Follow Indian model in ties with Afghanistan, China told

Lauding India’s constructive role in Afghanistan, the U.S. has asked China to follow the Indian model of engagement and developmental efforts in the war-torn country.

“India has played a constructive role over the last several years inside Afghanistan, and we would look to other nations like China to do the same,”.

India has so far given financial assistance worth over $2 billion to Afghanistan and has been involved in massive developmental efforts in this war-torn country.

“I think everybody in the international community could benefit from an Afghanistan that is secure and stable and prosperous. We want to make sure that we’re all pulling on the same oars here to get Afghanistan to that better future,”.

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #hindu, #latest-news

Libya shipwreck toll touches 105

UNHCR says 200 people are still missing, feared dead.

In this August 27, 2015 photo, a girl holds a sign at a demonstration by local residents against illegal immigration after hearing news that a boat carrying hundreds of migrants capsized off the coast, in Zuwara, Libya.

At least 105 people have died after a ship carrying hundreds of migrants and refugees sank off the coast of Libya, a spokesman for the Libyan Red Crescent said on Friday.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said as many as 200 people on two boats were feared dead.

“Until now 105 bodies have been retrieved from the sea and 198 people have been rescued,” said Mohammad al-Misrati of the Libyan Red Crescent.

Libya’s coast guard initially said 30 people had died in the disaster that unfolded on Thursday near the western port of Zuwara.

“There are still people missing but we don’t know how many,” Misrati said, adding that the figures of dead and rescued came from the local Red Crescent branch, medical facilities in Zuwara and the Libyan coast guard.

“The boat was in a bad condition and people died with us,” said Ayman Talaal, a Syrian survivor, standing next to his daughter. “We have been forced into this route. It’s now called the grave of the Mediterranean Sea.”

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #august, #hindu

India rebuffs Afghanistan on strategic meet

Stung by Afghanistan’s security and strategic shift towards Pakistan in the past year, India has rebuffed another invitation from Kabul to revive the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed in 2011 to hold a meeting of the Strategic Partnership Council (SPC).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to attend the inauguration of Afghanistan’s Parliament building in Kabul.

Diplomatic sources at the highest level have confirmed to The Hindu that India has conveyed its inability to hold the meeting that would be chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani “due to prior commitments.”

New Delhi has also conveyed that Ms. Swaraj will not attend the upcoming Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) in Kabul on September 3 and 4, and instead Sujata Mehta, Secretary, Multilateral and Economic Relations, will represent India at the conference. India’s representation will be in sharp contrast to some of the other regional countries participating at the Foreign Minister-level, while Iran is expected to send its Interior Minister and Pakistan its National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz, RECCA official Asadullah Hamdard confirmed to The Hindu.

While India’s decision to not attend the RECCA conference, which is essentially a development and donor conference, may not affect relations given India’s $2.3-billion strong commitment to Afghanistan, Afghan officials said the delay in the SPC meeting is more significant. India and Afghanistan have held only one meeting of the SPC (in 2012) since former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and former India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the historic agreement in 2011.

Trust deficit

“After Karzai, we have never trusted Ashraf Ghani’s motivations given the overtures he made to the Pakistan Army,” said the former Ambassador to Kabul Rakesh Sood, adding, “India has always been hesitant about what it wanted from the SPA anyway. The demand for defence equipment, for example, was something we were never able to deliver on.”

India’s development commitment remains robust, and Mr. Modi’s visit is expected to take place once the Afghan Parliament is completed by the Indian Public Works Department by January 2016.

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #august, #hindu

Bangladesh launches raid on Myanmar separatists

The joint operation by the Army and border guards aims to neutralise the rebel Arakan Army

The Bangladesh Army and the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) have launched a joint operation in Bandarban hill district after a gun battle between the Arakan Army, a Myanmar rebel group, and the border guards.

Additional border guards and army troops have been flown into the area, where the separatists are illegally treading the remote forests on the border.

Director General of BGB Major General Aziz Ahmed told the media that authorities in Myanmar have been apprised of the ongoing raid.

The BGB has also asked the Myanmar Army and border force to seal their border. “The situation in the area is normal now. The combing operation to capture the separatists is on. Myanmar authorities are also firm on the issue,.

Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, who visited the Bandarban on Thursday, told journalists that the joint operation would continue to neutralise the separatist Arakan Army.

On Thursday, the BGB  detained 10 horses used to transport goods to the rebel group.

Source: The HIndu

#2015, #28, #august, #hindu

Tropical Storm Erika nears Antigua en route to Puerto Rico

The fast-moving storm dumps rain on the eastern Caribbean.

Tropical Storm Erika is pictured in the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Venezuela in this NASA handout satellite photo of Wednesday. A fast-moving Tropical Storm Erika neared Antigua and Barbuda early on Thursday, dumping rain on the eastern Caribbean on a path expected to take it by Puerto Rico later in the day.

A fast-moving Tropical Storm Erika neared Antigua and Barbuda early on Thursday, dumping rain on the eastern Caribbean on a path expected to take it by Puerto Rico later in the day.

Across the region, officials ordered schools, airports and even casinos to close and they prepared shelters ahead of the storm, which was not expected to strengthen over the next two days.

Late Wednesday night, Erika was located about 110 miles (175 kilometres) east-southeast of Antigua and was moving west at 16 mph (26 kph) with a maximum sustained speed of 45 mph (75 kph), according to the National Hurricane Centre in Miami.

Flash floods warning

Authorities in Antigua and Barbuda warned of flash floods given the extremely dry conditions caused by the worst drought to hit the Caribbean in recent years. Boats at Shell Beach Marina on Antigua’s north coast have been out of the water since Saturday, with people not taking chances as Erika approaches, said Caroline Davy, a marina employee.

She said many people were caught off-guard when Tropical Storm Gonzalo battered Antigua last October.

“Too many times we’ve seen things happen that were not predicted,” she said.

No business as usual

Authorities in the nearby Dutch Caribbean territory of St. Maarten said schools and government offices would close on Thursday. They also asked that casinos, restaurants and other businesses close by midnight on Wednesday. Officials warned they might temporarily suspend power and water service as the storm approaches.

The hurricane centre said Erika would move near Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Thursday.

All airports in the U.S. Virgin Islands would be closed to incoming flights until Friday, and government offices would close as well, said Gov. Kenneth Mapp.

“This is a fast-moving storm, and so we expect conditions to deteriorate rapidly,” he said.

Storm watch

Tropical storm warnings were issued for Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and the Leeward Islands. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the northern Dominican Republic, the Turks & Caicos Islands and south-eastern Bahamas.

The storm is expected to be near South Florida by Monday, according to James Franklin, chief hurricane forecaster at the Miami-based centre. But its intensity is still uncertain.

“We don’t know how much of the storm will be left,” he said, adding that it faced strong upper-level westerly winds in the next two to three days.

Ignacio now a hurricane

Meanwhile in the Pacific, Ignacio strengthened into a hurricane. The storm’s maximum sustained winds increased to 75 mph (120 kph).

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #27, #august

WTO rules against India in solar dispute with US: report

The panel found India violated global trade rules by imposing local content requirements for solar cells and solar modules.

India has said it expects peak solar power demand to double over the next five years.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled against India in a dispute with the United States over its solar power program, an Indian newspaper reported on Wednesday.

It quoted an unnamed official from the Indian Commerce Ministry as saying the country planned to appeal the decision, made after the United States complained about domestic content requirements in a program aimed at easing chronic energy shortages in India.

India has said it expects peak power demand to double over the next five years from around 1,40,000 megawatts. To help meet that demand, India wants 1,00,000 MW of new capacity from solar panels, with at least 8,000 MW from locally made cells.

The newspaper said the WTO dispute settlement panel, in a confidential report to New Delhi and Washington, found India violated global trade rules by imposing local content requirements for solar cells and solar modules, and also struck down incentive policies such as subsidies provided for domestic solar companies to manufacture cells and solar modules.

The WTO circulates decisions on disputes to the parties before they are made public.

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #27, #august

Australians call for crocodile culling to prevent fatalities

The local population have sought selective culling and large-scale removal of the dangerous reptiles to prevent human fatalities.

A saltwater crocodille basking in the sun in Kimberley in this file photo. With the population of crocodiles tripling in the last three decades in western Australia, the local population have sought selective culling and large-scale removal of these dangerous reptiles to prevent human fatalities. Residents in Kimberley region are seeking to review crocodile management as some locals favour culling of the reptiles.

With the population of crocodiles tripling in the last three decades in western Australia, the local population have sought selective culling and large-scale removal of the dangerous reptiles to prevent human fatalities.

The local population in Kimberley region are seeking to review crocodile management as some locals seeking culling of the reptiles.

Time for removal

Broome Deputy Shire President Harold Tracey said it was time for a large-scale removal of reptiles from waterways around Broome, Derby and Kununurra.

“I think it’s only a matter of time before we do have a fatality, purely from croc numbers and they’re getting a lot more bold,” he said.

“We’ve got to keep in mind we can’t keep putting human life at risk, or putting a crocodile’s life as more important than a human life,” Mr. Tracey said.

Needed: mature debate

Mr. Tracey said the highly divisive debate over shark culling in other parts of Australia showed why a mature, informed debate was needed.

Currently, the Department of Parks and Wildlife only traps and removes or shoots dead a crocodile if it is behaving aggressively in popular fishing or swimming areas.

Culling not for now

East Kimberley district manager Luke Bentley said there were no plans to change the policy.

“There are no plans at this stage for any crocodile cull,” he said.

“The reality of a cull is that even if you remove an animal from a certain location, there’s no guarantee another one would [not] come back into that location.

“Because they are so mobile, it’s a tough one, and you probably would [not] get the solution you are looking for,” he said.

Educating the public

Mr. Bentley said the department’s focus remained on educating the public about the crocodile risk, including signposts and brochures distributed to tour companies that escort tourists to the most high-risk coastal areas.

While, crocodile attacks are said to remain rare in West Australia’s north and there has not been a death recorded since 1987, according to a survey, the population of crocodiles have tripled in the last 30 years in major breeding rivers.

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #august

IS destroys temple at Palmyra ruins in Syria

Islamic State militants have destroyed a temple at Syria’s ancient ruins of Palmyra, activists have said, realising the worst fears archaeologists had for the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city after the extremists seized it and beheaded a local scholar.

The temple dates to the first century and is dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and fertilising rains.

Palmyra, one of the Middle East’s most spectacular archaeological sites and a UNESCO World Heritage site, sits near the modern Syrian city of the same name.

Activists said the militants used explosives to blow up the Baalshamin Temple on its grounds, the blast so powerful it also damaged some of the Roman columns around it.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday night that the temple was blown up a month ago.

Turkey-based activist Osama al-Khatib, who is originally from Palmyra, said the temple was blown up on Sunday. Both said the extremists used a large amount of explosives to destroy it.

Both relied on information for those still in Palmyra and the discrepancy in their accounts could not be immediately reconciled, though such contradictory information is common in Syria’s long civil war.

The Sunni extremists, who have imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law across their self-declared “caliphate” in territory they control in Syria and Iraq, claim ancient relics promote idolatry and say they are destroying them as part of their purge of paganism. However, they are also believed to sell off looted antiquities, bringing in significant sums of cash.

Al-Khatib said the Baalshamin Temple is about 500 metres (550 yards) from the Palmyra’s famous amphitheatre where the group killed more than 20 Syrian soldiers after they captured the historic town in May.

The temple dates to the first century and is dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and fertilising rains.

The head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said Friday that Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq are engaged in the “most brutal, systematic” destruction of ancient sites since World War II” a stark warning that came hours after militants demolished the St. Elian Monastery, which housed a fifth-century tomb and served as a major pilgrimage site.

Source: TH

#2015, #25, #august

World’s oldest flowering plant may be 130 million years old

The aquatic plant, Montsechia vidalii, once grew abundantly in freshwater lakes in what are now mountainous regions in Spain and was contemporaneous with dinosaurs.

Scientists have identified a 125 million to 130 million-year-old freshwater plant, a contemporary of dinosaurs, as one of earliest flowering plants on Earth.

The finding, represents a major change in the presumed form of one of the planet’s earliest flowers, known as angiosperms, researchers said.

“This discovery raises significant questions about the early evolutionary history of flowering plants, as well as the role of these plants in the evolution of other plant and animal life,” said David Dilcher, paleobotanist at the Indiana University in US.

The aquatic plant, Montsechia vidalii, once grew abundantly in freshwater lakes in what are now mountainous regions in Spain.

Discovered over 100 years ago

Fossils of the plant were first discovered more than 100 years ago in the limestone deposits of the Iberian Range in central Spain and in the Montsec Range of the Pyrenees, near the country’s border with France.

Also previously proposed as one of the earliest flowers is Archaefructus sinensis, an aquatic plant found in China.

“A ‘first flower’ is technically a myth, like the ‘first human,’” said Mr. Dilcher.

“But based on this new analysis, we know now that Montsechia is contemporaneous, if not more ancient, than Archaefructus,” he said.

New perspective

“The reinterpretation of these fossils provides a fascinating new perspective on a major mystery in plant biology,” said Donald H. Les, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut.

“David’s work is truly an important contribution to the continued quest to unravel the evolutionary and ecological events that accompanied the rise of flowering plants to global prominence,” he said.

The conclusions are based upon careful analyses of more than 1,000 fossilised remains of Montsechia, whose stems and leaf structures were coaxed from stone by applying hydrochloric acid on a drop-by-drop basis.

The plant’s cuticles — the protective film covering the leaves that reveals their shape — were also carefully bleached using a mixture of nitric acid and potassium chlorate.

The age of the plant at 125 million to 130 million years is based upon comparisons to other fossils in the same area, notably the freshwater algae charophytes, which places Montsechia in the Barremian age of the early Cretaceous period, making this flowering plant a contemporary of dinosaurs such as the brachiosaurus and iguanodon.

No flower parts

Montsechia possesses no obvious ‘flower parts,’ such as petals or nectar-producing structures for attracting insects, and lives out its entire life cycle under water,” Mr. Dilcher said.

“The fruit contains a single seed” — the defining characteristic of an angiosperm — “which is borne upside down,” he said.

Source: TH

#18, #2015, #august

Sodium cyanide traces found in waters near site of China blasts

Indication that it has spread to the sea, even as experts raced against time to clear the area of toxic chemicals stored at the ravaged warehouse

Smoke rises from damaged container boxes near the site of an explosion at a warehouse in northeastern China's Tianjin municipality on Monday. Minute traces of cyanide have been detected in waters near the Tianjin port, the State Oceanic Administration said acknowledging that it was spreading into the waters of the port which is on the western shore of the Bohai Bay.

Minute traces of sodium cyanide have been found in waters near China’s Tianjin port indicating that it has spread to the sea, even as experts raced against time to clear the area of toxic chemicals stored at a warehouse ravaged by blasts that killed at least 114 people.

Minute traces of cyanide have been detected in waters near the Tianjin port, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said acknowledging that it was spreading into the waters of the port which is on the western shore of the Bohai Bay. The findings were based on monitoring reports from Sunday, according to the SOA.

Sodium cyanide is a highly toxic white, water-soluble powder that prevents the body from using oxygen.

Density below normal

The detected density of the dangerous chemical was below the normal standard and does not pose a threat to the marine environment for the time being, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Bao Jingling, chief engineer of Tianjin’s bureau of environmental protection, said about 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide stored at the blasts site remained mostly unaffected.

Death toll: 114

The death toll from the massive blasts last week rose to 114 after rescuers found two more bodies in the debris, Gong Jiansheng of Tianjin’s publicity department told reporters.

Identities of 54 bodies have been confirmed, he said, adding that another 70 people were still missing.

Among the bodies, 39 were fire-fighters and five were policemen. The number of missing people was previously 95, before 25 bodies were identified. Among the missing are 64 firemen, Mr. Gong said.

Rescuers have carried out four rounds of comprehensive search through what they called “a maze of containers” and search and rescue efforts are still under way.

Fraught with danger

“Navigating through the blasts zone is extremely dangerous because of the burning chemicals and twisted containers, which could collapse at any time. We had to make marks in order not to get lost,” Wang Ke, who led a group of chemical specialist soldiers, said.

Two massive blasts before midnight on August 12 wreaked havoc in areas a few kilometres away.

The blasts have affected 17,000 households and 1,700 enterprises. At least 6,000 residents have been displaced.

Combing for survivors

Soldiers are combing nearby residential quarters to search for survivors and their search has covered 6,000 households so far. As of Monday, 698 people remained in hospital, of whom 57 were in a critical condition.

More than 4,000 medical staff are treating the injured and 77 people have been discharged from hospitals.

Meanwhile, a minor explosion occurred on Monday at the blasts site hampering rescue operations.

Source: TH

#17, #2015, #august