New Delhi has been frustrated that often its ties with countries have been coloured by concerns about its relationship with Pakistan. One foreign ministry official said the Saudis tended to bring up Pakistan during discussions with India.

Government officials described Modi’s diplomatic push as an effort to “de-hyphenate” India from Pakistan, especially as New Delhi tries to play a bigger geopolitical role in Asia to counter China’s influence.

Stronger relationships with Pakistan’s allies can help India get a more sympathetic hearing on global and regional forums and put pressure on Islamabad to rein in militants.

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia and the United States imposed joint sanctions targeting the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.

In Washington on Friday, where Modi was attending a summit on nuclear security, Indian government spokesman Vikas Swarup welcomed the move.

“Countries working against terror entities – particularly entities that have targeted India repeatedly – is I think a welcome development,” he told reporters.

RIGHT TIMING

Until now, India’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has been driven primarily by trade and the Indian diaspora in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is India’s top energy supplier and home to more than 3.5 million Indian expatriates.

Over the past few years, there has been some cooperation on security between the two countries, with Riyadh deporting four most wanted fugitives to India.

Modi will look to broaden those ties, with one foreign ministry official saying healthcare, education, religious tourism and labour reforms would also be key talking points.  

Still, there are limits to what New Delhi can hope to achieve. The relationship between Pakistan and the Saudis goes back decades, based in their shared Sunni Muslim heritage.   

Saudi Arabia has long been a source of financial aid for Islamabad. In 2014, the Saudis gave Pakistan $1.5 billion as a “gift” to shore up its foreign reserves.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spent time in political exile in Saudi Arabia in the 2000s, after he was ousted in a military coup. 

But Indian officials said the timing was right for Modi’s visit, as relations between Riyadh and Islamabad enter a rough patch.

Pakistan declined to provide ships, aircraft and troops to the Saudi-led fight to halt Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen last year. It has also sought to avoid taking sides in the escalating dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“Pakistan knows that relations with Saudi have come to a low. That doesn’t mean that India can fill that gap,” said Zahid Hussain, a former newspaper editor in Pakistan. “But certainly this is part of Modi’s diplomatic offensive in the region.”

(Additional reporting by Doug Busvine in NEW DELHI, Asad Hashim and Mehreen Zahra-Malik in ISLAMABAD and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Editing by Nick Macfie and Grant McCool)

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India bans over 300 combination medicines: government official | Reuters

NEW DELHI India has banned the manufacture and sale of more than 300 combination medicines sold without approval from the central government, a senior health ministry official said on Saturday.

Fixed dose combinations are used worldwide to improve patients’ compliance, as it is easier to get them to take one drug rather than several. But inconsistent enforcement of drug laws in India has led to the proliferation of hundreds of such combination medicines entering the market based on approval from regulators of individual states.

Nearly half the drugs sold in India in 2014 were combination medicines.

“Now based on responses (and) assessment of products, more than 300 drugs have been prohibited,” KL Sharma, a joint secretary at the health ministry, told Reuters.

(Writing by Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

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

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

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

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

“We are discussing various models,” Pradhan added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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