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Indo-Canadian doctor forges degree, fined in Dubai

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An Indo-Canadian female dermatologist, found guilty of forging and using a fake diploma as well as other documents to practise medicine in Dubai, has lost her appeal against a six-month jail term.
 
Public prosecution records showed that the 38-year-old woman managed to have the licence to work as a dermatologist issued for her after filling in her application form with false information, the Khaleej Times reported on Wednesday night.
 
She used a forged general medicine degree and diploma in specialisation when applying for the permit.
 
The defendant also threatened a company, specialising in verifying data and information, to hasten the process of verifying her documents and told the firm that in case the result was not positive it would be closed, according to the records.
 
A trial court had earlier convicted her on charges of practicing medicine with a licence she had wrongfully obtained and committing forgery.
 
It sentenced her to a six-month jail term, to be followed by deportation.
 
She was also ordered to pay a 200,000 dirham fine. 
 
IANS
 

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Kovind in Australia: Addresses Indian community in Sydney; visits Anzac War Memorial

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President Ram Nath Kovind arrived here on Wednesday on the final leg of his two-nation state visit to Vietnam and Australia. 
 
This is the first state visit to Australia by an Indian President. Later in the day, Mr Kovind attended an Indian community reception hosted by Indian High Commissioner Ajay M Gondane. 
 
Addressing the gathering, the President said it was a matter of pride that the Indian community is held in high regard and contributes to society and the economy in Australia. Today, Indian professionals are much sought after, whether in Australia or elsewhere in the world. As entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers, bankers and technology specialists, members of the Indian community are adding value to the country they live in.
 
Australia was also home to a large number of Indian students. They were excelling on campuses in academics and research, in fostering innovation and even on the sports field. Their hard work and talent was a symbol of the Australia-India Knowledge Partnership, he said.
 
Earlier, President Kovind formally began his visit by paying his respects at the Anzac War Memorial. The memorial was originally built as a tribute to Australian soldiers who did service in World War I. 
 
In his subsequent engagement with the Indian community, he made a special mention of the Indian soldiers who had fought alongside their Australian comrades in World War I, including on the beaches of Gallipoli. The centenary of the conclusion of World War I was commemorated earlier this month.
 
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The President opened his address by referring to a Bharatnatyam performance by the Nartana Dance School he witnessed and said, for a moment, it made him feel as if he was in some corner of India and not in a faraway continent.  
 
“In my visits abroad, I always, and as a matter of priority, meet with our community. In fact, my interaction with the Indian diaspora is invariably the first element in my programme. And I must say, it is indeed a special and warm feeling to meet our people, our friends abroad, and to share with them thoughts and greetings from families back home,” he said. 
 
“I began my programme today with a visit to Anzac war memorial. It is a monument dedicated to those who gave their lives to protect the freedom of others. It also celebrates the bravery and courage of Indian soldiers who fought in World Wars alongside their Australian brothers in Gallipoli and other theatres of war. 
 
“Tomorrow, I will have yet another occasion to celebrate the sacrifice and freedom for humanity. Along with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, I will jointly unveil a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parramatta. This year we have launched our worldwide celebrations of his 150th birth anniversary and the statue will be a perfect tribute to his life and legacy. 
 
“I will also hold official talks with the Governor General and Prime Minister and discuss how to enhance bilateral ties, which already have moved to a new strategic high, much beyond our mutual passion for cricket and our shared Commonwealth connect,” he added.     
 
The Indian community in Australia has a long history. The first batch of Indians came here over a hundred years ago.  In the early 20th century, Indians arrived in Australia to work in banana plantations and in gold mining.  “A number of them were our Sikh brothers, who first settled in Woolgoolga and then moved elsewhere. They worked hard and withstood the rigours of time.  Even in their daily struggle, they did their best to preserve their cultural moorings and way of life," he said.
 
He said India was the fastest growing major economy in the world, with a growth of 8.2% last quarter.  “Our path-breaking introduction of the Goods and Services Tax has made India into One Nation, One Tax, One Market for the first time in its history. This and other seminal reforms have helped us jump 65 places in the last four years on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index. 
 
“Global Investor confidence in the country is at a new high. We have received over US$ 200 billion as Foreign Direct Investment in the last four years. Our work on building next-generation infrastructure including 100 Smart cities, 7 high-speed train corridors, 10 greenfield airports, countrywide digital connectivity and thousands of kilometres of expressways continues apace. And we are working overtime not just for growth, but also to empower women, the differently-abled and those at the bottom of the pyramid,” he added.
 
“Riding on high growth and transformative socio-economic changes, the youth in the country are brimming with ideas and energy. Their enterprise and innovation have made India into the third largest Start-up ecosystem in the world. 
 
“India today is full of opportunities for business, for social enterprises and for cultural connections. I invite each one of you to join us in our transformational journey. You can contribute with your ideas, your business models and your investment profiles,” the President said. 
 
“We count Australia as a key partner in our national flagship programmes - Make In India, Skill India, Clean India and Digital India. We are keen to leverage Australian technology, know-how and investment for growth and development in India. You can play an important part in pushing this engagement,” he added.  
 
“In the last few years, you would have seen a sea-change in the way our Government is engaging and reaching out to our diaspora. There is today a stronger connect between India and the Indian community abroad. We have started schemes such as the Know India Programme to better connect with our people abroad.  
 
“Our OCI scheme has been made flexible so that more and more people can benefit from it. We have mandated our Embassies to be available round the clock to our people in need. And we are extending humanitarian assistance as and where required. In the last four years, we have rescued over 90,000 Indians including people from 50 other countries caught in natural disasters or strife,” Mr Kovind said.
 
“We count our diaspora as an important partner in strengthening our international outreach. You have a role to play in spreading the message of India.  Yes, we do have our High Commissioner here, but we see each one of you as our cultural ambassador. We count on you to enhance our relations with Australia, as you have remarkably done all these years.  Next year, we would be celebrating the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas from 21st to 23rd January in Varanasi. I invite you to join us in this festivity,” he added. 
 
NNN
 

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Suicide bomb attack in Kabul kills at least 50

Afghan security forces stand guard at the site of a suicide bombing in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, on November 20, 2018. 
(Xinhua/Rahmat Alizadah/IANS)
Afghan security forces stand guard at the site of a suicide bombing in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, on November 20, 2018. (Xinhua/Rahmat Alizadah/IANS)
A suicide bombing on Tuesday at a hall in Kabul, where hundreds of religious scholars had gathered to commemorate the Prophet Muhammad's birthday, left at least 50 people dead and more than 70 others wounded, officials said.
 
The attack was carried out by a lone insurgent inside the Uranus wedding hall, Kabul police spokesperson Basir Mujahid told Efe.
 
"The explosion took place as hundreds of ulema (Islamic scholars) and people were gathered in the hall to observe Mawlid and recite passages from the Quran," he said, adding that police had not been advised of a need for security beforehand.
 
All of the victims were civilian men, health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Majroh told Efe.
 
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed the "unpardonable crime" on the "enemies of Islam."
 
"Once again, the terrorists have acted against the teachings of the Prophet," he said in a statement.
 
While no group claimed responsibility, the Taliban, Afghanistan's largest insurgency, took the unusual step of denying involvement, reports Efe.
 
"The Islamic Emirate (as the Taliban call themselves) energetically condemns attacks against gatherings of civilians and religious people," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.
 
Thousands of gatherings were taking place throughout the country to mark the Prophet's birthday on what was a public holiday in Afghanistan.
 
The Uranus wedding hall is located on Airport Road in northern Kabul, where there is a concentration of similar venues which are often booked for events other than weddings.
 
The Afghan capital is frequently rocked by terror attacks, often carried out by the Taliban or Islamic State, but Tuesday's assault was one of the deadliest in recent months.
 
IANS
 

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Four killed in shooting at Chicago hospital

 
Four killed, including gunman, in Chicago hospital
Four people have died in a shooting at a Chicago hospital, including two female members of staff, a police officer and the gunman himself, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.
 
The incident comes just days after some US medical professionals became involved in an online campaign protesting against gun violence. Two women killed were a doctor and a pharmaceutical assistant, the Mayor confirmed.
 
A police spokesman said the gunman had died in an exchange of shots, but it was not clear if he took his own life.
 
A second officer avoided injury after a bullet fired in his direction became lodged in his gun, police said.
 
The gunman appeared to target a woman he was in a relationship with, but they do not suggest a motive, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson said. 
 
The deceased officer was identified as Samuel Jimenez.
 
The incident occurred at Chicago's Mercy Hospital at about 3 p.m. as "multiple shots" were fired after the gunman opened fire in the hospital's car park, a police spokesman said.
 
Patients at the clinic later described hearing gunfire as the suspect made his way into the building, the CNN report said.
 
The officer who was shot at but escaped injury during the incident shared images of a bullet embedded in the side of his gun, Chicago news broadcaster ABC7 reported.
 
The other officer who succumbed to his injuries was a father of three. He joined the force in February 2017 and had recently completed probationary training and become a full-fledged officer, Johnson said.
 
"What I would ask is that you keep all the victims of today's horrific incident in your thoughts and prayers," Johnson said. "It is the face and the consequence of evil," Emanuel said.
 
Just days back a hashtag #ThisIsOurLane was used by doctors in response to a tweet from America's powerful pro-gun group, the National Rifle Association (NRA), that suggested anti-gun doctors should "stay in their lane" after high-profile shootings.
 
Some doctors rebuked the assertion -- sharing emotional stories and blood-splattered photographs of their treatment of gun violence victims.
 
Almost 13,000 people have been killed by guns so far in 2018 in the US, according to data compiled tracking website Gun Violence Archive.
 
IANS
 

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Indian peacekeeper injured in DRC rebel attack

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An attack by a rebel group has injured an Indian police peacekeeper serving in a UN operation in a Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) area facing the Ebola crisis, an UN official said.
 
Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday that the attack was carried out by "suspected" Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) late on Friday evening in the Boikene area in North Kivu Province.
 
"The member of the Indian police unit stationed there was lightly wounded," he said. He, however, did not identify the injured person.
 
The outbreak of Ebola disease has intensified the crisis in the DRC that has been in the throes of ongoing battles with marauding rebel forces that have claimed the lives of 154 peacekeepers, 15 of them Indians.
 
The World Health Organisation said it evacuated 16 of its staff dealing with Ebola in the area after their residence was hit on Friday by a shell that, however, did not explode.
 
Last week, one Tanzanian and six Malawaian peacekeepers were killed by the AFD in the Beni territory near Boikene.
 
The latest victims were members of the Force Intervention Brigade made up of South African, Malawian and Tanzanian peacekeepers, which operates jointly with DRC military.
 
The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, told IANS in an interview on Friday that although Indian peacekeepers "are not part of the Force Intervention Brigade," they were active in other areas.
 
"Violence is not limited to North Kivu, even though it is currently one of the most affected," he said.
 
For example, "the Indians played a major role in repelling when the town of Uvira was attacked", he said.
 
Mai-Mai militias attacked Uvira, the second largest town in the South Kivu province, in 2017.
 
There were 276 Indian police personnel serving as peacekeepers in the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC that is better known by its French initials, MONUSCO.
 
In addition, the 2,627 Indian troops serving in the mission make up its second largest contingent.
 
MONUSCO radio gave details of an ADF group attack in the area but it was not clear if the Indian police peacekeeper was injured in that action.
 
The radio said that the ADF raided the Boikene area of Rwenzori in North Kivu's Beni, and attacked a MONUSCO base on Friday evening.
 
The peacekeepers reacted immediately and repulsed the attack after exchanges of fire, the radio said.
 
"The UN Mission and the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) have increased security measures in the Beni area, including around hotels occupied by UN personnel and humanitarian workers who are focused on the Ebola response, and they have also expanded their support of police operations in the Beni area," Dujarric said.
 
The Force Intervention Brigade intensified its campaign against the ADF on Tuesday last week "in response to repeated attacks against the civilian population of the Beni region," according to MONUSCO.
 
IANS
 

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Missing Argentine submarine found a year after it vanished

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A missing Argentine naval submarine has been found, a year and a day after it vanished in the South Atlantic with 44 crew members on board, authorities said.
 
The wreckage of the ARA San Juan, which "suffered an implosion", was found about 870 metres below the ocean floor, Argentine naval Capt. Gabriel Attis told the media here on Saturday.
 
Family members at the navy headquarters were shown three images of the remains of the San Juan's "sail", or tower, and bow sections.
 
Hours before the wreckage was positively identified, the Argentine navy tweeted an image of a point of interest on the seabed, suggesting that a 60-meter-long object might be the missing vessel. 
 
An American company contracted by Argentina located the submarine. The vessel's condition remains unclear.
 
Defence Minister Oscar Aguad told the media that Argentina does not have the capability of recovering the sunken submarine.
 
"No, we don't have the means to go down to that depth of the sea," he said, adding that authorities "do not have the equipment to bring the submarine out from such a depth".
 
The ARA San Juan disappeared on November 15, 2017, off Argentina's coast, about midway on its journey from Ushuaia in the country's south to Mar del Plata.
 
The Argentine navy said in the following days that the vessel's captain had reported a short circuit in the vessel's battery system shortly before the last known contact. 
 
The short circuit was caused by seawater entering the vessel's "snorkel", a tube that reaches the surface to refresh the vessel's air and recharge the batteries, the captain said in a call to his commander on land.
 
The hunt for the vessel -- which at its height involved 28 ships and nine airplanes from 11 nations, including the US and UK -- centered on an area roughly 900 km off the Argentine coast.
 
Among the victims was Eliana Maria Krawczyk, Argentina's first female submarine officer.
 
IANS
 

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India, Maldives break ice, agree on Indian Ocean stability

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting the President of Maldives, Mr. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in Male on November 17, 2018
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting the President of Maldives, Mr. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in Male on November 17, 2018
Seen as a fresh revival of ties between India and the Maldives, the two countries agreed to work on peace and stability in the Indian Ocean region following a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and new Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Saturday.
 
"The two leaders, while noting the resilience of the relations between India and the Maldives, expressed confidence in the renewal of the close bonds of cooperation and friendship with the election of Solih as the President of the Maldives," a joint statement issued following the meeting said.
 
"During their meeting, both leaders agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean and being mindful of each other's concerns and aspirations for the stability of the region," it stated.
 
"The two leaders expressed their unwavering commitment and support for increased cooperation in combating terrorism both within the region and elsewhere."
 
Prior to the meeting, Modi attended the swearing-in ceremony of Solih in the Maldives' capital.
 
Modi was the senior-most foreign leader to attend the ceremony in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation that went through immense political turmoil under former President Abdulla Yameen.
 
This is Modi's first visit to the Maldives and the first prime ministerial visit from India to that country since 2011.
 
Solih, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party's candidate, emerged victorious over Yameen. His term is expected to continue until 2023. He is the seventh President of the Maldives and the third to be elected under the country's new Constitution.
 
Following his victory in the Maldives presidential election in September, Solih invited Modi to attend his swearing-in ceremony during a telephonic conversation.
 
The island nation's relations with India became strained during Yameen's rule, with tensions peaking after New Delhi criticised Male's refusal to enforce a Supreme Court ruling quashing the convictions of nine opposition figures, among them former President Mohamed Nasheed, who had gone into exile.
 
Nasheed returned to his country following Solih's election.
 
 
Coast Guard conducts aerial survey of Cyclone Gaja affected areas
During his speech after the swearing-in, Solih, speaking in Dwivehi, said that his country "will endeavour to fortify existing ties with India".
 
"Maldives will hereupon bolster its shared role to retain enduring peace and harmony of the Indian Ocean," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar quoted him as saying.
 
During the swearing-in, Nasheed sat beside Modi and the two were seen chatting animatedly. Former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunge was also sitting along with them.
 
Under Nasheed, relations between India and the atoll nation had improved greatly.
 
Former President Yameen was seen as anti-India and pro-China while new President Solih is perceived to be pro-India.
 
China's increased influence in the Indo-Pacific region sent ripples around capitals across the world. India, the US, Japan and Australia then last year revived a quad they had formed to work for peace and prosperity in the region.
 
Solih greeted Modi with a warm embrace at the presidential office ahead of their meeting after the swearing-in ceremony.
 
According to the joint statement, Modi thanked Solih for the special gesture of inviting him to the inauguration ceremony.
 
"President Solih also briefed Prime Minister Modi on the dire economic situation facing the country as he takes office," it stated.
 
"The two leaders discussed ways in which India can continue development partnership, particularly to help the new government in meeting its pledges to the people of the Maldives."
 
Solih highlighted the pressing need for increased housing and infrastructure development as well as for establishing water and sewerage systems in the outlying islands.
 
On his part, Modi assured Solih of "India's firm commitment in assisting the Maldives to achieve sustainable social and economic development".
 
"He also conveyed India's readiness to extend help in every possible way and suggested that both sides should meet at the earliest to work out details as per requirements of the Maldives," the statement said.
 
Modi also welcomed the expanding opportunities for Indian companies to invest in the Maldives in different sectors for the mutual benefit of both countries.
 
Under Yameen, the Maldives, like several other countries in the region, had come under a debt trap under Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure push.
 
According to the joint statement, the Maldives Minister of Foreign Affairs will make an official visit to India on November 26 to hold further discussions and to prepare for the forthcoming state visit of Solih to India.
 
Solih also invited Modi to make an official visit to the Maldives in the near future which the latter accepted.
 
Earlier in the day, Modi was accorded a red carpet welcome on his arrival here with the Speaker of the Maldives Parliament, Qasim Ibrahim, receiving him at the airport.
 
IANS
 

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Modi attends swearing-in ceremony of new Maldives President

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday attended the swearing-in ceremony of new Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih here.
 
Modi was the senior-most foreign leader to attend the ceremony in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation that went through immense political turmoil under former President Abdulla Yameen.
 
Solih, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party's candidate, emerged victorious over Yameen. His term is expected to continue until 2023. He is the seventh President of the Maldives and the third to be elected under the country's new Constitution.
 
The island nation's relations with India became strained during Yameen's rule, with tensions peaking after New Delhi criticised Male's refusal to enforce a Supreme Court ruling quashing the convictions of nine opposition figures, among them former President Mohamed Nasheed, who had gone into exile.
 
Nasheed returned to his country following Solih's election. 
 
During the swearing-in ceremony, Nasheed sat beside Modi and the two were seen chatting animatedly. Former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunge was also sitting along with them.
 
Under Nasheed, relations between India and the atoll nation had improved greatly.
 
Former President Yameen was seen as anti-India and pro-China while new President Solih is perceived to be pro-India.
 
Following his victory in the Maldives presidential election in September, Solih invited Modi to attend his swearing-in ceremony during a telephonic conversation.
 
Earlier in the day, Modi was accorded a red carpet welcome on his arrival here with the Speaker of the Maldives Parliament, Qasim Ibrahim, receiving him at the airport.
 
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Saudi Crown Prince ordered Khashoggi's killing: CIA

 
U.S. sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing
The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, despite the Saudi government's denials that the de facto ruler was involved, according to a senior US official.
 
The official told CNN on Friday the conclusion was based on a recording provided by the Turkish government and other evidence, including American intelligence.
 
Investigators also believed that an operation such as the one that ended in Khashoggi's death would not have happened without Salman's knowledge given his control of the government, the official said.
 
Reacting to the development, a Saudi Embassy spokeswoman said that "the claims in this purported assessment are false. We have and continue to hear various theories without seeing the primary basis for these speculations".
 
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is yet to make an official announcement.
 
Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post and also former Saudi royal insider who became a critic of the country's government, went missing on October 2 after he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain papers for his upcoming marriage. 
 
The Saudi government offered changing explanations for Khashoggi's disappearance.
 
Included in the US intelligence analysed by the CIA was a phone call the Crown Prince's brother Khalid bin Salman made to Khashoggi, encouraging the journalist to make the trip to the consulate to get the documents, according to The Washington Post. 
 
Sources told the Post that Khalid made the call at his brother's command.
 
Khalid denied the Post's reporting, saying on Twitter that he had never spoken to Khashoggi by phone.
 
"I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the US government to release any information regarding this claim," Khalid said on Friday.
 
He said the last contact he'd had with Khashoggi was via text in October 2017.
 
Fatimah Baeshen, a spokeswoman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, told the Post that Khalid, who is the Saudi ambassador to the US, and Khashoggi never discussed "anything related to going to Turkey".
 
The CIA also examined an audio recording from inside the Saudi consulate provided by Turkey and a phone call placed from inside the consulate after Khashoggi was killed.
 
The location of Khashoggi's remains continue to be unknown.
 
US President Donald Trump's administration on Thursday imposed penalties on 17 individuals over their alleged roles in the killing of Khashoggi, CNN said. 
 
Earlier Thursday, the Saudi Public Prosecutor's Office said 11 people had been charged for their involvement, adding that five were facing capital punishment for being directly involved in "ordering and executing the crime".
 
IANS

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California wildfires toll reaches 65, as many as 631 remain missing

 
Paradise Lost: What's left of a California town
The death toll from the destructive wildfires in California in  the United States has increased to 65, while 631 people remain unaccounted for, authorities said.
 
Of the 65 victims, 63 were killed in Northern California's Camp Fire, deemed as the worst wildfire in the state's history, while two other people were killed in Southern California's Woolsey Fire, reports CNN.
 
Butte County Sheriff and Coroner Kory Honea said on Thursday evening that hundreds of rescue personnel -- deputies, National Guard troops and coroners -- dressed in white overalls sifted through smouldering rubble and checked mangled cars, searching for human remains.
 
Camp Fire has turned the hard-hit town of Paradise into ash and debris and also devastated the nearby communities of Magalia and Concow. 
 
Honea has invited relatives of the missing so that authorities could collect DNA samples from them. 
 
The DNA will be used to help identify the victims.
 
More than 9,600 firefighters, including many from out of state, were battling wildfires across California.
 
By Thursday, Camp Fire, which has destroyed about 9,700 homes and scorched 141,000 acres in Northern California, was 40 per cent contained.
 
The Woolsey Fire, which like the Camp Fire began on November 8, has burned more than 98,000 acres and destroyed more than 500 structures. 
 
It was 62 per cent contained. 
 
More than 230,000 acres burned in California in the past week. That's larger than the cities of Chicago and Boston combined. 
 
President Donald Trump is slated to visit the region on Saturday.
 
IANS

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East Asia Summit: India for enhanced multilateral cooperation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday called for enhanced multilateral cooperation while reiterating India's vision of an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region during the 13th East Asia Summit here.
 
PM Modi attends 13th East Asia Summit
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday called for enhanced multilateral cooperation while reiterating India's vision of an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region during the 13th East Asia Summit here.
 
"At the East Asia Summit in Singapore, I shared my thoughts on enhancing multilateral cooperation, economic and cultural ties among member nations," Modi tweeted after the summit. 
 
According to External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar, Modi reiterated India's vision of a peaceful, open and inclusive Indo- Pacific region, strengthening maritime cooperation and commitment to a balanced Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
 
The East Asia Summit is a premier leaders-led forum in the Indo-Pacific region comprising the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states -- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam - and its eight dialogue partners -- India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Russia. 
 
Since its inception in 2005, it has played an important role in reviewing political, security and economic developments in the Indo-Pacific region. 
 
India has been stressing on the centrality of Asean's role for peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.
 
The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between the Asean member states and the six countries with which this regional bloc has existing free trade agreements -- Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
 
Earlier in the day, Modi reaffirmed India's cooperation in the maritime domain during an India-ASEAN Summit here.
 
"Reaffirmed cooperation in maritime domain and centrality of trade and investment towards prosperity of Indo-Pacific," the Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson tweeted following the meeting.
 
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Under New Delhi's Act East Policy, India has been increasing its engagements with the ASEAN regional bloc.
 
In January 2018, India hosted the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit to celebrate 25 years of dialogue partnership, 15 years of summit-level interaction and five years of strategic partnership. 
 
In an unprecedented gesture, all 10 ASEAN leaders attended the Commemorative Summit and graced the Republic Day celebrations as chief guests. 
 
According to a report in the Straits Times, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged India to join ASEAN in a push to create the RCEP, the world's largest free trade area, next year.
 
"I am glad that we have made tremendous progress this year to advance the RCEP negotiations," Lee said during the ASEAN-India summit.
 
"We are now close to the finishing line, although further work remains to finalize the remaining details."
 
Stating that all efforts should be made to bring the RCEP negotiations to conclusion in 2019, Lee said: "Together with the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area, we hope that this will help us reach the ASEAN-India trade target of $200 billion in total trade by 2022."
 
IANS
 

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California wildfires toll climbs to 58, over 130 missing

 
California wildfire victims sue utility PG&E
The death toll from the three raging wildfires in California has increased to 58, while authorities have continued their search for more human remains and also efforts to track down 130 people who remain unaccounted for.
 
The majority of the missing were reported from the town of Paradise, where the Northern California's Camp Fire, deemed as the worst wildfire in the US state's history, started on the morning of November 8, CNN quoted Butte County Sheriff and Coroner Kory Honea as saying on Wednesday.
 
About 461 people and 22 cadaver dogs were searching the town and other communities.
 
"We're moving as fast as we can. It will take as long as it takes," Honea said when asked about a timeline for the search. 
 
"It's an important thing that we get right. And I understand the issue (of residents wanting to return to their properties), and I'm balancing the competing interests."
 
The sheriff's department will begin taking DNA samples from people who are missing a family member on Thursday, he said.
 
Of the 58 victims, 56 were killed in Camp Fire while a second blaze, Woolsey Fire in Southern California's Los Angeles and Ventura counties, has killed at least two people and destroyed nearly 500 homes.
 
A third Southern California blaze has burned 4,531 acres and was 96 per cent contained as of Wednesday morning.
 
According to Cal Fire, Camp Fire was 35 per cent contained. More than 10,000 structures have burned down, officials said.
 
Woolsey Fire was 52 per cent contained.
 
More than 230,000 acres burned in California in the past week. That's larger than the cities of Chicago and Boston combined. 
 
In 30 days, firefighters have battled more than 500 blazes, said Cal Fire, the state's forestry and fire protection agency.
 
President Donald Trump received a briefing about the fires from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long, who were in California.
 
More than 300,000 people have been forced from their homes statewide. Most of those live in Los Angeles county, where 170,000 were evacuated.
 
IANS
 

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Trump extols close ties to India, Modi; says trade deals 'moving along'

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United States President Donald Trump has complimented Indian trade negotiators as "the best" and said trade talks between the two countries were moving along.
 
"We are trying very hard to make better trade deals with India," he said during a White House Diwali celebration on Tuesday.
 
Showing the trade negotiators as highly skilled and making the talks sound difficult for the Americans, he said, "They are very good traders, they are very good negotiators." And turning to India's Ambassador Navtej Sarna, he said, "You would say (that), right?"
 
They are "the best," and "so we are working and it is moving along," he added.
 
The annual celebration was held a week later because Diwali fell on the day after the mid-term elections when the results were still coming in.
 
He repeatedly spoke of his close ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
 
He said, "We love your country. And I have great, great respect, as you know, for your Prime Minister Modi."
 
And he told Sarna, "So please give him my warmest regards. We will be talking to him soon.
 
"The United States has deep ties to the nation of India and I am grateful for my friendship with Prime Minister Modi," he said.
 
He also recalled that his daughter had met Modi during a visit to India and he was now also her friend.
 
He said, "India is the world's largest democracy. And the relationship between our two countries can act as a bulwark for freedom, prosperity and peace."
 
"We are very close and I think closer than ever before," Trump said, and Sarna agreed, saying, "Absolutely, sir."
 
"I think that we are looking at one of the best times we have ever had for the India-US relationship," Sarna said.
 
He added that the Indian-American community was a "plus plus for both India and for the United States."
 
Last month Trump had denounced India as the "tariff king" and asserted that he had spoken to Modi, who told him that he would reduce the tariffs on imports from the US.
 
Trump has made the US trade deficit a focus of his presidency, imposing heavy taxes on a range of Chinese imports, threatening other countries over trade and renegotiating trade agreements with Mexico and Canada.
 
The total value of US-India goods and services trade last year was $126.2 billion and the US ran a $27.3 billion deficit.
 
Earlier this year, Trump announced tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imported from India and other countries.
 
New Delhi has threatened retaliatory duties on US agricultural products it imports like nuts and apples, as well as some chemicals.
 
In one concession to a pet peeve of Trump, India dropped the duties on Harley Davidson motorcycles from 75 percent to 50 percent.
 
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India is your best destination, Modi tells fintech companies

Prime Minister Narendra Modi told fintech companies and start-ups across the world on Wednesday that India is their best destination, pointing out that the country's vast markets could enable their products to achieve scale, reduce risks and costs, and go global.
 
Financial inclusion has become a reality for 1.3 bn Indians: Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today told fintech companies and start-ups across the world that India is their best destination, pointing  out that the country's vast markets could enable their products to achieve scale, reduce risks and costs, and go global.
 
"In short, the Indian story shows six great benefits of fintech: Access, inclusion; connectivity; ease of living; opportunity; and, accountability," he said in his keynote address at the Singapore FinTech festival here.
 
Mr. Modi said there was an explosion of fintech innovation and enterprise in India that had turned it into a leading fintech and start-up nation in the world. The future of fintech and Industry 4.0 is emerging in India, he said.
 
"Our youth are developing apps that are making the dream of paperless, cashless, presence-less, and yet safe and secure, transactions possible for all. That is the wonder of India Stack– simply the largest set of Application Programming Interface in the world.
 
"They are using Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and machine learning to create solutions for banks, regulators and consumers. And, they are also embracing our nation’s social missions – from health and education to micro credit and insurance.
 
"This enormous talent pool in India benefits from the ecosystem created by initiatives such as Digital India and Startup India, and by supportive policies, incentives and funding programmes.
 
"It also helps that India has the largest data consumption in the world and the cheapest rates for data. And one of the top nations in fintech adoption. So, I say this to all the fintech companies and startups – India is your best destination," he said.
 
"The economies of scale achieved in India by the LED bulb industry allowed this energy efficient technology to become more affordable globally. Likewise, India’s vast market can enable fintech products to achieve scale, reduce risks and costs, and go global," he said.
 
Mr. Modi said the Fintech Festival was a celebration of belief in the spirit of innovation and the power of imagination, in the energy of youth and their passion for change, and in making the world a better place. 
 
"And, it is no surprise that in just its third year, this Festival is already the world’s largest. Singapore has been a global hub for finance and, it is now taking a leap into the digital future of finance," he said.
 
"It was here, in June this year, that I launched India’s RuPay card and the first international remittance mobile app using India’s world class Unified Payment Interface or UPI. 
 
"Today, I will have the honour to launch a global platform to connect fintech firms and financial institutions, beginning with ASEAN and Indian banks and fintech companies," he said.
 
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Mr. Modi said India and Singapore were also working to connect Indian and ASEAN small and medium enterprises, anchored on an Indian platform, and expand it globally.
 
"I have heard of an advice going around in start-up circles. To increase your Venture Capital or VC funding by 10 percent, tell the investors you run a 'platform', not a regular business. If you want to increase your VC funding by 20 percent, tell the investors that you are operating in the 'fintech space'.
 
"But, if you really want the investors to empty their pockets, tell them that you are using 'blockchain'," he said.
 
"It tells you of the excitement and promise of emerging technologies to transform the world of finance. Indeed, history has shown that finance is often the first to embrace new technology and connectivity.
 
"We are in an age of a historic transition brought about by technology. From desktop to cloud, from internet to social media, from IT Services to Internet of Things,we have come a long way in a short time. There is daily disruption in businesses.
 
"The character of the global economy is changing. Technology is defining competitiveness and power in the new world. And, it is creating boundless opportunities to transform lives. 
 
"I had said at the United Nations in 2014 that we have to believe that development and empowerment can spread with the same speed at which Facebook, Twitter or mobile phones have spread. Across the world, that vision is rapidly changing into reality. In India, it has transformed governance and delivery of public services. It has unleashed innovation, hope and opportunities.It has empowered the weak and brought into mainstream those who were on the margins. It has made economic access more democratic," he said.
 
Mr. Modi said his government came to office in 2014 with a mission of inclusive development that would touch the lives of every citizen – the weakest in the remotest village.
 
"That mission needed a solid foundation of financial inclusion for all – a task that was not easy in a country of India’s size. Yet, we wanted to achieve this in months, not years that conventional wisdom suggested. With the power of fintech and the reach of digital connectivity, we have started a revolution of unprecedented speed and scale.
 
"To begin with financial inclusion has become a reality for 1.3 billion Indians. We have generated more than 1.2 billion biometric identities -- called Aadhaar or foundation --  in just a few years. With our Jan Dhan Yojana, we aimed to give a bank account to every Indian. In three years, we have opened 330 million new bank accounts. These are 330 million sources of identity, dignity and opportunities.
 
"Less than 50 percent of Indians had bank accounts in 2014; now, it is nearly universal.
 
"So today, more than a billion biometric identities, more than a billion bank accounts and more than a billion cell phones give India by far the biggest public infrastructure in the world," he said.
 
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Mr. Modi went on to speak about direct benefits transfer, the healthcare  scheme "Ayushman", the Mudra scheme for loans for small entrepreneurs, the India Post Payments Bank, financial inclusion, digital connectivity to village panchayats and other initiatives by the Government.
 
"None of this would have been as effective without the other big change brought about by fintech – the digitisation of payments and transactions in India.
 
"India is a nation of diverse circumstances and challenges. Our solutions must also be diverse. Our digitization is a success because our payment products cater to everyone.
 
"For those with mobile and internet, the BHIM-UPI is the world’s most sophisticated, simple and seamless platform for payments between accounts, using a virtual payment address. For those who have a mobile, but no internet, there is U.S.S.D. system in 12 languages. And, for those who have neither mobile nor internet, there is Aadhar Enabled Payment System, which uses biometrics. And, it has already registered a billion transactions and grown six-fold in two years," he said.
 
"RuPay is bringing payment cards within the reach of all. Over 250 million of these are with those who did not have a bank account 4 years ago. From cards to QRs and wallets, digital transactions in India are growing rapidly. Today, 128 banks in India are connected to UPI. Transactions on UPI grew 1500 times in the last 24 months. Every month, the value of transaction is growing by over 30 percent," he said.
 
"But, more than the pace, I am inspired by the opportunities, efficiency, transparency and convenience that digital payment is generating," he said, highlighting the benefits that could accrue to shopkeepers, farmers, rural artisans and workers.
 
"Every digital payment saves time. It adds to a huge national saving. It is increasing productivity of individuals and our economy. It also helps improve tax collection and inject fairness in the economy. Even more, digital payments are a gateway to a world of possibilities. 
 
"Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence are helping us build a whole range of value added services for people.  This includes credit to those with little or no credit history. Financial inclusion also extends to micro, small and medium enterprises. They are all coming on the nation-wide Goods and Services Tax digital network, launched just over a year ago.
 
"Banks are reaching out to them with credit. Alternative lending platforms are offering innovative financing models. They no longer have to look at informal markets for credit at high interest rates.
 
"And, just this month, we committed to approve loans up to Rupees 1 crore, or 150,000 dollars for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises within 59 minutes -- without even visiting a bank. This is driven by an algorithm that uses GST returns, Income Tax returns and bank statements to make credit decisions. In just a few days, 150,000 such enterprises have come on board for loans.
 
"This is the power of fintech to drive enterprise, employment and prosperity. Digital technology is introducing transparency and eliminating corruption through innovations such as the Government e-Marketor GEM. It is an integrated platform for purchases by government agencies. It provides everything – search and comparison, tender, online ordering, contract generation and payment. It already has 600,000 products. Nearly 30,000 buyer organisations and more than 150,000 sellers and service providers are registered on the platform," he said.
 
"Across the world, from the Indo-Pacific to Africa to Latin America, we see inspiring stories of extraordinary innovation changing ordinary lives. But, there is much to be done. Our focus should be development of all, through , that is, development of the most marginalised. We must bring the unbanked 1.7 billion people in the world into the formal financial market.
 
"We must extend the security of insurance and pension to more than a billion workers in the informal sectors worldwide, who still do not have it. We can use fintech to ensure that no dream remains unfulfilled, and no enterprise remains still born, because of lack of access to finance. We must make banks and financial institutions more resilient in managing risks, fighting frauds and dealing with disruption of traditional models.
 
"We have to use technology to improve compliance,regulation and supervision, so that innovation flourishes and risks are contained. We must use fintech tools to combat money laundering and other financial crimes. 
 
"The emerging world of finance will succeed in our inter-connected world when our data and systems are trusted and secure. We have to make our globally wired system safe from cyber threats. We must also ensure that the pace and the push of fintech work to the advantage of the people, not to their disadvantage; that technology in finance ensures improvement of the human condition through direct contact with the most marginalized.
 
"We also need to enhance awareness of the masses and educate them about the opportunities which inclusive policies and use of technology open up for them. For this, fintech will need to be not merely a mechanism but a movement. And, we have to address the inevitable questions of data ownership and flow, privacy and consent; private and public good; law and ethics.
 
"Finally, we must invest in creating skills for the future. And, be prepared to back ideas and invest for the long term. 
 
"Each era is defined by its opportunities and challenges. Each generation has its responsibility to shape future. This generation will shape the future in the palm of every hand in the world. 
 
"At no time in history were we blessed with so many possibilities: to make opportunities and prosperity a reality in a lifetime, for billions; to make the world more humane and equal –between rich and poor, between cities and villages, between hopes and achievements.
 
"Just as India will learn from others, we will share our experience and expertise with the world. Because, what drives India also holds hope for others. And,what we dream for India is what we also wish for the world. This is a common journey for all," he added.
 
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Sri Lanka's Supreme Court stays dissolution of Parliament

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Sri Lanka's Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed until December 7 the dissolution of Parliament by the President, granting interim relief to political parties that had urged the apex court to junk Maithripala Sirisena's decision.
 
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Nalin Perera heard petitions filed by several political parties on Monday and Tuesday challenging Sirisena's dissolution of Parliament.
 
The case was fixed for argument on December 4, 5 and 6, Xinhua news agency reported. 
 
Meanwhile, the Gazette notification convening Parliament on November 14 will stand active, which means Parliament could be convened on Wednesday, according to Colombo Telegraph. 
 
The political turmoil escalated in the island nation when Sirisena dissolved Parliament on Friday and called for a snap parliamentary election on January 5, over two weeks after sacking Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replacing him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.
 
Sirisena then immediately formed a caretaker government, a move which Wickremesinghe's United National Party (UNP) called illegal.
 
The President's sudden move to dissolve Parliament came one and a half years ahead of the scheduled parliamentary polls.
 
Sirisena said his decision to dissolve Parliament and call for a snap election was to avoid violence from erupting on the streets of the country and on the floor of the House.
 
The parties which filed petitions challenging the President's move included the UNP, the main opposition Tamil National Alliance, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Tamil Progressive Alliance and the All Ceylon Makkal Congress.
 
After the Supreme Court's order, the JVP parliamentarians met Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and urged him to convene Parliament as soon as possible.
 
Wickremesinghe told his parliamentarians that he was ready to show his parliamentary majority at any time. He also told them to "get ready" to attend Parliament on Wednesday.
 
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Stan Lee dead, Hollywood remembers comic legend

 
Spider Man creator, comic book titan Stan Lee dies
Stan Lee, the colourful Marvel Comics patriarch who helped usher in a new era of superhero storytelling, died at the age of 95, with a string of Hollywood personalities including Chris Hemsworth, Ryan Reynolds and Robert Downey Jr., paying their emotional tributes to the comic visionary.
 
Kirk Schneck, an attorney for Lee's daughter, told CNN that the comic giant was taken from his Los Angeles home on Monday morning to Cedar's Sinai Medical Centre, where he later died. The cause of death is not yet known, according to Schneck.
 
Lee, born as Stanley Lieber on December 28, 1922, began his career at what was then Timely Comics in 1939. Over the years he was a writer, editor and occasional illustrator. 
 
The comic book business had been then dominated by DC (then National) Comics, creators of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern.
 
In the early '60s, Lee was asked to come up with a team of superheroes to compete against DC's Justice League. 
 
First came the Fantastic Four which was followed by Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men and Daredevil.
 
These new superheroes -- all created in a burst between 1961 and 1964 -- were hugely popular and allowed Marvel to surpass DC in both sales and fashionableness.
 
Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said: "Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created. A superhero in his own right to Marvel fans around the world, Stan had the power to inspire, to entertain and to connect."
 
"Thor" actor Chris Hemsworth shared an image of Lee in Thor's traditional helmet while holding the hammer, Mjolnir. 
 
"RIP my friend. Thank you for the incredible adventures your stories took all of us on. My love and support goes out to all your friends and family," he wrote
 
Ryan Reynolds, who plays Deadpool in the "X-Men" franchise, shared a photograph of Lee's cameo in the latest "Deadpool" movie and wrote: "Damn... RIP Stan. Thanks for everything."
 
Chris Evans, who plays Captain America wrote: "There will never be another Stan Lee. For decades he provided both young and old with adventure, escape, comfort, confidence, inspiration, strength, friendship and joy. He exuded love and kindness and will leave an indelible mark on so many lives." 
 
Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, emphasised Lee's importance to his own career. 
 
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"No one has had more of an impact on my career and everything we do at Marvel Studios than Stan Lee. Stan leaves an extraordinary legacy that will outlive us all. Our thoughts are with his daughter, his family, and his millions of fans."
 
Robert Downey Jr., who first began portraying "Iron Man" in 2008 and launched the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, posted an image on Instagram with Lee. "Owe it all to you. Rest in peace Stan," he captioned the image.
 
Benedict Cumberbatch, who joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the titular "Doctor Strange" said: "Stan Lee's imagination has held generations in its thrall. He was a kind, generous and funny man and it was an honour to meet him. My love and thoughts to his family."
 
"Wolverine" star Hugh Jackman wrote: "We've lost a creative genius. Stan Lee was a pioneering force in the superhero universe. I'm proud to have been a small part of his legacy and... to have helped bring one of his characters to life."
 
"Guardians of the Galaxy" star Chris Pratt thanked him for the world he created: "Thanks for everything Stan Lee! What a life, so well lived. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have gotten to meet you and to have played in the world you created."
 
Tom Holland, who plays Marvel's latest iteration of Spiderman wrote: "How many millions of us are indebted to this guy, none more so than me. The father of Marvel has made so many people so incredibly happy. What a life and what a thing to have achieved. Rest in peace Stan."
 
Actor Jeremy Renner who plays Hawkeye in the "Avengers" franchise honoured him with a photograph. 
 
On the Hollywood Walk of Fame, fans also took time to honour Lee by laying flowers alongside his star. A floral wreath also appeared, complete with a black sash and the comic book writer's name written in gold.
 
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Stan Lee, Marvel's creative force, dies at 95

 
Spider-Man creator, comic book titan Stan Lee dies
Stan Lee, the creative force behind Marvel Comics and man who created the X-Men, the Avengers and Black Panther, died on Monday.
 
Lee, born Stanley Lieber on December 28, 1922, began his career in 1939 and joined Marvel Comics in 1961.
 
He is considered as one of the most legendary names in the history of comic books and the leading creative force behind the rise of Marvel Comics. He co-created iconic fictional characters such as Spider-Man, X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and many more. 
 
Those superheroes have been adapted into blockbuster films, most of which were made after Disney acquired Marvel in a 4-billion-dollar deal in 2009.
 
In a statement, Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company said Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created.
 
"A super hero in his own right to Marvel fans around the world, Stan had the power to inspire, to entertain, and to connect," said Iger.
 
He added that the scale of Lee's imagination was only exceeded by the size of his heart.
 
"Marvel and the entire The Walt Disney Company salute the life and career of Stan Lee and offer their undying gratitude for his unmatchable accomplishments within their halls. Every time you open a Marvel comic, Stan will be there," according to the statement. 
 
Marvel also paid tribute to Lee on its website by putting on one of Lee's famous quotes, together with his photo. 
 
The quote goes, "I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic-book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people's lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you're able to entertain, you're doing a good thing." 
 
Those who were once involved in Marvel film making mourned the death of Lee on social networks together with Lee's fans.
 
Chris Evans, the American actor known for his superhero roles as the Captain America and Human Torch, said on Twitter that there will never be another Stan Lee.
 
"For decades he provided both young and old with adventure, escape, comfort, confidence, inspiration, strength, friendship and joy. He exuded love and kindness and will leave an indelible mark on so, so, so many lives. Excelsior!!" Evans tweeted.
 
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California wildfires death toll rises to 44 people

 
California wildfires death toll rises to 44
The three raging wildfires in California have killed 44 people since they started last week, a record number of deaths from a wildfire in the US state, officials said.
 
Of the 44 people killed, 42 died in Northern California's Camp Fire, while two others were killed in the Woolsey Fire in Malibu, Butte county Sheriff Kory L. Honea told the media on Monday night.
 
Honea said more than 200 people remain missing in and around the wooded town of Paradise in northern California, which sits in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and was popular with retirees, The New York Times reported.
 
The Camp Fire which broke out in Paradise on the morning of November 8, has already burned about 117,000 acres, destroyed 6,453 homes, and was only about 30 per cent contained.
 
"My sincere hope is that I don't have to come here each night and report a higher and higher number," Sheriff Honea said.
 
Camp Fire, which continues to rage in the hills and ravines east of the city of Chico, is also the most destructive fire in California history, with more than 7,100 structures destroyed, most of them homes.
 
Meanwhile, an estimated 435 structures have been destroyed in the Woolsey Fire west of Los Angeles, up from the 177 figure provided on Sunday night. 
 
Another 57,000 structures were believed to be under threat. 
 
The blaze, which is 30 per cent contained and has charred more than 90,000 acres in communities like Malibu and Thousand Oaks.
 
The third blaze known as the Hill Fire has ripped through 4,500 acres in Ventura county. It was 85 per cent contained as of Monday, according to Cal Fire.
 
President Donald Trump on Monday evening said on that he had approved a request to declare the fires in California a major disaster, making people affected eligible for various types of federal government support.
 
According to the National Weather Service, weather conditions were forecast to worsen in Southern California, where the Woolsey and Hill Fires are raging, The New York Times reported. 
 
Much of that region will face critical fire weather conditions through Tuesday afternoon, with low relative humidity, no rain and a high-wind warning in effect for the mountains. it added.
 
The strong winds propelled a new brush fire in Simi Valley on Monday morning, which quickly spread to cover about 105 acres before firefighters brought in under control.
 
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California wildfires toll rises to 31, more than 300,000 evacuated

 
CA wildfires 'exponentially' worse than years prior
The death toll from the three raging wildfires in California has increased to 31, with more than 300,000 people forced to evacuate from their homes across the US state, according to authorities.
 
Of the 31 victims, 29 died in Northern California's Camp Fire and two in Southern California's Woolsey Fire, reports CNN.
 
The Camp fire -- the most destructive blaze in the state's history and largest of the three -- has burned 111,000 acres across Northern California and was 25 per cent contained as of Sunday morning, according to Cal Fire. 
 
It has virtually burned the town of Paradise to the ground and destroyed an estimated 6,700 buildings, most of which were homes.
 
Cal Fire said that at least 110 people were still missing and the toll could go higher.
 
In Southern California, the Woolsey fire has spread to 83,275 acres and was 10 per cent contained, up from 5 per cent the night before. 
 
The smaller Hill Fire covered 4,531 acres and was 75 per cent contained. It was responsible for the destruction of 179 structures, but another 57,000 were threatened, fire officials said.
 
Firefighters on Sunday managed to contain flareups generated by high winds in Los Angeles County. 
 
But officials warned that the dry conditions feeding the fire are expected to continue into the week and gusts would peak at around 40 mph.
 
"Sadly, with these winds, it's not over yet," Scott Jalbert, chief of Cal Fire's San Luis Obispo Unit, said on Sunday.
 
More than 300,000 people have been forced from their homes statewide. 
 
The majority of those residents were in Los Angeles County, where 170,000 were evacuated.
 
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California wildfire kills 9, ravages celebrity homes

 
At least nine killed by California wildfire
Two fast-moving wildfires that exploded in the Southern California hills have claimed nine lives and forced thousands to flee their homes, including the entire city of Malibu, a sprawling naval base and many Hollywood celebrity homes.
 
Fanned by ferocious Santa Ana winds and fueled by dry tinder, the fires immolated a mountain town and jangled the nerves of many tens of thousands of residents forced to evacuate their homes.
 
The blazes thus far have proved to be unstoppable, operating at flash-flood velocity. The big wildfire here in Southern California, known as the "Woolsey Fire", quadrupled in size by Friday evening, covering more than 22 square miles, with no containment. 
 
It easily jumped eight-lane Highway 101 and rambled over the Santa Monica Mountains to posh Malibu, where it torched homes and cars. The wildfire then finally ran into its only match so far: the Pacific Ocean, the Washington Post reported.
 
The bulletins from the northern part of the state were even worse. At least nine people died in or near their homes or vehicles as they tried to outrace the "Camp Fire" that started on Thursday morning and has devastated the mountain town of Paradise, about 90 miles north of the state capital, Sacramento.
 
Among the celebrity homes reportedly damaged -- if not destroyed -- was the home of Caitlyn Jenner, who posted an Instagram video reporting that she was in a safe house, but wasn't sure what has become of her home.
 
Other celebrities in southern California who have reported on social media that they were evacuated from their homes due to the fast-moving fires include Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian West, her sister Kourtney Kardashian and Mark Hammill.
 
Among the properties destroyed by the Woolsey Fire was the Paramount Ranch in Agoura, where hundreds of movies and television shows, including HBO's "Westworld", have been filmed, stretching back to the 1920s.
 
The freeway was closed in both directions near the Liberty Canyon Road exit due to "very active fire conditions", authorities said.
 
The California fire season normally begins in late spring and lasts through summer. 
 
But hot, dry weather has persisted this year well into autumn, and the winter rains have yet to arrive. The Santa Ana winds, which blow out of the Sierra Nevadas and toward the western coastline, are building into howling gales that dry the vegetation and the soil, creating potentially explosive fire conditions.
 
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Louvre Abu Dhabi marks 1st anniversary

Louvre Abu Dhabi’s exterior © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photo: Mohamed Somji
Louvre Abu Dhabi’s exterior © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photo: Mohamed Somji
Louvre Abu Dhabi celebrated its first anniversary on Saturday and announced that it welcomed over one million visitors in its first year, establishing itself as one of the leading cultural institutions on the global stage.
 
Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, said: "One year ago we spoke about Louvre Abu Dhabi as Abu Dhabi's gift to the world and today we are proud to have shared it with more than one million visitors already. 
 
"Louvre Abu Dhabi has become an icon and a favourite destination both for our local communities and visitors to the city."
 
UAE residents represent 40 per cent of the museum's total number of visitors. Louvre Abu Dhabi has also become a global magnet for international visitors who account for 60 per cent of visits, said Al Mubarak.
 
He said that visitors to Louvre Abu Dhabi come from all parts of the globe, including the Middle East, Europe and Asia, with France, Germany, China, UK, the US, India and GCC being the top visitors. 
 
Overall, India is the top nationality of visitors, the official said.
 
Since its opening on 11 November, 2017, in partnership with French museum partners and as part of its first season "A World of Exchanges", Louvre Abu Dhabi presented four international exhibitions.
 
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5 dead, 150,000 evacuated as new wildfires hit California

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At least five people have died in the last few hours in California, where three large wildfires have forced 150,000 people to evacuate.
 
The largest blaze, known as Camp Fire, has hit northern California and is the only one that has been deadly so far, devastating 28,000 hectares (69,000 acres) and engulfing much of Paradise, a town of 26,000 residents located some 280 km (174 mi) north of San Francisco.
 
The five victims were found in their vehicles, having died while attempting to escape the blaze, Efe news reported on Friday.
 
The heavy traffic caused by the evacuations led many people to abandon their vehicles and flee by foot.
 
Paradise Mayor Scott Lotter, who evacuated with his family, told The Sacramento Bee that "the whole town's on fire," while describing a scenario of "horror and chaos."
 
The strong winds and the dry conditions in the area have led to a rapid expansion of the fire. The smoke has even reached San Francisco, where an air quality alert was issued. The two other fires are smaller in size and have hit the southern part of the state.
 
One of the fires has affected the coastal town of Malibu, home to many Hollywood celebrities, as well as the city of Thousand Oaks, where a former US Marine killed 12 people at a bar on Wednesday night before taking his own life.
 
The Woolsey Fire, as the blaze is known, has forced 75,000 homes to be evacuated in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
 
The fire has also affected the affluent city of Calabasas, where Kim Kardashian-West lives. She was evacuated on Thursday along with her three children.
 
The third blaze, the Hill Fire, broke out in Ventura County's Santa Rosa Valley.
 
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Sri Lankan President dissolves parliament amid political row

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Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved Parliament late on Friday amid a political crisis that erupted in the island nation since October 26, local media reported.
 
Sirisena signed a special gazette notification, dissolving the Parliament from Saturday , Xinhua quoting a report said.
 
The island nation has been facing a political turmoil since October 26, when President Sirisena dissolved his cabinet and sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed former president Mahinda Rajapakse to the post.
 
Wickremesinghe, who called his sudden dismissal illegal, has urged Parliament to convene immediately to prove his majority in the 225-member unicameral chamber.
 
President Sirisena had earlier suspended Parliament till November 14. 
 
IANS
 
 
 

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Reporters condemn White House decision to bar CNN journalist

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Reporters from many news organisations have expressed support to senior CNN correspondent Jim Acosta after the White House revoked his press pass "until further notice" because of the journalist's combative exchange with President Donald Trump at his post-mid-terms press conference.
 
The "hard pass", which speeds up entry to the White House grounds, was suspended by the Trump administration on Wednesday night, CNN reported.
 
Acosta is CNN's chief White House correspondent. He was trying to re-enter the White House grounds for a live shot on the show "Anderson Cooper 360", when he was stopped by Secret Service officers. 
 
Right-wing websites and pro-Trump commentators alleged that Acosta mistreated a White House intern who tried to take a microphone away from him during the press conference.
 
Within minutes, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced the suspension, citing Acosta's "inappropriate behaviour".
 
CNN and several major journalism advocacy groups denounced the White House's move. 
 
On Thursday, the Radio Television Digital News Association, which represents newsrooms across the country, called the revocation "unconscionable".
 
Chuck Ross of The Daily Caller, a website that harshly criticizes CNN, stood up for Acosta.
 
"Plenty to criticise Acosta about," Ross wrote, "but he did not 'place his hands' on the intern. It's ridiculous for anyone to suggest he did."
 
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said Sanders' "false description of the events leading up to it is insulting not only to the nation's journalists, but to its people".
 
The White House Correspondents' Association called the yanking of Acosta's pass "out of line" and "unacceptable".
 
"We urge the White House to immediately reverse this weak and misguided action," the association added.
 
The White House News Photographers Association's President Whitney Shefte issued a statement expressing outrage that Sanders "may have shared a manipulated video".
 
Senior journalists represented by the association also spoke up.
 
Hallie Jackson, of NBC, wrote on Twitter that the press corps "should stand up against this".
 
Peter Baker, of The New York Times tweeted: "This is something I've never seen since I started covering the White House in 1996." 
 
Baker wrote that he believes Trump called on Acosta at the presser because "he wants the confrontation".
 
In 2015 and 2016, Trump's campaign refused to give press credentials to reporters from several major news outlets, including The Washington Post and BuzzFeed.
 
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Google CEO unveils new policy to address sexual harassment at workplace

Google CEO Sundar Pichai (File photo: IANS)
Google CEO Sundar Pichai (File photo: IANS)
Google CEO Sundar Pichai has said the company has worked out a new comprehensive policy to address diversity and sexual harassment that became a great concern of Google employees.
 
In an e-mail to Google workers, Pichai on Thursday admitted that Google has "not always gotten everything right in the past," for which he felt "sincerely" sorry and vowed to make some changes.
 
Pichai's disclosure came after over 20,000 Google employees worldwide walked out last week in protest of sexual harassment at the company and its improper handling of sexual misbehaviour allegations against top executives.
 
Google "will provide more transparency on how we handle concerns. We'll give better support and care to the people who raise them," said the Google CEO.
 
He said Google will take more powerful steps to address sexual harassment, including making arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims.
 
"We're revamping the way we handle and look into your concerns... we will update and expand our mandatory sexual harassment training," he said.
 
"We will double down on our commitment to be a representative, equitable, and respectful workplace," Pichai promised.
 
The new policy changes unveiled by Google have virtually met most of the requirements by Google protesters, except the one that demanded a place for an employee representative on the company's board.
 
Organisers of last week's massive protests called for more transparency in handling sexual harassment, employee empowerment, and inequality over pay and work opportunities.
 
The global walkout spread to many countries in Europe, North America and Asia, including Britain, Singapore, Japan, Germany, and Google's headquarters in Mountain View in northern California. 
 
IANS
 

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