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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.
 
IANS
 

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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. 
 
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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.
 
IANS
 

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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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12 killed in California bar shooting in US

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At least 12 people, including a police officer, were killed after a gunman forced his way into a popular bar in the US state of California and opened fire, officials said. The shooter was later found dead at the scene.
 
According to the police, the shooting began at about 11.20 p.m. on Wednesday (0730 GMT Thursday) at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks. At least 12 people were injured in the attack. Ventura County sheriff's deputy Sergeant Ron Helus was among those killed, CNN reported.
 
Helus had been in the force for 29 years and was due to retire in 2019. He was shot several times and later declared dead at a local hospital.
 
Sheriff Geoff Dean told the media that the suspected gunman was found dead inside the bar and he was yet to be identified. The motive for the shooting was not known.
 
At least 200 people were reportedly inside the bar attending a college country music night at the time of the incident, media reports say.
 
Dozens of shots were reportedly fired by the suspect, who police believe may have taken his own life.
 
Witnesses described a scene of panic in the bar when the gunman started firing. Some said they used chairs to break windows to escape while others sheltered inside toilets.
 
The suspect may have used smoke grenades and at least one weapon, described as a semi-automatic handgun by witnesses, during the attack.
 
"A gentleman, who walked in through the front door, shot the girl that was right behind the counter," said Holden Harrah, who witnessed the shooting.
 
Another eyewitness who was injured told local television channel KTLA that the shots sounded "like fireworks".
 
"We just dropped to the ground, we heard a lot of screaming. My friend is the DJ so she cut off the music, we just heard a lot of mayhem," he said.
 
IANS
 

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CNN reporter loses White House access

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The White House has withdrawn the permanent credential from CNN journalist Jim Acosta for confronting US President Donald Trump at a press conference following the mid-term results.
 
The CNN journalist at the White House on Wednesday engaged in a tense tug-of-war with Trump, who after answering several of his questions, said "That's enough. Put down the mic... I tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person."
 
A White House aide immediately approached Acosta and unsuccessfully tried to grab the microphone from him, Efe news reported.
 
Hours later White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders tweeted: "As a result of today's incident, the White House is suspending the hard pass of the reporter involved until further notice."
 
Acosta was asked by an agent of the US Secret Service for his accreditation after leaving the presidential building, according to a video of the moment shared by the journalist on Twitter.
 
"President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his administration. 
 
"We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern. This conduct is absolutely unacceptable," is, however, the explanation given by Sanders.
 
"The fact that CNN is proud of the way their employee behaved is not only disgusting, it's an example of their outrageous disregard for everyone, including young women, who work in this administration," she said in a statement.
 
In response, Acosta said, "This is a lie."
 
The permanent credential allows a select group of journalists to freely enter and leave the White House and cover the president's day-to-day life.
 
The incident that triggered the White House decision on Acosta had occurred during the press conference in which Trump assessed the results of Tuesday's midterm elections.
 
IANS
 

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Trump fires Sessions, seizes Russia probe

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US President Donald Trump has fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions a day after mid-terms, wrestling back control of the Russia probe by getting rid of the man who supported it, and choosing the one who has said all negative things about the investigation.
 
"At your request I am submitting my resignation," Sessions wrote in a letter to White House chief of staff John Kelly on Wednesday.
 
"We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well!" tweeted Trump, who has repeatedly criticised his top law enforcement official after he recused himself from the Russia investigation.
 
Trump said Sessions would temporarily be replaced by his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, who has slammed the Russia inquiry if not like Trump's 160 times but enough to make the President happy, the CNN reported.
 
On Tuesday after the voters chose a divided government by handing the House majority back to Democrats, the CNN said Trump made his hallmark -- the sort of I-do-what-feels-right-when-it-feels-right" move -- just like it has been over the past three years. 
 
And with the firing of Sessions, Trump appeared got back operational control of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion between Trump's campaign and a foreign power.
 
Whitaker could hold the AG's post for roughly 200 days because he has not been confirmed previously by the Senate. But it is his job in the next 100 days that would be crucial for Trump. The acting AG has already openly criticised the breadth of Mueller's probe and even mused on this chain of events in a 2017 interview with CNN.
 
"I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced, it would recess appointment and that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt."
 
Given Whitaker's past comments, Democrats immediately called on him to recuse himself from oversight of the Muller probe. 
 
During a press conference on Wednesday, Trump said: "I stay away from it (Russia probe). But you know what I do? I let it just go on. They're wasting a lot of money, but I let it go on, because I don't want to do that. But you're right; I could end it right now. I could say, 'That investigation is over.'"
 
IANS
 

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Pakistan blasphemy case: Asia Bibi freed from jail

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A Pakistani Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row has been freed from prison, her lawyer said.
 
Some reports say Asia Bibi has boarded a plane but its destination was not known, BBC reported on Wednesday.
 
The Supreme Court ruling sparked protests from Islamists and the government had said it would bar her from leaving Pakistan.
 
Her husband had said they were in danger and pleaded for asylum.
 
Asia Bibi, a mother of five, was released from prison in the city of Multan, her lawyer Saif Mulook said.
 
Also known as Asia Noreen, she was convicted in 2010 of insulting the Prophet Muhammad during a row with neighbours.
 
Several countries have offered her asylum.
 
The Pakistani government has said it will start legal proceedings to prevent her going abroad after agreeing to the measure to end the violent protests.
 
Many of the protesters were hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws and called for Asia Bibi to be hanged.
 
One Islamist leader said all three Supreme Court judges also "deserved to be killed".
 
A spokesman for the hardline Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party said Asia Bibi's release was in breach of their deal with the government.
 
"The rulers have showed their dishonesty," TLP spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi said.
 
The deal also saw officials agree not to block a petition for the Supreme Court to evaluate Asia Bibi's acquittal in the light of Islamic Sharia law.
 
The trial stems from an argument Asia Bibi had with a group of women in June 2009.
 
They were harvesting fruit when a row broke out about a bucket of water. The women said that because she had used a cup, they could no longer touch it, as her faith had made it unclean.
 
Prosecutors alleged that in the row which followed, the women said Asia Bibi should convert to Islam and that she made offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad in response.
 
She was later beaten up at her home, during which her accusers say she confessed to blasphemy. She was arrested after a police investigation.
 
Acquitting her, the Supreme Court said that the case was based on unreliable evidence and her confession was delivered in front of a crowd "threatening to kill her".
 
IANS
 

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Jeff Sessions steps down as US attorney general

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US President Donald Trump on Wednesday said Attorney General Jeff Sessions' chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, will be acting attorney general.
 
Sessions announced his resignation in a letter to Trump, saying that the resignation came "at your request". 
 
"We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States," Trump tweeted.
 
"We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date," Trump said in a Twitter post.
 
The move took place shortly after a press conference Trump gave at the White House during which he said Sessions' fate was under consideration. It marked the first cabinet member exit from the Trump administration after the midterm elections, which ended late Tuesday.
 
Sessions, a former Senator from Alabama, has been a staunch Trump supporter since early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, and was one of the first nominated to the Trump cabinet.
 
Sessions' relationship with Trump soured after he recused himself from the investigation into potential coordination between the president's Republican campaign and Russia, which prompted Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel leading the inquiry. 
 
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US: All four Indian-American members of Congress re-elected

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All the four Indian-American Democrat members of the House of Representatives were re-elected in Tuesday's election and a member of the community won the Attorney General's position in Wisconsin state.
 
Raja Krishnamoorthi, who represents a constituency near Chicago in Illinois, won about 66 percent of the votes to defeat his Indian-American challenger J.D. Diganvker of the Republican Party.
 
The other House candidates re-elected were Pramila Jeyapal from Washington State, and Ro Khanna and Ami Bera from California.
 
Together with the only Senator of Indian descent, Kamala Harris, they make up what they themselves jokingly call "The Samosa Caucus". Harris won from California in 2016 did not face a re-election as she has a six-year term.
 
None of the other Indian Americans running for Congress made it.
 
In a sign of the Indian-American community's growing political involvement, Democrat Josh Kaul was elected Attorney General of Wisconsin in a tight race with a margin of about 1 percent of the votes, although his victory is likely to be challenged by his Republican rival.
 
He will be the second Indian-American Attorney General. The first is Gurbir Grewal, a turban-wearing Sikh, in New Jersey where Attorneys General are not elected but appointed by the Governor.
 
Kaul is the fourth Indian-American to win a state-wide election, which sets the stage for him to run for other higher offices. The first was Piyush Bobby Jindal, elected Louisiana governor in 2007 who was followed by Nikki Haley, elected South Carolina governor in 2010; both are Republicans. The third is Harris.
 
Shiva Ayyadurai, who ran as an Independent against Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, lost badly, getting only about 3.5 percent of the votes.
 
Warren has claimed Native American or American Indian ancestry and Ayyadurai ran a controversial campaign with the headline, "Only a real Indian can defeat a fake Indian'.
 
At least seven other Indians ran for Congress on Democratic Party tickets but lost according to a database of the Indian American Impact Fund and Desis for Progress, which had endorsed them.
 
Harry Arora, who ran for the House as a Republican from Connecticut, lost.
 
The database also showed that six Indian-American Democrats had been elected to State legislatures for the first time.
 
IANS
 

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US: Democrats win House majority, Republicans hold Senate

 
Democrats seize House control in U.S. election
The Democrats on Wednesday secured a majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years but the Republicans retained control of the Senate in US midterm elections seen as a referendum on the Trump presidency.
 
According to projections based on exit polls, having snatched at least 23 seats from Republicans, the Democrats were set to retake control of the House, splitting control of bicameral Congress with the Republicans, report Xinhua news agency and Efe news.
 
With swathes of congressional districts still waiting for voting results, it remained unclear how many seats the Democrats will eventually end up with in the next Congress.
 
The Democratic Party's success has been widely anticipated by pre-voting polls though suspense remains as to how strong a "blue wave" is sweeping across the US.
 
Democrats captured 13 Republican-held seats early, ejecting incumbents in the suburbs of Kansas City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Miami and Washington D.C
 
The party also managed to win a number of gubernatorial races, including in the states of Illinois, New Mexico and Kansas, balancing out the Republicans who controlled 33 governorships prior to the election. 
 
All 50 states and Washington D.C. went to the polls on Tuesday as Republicans and Democrats battle for control of the two houses of Congress, with experts saying that voter turnout could be the highest for a midterm election in 50 years, CNN reported.
 
Americans voted for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of 100 seats in the Senate - the two bodies that make up Congress. Governors are also being chosen in 36 out of 50 states.
 
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By winning the House, Democrats will gain a powerful new pedestal to investigate President Donald Trump's administration, his personal finances, and the hotels, golf courses and other businesses he still owns. 
 
They were also likely to press for details about the 2016 election, asking whether Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government's efforts to sow misinformation and pro-Trump messages.
 
But the Republicans snuffed out Democrats' hopes of winning the Senate. 
 
Projections have indicated that the Republicans were to gain at least three seats to increase their majority to a minimum of 51-42 per cent with 94 per cent of seats declared, Efe news reported.
 
Although it was not yet possible to confirm the number of seats the Republicans will count from next January when the new Congress takes office, the projections confirm the surveys of the past months, which pointed to a conservative majority in the Upper House.
 
The first big victory of the night for Republicans in the Senate was that of Mike Braun, who won the seat of the Senate for Indiana, which had been in the hands of Democrat Joe Donnelly.
 
Texas Republican Ted Cruz, who was challenged in the last few months by Democrat Beto O'Rourke, managed to keep his seat, although by a narrower margin than the conservatives ever have historically recorded in the Lone Star state. 
 
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US announces India will be exempt from Iran oil sanctions

 
U.S. imposes more sanctions on Iran
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday that Washington was exempting India from the sanctions on importing oil from Iran.
 
He said the US will continue to negotiate with India and the seven other countries receiving the six-month exemption to get them to cut their Iranian imports to zero.
 
The other countries receiving the exemptions Pompeo announced at a news conference with foreign correspondents in Washington were China, Greece, Italy, Turkey, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.
 
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that his department was imposing sanctions on 700 individuals, entities, aircraft and ships.
 
In July, US President Donald Trump announced he was pulling out of the nuclear deal signed in 2015 by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Germany and the European Union with Iran to end its nuclear weapons programme.
 
Trump said the sanctions that had been lifted after the agreement would be reimposed and the oil trade would be targeted starting Monday.
 
Pompeo said that an important reason for the reimposition of the sanctions was Iran's promotion of terrorism and that it was aimed at curbing its "revolutionary" policies.
 
Pompeo said the payments made by the oil importers under the exemptions would be put in a special account from which Iran could only make payments for purchases for humanitarian programmes.
 
India imported from Iran nearly 10 per cent of the total of 220 million metric tonnes of crude oil it imported during 2017-18.
 
Since the reimposition of sanctions were announced, India has been cutting back on the Iranian imports.
 
IANS
 

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Crashed Indonesian plane's fuselage found, missing black box heard

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Divers searching for wreckage belonging to Lion Air flight have found the fuselage of the crashed airliner and said they heard a signal from its missing cockpit voice recorder, the head of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency said on Saturday.
 
Muhammad Syaugi, head of the agency which is also known as Basarnas, told reporters at the port of Jakarta that divers had detected a characteristic "ping" sound from the second black box, Efe news reported.
 
"Although the sound is quite weak, it came from a spot not far from the ship 'Victory,'" he said, referring to a rescue vessel deployed to the area.
 
The brand new Boeing 737's other black box, or flight data recorder, had been found on Thursday, but so far investigators have not been able to recover any information from it, officials said.
 
Syaugi spoke at the dockside where Indonesian Navy officers could be seen lifting some heavy parts of the aircraft, such as its undercarriage.
 
"I haven't seen it myself but I got information from some divers that they have seen the fuselage," Syaugi said.
 
Flight JT-610 crashed into the Java Sea 13 minutes after taking off from Jakarta to fly to a neighbouring island on Monday. All 189 people on board were killed.
 
Meanwhile, Indonesian authorities also said one of the divers searching for the wreckage of plane died on Friday evening. The victim was identified as Syachrul Anto, a member of the Indonesian Diving Rescue Team.
 
National Search and Rescue Agency director Muhammad Syaugi said that the diver lost consciousness during the dive and died later at the Koja Regional Hospital in Jakarta.
 
IANS
 

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China says will surely help Pakistan in financial crisis

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China on Saturday assured Pakistan of its full support to "tide over" its financial crisis, clearly signalling Beijing's readiness to give fresh loans to its all-weather ally which is in deep economic distress.
 
During the ongoing China visit by Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan, Beijing also told Islamabad to "push forward" the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the heart of the Chinese Belt and Road project the feasibility of which Pakistan has begun to doubt over debt concerns.
 
India is opposed to the $60 billion CPEC whose planned route is through the disputed Kashmir held by Pakistan.
 
"The Chinese government will provide necessary support and assistance to Pakistan in tiding over the current economic difficulties," China's Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said.
 
The minister gave no specific information about China's financial assistance, saying the details were being discussed.
 
He was talking to reporters after Khan and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang held talks at the Great Hall and supervised the signing of 16 bilateral deals.
 
Khan, who met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, is understood to have sought financial help for Pakistan which is in dire straits due to the ballooning foreign debt.
 
Pakistan which has already secured $6 billion loan from Saudi Arabia thinks the amount is not enough to stave off the financial mess and has also sought bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
 
The IMF wants Pakistan to disclose all the financial details of the Chinese-funded CPEC for a bailout package.
 
The Chinese are wary of Islamabad going to the IMF, dominated by its rival the US which opposes the Belt and Road project.
 
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Experts say that the Chinese have pushed Pakistan into heavy debt through the CPEC, a charge denied by Beijing.
 
Some ministers in Khan's new government have expressed concerns over the Chinese investments in Pakistan, with one slashing the budget of a rail project by $2 billion.
 
However, Khan has pledged to work to implement the CPEC and has assured Pakistan's full support for it.
 
"The vision of Xi Jinping for jointly building the Belt and Road initiative is being turned into a reality. Against such a backdrop, the CPEC also has also new opportunities and need to be further pushed forward," Kong added.
 
"The two sides will firmly move forward the CPEC while ensuring the smooth operation of completing projects and advancing the ongoing projects."
 
"The two sides will gradually bring the dimension of industrial cooperation to the CPEC and extend it to other parts of Pakistan," the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister said.
 
He said the project will also focus on the social sector.
 
"The two sides have agreed to establish a foreign-ministerial dialogue mechanism to make overall planning and coordinate in various fields," he added.
 
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3 dead in Florida yoga studio shooting

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A gunman opened fire inside a yoga studio in the US state of Florida killing two people before shooting himself dead, police said.
 
The incident took place on Friday evening at the studio in Tallahassee, the state capital, reports Efe news. 
 
"At this time, all indications are this is the act of a single person. There is no immediate threat to our community," Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo told the media.
 
The victims were Nancy Van Vessem, 61, and Maura Binkley, 21.
 
The shooter was identified as Scott Paul Beierle, 40, the police said.
 
The motive of the shooting remains unknown.
 
IANS

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India expected to get waiver from US sanctions against Iran oil importers

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US President Donald Trump is expected to grant India an exemption from the sanctions against buying oil from Iran when the waivers will be announced on November 5.
 
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday that the administration was giving six-month waivers to eight countries that he did not name.
 
Pompeo said these countries have already taken steps to eventually cut their Iranian oil imports to "zero".
 
Sunday is the deadline for countries to stop buying oil from Iran and the sanctions are to take effect on on November 5 for those not getting the waivers.
 
"On November 5, the US will reimpose sanctions that were lifted as part of the nuclear deal on Iran's energy, shipbuilding, shipping, and banking sectors," Pompeo said.
 
Trump had announced the reimposition of sanctions in May when he withdrew the US from the agreement made by the five permanent members of the Security Council, Germany and the European Union (EU) with Iran to end its nuclear weapons programme.
 
US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook hinted India was among those getting the exemption with a cryptic response to a reporter at a briefing in Washington on Friday.
 
When the reporter, trying to get him to identify the eight nations,  mentioned India among those that were "presumably" aware that they were getting exemptions, Hook said: "I think you've answered your own question."
 
Several US media reports quoting unidentified administration officials have also said that India was one of them. Others mentioned include China, South Korea, Japan and Turkey.
 
Trump sent out a tweet: "Sanctions are coming," that was made to look like the posters for the TV show "Game of Thrones".
 
He later told reporters: "Iran is taking a big hit."
 
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Pompeo said that the sanctions were "necessary to spur changes we seek on the part of the (Iran) regime. In order to maximise the effect of the President's pressure campaign, we have worked closely with other countries to cut off Iranian oil exports as much as possible".
 
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Treasury Department on November 6 will add more than 700 names to its "list of blocked entities" which face sanctions because of trade dealings with Iran.
 
The reimposition of the sanctions has opened a big rift between Washington and its European allies who co-signed the nuclear agreement.
 
British, French and German leaders have opposed the sanctions and the EU said in September that it was setting up a payment channel to bypass US sanctions and continue to trade with Iran.
 
Pompeo said that the EU will not get a waiver.
 
Other ways in which India could be hit with sanctions include shipping and banking and these could impact the Chabahar port project and the surface links from the harbour to Afghanistan that it is building in Iran.
 
A senior State Department official told IANS in September that Washington would consider the impact the sanctions will have on the project which helps Afghanistan.
 
Alice Wells, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, said that in reviewing the effect of sanctions on the Chabahar project, Washington will "take India's concerns and interest in being able to expand exports to Afghanistan and to increase Afghanistan exports to India, very seriously".
 
IANS
 

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'Father of Taliban' Samiul Haq killed in Pakistan

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Maulana Samiul Haq, a former Pakistani Senator more widely known as the "Father of Taliban", was stabbed to death on Friday while resting in his room in Rawalpindi city, his family said.
 
The influential religious leader lived in Rawalpindi with his son Maulana Hamidul Haq.
 
"His driver Haqqani had gone out. On his return, he saw that Maulana Sami was lying on his bed in a pool of blood. He was no longer alive," Hamidul Haq told Geo News.
 
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Indonesia plane crash: Flight recorders retrieved from sea

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Indonesian investigators on Thursday said they found the flight data recorders from the Lion Air Flight JT610, a discovery that should help explain why the new Boeing 737 crashed on Monday, killing all 189 people on board.
 
CNN Indonesia showed images of divers retrieving an orange device, which is thought to house the flight data and cockpit voice recorder, collectively known as the "black box".
 
Video showed the device being brought on board one of the rescue ships in the sea off Jakarta on Thursday, four days after the Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet disappeared off radar during a routine short-haul flight.
 
Indonesia's Search and Rescue Agency BASARNAS confirmed that they had found the flight recorders.
 
So far, Basarnas, military and police personnel have retrieved 49 body bags with human remains of at least a dozen people, said the Director of the National Police Hospital in Jakarta.
 
None of the victims were identified, even with DNA samples collected from the families.
 
The Lion Air flight JT 610 flown by Indian captain Bhavye Suneja disappeared from the radars on Monday morning, 13 minutes after it took off from Jakarta towards Pangkal Pinang on the Indonesian island of Bangka.
 
Before the plane began descending at high speed from about 3,000 feet, the pilot had requested permission to land but did not send a distress signal.
 
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US mob boss James Bulger found dead in prison

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Infamous Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, who was convicted in 2013 of 11 murders and had inspired several films, has been found dead in a US federal prison in West Virginia.
 
The 89-year-old was discovered unresponsive at the maximum security facility shortly after being transferred from a Florida jail. The BBC quoted a prison official as saying that it was being probed as a homicide.
 
Bulger was captured in California in 2011 after a 16-year manhunt and sentenced to life in prison. 
 
His death occurred after he was transferred to the Hazelton penitentiary that houses 1,385 inmates, according to reports.
 
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is handling the probe into Bulger's death, which occurred a day after his transfer to the West Virginia facility, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
 
Bulger was found unresponsive at 8.20 a.m. on Tuesday, according to a statement from the prisons bureau.
 
He was pronounced dead by the Preston County medical examiner after failed lifesaving measures. No staff or other inmates were injured, it added.
 
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An inmate with mafia ties was under investigation for the killing, three sources briefed on the incident told the Boston Globe.
 
The slain mob boss was severely beaten up by one or more of his fellow inmates only hours after his arrival, law enforcement sources told CBS.
 
Boston-based WFXT-TV, a Fox affiliate, reported that Bulger was killed after being admitted to the general inmate population.
 
The circumstances of this week's transfer of Bulger to Hazelton, after being housed at federal penitentiaries in Oklahoma and Tucson, Arizona, "remain unclear", the CNN said.
 
"He lived violently and he apparently died violently," CNN quoted Dick Lehr, author of "Whitey: The Life of America's Most Notorious Mob Boss" as saying.
 
"It marks the full circle of a terrible life," Lehr said.
 
"Hopefully the seven years he spent in prison as well as his recent death brings some closure to the families of his many victims," Brian Kelly, one of the former federal prosecutors who tried Bulger, said in a statement.
 
The former leader of South Boston's Winter Hill gang inspired the film "Black Mass" featuring Johnny Depp, and "The Departed", which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2007.
 
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Indian techie couple falls to death in California park

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An Indian couple, who had gushed in a travel blog about how much they loved "daredevilry" or standing on the edge of cliffs, died after falling 800 feet in an area with very steep terrain in California's Yosemite National Park in the  United States this week, the media reported.
 
Vishnu Viswanath, 29, and Meenakshi Moorthy, 30, were identified on Monday as the married couple who fell to their deaths from Taft Point in Yosemite National Park last week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
 
Viswanath and Moorthy, both software engineers, were from India and were living in the US. They had recently moved from New York after Viswanath took a job as a systems engineer at Cisco Systems Inc., based in San Jose. 
 
Rangers recovered their bodies on steep terrain on Thursday below Taft Point, an area known for its spectacular views of the Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan, said park spokesman Jamie Richards. Visitors spotted the couple's bodies on Wednesday. 
 
According to the National Park Service, Taft Point is an area with very steep terrain. It is also a popular spot for tourists trying to take scenic and memorable photos. 
 
It was not clear how the couple fell or what they were doing when the accident occurred, the report said. A friend of the couple said they were on a driving trip from New York and were seeing the sights in California at the time.
 
The couple also ran a blog called Holidays and Happily Ever Afters, chronicling their adventures around the world. They shared their photos in beautiful places, along with a warning of travel dangers.
 
"A lot of us including yours truly is a fan of daredevilry attempts of standing at the edge of cliffs and skyscrapers," they wrote in an Instagram post in March from the rim of the Grand Canyon, "but did you know that wind gusts can be fatal??? Is our life just worth one photo?"
 
"We still do not know what caused them to fall. We're trying to understand what happened. We may never know, (but) from everything we see, this was a tragic fall," said the park spokesman. 
 
Raj Katta, 24, of New York, said he got to know the couple while attending Bradley University in Illinois. "They liked to travel and take pictures... They were really into this stuff," Katta said, adding that he was "certain it was a tragic accident, not a suicide".
 
The park spokesman said 10 people died in the park this year. Six of those park visitors fell to their deaths. "Yosemite is a wild and scenic place. If you are not paying attention to your footing, it is very easy to have a slip and fall." 
 
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Search on for Indonesian plane that crashed with 189 on board

 
Bodies recovered after Indonesia plane crash
Indonesian authorities on Tuesday continued search operations to locate the Lion Air plane that crashed in the Java Sea the previous day with 189 people on board, while rescue teams have retrieved 24 bags of body parts.
 
The police said the bags had been transferred from the crash site to a local hospital for post-mortem examination, CNN reported. 
 
DNA samples have been taken from 132 family members of passengers on board to help with identification, but the police warned this could be difficult and each body bag so far transferred could contain the remains of more than one person.
 
More than 100 rescue personnel were searching the area where the Lion Air Boeing 737 Max 8 plane is believed to have plunged into the water, about 8 km east of Cape Tanjung Karawang, located in the eastern part of Jakarta Bay.
 
The flight JT610 disappeared from the radars on Monday morning, 13 minutes after taking off from the Jakarta airport at 6.20 a.m. on its way to Pangkal Pinang, on the island of Bangka.
 
Before crashing, the Indian pilot Bhavye Suneja requested permission to return to the airport of the Indonesian capital, but did not send an emergency signal, officials said.
 
According to the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane shattered due to its severe impact with the sea surface after it dived at rapid speed, reportedly from a height of 3,000 feet, making it break into pieces, reports Xinhua news agency. 
 
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Basarnas Operation Director Bambang Suryo Aji dismissed reports that the plane exploded in the sky as there were no burnt signs from parts of plane and the bodies found floating around the crash site. 
 
He added that chances were slim to find any survivors from the 189 passengers and members of crews on the ill-fated aircraft.
 
The aircraft's fuselage and flight data recorders are yet to be recovered, which could provide more evidence as to what caused the flight to crash.
 
The plane had reported problems the night before on a flight to Denpasar to Jakarta, but engineers had checked and repaired the issue and given the plane clearance to fly, Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait told local media.
 
AirNav Indonesia said the flight would have been given a priority landing spot had it declared an emergency.
 
The crash was one of a series of accidents involving Indonesian airlines since 2000, including some involving Lion Air.
 
In 2013, a Lion Air Boeing 737 missed the runway and crashed into the sea near Bali, forcing passengers to swim to safety. 
 
That same year, another Lion Air Boeing 737 collided with a cow while touching down at Jalaluddin Airport in Gorontalo.
 
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Global vertebrate population declined 60% since 1970: WWF

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The global populations of vertebrates - mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles - have declined by 60 per cent since 1970, according to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report released on Tuesday.
 
The "Living Planet Report of the Global Fund for Nature" collects the most recent data from the Living Planet Index (LPI), which has analysed the status of 16,704 wildlife populations of 4,005 vertebrate species between 1970 and 2014, reports Efe news.
 
This is the 12th report, which has been prepared since 20 years by the veteran conservation NGO, on the environmental situation of the Earth and reflects a worrying trend in the state of biodiversity and the planet's health.
 
Among the groups of animals studied, the most affected have been those living in fresh water, which show an 83 per cent reduction since 1970 and they have the "highest extinction rate" in the 20th century among vertebrates worldwide.
 
The regions with the greatest impact are found in the tropics, where Central and South America have suffered an 89 percent decrease in vertebrate populations compared to the base year.
 
As the main cause of this "serious decline in biodiversity", the WWF puts its focus on the "uncontrolled" patterns of human consumption, which it says is "responsible" for the over exploitation of ecosystems and agriculture, as well as of pollution, invasive species and diseases as well as climate change.
 
"We can no longer ignore the impact of current unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles." said Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International.
 
Globally, nature provides services worth approximately $125 trillion annually and helps ensure the supply of fresh air, clean water, food, energy or medicine.
 
Mangroves, for example, trap almost five times more carbon than tropical forests; crops partially pollinated by animals account for 35 per cent of the world's food production; and coral reefs protect around 200 million people against storm surges, according to the report.
 
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However, functions such as these "have been taken for granted until now by not acting against the accelerated loss of nature", lamented Lambertini.
 
The ecological footprint of the planet "has increased by almost 190 percent" in the last fifty years, says the report on the parameters that measure the consumption of natural resources.
 
In this period "20 per cent of the Amazon" and "between 30 and 50 per cent of the mangroves" have decreased, while in the last 30 years, the Earth "has lost approximately half of its corals in shallow waters", and pollinators such as bees are "under increasing threat".
 
Given this, "it is time to urgently rethink how we use nature" and appreciate it as an "essential" asset, Lambertini added.
 
"If there was a 60 per cent decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done." said Mike Barrett, science and conservation director at WWF.
 
The 14th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will be held in Egypt in November and will be, according to WWF, a "key" moment to lay the foundations of a global agreement for nature, "as was done for the climate in Paris in 2015", the report said.
 
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India, Japan to start 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue

India and Japan will start a 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue involving their respective foreign and defence ministers to work for peace and stability in the world, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Narendra Modi said on Monday.
 
Modi, Abe hold delegation level talks in Tokyo
India and Japan will start a 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue involving their respective foreign and defence ministers to work for peace and stability in the world, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Narendra Modi said on Monday.
 
"Without the cooperation between India and Japan, the 21st century cannot be an Asian century," Modi said in a joint address to the media with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe following their annual bilateral summit here.
 
"Abe-san and I have agreed to start a 2+2 Dialogue between our foreign and defence ministers," he said.
 
"Its aim is to further boost peace and stability in the world."
 
India started a similar 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue with the US last month in which External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis participated.
 
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Describing Japan as the confluence of the best aspects of eastern and western civilisations, Modi said that the country has taught that the path to the development of mankind is not a conflict between the ancient and the new, but its co-existence and creation.
 
"The relations between India and Japan are as deep and wide as the Indian and Pacific Oceans," he said.
 
"These relations are based on shared commitment to democratic values and freedom and the rule of law."
 
Modi said that he and Abe agreed that from digital partnership to cyberspace, health to defence and from oceans to space, both sides will strengthen their partnership.
 
"I have been told that today Japanese investors have announced that they will invest $2.5 billion in India," the Indian Prime Minister.
 
"This will help boost employment generation."
 
On his part, Abe said that cooperation between the naval forces of the two countries will increase.
 
He also said that to boost regional connectivity, Japan and India will work together in third countries like Bangladesh.
 
Following the talks, agreements were signed on cooperation between the naval forces of the two countries, healthcare, digital and new technologies, and food processing.
 
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Indonesian plane flown by Indian crashes off Jakarta with 189 aboard

 
Indonesian plane crashes into sea with 189 on board
An Indonesian Lion Air Boeing passenger plane carrying 189 people and flown by Indian captain Bhavye Suneja crashed into the Java Sea on Monday shortly after taking off from here, with authorities saying they have found no survivor.
 
The Boeing 737, JT 610, disappeared from the radar 13 minutes after take off from Jakarta airport at 6.20 a.m. while heading for Pangkal Pinang on the Indonesian island Bangka. Flight data showed it made a sudden, sharp dive into the sea, the Jakarta Post reported.
 
No survivors were found, said a spokesman of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency.
 
The aircraft, manufactured this year, was commanded by Captain Suneja, with co-pilot Harvino, according to a spokesman of the airline. Authorities said before the crash, the pilot had made a request to return to base.
 
The Guardian reported that Suneja was from New Delhi and was living in Jakarta with his wife -- they were married two years ago
 
Of the 189 on board, two were pilots and six were flight attendants, the National Transportation Safety Commission said in a statement cited by the Jakarta Post. Twenty Indonesian Finance Department officials were also on the flight.
 
A search and rescue effort was launched for the plane that crashed into the waters of Karawang, about 30-35 metres deep. 
 
"Several pieces of Lion Air JT 610 aircraft (were found)," Head of the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management Sutopo Purwo Nugroho tweeted. 
 
Rescuers released footage of debris and personal items floating in the water at the crash site, including handbags, clothing, mobile phones, ID cards and driver licences. Plane seats were also sighted among the debris.
 
"We don't know yet whether there are any survivors," Search and Rescue Agency head Muhmmad Syaugi told reporters. "We hope, we pray, but we cannot confirm."
 
According to the Guardian, Suneja's parents learned of the disaster in the morning and were booked to fly to Jakarta on Monday night. 
 
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"He loved his job, he was very much interested in it," the daily quoted Kapish Gandhi, the cousin of the pilot, as saying. "We saw it on the television this morning and didn't know whether to believe it." 
 
According to the airline spokesman, Suneja had clocked more than 6,000 flight hours while his co-pilot had more than 5,000 flight hours to his credit.
 
Lion Air chief executive Edward Sirait said the plane reported a technical problem during its previous flight from Denpasar to Jakarta on Sunday night, but that was resolved before it took off on Monday morning.
 
"The weather was also good, everything was clear before the incident," he added.
 
On a request by the pilot to return to base shortly after take off, Sirait said Lion Air was still trying to verify the information. He said Lion Air opened up crisis centres for family members of victims at the Soekarno-Hatta Airport and at the Halim Perdanakusuma Airport.
 
According to Jakarta-based Elshinta radio, a tugboat had notified the Tanjung Priok Port that it spotted a plane crashing into the water on Monday morning. 
 
Around 160 search and rescue personnel in several ships and helicopters were at the suspected accident site to try to locate survivors and the plane's black boxes, which will serve later to clarify what happened, Efe news reported.
 
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo said: "I will continue to pray that victims can be found immediately." 
 
The airline spokesman said the Boeing 737 MAX plane was manufactured this year and had been operated by Lion Air since August 15.
 
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Modi invites Japanese businessmen to invest in India

 
Modi attends India-Japan Business Leaders Forum in Tokyo
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday invited Japanese businessmen to engage more with India to speed up the investment process in the country.
 
"I always talk about 'strong India strong Japan'. On this occasion, I express my gratitude towards Japanese businessmen to show their faith in India. I invite you all to engage with India to speed up the investment process there," Modi said while interacting at the Business Forum Summit here. 
 
Modi, who arrived here on Saturday for his annual bilateral summit with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, said: "Some years ago, I spoke about making a mini-Japan in India. It's a matter of great happiness for me that today, you are working in an even larger number in India." 
 
The Indian Prime Minister thanked the Japanese government and companies, saying: "Our Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor project is also moving forward," because of Japan's collaboration with India. 
 
He said that under the 'Make in India' initiative, India has the potential to become a manufacturing hub. 
 
"I have always kept ease of doing business as my priority. India was at 140th position in the 'ease of doing business' ranking of the World Bank when he took over the responsibility of the government in 2014. Now India has reached 100th position and we are working towards better ranking," Modi added. 
 
This is Modi's third visit to Japan for the summit and his 12th meeting with Abe since 2014.
 
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