Category Archives: Current Affairs

Qatar says Saudi-led ultimatum unreasonable

Qatar on Saturday denounced a sweeping list of demands from Saudi Arabia and its allies in an escalating Gulf diplomatic crisis as unreasonable and an impingement on the emirate´s sovereignty.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt want Qatar to meet the 13-point ultimatum in return for an end to a nearly three-week-old diplomatic and trade “blockade” of the emirate.

Qatar has been given 10 days to meet the demands, which apparently include a call to close down broadcaster Al-Jazeera, but Doha said the requests were unrealistic.

“This list of demands confirms what Qatar has said from the beginning — the illegal blockade has nothing to do with combating terrorism, it is about limiting Qatar´s sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy,” said Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al-Thani, head of Qatar´s government communications office, in a statement.

“The US secretary of state recently called upon the blockading nations to produce a list of grievances that was ´reasonable and actionable´.

“The British foreign secretary asked that the demands be ´measured and realistic´. This list does not satisfy that criteria.”

The four Arab governments delivered the demands to Qatar through mediator Kuwait on Thursday, more than two weeks after severing all ties with the emirate and imposing an embargo.

The document has not been published but has been widely leaked and the demands are sweeping in their scope.

They include the closure of Al-Jazeera television, a long-standing source of conflict between Doha and neighbouring countries which accuse it of fomenting regional strife.

Qatar faces Gulf ´divorce´

The ultimatum also include calls for Doha to cut ties to groups including the Muslim Brotherhood, Daesh, Al-Qaeda and Lebanon´s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.

Qatar has also been asked to hand over opposition figures wanted by its three neighbours and Egypt and to downgrade diplomatic ties with Iran.

Notably, it has also been told to shut a Turkish military base in the emirate.

Qatar´s foreign affair ministry said it was “studying” the list, “in order to prepare an appropriate response”.

Meshal Hamad Al-Thani, Qatar´s ambassador to the United States, tweeted that the list was meant to “punish Qatar for its independence”.

Qatar was warned by one of its most hawkish critics in the region that unless it meets the list of demands, Doha faces “divorce” from its Gulf neighbours.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE´s state minister for foreign affairs, said Qatar should yield to the demands.

“It would be wiser that (Qatar) deal seriously with the demands and concerns of the neighbours or a divorce will take place,” he wrote on Twitter.

The demands confirm that “the crisis is profound,” Gargash added.

He also said Qatar leaked the document containing the demands by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, which cut diplomatic ties earlier this month, accusing Qatar of sponsoring terrorism.

Qatar strongly denies such charges.

´Attempt to silence´ 

Al-Jazeera, one of the largest news organisations in the world, responded to the demands by saying it “deplores” calls for it to be taken off air.

“We in the network believe that any call for closing down Al-Jazeera is nothing but an attempt to silence the freedom of expression in the region and to suppress people´s right to information,” the broadcaster said in a statement.

In the other official response out of Qatar, its Human Rights Committee said the demands represented “gross violations” of basic rights.

Qatar is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

As well as cutting diplomatic ties, Qatar´s neighbours closed their air space to Qatari carriers and blocked the emirate´s only land border, vital for its food imports.

Qatar is home to the largest US base in the region, Al-Udeid, and Bahrain is home to the Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy.

The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has urged a diplomatic solution and Washington had been pushing for a clear list of grievances that are “reasonable and actionable”.

His spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday the United States was “mystified” that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies had failed to present details justifying their embargo on Qatar.

US President Donald Trump, however, has made statements siding with Saudi Arabia in the crisis.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Friday that any conditions placed on Qatar should be “measured and realistic”.

Source: Geo News

US assures of cooperation after terror attacks rock Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The United States on Saturday condemned the multiple terror attacks that shook the country on June 23 and assured Pakistan of cooperation to combat the threat of terrorism, said a statement released by the US State Department.

“We will continue to work with the Government of Pakistan and our partners across the region to combat the threat of terrorism,” said the statement.

The statement also added that the US stands with the people of Pakistan in their fight against terrorism.

Condolences were also offered to the victims and their families.

At least 55 people were killed on June 23 when multiple terror attacks rocked Pakistan after a period of relative calm. 

Triple bombings in Quetta and Parachinar and a gun attack on policemen in Karachi shook the nation days before the end of Ramazan. 

Source: Geo News

Security forces kill 3 ‘terrorist’ in Peshawar

PESHAWAR: Three suspected terrorists were killed in exchange of fire with security forces in Peshawar on Saturday. According to the ISPR, one soldier and three policemen also got injured. The intelligence based operations and search operations were conducted in suspected areas of Mathra in Peshawar. In Punjab, Pakistan Rangers Punjab along with CTD, Police and Intelligence […] Source: Aaj Tv news

UK parliament under cyberattack

  LONDON: British lawmakers on Saturday said they were unable to access their e-mail accounts remotely as parliament’s security team battled against a cyberattack. Liberal Democrat lawmaker Chris Rennard tweeted that there was a “cyber security attack on Westminster; Parliamentary e-mails may not work remotely.” A House of Commons spokesman confirmed that “the Houses of […] Source: Aaj Tv news

Pakistan issues first transgender passport

PESHAWAR: Pakistan has issued its first third-gender passport to a transgender activist, who hailed the move as a step forward for the marginalised community. Farzana Riaz, a transgender in northwestern Peshawar city, said the new passport would help her campaign globally on behalf of her community, who are also known as khawajasiras — an umbrella […] Source: Aaj Tv news

Chinese FM in Pakistan to offer mediation with Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has arrived in Pakistan on a two-day visit to discuss bilateral ties and stability with neighboring Afghanistan. State-run Pakistani TV showed the Chinese foreign minister and his nine-member delegation being received Saturday by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother, Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif. State media reported that […] Source: Aaj Tv news

Arconic knowingly supplied flammable panels for use in London tower: emails

Extensive damage is seen to the Grenfell Tower block which was destroyed in a disastrous fire, in north Kensington, West London, June 16, 2017/Reuters

LONDON: Six emails sent by and to an Arconic Inc sales manager raise questions about why the company supplied combustible cladding to a distributor for use at Grenfell Tower, despite publicly warning such panels were a fire risk for tall buildings.

The emails, dating from 2014 and seen by Reuters, were between Deborah French, Arconic’s UK sales manager, and executives at the contractors involved in the bidding process for the refurbishment contract at Grenfell Tower in London, where 79 people died in a blaze last week.

When asked about the emails, Arconic said in a statement that it had known the panels would be used at Grenfell Tower but that it was not its role to decide what was or was not compliant with local building regulations.

The company manufactures three main types of Reynobond panel– one with a polyethylene (PE) core, one with a fire retardant core and another with a non-combustible core, according to its website.

Diagrams in a 2016 Arconic brochure for its Reynobond panels describe how PE core panels are suitable up to 10 metres in height. Panels with a fire resistant core — the FR model — can be used up to 30 metres, while above that height, panels with the non-combustible core — the A2 model — should be used, the brochure says.

Grenfell Tower is more than 60 metres tall.

The brochure also issued a blunt warning that cladding can be a fire risk.

“When conceiving a building, it is crucial to choose the adapted products in order to avoid the fire to spread to the whole building. Especially when it comes to facades and roofs, the fire can spread extremely rapidly,” the brochure said.

“As soon as the building is higher than the fire fighters’ladders, it has to be conceived with an incombustible material.”

Nonetheless, between May and July 2014, French, who was based at Arconic’s factory in Merxheim, France, responded to requests from the companies involved in refurbishing Grenfell Tower on the availability of samples of five different types of Reynobond aluminium-covered panels, all of which were only available in the combustible PE and FR versions, according to Arconic brochures.

In the end, Arconic said on Friday, the company provided PE panels.

“While we publish general usage guidelines, regulations and codes vary by country and need to be determined by the local building code experts,” the company said in an emailed statement in response to the Reuters enquiry.

“The loss of lives, injuries and destruction following the Grenfell Tower fire are devastating, and we would like to express our deepest sympathies to everyone affected by this tragedy … We will fully support the authorities as they investigate this tragedy,” the statement said.

French did not respond to requests for comment.

Arconic, which was known as Alcoa Inc until 2016, declined to say if it knew how tall the tower was and the emails seen by Reuters do not specifically refer to its height. They do, however, refer to “Grenfell Tower” and mention other high rise projects where paneling has been used when discussing the appearance that was being sought for Grenfell Tower.

Arconic also knew the quantity of panels being supplied and thus the total exterior coverage. A source at one of the companies involved in the process said Arconic had “full involvement” throughout the contract bidding process.

Omnis Exteriors, Arconic’s UK distributor, Harley Facades Ltd., the company which installed the panels, Rydon Group, the overall contractor on the 2014-2016 Grenfell refurbishment, and the local authority which owns the tower block all declined to comment.

Rydon and Omnis have previously said in statements that their work on the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, which was intended to give the building better heat and sound insulation, complied with all building regulations. Harley said last week it was “not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower”.

In the emails, French and representatives of Harley, Omnis and Rydon also discuss the choice of panel models and colors and how they were inching towards securing the contract with the local authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC).

Harris did not respond to requests for comment. RBKC declined to comment.

At the weekend, British finance minister Philip Hammond said the type of panels used, which are cheaper than non-combustible panels, were banned for use in high rise buildings in Britain, as they are in Europe and the United States.

Safety experts say the regulations are not black and white as they consider the overall safety of a project, taking account of how the safety measures taken interact.

This ‘principles-based’ approach is different to the highly specific ‘rules-based’ approach to regulation taken in the United States.

The fatal fire was started by a faulty Hotpoint fridge-freezer in one of the apartments, London police said on Friday. Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack said insulation on the building, and the cladding panels, had failed safety tests carried out after the disaster.

The police investigation was considering the possibility of manslaughter and criminal offences in respect of the fire.

Source: Geo News

US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan quits post

WASHINGTON: Washington’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan stepped down on Friday, just as the United States is preparing to send thousands of more troops to the region.

A senior State Department official told AFP that acting special representative Laurel Miller left the post without a replacement being named.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Miller is returning to a position at the Rand Corporation and that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has not yet decided what to do with post.

The office was created when US officials decided that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably linked and ought to be dealt with together.

President Donald Trump came to office planning to slash diplomatic spending and Tillerson plans to cut several special envoy roles.

Miller’s responsibilities will now fall under the department’s South and Central Asian Affairs Bureau, which has a much bigger footprint that includes India.

But this bureau is itself leaderless, with no assistant secretary appointed to lead it and no one nominated by the new administration for Senate approval.

When news site Politico broke the news that the envoy post had gone, it cited diplomats complaining of a rushed process and a dangerous leadership vacuum.

But, also speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official told AFP the decision was part of a broader policy review.

Tillerson thinks the issue is best handled at a regional level, the official said, arguing that it made sense to consider India part of the equation.

Trump has given the Pentagon and US commanders wide latitude to decide on the future of Washington’s longest ever war — the 16-year slog in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is reportedly planning to deploy up to 5,000 extra troops to bolster efforts to train Afghan forces to repel a resurgent Taliban insurgency.

Source: Geo News

ICC confirms plans for World XI series in Pakistan

Plans for the full resumption of international cricket in Pakistan moved forward Friday when the sport’s global governing body said it wanted to send a World XI team to the country later this year. With the exception of Zimbabwe’s tour two years ago, Pakistan have had to play all of their ‘home’ matches outside of […] Source: Aaj Tv news

Over 140 people feared buried in China landslide

People search for survivors at the site of a landslide that destroyed some 40 households, where more than 100 people are feared to be buried, according to local media reports, in Xinmo Village, China June 24, 2017. Photo: REUTERS

BEIJING: Chinese rescuers scoured through rocks on Saturday in a frantic search for more than 140 people feared buried after a landslide smashed through a mountain village in southwest Sichuan province.

A couple and a baby were rescued and taken to hospital after more than 40 homes in the village of Xinmo were swallowed by huge boulders when the side of a mountain collapsed, according to the Maoxian county government.

At least 141 people and 46 homes were buried, the People´s Daily said, citing a Maoxian county government spokesperson. The landslide blocked a two kilometre (one mile) stretch of river and 1.6 kilometre of road.

Rescuers used ropes to move a massive rock while dozens of others searched the rubble for survivors, according to videos posted by the Maoxian government on its Weibo social media account.

Bulldozers and heavy diggers were also deployed to remove boulders, the images showed. Medics were seen treating a woman on a road.

Wang Yongbo, one of the local officials in charge of rescue efforts, said the vital signs of one of the survivors “are weak”.

“It´s the biggest landslide in this area since the Wenchuan earthquake,” he said, referring to the disaster that killed 87,000 people in 2008 in a town in Sichuan.

Local police captain Chen Tiebo said the heavy rains that hit the region in recent days had triggered the landslide.

“There are several tonnes of rock,” he told the state broadcaster CCTV.

“It´s a seismic area here. There´s not a lot of vegetation,” Chen said.

Trees can help absorb excess rain and prevent landslides.

Some 500 people were taking part in rescue efforts, according to CCTV.

More rain forecast

An emergency response “to the first class catastrophic geological disaster” is under way, the local government´s statement said, adding that the full extent of the landslide was at yet unclear.

A report from the state news agency Xinhua said that the landslide came from a high part of a mountain in the Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Aba had collapsed.

President Xi Jinping called for rescuers to “spare no effort” in their search for survivors, according to CCTV.

China´s national weather observatory said more heavy rain was expected in parts of Sichuan and other southwestern provinces.

Past disasters

Landslides are a frequent danger in rural and mountainous parts of China, particularly at times of heavy rains.

At least 12 people were killed in January when a landslide crushed a hotel in central Hubei province.

In October landslides battered eastern China in the wake of torrential rains brought by Typhoon Megi, causing widespread damage and killing at least eight.

More than 70 were killed by a landslide in the southern commercial hub of Shenzhen in December 2015, caused by the improper storage of waste.

One of the deadliest landslides took place in 1991, when 216 were killed in southwestern Yunnan province.

Source: Geo News