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Paraguay an important partner of India in Latin America: Naidu

Indian Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu calling on the President of Paraguay, Mr. Mario Abdo Benitez, in Asuncion, Paraguay on March 6, 2019.
Indian Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu calling on the President of Paraguay, Mr. Mario Abdo Benitez, in Asuncion, Paraguay on March 6, 2019.
Visiting Indian Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu held high-level talks with the leadership of Paraguay here on Wednesday in a bid to extend India’s outreach in the Latin American region and strengthen bilateral ties.
 
Naidu, who was on a two-day visit to the Latin American country, is the highest-level representative of India to visit Paraguay in the past 58 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries on September 13, 1961.
 
The Vice-President is accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising Minister of State for Tourism Alphons Kannanthanam, Ram Kumar Kashyap, MP, and senior Government officials.
 
Naidu called on Paraguay President Mario Abdo Benítez, Vice-President Hugo Velázquez and the President of the National Congress (Senate) Silvio Ovelar.
 
Both sides agreed that terrorism posed a grave threat to global peace and stability, stressing that there could be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever. Outlining a common desire to take an uncompromising stand against terror, India and Paraguay have agreed to cooperate to deal with the menace.
 
During the delegation-level talks, the Paraguayan leadership condemned the brutal terrorist attack that took place in Pulwama. The leaders extended heartfelt condolences to those who had lost their loved ones in the Pulwama terror attack. They stated that India could always count on Paraguay´s support in the fight against terrorism and in voicing India’s concerns on terrorism in the international fora.
 
Naidu, during his interactions, particularly emphasized the scourge of cross border terrorism in India and stressed upon the need to take strong measures against terrorists, terror organizations, their networks and all those who encourage, support, finance and provide safe haven to terrorists and terror groups.
 
Paraguay’s leadership affirmed its support for a UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism proposed by India. Furthermore, Paraguay assured India that it would support its candidature to various UN and other multilateral bodies including the permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.
 
Naidu emphasized that Paraguay was an important partner of India in the Latin American and Caribbean region and said that the bilateral relations between the two nations have been showing an upward trend. He opined that India and Paraguay shared common values, interests, aspirations and promising futures.
 
Observing that there was a feeling of mutual admiration and appreciation among the people of the two nations for each other, Naidu underscored the deep faith in democracy held by both the nations.
 
The talks were held in a warm and cordial atmosphere when the two sides discussed bilateral, regional and multilateral issues of mutual interest.
 
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The Indian and Paraguayan leaders noted with satisfaction the strengthening of the bilateral relations over the years and the bilateral trade has increased almost ten-fold over the last ten years. They agreed that there is an ever-greater scope to increase trade volume and diversify the trade basket.
 
Naidu applauded Paraguay’s decision to join the International Solar Alliance soon, an initiative by India and France, aimed at combating the threats of climate change and global warming.
 
The Vice-President urged the Paraguayan leadership to explore new areas of collaboration including agriculture, hydroelectric and solar energy, health, pharmaceuticals, traditional medicine, information and communication technology, agriculture machinery and biotechnology. 
 
Both sides agreed to facilitate promotion of exchanges between academics and universities and also between travel professionals and stakeholders in tourism.
 
Naidu urged Paraguay to facilitate the convening of the next round of expert-level discussions between MERCOSUR and India to take forward the shared agenda of the expansion of the Preferential Trade Agreement.
 
Narrating the story of growth and development that India was witnessing, the Vice-President said that India was seeing a steady GDP growth rate of 7.5%, which made it the sixth largest economy in the world. ‘India today has emerged as a major global business destination’, he added.
 
The Vice-President also applauded Paraguay’s sustained growth rate in times of economic difficulties around the world.
 
Naidu underlined the tremendous opportunities that India had, ranging from its huge market with a middle class of 300-350 million people to dynamic and investigative press and media to independent judiciary, and evolved corporate laws and business practices.
 
Paraguay joined India in remembering the contributions of Mahatma Gandhi on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma. Naidu, along with Vice President Velazquez jointly unveiled a special commemorative postage stamp on Mahatma Gandhi. 
 
He requested the leadership of Paraguay to collaborate to install a bust of Mahatma Gandhi at a prominent location in Asuncion.
 
The Vice-President also witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Diplomatic and Consular Academy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay and the Foreign Service Institute, Ministry of External Affairs, India. 
 
A decision was taken to task experts from both nations to finalize pending agreements including Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement, Bilateral Investment Treaty and for Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance.
 
Naidu also attended a reception hosted by the members of the Indian Community in Paraguay. He said the continued interest in India in Paraguay is due to the Indian diaspora. “Each member of the Indian Diaspora is a cultural ambassador,” he observed.
 
The Vice-President opined that there is a new dynamism in India’s diaspora policy and outreach and there is a much greater connect today between India & the Indian diaspora than ever before. 
 
The Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra in Delhi and Embassies are available round the clock to Indians in need. He also spoke about the zeal with which India celebrated the recent Pravasi Bharatiya Divas at Varanasi.
 
The Vice-President underscored the importance of strengthening Parliamentary linkages and invited President Benítez to visit India at a mutually convenient time.
 
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Swaraj says states backing terrorists must be told to end their support

File photo of Sushma Swaraj
File photo of Sushma Swaraj
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today said that the world, if it wanted to save humanity, must tell states who provide shelter and funding to terrorists to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorist camps and stop supporting the terror organisations based in their country.
 
"At the same time I would like to say that this menace could not be fought only through military, intelligence or diplomatic means. It is also a battle, that must be won through the strengths of our values, and the real message of religions," she said in her address, as a guest of honour, at the inaugural plenary 46th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) here.
 
"This is a task that states, societies, sages, scholars, spiritual leaders, and families must pursue, through personal contacts and on social media. And, for this, faiths must speak to faiths, cultures must engage cultures, communities must build bridges, not erect walls. The youth must shape the future, not destroy lives," she said.
 
This is the first time in the OIC's 50 years of existence that India is attending one of its meetings.
 
Swaraj had been invited to address the inaugural plenary of the session by United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan, the host of the two-day meeting.
 
India is seeing the invitation as a welcome recognition of the presence of 185 million Muslims in India and of their contribution to its pluralistic ethos, and of India’s contribution to the Islamic world.
 
The invitation is significant because New Delhi has had an uneasy relationship with the 57-member OIC for the past few decades as Pakistan has been using the grouping to attack India on the Kashmir issue. Pakistan and its allies have also blocked attempts to accord observer status at the OIC to India, which has the world's third largest Muslim population.
 
In protest against India's presence at the meeting, Pakistan, a founding member of the organisation, is for the first time not attending an OIC session, with its Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi deciding to stay away.
 
A statement by the Pakistan Foreign Office said India had no "legal or moral grounds" to be present at the meeting. It cited India's "unresolved disputes with Pakistan, its alleged human rights violation in Kashmir, its consistent rejection of OIC resolutions on Jammu & Kashmir, and so on.
 
"Pakistan's strong objections in this regard have been clearly communicated. The Foreign Minister of Pakistan will not participate in the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers," the statement added. Sources indicated, however, that Pakistani officials will be present at the meeting.
 
The meeting is taking place just three days after India carried out an air strike against a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist training camp in Pakistan on February 26 in what was seen as retalation for the February 14 terror attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, in which 40 men died. 
 
On February 27, India downed a Pakistan fighter jet and lost a MiG 21 in a dog fight over the Line of Control (LoC). The pilot of the MiG 21, who was taken into custody by the Pakistani authorities, is expected to be released and return home today.
 
In her address, Swaraj said the world was today  witnessing the terrible daily destruction in senseless terrorist violence. 
 
"It is destroying lives, destabilising regions, and putting the world at great peril. The reach of terror is growing, Its lethality is increasing and the toll it is taking is rising.
 
"In the rich diversity of Southeast Asia, in West Asia, and the Gulf, in North Africa, and Sahel region, in Europe and North America, in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India, we see the terrible face of terror.
 
"Terrorism and extremism bear different names and labels. It uses diverse causes. But in each case, it is driven by distortion of religion, and a misguided belief in its power to succeed. The fight against terrorism is not a confrontation against any religion.
 
"It cannot be. Just as Islam literally means peace, none of the 99 names of Allah mean violence. Similarly, every religion in the world stands for peace, compassion and brotherhood," she said.
 
Stressing that India has always embraced pluralism, Swaraj said the fight against terrorism was not a clash of civilisations or cultures, but a contest of ideas and ideals.
 
She began her address by saying that India's Muslims were a microcosm of the diversity of India and practise their respective beliefs and live in harmony with each other and with their non-Muslim brethren. 
 
"It is this appreciation of diversity and co-existence, that has ensured that very few Muslims in India have fallen prey to the poisonous propaganda of radical and extremist ideologies," she said.
 
She spoke at length about India's relations with Muslim-majority countries around the world, including in its neighbourhood, the Far East, Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East and in the Gulf.
 
"In the past four years, few relationships have seen as much engagement as India’s relationship with UAE and indeed, with the entire Gulf and West Asia Region. It is a return of history," she said.
 
She expressed India's special gratitude to Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and others friends for their strong support for hearing India’s voice in the OIC.
 
"The OIC members constitute more than one fourth of the members of the United Nations, and nearly a quarter of the humanity. It is an organisation that has a key role in shaping our world.  It brings together nations, on the foundation of a common faith, but also by a shared desire for a better future for their people," she said.
 
"India shares much with you. Many of us have experienced the dark days of colonialism. Many of us saw the light of freedom and the bright ray of hope at the same time. We have stood together in solidarity in our quest for justice, dignity and equality of all people, regardless of race and religion. We have worked together, to fashion global institutions into representative platforms, defined not by the interest of a few, but the voice of all sections of humanity.
 
"We have together struggled for a world, where access to resources, markets and opportunities is fair and balanced. And, with so many nations here India has forged deep bonds of friendship and close partnerships.
 
"As India’s economy has grown and become more integrated with the world, these partnerships have become stronger. We have excellent political ties, marked by warmth, respect and goodwill. With many,we have expanding defence and security cooperation.
 
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"Our economic engagement is robust and growing rapidly. Our digital partnerships are shaping the course of our future. And, our ties have the warm glow of deepening human and cultural links," she said.
 
"I am particularly pleased to participate in a conference, whose theme is a road map for prosperity and development.
 
However, I may enter a caveat: the young are not going to be content, with only road maps. They want roads as well. They also want them to be built fast. 
 
"It must be our common objective to ensure, that we leave them a world, that is infinitely better in terms of equitable economic growth and social justice, than the one, we inherited. That is the mission, which has brought us together in Abu Dhabi, a city that has matured into a landmark of Asia and the world. 
 
"India is the world’s third largest economy on Purchasing Power Parity; and, is the fastest growing one. We are prepared to share our market, resources, opportunities, and skills with our partners.
 
"We will do what we can within our capacity to ensure that the path to development remains open to all and the global trade regime is open, stable and fair.
 
"At 50, Organisation of Islamic States is making a new beginning. The choices you make, the direction you set, will have a profound impact on humanity. The OIC has a huge responsibility and a great opportunity to lift humanity to a higher level of peace and prosperity, and to make this planet a better place, not just for your people, but for rest of the world.
 
"And, we will work with you to spread the true meaning and mission of all religions; promote respect for and between faiths; counter the language of hate with the message of harmony; advocate moderation over extremism and pluralism over exclusion; inspire youth to the path of service, than of destruction; build bridge of understanding and reduce barriers across cultures and religions.
 
"I convey our best wishes, our support and our solidarity in your quest for stability, peace, harmony, economic growth and prosperity for your people and the world," she added.
 
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Swaraj says limited aim of air strike was to act against JeM infrastructure

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addressing the 16th Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC) at Wuzhen in China, on February 27, 2019.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addressing the 16th Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC) at Wuzhen in China, on February 27, 2019.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today told her Chinese and Russian counterparts that the limited objective of the pre-emptive air strike carried out by India in Pakistan yesterday was to act decisively against the terrorist infrastructure of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in order to preempt another terror attack in India.
 
"The target was selected in order to avoid civilian causalities. This was not a military operation. No military installations were targeted," she said in her opening remarks at the 16th Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Russia-India-China (RIC) at Wuzhen in China.
 
"India does not wish to see further escalation of the situation. India will continue to act with responsibility and restraint," she added.
 
The meeting is being attended by Swaraj, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and senior officials from the three countries.
 
Swaraj said terrorism topped the list of the existential threats that the world faced today. 
 
"You are aware of the recent heinous terrorist attack on our security forces in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir perpetrated by Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based and supported terrorist organization proscribed by the United Nations and other countries. We lost more than 40 personnel from our Central Reserve Police Force while several others are injured seriously.
 
"Such dastardly terrorist attacks are a grim reminder for the need for all the countries to show zero tolerance to terrorism and take decisive action against it. Following the Pulwama terrorist attack, instead of taking seriously the calls by international community to act against Jaish-e-Mohammad and other terror groups based in Pakistan, Pakistan denied any knowledge of the attack and outrightly dismissed claims by Jaish-e-Mohammed.
 
"In the light of continuing refusal of Pakistan to acknowledge and act against terror groups on its territory, and based on credible information that JeM was planning other attacks in various parts of India, Government of India decided to take pre-emptive action," she said.
 
Swaraj recalled that they had, at the last RIC Foreign Ministerial Meeting in New Delhi on December 11, 2017, an opportunity to engage on international and regional issues of common interest. 
 
"We had resolved to continue our discussions and strengthen our cooperatin in the trilateral format. Since then, our Leaders met at the RIC Informal Summit on 30 November 018 on the margins of the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires which shows the importance attached by our leaders to the RIC format," she said.
 
Swaraj said Russia, India and China are countries that carry important voices in international politics and have the potential to significantly influence world events. 
 
"Together we can play a constructive role in addressing pressing issues of common concern and challenges facing our world.
 
"In our discussions today, I look forward to having productive exchanges with you on other important issues such as climate change, reformed multilateralism, RIC cooperation under the framework of international organizations and international hot-spot issues. I believe the Wuzhen Meeting of RIC will positively contribute to the ongoing global discussions on a host of issues," she added.
 
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US urges India, Pakistan to prioritize direct communication, avoid further military activity

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United States Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo on Tuesday said he had spoken to Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi after India's air strike on terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed's camp in Balakot in Pakistan and urged both sides to prioritize direct communication and avoid further military activity.
 
"Following Indian counter-terrorism actions on February 26, I spoke with Indian Minister of External Affairs Swaraj to emphasize our close security partnership and shared goal of maintaining peace and security in the region," he said in a statement.
 
Pompeo said he had also spoken to Qureshi to underscore the priority of de-escalating current tensions by avoiding military action, and the urgency of Pakistan taking meaningful action against terrorist groups operating on its soil. 
 
"I expressed to both Ministers that we encourage India and Pakistan to exercise restraint, and avoid escalation at any cost. I also encouraged both Ministers to prioritize direct communication and avoid further military activity," he added.
 
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India committed to peaceful and economically inter-linked world: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday, in his acceptance speech after receiving the Seoul Peace Prize, expressed India’s commitment to the creation of a peaceful, stable and economically inter-linked world.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi receiving the Seoul Peace Prize, at a function, in Seoul, South Korea on February 22, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi receiving the Seoul Peace Prize, at a function, in Seoul, South Korea on February 22, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today expressed India’s commitment to the creation of a peaceful, stable and economically inter-linked world.
 
“India’s growth story is not only good for the people of India but also for the entire world. We live in an increasingly connected world. As the third largest economy, our growth and prosperity will inevitably contribute to global growth and development," he said in his acceptance speech after receiving the Seoul Peace Prize here.
 
“We are committed to making a peaceful, stable and economically inter-linked world. India, as a responsible member of the international community, has also been at the forefront of our collective fight against climate change. Despite having a historically low carbon foot-print, India has been playing an active role in the global fight against climate change,” he added. 
 
At the domestic level, he said this has been done by unveiling a National Action Plan to reduce carbon emissions, increase forest cover, and replacing traditional carbon fuels with renewable energy supplies. 
 
On the international plane, India has partnered with like-minded countries to launch the International Solar Alliance, which aims to harness the clean and unlimited solar energy as an alternative to fossil fuels, he added. 
 
“We have been an active and considerate development partner for other developing countries, with our guiding principle being to help in developing their physical and social infrastructure. Through these efforts, we seek to ensure that the benefits of a globalised and interconnected world are equally experienced by all. 
 
“Over the past few years, my Government has renewed interaction and forged new partnerships across continents. In the East Asian context, we have redefined our engagements with countries in the region, including with the Republic of Korea, under our Act East Policy. I am glad to hear an echo of our approach in President Moon's New Southern Policy,” he added.
 
“We are one of the largest troop-contributing countries for UN peace-keeping operations. And, we are proud to have been able to contribute to peace on the Korean peninsula. We have extended a helping hand to countries in need and participated actively in humanitarian work and disaster relief. We have carried out operations in conflict zones and rescued not only Indians but also nationals of many other countries,” he said.
 
Referring to the scourge of terrorism, Modi said, like Korea, India has also suffered the pain of cross-border strife. The country’s endeavour towards peaceful development has only too often been derailed by cross-border terrorism. While India has been the victim of cross-border terrorism for over 40 years, all nations today face this grave threat which respects no borders. 
 
“The time has come for all those who believe in humanity to join hands to completely eradicate terrorist networks and their financing, supply channels, and to counter terrorist ideology and propaganda. Only by doing so can we replace hate with harmony, destruction with development and transform the landscape of violence and vendetta into a post-card for peace,” he added.
 
The Seoul Peace Prize Cultural Foundation Chairman Kwon E-hyock, Speaker of the National Assembly Moon Hee-sang, Minister for Culture Do Jong-hwan and former Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon were present at the ceremony.
 
Modi said he was deeply honoured to receive the Seoul Peace Prize. “I believe that this award belongs not to me personally, but to the people of India. The award belongs to the success that India has achieved in the less than five years, powered by the strengths and skills of one point three billion Indians,” he added. 
 
He announced that the monetary award of 200,000 dollars (Rs 1.30 crore) will be given to the Namami Gange Fund, in the effort to clean a river that is not only held sacred by all the people of India but is also an economic lifeline to millions.
 
Noting that the Seoul Peace Prize was established to mark the success and spirit of the 24th Summer Olympics held in Seoul in 1988, he said while the world is better in many aspects today than it was in 1988 with a steady fall in global poverty and improvement in healthcare and education, many daunting global challenges remain. 
 
“Today, radicalization and terrorism have become globalized and are the biggest threats to global peace and security. And, millions of people around the world still remain without adequate and quality access to food, shelter, healthcare, sanitation, power, and above all, the dignity of life. Clearly, there is a lot more that needs to be done.
 
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“The solution to the hardships we face is in hard work. India is doing her part. We have been working to improve the wellbeing of the people of India - who form one-sixth of humanity. India is today the fastest growing large economy in the world with strong economic fundamentals. This has been possible because of the major economic changes that we have introduced. Flag-ship initiatives such as ‘Make in India’, ‘Skill India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Clean India’ have contributed to visible socio-economic growth. 
 
“We have focused on financial inclusion, access to credit, digital transactions, last mile connectivity, and support to the small and medium enterprise so as to spread development across the country and enrich all the citizens of India,” he said. 
 
“The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is making India clean; From a sanitation coverage of around 38% in 2014, the number today stands at 98%! The Ujjwala Yojana is improving the lives of rural women through the use of clean cooking fuel; Ayushman Bharat is providing health-care and insurance to 500 million poor and vulnerable people.
 
“Through these initiatives and many more, we have contributed to holistic development and India's march towards the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In all our efforts, we are guided by Mahatma Gandhi's teaching that we should recall the face of the poorest and the weakest person that we have ever seen and ask ourselves if the step that we plan is going to be of any benefit to that person,” he said.
 
“India has been the land of peace for ages. The people of India have practised the concept of peace and harmonious co-existence for thousands of years. With hundreds of languages and dialects, many states, and major religions, India is proud to be one of the most diverse nations in the world. 
 
“We are proud that ours is a land where people of all faiths, beliefs, and communities can prosper. We are proud that ours is a society based not only on tolerance but on the celebration of differences and diverse cultures,” the Prime Minister said.
 
Referring to Korea, he said progress over the past year towards peace on the Korean peninsula has been heartening. President Moon deserves all the praise for the role he has played in overcoming the legacy of mutual distrust and suspicion between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the international community, bringing them to the discussion table. 
 
“This is no small achievement. I state again my Government's strong support to the ongoing dialogue process between the two Koreas and between the US and DPRK,” he added.
 
“I have every confidence that with continued efforts from the Korean people, peace will soon prevail on the Korean Peninsula. Friends, I would like to end by quoting a portion of the 1988 Olympics Theme Song, because it perfectly captures the hopeful spirit for a better tomorrow for all of us: 'Hand in hand, we stand all across the land, we can make this world, a better place in which to live'."
 
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People-to-people contacts, the main basis for India-Korea relations: Modi

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The ties between India and Korea were not just on the basis of business contacts but people-to-people contacts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Indian community here. 
 
During a meeting with the Indian community here yesterday, Modi referred to the age-old links between India and Korea. Queen Suryaratna of Ayodhya had travelled thousands of kilometres to marry a Korean King. During Diwali last year, the First Lady of Korea, Kim Jung-sook, had visited Ayodhya, he added. 
 
The Prime Minister said Buddhism had further strengthened these bonds of friendship between the two countries. 
 
He said he was happy to note that the Indian community was contributing to the development, research and innovation in Korea. In this context, he referred to the popularity of Yoga and Indian festivals in Korea. Indian cuisine was also fast gaining popularity. He also spoke of the splendid performance of Korea in the Indian sport - Kabaddi - at the Asian Games. 
 
The Prime Minister described the Indian community all over the world, as ambassadors of India, whose hard work and discipline have raised India's stature worldwide. 
 
“India is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi this year. The world must know more about Bapu, and it is our responsibility to pursue this objective,” he said. 
 
India's ties with Korea were strengthening with both countries working together for peace, stability and prosperity in the region. He noted that Indian brands were now present in Korea and Korean brands have become household names in India. 
 
Speaking at length about the economic development that has taken place in India recently, he said the country will soon become a 5 trillion dollar economy. 
 
He referred to the progress made in Ease of Doing Business and in Ease of Living. He also mentioned reforms such as GST and cashless economy. 
 
The world is witnessing a financial inclusion revolution in India. In this context, he spoke of the opening of bank accounts, insurance and Mudra loans benefitting a large section of the population. 
 
India's prestige was rising because of several achievements. He mentioned free treatment for the poor, the tallest statue in the world - Statue of Unity and Digital India. 
 
He also referred to India's achievements in the field of clean energy and the formation of the International Solar Alliance. 
 
He mentioned the ongoing Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj and said the world was taking note of the cleanliness at the Mela this time. He exhorted the Indian community in Korea to promote tourism in India, by their own individual efforts.
 
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Modi unveils a bust of Mahatma Gandhi at Yonsei University in Seoul

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi today unveiled a bust of Mahatma Gandhi at Yonsei University in Seoul, the capital of South Korea.
 
Korean President Moon Jae-in, First Lady Kim Jung-sook and former Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon were amongst those present at the event.
 
Speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister described it as an honour to unveil the bust of Bapu at Yonsei University.
 
“This becomes even more special because we are doing so at a time when we mark the 150th birth anniversary of Bapu," he said.
 
“The thoughts and ideals of Bapu have the power to help us overcome the menace of terrorism and climate change, two challenges humanity faces in these times,” he added.
 
Through his lifestyle, Bapu showed what living in harmony with nature is, and how one can minimize one's carbon footprint. He also showed that it is important to leave a clean and green planet for the future generations, he said.
 
Yonsei University is among the most prestigious universities in South Korea. Mahatma Gandhi is revered in South Korea as an icon of world peace.
 
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Modi invites more Korean companies to invest in India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday invited more and more Korean business leaders to turn their attention to India which, he said, was emerging as a land of opportunities.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the India Korea Business Symposium, in Seoul, South Korea on February 21, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the India Korea Business Symposium, in Seoul, South Korea on February 21, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today invited more and more Korean business leaders to turn their attention to India which, he said, was emerging as a land of opportunities.
 
Speaking at the India-ROK Business Symposium here on the opening day of his two-day state visit to South Korea, Modi noted that it was his third interaction with Korean business leaders in the span of just 12 months.
 
"This intensity is intentional. I wish to see more and more Korean businesses turning their attention to India. Even when I was the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat, I traveled to Korea. Korea was, and still remains, a role-model of economic growth for me," he said.
 
"India today, a country of 1.25 billion people, is going through a great transition. It is changing from: an agriculture dominated economy to an economy led by industry and services; an economy that is closed to one that is globally inter-linked; an economy that is known for its red tape, to one known for its red carpet," he said.
 
"India has emerged as a land of opportunities. While we work for realizing the ‘Indian Dream’, we seek like-minded partners. And, among them, we see South Korea is truly natural partner," he said.
 
Modi said India-Korea Business relations had come a long way in the past decade, and especially closer in the last few years. India is among top 10 trade partners of Korea and India is the 6th largest export destination for Korean goods. 
 
"Our trade volume has reached 21.5 billion dollars for the calendar year 2018. The negotiations to upgrade Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement have been fast-tracked to achieve the bilateral trade target of 50 billion Dollars by 2030. Not just trade, in investment terms also we are seeing a positive turn. And, Korean investments into India have reached a cumulative figure of almost 6 billion dollars," he said.
 
Modi recalled that, after his visit to Korea in 2015, India had launched a Korea-specific facilitation cell, Korea Plus, under Invest India to guide, assist and handhold investors during the entire life-cycle of the business. 
 
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"Hyundai, Samsung, LG electronics have become trustworthy brands in India. And, Kia is soon to join this club. Over 600 Korean companies have invested in India. And, we aspire to welcome many more. And, to ease your path, Visa on Arrival for Korean nationals has been put in place since October last year. We encourage the presence of Korean Trade Offices in India. And, I am glad that we recently had the sixth office of KOTRA opened in Ahmedabad.
 
"Let me tell you a little more about what is happening in India now. The fundamentals of our economy are sound. We are well set to become a 5 trillion dollar economy in the near future. No other large economy in the world is growing at over 7% year after year. Hard policy decisions such as the introduction of Goods and Services Tax have been taken. In the last four years, we have jumped 65 places in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking, to 77th. And, we are determined to move into the top 50 next year. We are one of the most open countries for Foreign Direct Investment today. More than 90 percent of our sectors are now on automatic route for approval. As a result of this and the confidence in India, we have received FDI worth over 250 billion dollars over the past four years," he said.
 
The Prime Minister went on to detail the various steps taken by his government, especially those aimed at inclusive growth and financial inclusion.
 
He also mentioned progress in areas such as rural electrification and in  infrastructure development, especially in transportation, power, ports, shipbuilding, housing, urban infrastructure, and so on.
 
"We estimate the investment requirements in Infrastructure at over 700 billion dollars by 2022. Under the Sagarmala Project, Port projects involving Investment of over 10 billion Dollars have been identified for award in the upcoming five years. It is essential to guide the growth of urban utilities and create smart cities which ensure sustainable and clean future for all. More than 500 million of India population will be urban by 2025 and this opens the scope for cooperation in building smart solutions in India.
 
"Recognizing the importance of supporting India’s infrastructure development, India and South Korea have identified 10 billion dollars under Korea’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund and Export Credit, to finance such projects. While aiming for fast economic growth, India is also rooted in the principles of ensuring sustainable economic growth. For example in Automobile sector, The National Electric Mobility Mission aims for affordable and efficient electric vehicles. South Korea being a leading manufacturer of electric vehicles has a huge opportunity in this sector in India," he said.
 
Modi referred to the initiatives taken both by India and Korea to support start-ups and said the synergy in policy regimes was a reflection of the areas of common interest.
 
"Our vision of an India-Korea Startup Centre will provide a hub for Korean startups and Indian talent to freely communicate. South Korean National IT Industry promotion Agency has already opened their Indian office in Bengaluru to facilitate Korean startups to India. In the field of innovation, both countries have decided to establish ‘India-Korea Future Strategy Group’ and ‘India-Korea Centre for research and Innovation Cooperation’ to provide an institutional framework for future-oriented cooperation based on research, innovation and entrepreneurship," he said.
 
"It is our earnest desire to work with Republic of Korea more closely to realize the dream of our citizens. Efforts by the Governments will not be realized unless business leaders like you share the same dreams," he added.
 
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Modi reaches Seoul at start of two-day state visit to South Korea

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached Seoul on Thursday at the start of a two-day state visit to South Korea during which he will hold talks with President Moon Jae-in on ways of further strengthening and enhancing bilateral ties.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his arrival in Seoul at the start of a two-day state visit to South Korea, on February 21, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his arrival in Seoul at the start of a two-day state visit to South Korea, on February 21, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived here today at the start of a two-day state visit to South Korea during which he will hold talks with President Moon Jae-in on ways of further strengthening and enhancing bilateral ties.
 
"This will be my second visit to the Republic of Korea and my second summit meeting with President Moon," Modi said in a pre-departure statement before emplaning for Seoul from here last night.
 
"We had the pleasure of receiving President Moon Jae-in and First Lady Mrs. Kim Jung-sook in India in July last year. My visit to the Republic of Korea is reflective of the importance we both attach to our relationship," he said.
 
The Prime Minister said India regarded Korea as a valued friend, a nation with which it had a Special Strategic Partnership.
 
"As fellow democracies, India and the ROK have shared values and a shared vision for regional and global peace. As fellow market economies, our needs and strengths are complementary. ROK is an important partner for our ‘Make in India’ initiative as well as in our ‘Start Up India’ and ‘Clean India’ initiatives. Our collaboration in the field of science and technology is encouraging, with our joint research ranging from basic to advanced sciences.
 
"Our people to people ties and exchanges, as always, provide the bedrock of our ties of friendship. We were touched by President Moon’s decision to send the First Lady as his special representative at the ‘Deepotsav’ Festival held in Ayodhya last November," he said.
 
Modi said the growing depth and variety in the relationship between the two countries had been accentuated by the harmony between India's Act East Policy and Korea's New Southern Policy. 
 
"Working together, we are determined to take our relationship forward as a ‘future oriented partnership for People, Prosperity and Peace’," he said.
 
"During this visit, apart from my discussions with President Moon, I will meet with business leaders, members of the Indian community as well as eminent persons from all walks of life.
 
"I am confident that this visit will help us to further strengthen this important partnership," he added.
 
India's Ministry of External Affairs had said ahead of the visit that it would provide an important occasion for the two leaders to review the recent developments in bilateral relations and exchange views on regional and international issues of common interest with the objective of further strengthening the Special Strategic Partnership between the two countries based on shared values and interests. 
 
"The visit will further demonstrate the priority we attach to deepening multi-dimensional engagement with ROK as part of our 'Act East Policy'," it said.
 
During the visit, Prime Minister will also be conferred upon with the 2018 Seoul Peace Prize at a ceremony to be organised by the Seoul Peace Prize Cultural Foundation on February 22, in recognition of his national and international contributions.
 
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NASA's record-setting Opportunity Rover Mission on Mars comes to end

 
'Mission complete' for Mars Opportunity rover
US space agency NASA's Opportunity Rover Mission, one of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, has come to an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet. 
 
The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. 
 
"After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail. The solar-powered rover's final communication was received June 10," a press release from NASA said on Wednesday.
 
"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration."
 
Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars – Perseverance Valley.
 
"For more than a decade, Opportunity has been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars' ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet, and revealing uncharted Martian landscapes," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Whatever loss we feel now must be tempered with the knowledge that the legacy of Opportunity continues – both on the surface of Mars with the Curiosity rover and InSight lander – and in the clean rooms of JPL, where the upcoming Mars 2020 rover is taking shape."
 
The final transmission, sent via the 70-meter Mars Station antenna at NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Complex in California, ended a multifaceted, eight-month recovery strategy in an attempt to compel the rover to communicate.
 
“We have made every reasonable engineering effort to try to recover Opportunity and have determined that the likelihood of receiving a signal is far too low to continue recovery efforts," said John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project at JPL.
 
Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on January 24, 2004, seven months after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its twin rover, Spirit, landed 20 days earlier in the 103-mile-wide (166-kilometer-wide) Gusev Crater on the other side of Mars. Spirit logged almost 5 miles (8 kilometers) before its mission wrapped up in May 2011.
 
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From the day Opportunity landed, a team of mission engineers, rover drivers and scientists on Earth collaborated to overcome challenges and get the rover from one geologic site on Mars to the next. They plotted workable avenues over rugged terrain so that the 384-pound (174-kilogram) Martian explorer could maneuver around and, at times, over rocks and boulders, climb gravel-strewn slopes as steep as 32-degrees (an off-Earth record), probe crater floors, summit hills and traverse possible dry riverbeds. Its final venture brought it to the western limb of Perseverance Valley.
 
"I cannot think of a more appropriate place for Opportunity to endure on the surface of Mars than one called Perseverance Valley," said Michael Watkins, director of JPL. "The records, discoveries and sheer tenacity of this intrepid little rover is testament to the ingenuity, dedication, and perseverance of the people who built and guided her."
 
Some of the other Opportunity  achievements are:
 
--Set a one-day Mars driving record March 20, 2005, when it traveled 721 feet (220 meters).
--Returned more than 217,000 images, including 15 360-degree color panoramas.
--Exposed the surfaces of 52 rocks to reveal fresh mineral surfaces for analysis and cleared 72 additional targets with a brush to prepare them for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager. 
--Found hematite, a mineral that forms in water, at its landing site.
--Discovered strong indications at Endeavour Crater of the action of ancient water similar to the drinkable water of a pond or lake on Earth.
 
All of the off-roading and on-location scientific analyses were in service of the Mars Exploration Rovers’ primary objective: To seek out historical evidence of the Red Planet's climate and water at sites where conditions may once have been favorable for life. Because liquid water is required for life, as we know it, Opportunity's discoveries implied that conditions at Meridiani Planum may have been habitable for some period of time in Martian history.
 
"From the get-go, Opportunity delivered on our search for evidence regarding water," said Steve Squyres, principal investigator of the rovers' science payload at Cornell University. "And when you combine the discoveries of Opportunity and Spirit, they showed us that ancient Mars was a very different place from Mars today, which is a cold, dry, desolate world. But if you look to its ancient past, you find compelling evidence for liquid water below the surface and liquid water at the surface."
 
All those accomplishments were not without the occasional extraterrestrial impediment. In 2005 alone, Opportunity lost steering to one of its front wheels, a stuck heater threatened to severely limit the rover's available power, and a Martian sand ripple almost trapped it for good. Two years later, a two-month dust storm imperiled the rover before relenting. In 2015, Opportunity lost use of its 256-megabyte flash memory and, in 2017, it lost steering to its other front wheel. 
 
Each time the rover faced an obstacle, Opportunity's team on Earth found and implemented a solution that enabled the rover to bounce back. However, the massive dust storm that took shape in the summer of 2018 proved too much for history's most senior Mars explorer.
 
"When I think of Opportunity, I will recall that place on Mars where our intrepid rover far exceeded everyone's expectations," Callas said. "But what I suppose I'll cherish most is the impact Opportunity had on us here on Earth. It's the accomplished exploration and phenomenal discoveries. It’s the generation of young scientists and engineers who became space explorers with this mission. It's the public that followed along with our every step. And it's the technical legacy of the Mars Exploration Rovers, which is carried aboard Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 mission. Farewell, Opportunity, and well done."
 
Mars exploration continues unabated. NASA's InSight lander, which touched down on November 26, is just beginning its scientific investigations. The Curiosity rover has been exploring Gale Crater for more than six years. And, NASA's Mars 2020 rover and the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover both will launch in July 2020, becoming the first rover missions designed to seek signs of past microbial life on the Red Planet, the release said.
 
JPL managed the Mars Exploration Rovers Opportunity and Spirit for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, it added.
 
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UK Home Secretary approves Vijay Mallya's extradition to India

Vijay Mallya
Vijay Mallya
United Kingdom Home Secretary Sajid Javid today approved the extradition of beleaguered Indian businessman Vijay Mallya to India, where he is wanted by the authorities in connection with unpaid bank loans and interest of more than Rs. 9,000 crore.
 
Today's decision came after the Westminster Magistrate's Court here had, on December 10, 2018, held that the liquor baron must be extradited from the UK to India in the case.
 
The court's ruling came after a prolonged litigation involving Mallya, who had fled India in March, 2016.
 
Mallya, 63, who is facing charges of fraud, money laundering and violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), has 14 days to appeal against today's decision, failing which he will be extradited within 28 days, sources said.
 
The businessman said on micro-blogging site Twitter that he would initiate the appeal process.
 
"After the decision was handed down on December 10, 2018 by the Westminster Magistrate;s Court, I stated my intention to appeal. I could not initiate the appeal process before a decision by the Home Secretary. Now I will initiate the appeal process," he said.
 
"Modi Government clears one more step to get Mallya extradited while Opposition rallies around the Saradha Scamsters," Union Minister Arun Jaitley, who is in the United States for medical treatment, said on Twitter.
 
On January 5, a Mumbai Special Cour declared Mallya as a "fugitive" under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018, in a case filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in June 2018.
 
In the first of its kind case under the FEOA, on June 22 last year, the ED had moved the Special PMLA Court seeking to declare Mallya a 'fugitive economic offender' under the new act, to enable confiscation of all his properties, estimated at over Rs 12,000 crore.
 
However, through his lawyers, Mallya told the Special Court that he had not fled the country but left in the ordinary course to attend a meeting in Switzerland in March 2016 at the World Motor Sport Council and the arrest warrant against him was issued much later.
 
Special PMLA Court Judge M.S. Azmi will start hearing arguments on confiscation of Mallya's properties from February.
 
Under the FEOA, any person against whom an arrest warrant has been issued in respect of a scheduled offence and who has left India to avoid criminal prosecution or is abroad or refuses to return to India will face criminal prosecution.
 
After the person is declared a 'fugitive economic offender', the prosecuting agency is vested with the powers to confiscate all his assets and properties to recover the dues.
 
Mallya was summoned by the Special Court here to appear before it on August 27, but he failed to honour the court summons, besides other notices, summons and arrest warrants by the ED wanting to question him.
 
He flew out of the country around March 2016 even as a consortium of 13 banks -- led by the State Bank of India (SBI) -- was preparing to initiate loan recovery proceedings against him for over Rs 9,000 crore.
 
Late last year, Indian government had filed extradition proceedings against him. Pending the final verdict in the case, he is currently on bail in London.
 
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14 dead as two ships carrying Indian crew catch fire off Russia

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At least 14 people have died in a fire that broke out on Monday on board two ships, carrying a total of 32 members of crew on board, including 15 Indians, near the Kerch Strait that separates Russia and Crimea, local media reports said, quoting emergency officials.
 
"Fourteen are dead," the reports quoted Crimean emergency officials as saying.
 
They said as many as 12 people were rescued, while six were said to be still missing. Search and rescue efforts are underway.
 
The two ships, Maestro and Candy, flying the Tanzanian flag, caught fire outside of Russian territorial waters. The reports suggested that the fire started when fuel was being pumped from one vessel to the other.
 
While Candy had a crew of 17, including eight Indians and nine Turkish nationals, Maestro had 15 crew on board, including seven Indians, seven Turkish nationals and one from Libya.
 
The officials hoped to be able to bring the rescue sailors to the shore by noon local time as winds in the area calmed down.
 
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India witnessing four years of intolerance, says Rahul Gandhi in UAE

Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressing a huge gathering of non-resident Indians at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium in Dubai on January 11, 2019.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressing a huge gathering of non-resident Indians at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium in Dubai on January 11, 2019.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi today called upon non-resident Indians (NRIs) and Indians everywhere to help India, all its people and all its states, regions, religions and communities, to come together again, stressing that the country could never be strong if it is divided.
 
Addressing a huge gathering of non-resident Indians at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium here in the this evening, on the first day of a two-day visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), he asked, "How can a country that is divided be successful?"
 
He noted that while the UAE was celebrating the Year of Tolerance this year, it was sad that India had been going through "four and a half years of intolerance".
 
He said NRIs were a big asset to their countries of residence and had played significant roles in their development.
 
"When I drive through UAE, I see your energy, blood and sweat. You have helped build this nation, and I feel proud that you have played your part with dignity, togetherness and tolerance," he said.
 
He said NRIs had also played an important role in helping to make India what it is today. "Without your help, without the help of NRIs, it would be impossible for India to be where it is today," he said.
 
He said NRIs, starting with Mahatma Gandhi, had played a great role in building India and mentioned well-known NRIs such as the late Verghese Kurien, who helped usher in the White Revolution and made India the largest milk producer in the world, and Sam Pitroda, who led the telecom revolution in India. Pitroda, the president of the Indian Overseas Congress, was present on stage at the event.
 
"What you have done in the UAE, the United States, in Europe, elsewhere, we want you to help us do back that back home. I want a commitment from you, that you will stand with us and help us to solve the most pressing problems facing India," he said.
 
Gandhi said emplyment was the single biggest problem facing India. He said millions of people in India were devastated by the November 8, 2016 demonetisation and did not have any employment today.
 
"The first problem we have to take head-on,on the front foot, is unemployment," he said.
 
He said the agrarian crisis was the second problem which needed to be tackled. "Our farmers are in deep trouble. They are struggling and can't see a future for themselves," he said, adding that there was a need for a second green revolution in India.
 
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Gandhi said the Congress would make efforts to reach out to non-resident Indians (NRIs) and understand their concerns so that solutions to them could be reflected them in the party's manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He said the Congress was committed to ensuring representation for NRIs in the Indian political system. "We will make sure that your voice will be heard in India," he said.
 
The Congress President said the last five years made him sad because of the intolerance witnessed in India. He said tolerance meant that one had to listen to other people and embrace them, their ideas, irrespective of differences in thinking, religion, community and so on.
 
"Tolerance is not possible without humility, it is not possible with arrogance. We can never run a country like India believing that only one idea is correct and all other are wrong. Today, my beloved country India is being divided for political reasons," he said.
 
"Every Indian has a responsibility to help bring the country together again," he said.
 
"There is a lot of work to be done. You have shown what can be done in areas like urbanisation, transportation and so on. We have to solve problems like unemployment, the farm crisis," he said.
 
He told the NRIs that his doors, ears and heart would always be open for them and they could approach him at any time if they had any problems.
 
To a question from a member of the audience, who hails from Andhra Pradesh, he said his party, if voted to power would ensure special status for the state.
 
"We are facing an electoral battle in 2019. I can tell you with utmost confidence that we are going to win that battle and bring India together again," he added.
 
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India's GSAT-31 reaches French Guiana for February 5 launch

India's communication satellite GSAT-31 being unloaded from an Antonov An-124 cargo jetliner after arriving in French Guiana. Photo: Arianespace.
India's communication satellite GSAT-31 being unloaded from an Antonov An-124 cargo jetliner after arriving in French Guiana. Photo: Arianespace.
India's communication satelite GSAT-31 has reached French Guiana, from where it is slated to be launched into orbit by Arianespace's Ariane 5 Flight VA247 from the spaceport at Kourou on February 5.
 
The Saudi Geostationary Satellite 1/Hellas Sat 4 (HS-4/SGS-1), which reached Kourou a few days ago, will be its co-passenger on the flight, a press release from Arianespace said.
 
GSAT-31 was flown to South America aboard an Antonov An-124 cargo jetliner, which landed at Félix Eboué Airport near the French Guiana capital city of Cayenne. After the unloading process, the protective container with GSAT-31 was readied for transportation by road to the spaceport to begin payload processing. 
 
"Designated Flight VA247 in Arianespace’s numbering system, the year-opening Ariane 5 flight will lift off on February 5 – kicking off a fast-paced operational schedule that will include up to 12 missions using the company’s launcher family, with the heavy-lift Ariane 5 joined by the medium Soyuz and lightweight Vega," the release said.
 
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had signed an agreement in September, 2018 for the lauunch of the GSAT-31 and GSAT-30 satellites on separate Ariane 5s from the Guiana Space Centre.
 
Both satellites will be designed, assembled and integrated by ISRO. They are planned as replacement satellites for the currently operational satellites providing key national services in multiple frequency bands including C- and Ku Bands.
 
GSAT-31 will be based on an enhanced I-2K platform, to be stationed in geostationary orbit at a longitude of 48° East. It will weigh 2,500 to 2,600 kg. at launch. Providing communications to India, it will replace Insat 4CR, whose end of life is soon expected.
 
As for GSAT-30, it will be based on an I-3K platform, will weigh 3,450 kg. at launch and ensure continuity of service for INSAT 4A, positioned at 83° East longitude. It will provide high-quality television, telecommunications and broadcasting services.
 
Commenting on this contract, Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël had said in September: “Arianespace is delighted that ISRO has entrusted Ariane 5 with two new GEO satellites to deliver: GSAT-31 and GSAT-30, to be the 23rd and 24th ISRO satellites launched by Arianespace since our first joint success with APPLE in 1981. This contract underlines the availability of Arianespace launchers and proves to be another great demonstration of the strong bond uniting India and Europe in space cooperation for a better life on Earth.”
 
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World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim resigns

World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim. Photo: World Bank
World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim. Photo: World Bank
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim announced on Monday that he will be stepping down from his position with effect from February 1 after more than six years in office and that he would be joining a firm immediately and focusing on increasing infrastructure investments in developing countries.
 
The details of this new position would be announced shortly, a press release from the World Bank said.
 
In addition to working on infrastructure investments, Kim announced that he will also be re-joining the board of Partners In Health (PIH), an organization he co-founded more than 30 years ago.  
 
“I look forward to working once again with my longtime friends and colleagues at PIH on a range of issues in global health and education.  I will also continue my engagement with Brown University as a trustee of the Corporation and look forward to serving as a Senior Fellow at Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.”
 
Kristalina Georgieva, World Bank CEO, will assume the role of interim President effective February 1, the release said.
 
Kim's resignation has come at a time when he had about three years of his second term yet to go.
 
Kim, 59, a physician and anthropologist, took over as the 12th President of the World Bank in July 2012. In September 2016, he was reappointed for a second five-year term.
 
The release noted that during his six years in office, the World Bank's shareholders had provided strong support to multiple initiatives to ensure that  the Bank Group retains strong leadership in the world of global development. 
 
“It has been a great honor to serve as President of this remarkable institution, full of passionate individuals dedicated to the mission of ending extreme poverty in our lifetime,” said Kim. “The work of the World Bank Group is more important now than ever as the aspirations of the poor rise all over the world, and problems like climate change, pandemics, famine and refugees continue to grow in both their scale and complexity.  Serving as President and helping position the institution squarely in the middle of all these challenges has been a great privilege.”
 
 
World Bank's Kim to resign, join private sector
Under Kim’s leadership, and with the backing of the Bank Group’s 189 member countries, the institution in 2012 established two goals: to end extreme poverty by 2030; and to boost shared prosperity, focusing on the bottom 40 percent of the population in developing countries. These goals now guide and inform the institution in its daily work around the globe.
 
In addition, shareholders strongly supported measures to ensure that the Bank Group be even better positioned to respond to the development needs of clients: 
 
The Bank Group’s Fund for the Poorest, IDA, achieved two successive, record replenishments, which enabled the institution to increase its work in areas suffering from fragility, conflict, and violence. 
 
In April 2018, the Bank Group’s Governors overwhelmingly approved a historic USD$13 billion capital increase for IBRD and IFC that will allow the Bank Group to support countries in reaching their development goals while responding to crises such as climate change, pandemics, fragility, and underinvestment in human capital around the world. 
 
"Over the past 6+ years, the institutions of the World Bank Group have provided financing at levels never seen outside of a financial crisis.  
 
"Recognizing the power of capital markets to transform development finance, the Bank Group during Kim’s tenure also launched several new innovative financial instruments, including facilities to address infrastructure needs, prevent pandemics, and help the millions of people forcibly displaced from their homes by climate shocks, conflict, and violence. The Bank is also working with the United Nations and leading technology companies to implement the Famine Action Mechanism, to detect warning signs earlier and prevent famines before they begin," the release said.
 
During his term, Kim emphasized that one of the greatest needs in the developing world is infrastructure finance, and he pushed the Bank Group to maximize finance for development by working with a new cadre of private sector partners committed to building sustainable, climate-smart infrastructure in developing countries.  
 
 Before joining the World Bank Group, Kim served as the President of Dartmouth College and held professorships at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. From 2003 to 2005, as director of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS department, he led the "3 by 5" initiative, the first-ever global goal for AIDS treatment, which greatly to expand access to antiretroviral medication in developing countries.
 
In 1987, Kim co-founded Partners In Health, a non-profit medical organization that now works in poor communities on four continents.
 
Kim has received a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, was recognized as one of America's "25 Best Leaders" by U.S. News & World Report, and was named one of TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World." 
 
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Sheikh Hasina takes oath as Bangladesh PM for 4th term

Sheikh Hasina (File photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS)
Sheikh Hasina (File photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS)
Sheikh Hasina was on Monday sworn in as Bangladesh's Prime Minister for a record fourth term following her party's victory in the December 30 election fraught with violent incidents and allegations of fraud by the opposition.
 
Hasina, 71, was sworn in along with her new 47-member Cabinet before President Abdul Hamid at his official residence in Dhaka. Her ruling Awami League party and its allies won the polls by a landslide, securing 288 seats in the 300-seat Parliament.
 
The largest opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, imprisoned after being sentenced to 17 years for corruption, had won only seven seats.
 
Hasina dropped 36 members from the previous Cabinet and also didn't pick members of allied parties in her new Cabinet, bdnews24.com reported.
 
She reserved the portfolios of Public Administration, Defence, Energy and Mineral Resources along with Women and Children Affairs.
 
Leaders from Khaleda Zia's opposition alliance -- Jatiya Oikya Front -- were absent from the swearing-in ceremony. They refused to take oath in Parliament last week, calling the elections a "farce" and demanded a repeat poll. Their demand was, however, rejected by the Election Commission.
 
At least 17 people were killed in widespread violence on the day of the election across the country. Two more died in clashes between supporters of different parties later.
 
The EU has called for an investigation into allegations of irregularities, saying "significant obstacles to a level playing field... tainted the electoral campaign and the vote".
 
The UN said last week that there were indications that "reprisals" targeted the opposition since the election, including physical attacks, arbitrary arrests, harassment, disappearances and filing of criminal cases.
 
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China's space probe lands on Moon's far side

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China's Chang'e 4 space probe on Thursday became the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the far side of the moon, Xinhua news agency reported.
 
At 10.26 a.m. (Beijing time), the probe, comprising a lander and a rover, landed at the pre-selected landing area at 177.6 degrees east longitude and 45.5 degrees south latitude on the moon's uncharted side never visible from the Earth, the China National Space Administration announced. 
 
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Bangladesh PM wins new term in vote marred by violence

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina flashes a victory sign after casting her vote at a polling station in Dhaka, on December 30, 2018 in the country's general elections. (Xinhua/PID/IANS)
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina flashes a victory sign after casting her vote at a polling station in Dhaka, on December 30, 2018 in the country's general elections. (Xinhua/PID/IANS)
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has won a new term with a landslide victory, the country's Election Commission said on Monday, in an election marred by deadly violence and allegations of widespread rigging.
 
Hasina's ruling Awami League (AL) party won a landslide of 288 out of the 300 parliamentary seats contested in Sunday's election, surpassing its previous election wins and making her the Prime Minister for an unprecedented fourth term.
 
The opposition alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of jailed former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia took just seven seats and condemned the vote as "farcical" marred by violence, intimidation and vote rigging claims, bdnews24.com reported.
 
Bangladesh's Parliament has 350 seats in total, 50 of which are reserved for women and allotted proportional to the overall vote. 
 
The BNP's Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir called it "a cruel joke with the nation" and said that the party's decision to stay away from the general election five years ago was not wrong. 
 
"The so-called participatory election has caused long-term damage to the nation," he said, adding, that "many think that the BNP was wrong not to join the 2014 election. Today's election has proved that it was not a wrong decision at all."
 
There were claims of "irregularities" in 221 of the 300 seats being contested.
 
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The opposition Jatiya Oikya Front also rejected the vote and demanded a fresh election, accusing the AL of stuffing ballot boxes. "We urge the Election Commission to void this farcical result immediately," the alliance's chief Kamal Hossain said.
 
"We are demanding that a fresh election is held under a neutral government as early as possible."
 
Hasina's government has also been accused of human rights abuses during the election. At least 17 people have been killed in clashes between ruling party supporters and the opposition on Sunday.
 
The military was deployed across the country to try to prevent the violence seen during the polls, which were tarnished by a low turnout and boycotted by the largest opposition group and its allies.
 
The Awami League, led by Hasina, has been in power since 2009 and won the last election in January 2014 with a resounding majority amid a boycott. But Hasina has since been accused of authoritarianism and harassment of the media and opposition figures, even as she presides over strong economic growth.
 
Human Rights Watch South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly said on Twitter that "with serious allegations of voter intimidation, restrictions on opposition polling agents and several candidates seeking a re-poll, there are concerns about the credibility" of the election.
 
At least 47 candidates from the main opposition alliance withdrew before polling closed, alleging vote rigging and intimidation.
 
Activists, observers and the opposition party had warned that the vote would not be fair, but the governing party accused the opposition of peddling false claims.
 
IANS

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Bangladesh polling closes amid clashes, opposition boycott

 
Vote count begins in Bangladesh general election
Polling stations in Bangladesh closed on Sunday after a day of violent clashes in which at least 12 people have died as well as a boycott by the main Muslim opposition party, reported EFE.
 
Some 104 million citizens in the largely Muslim country were called to cast their ballots in what has been a deadly general election scarred by violence, mass arrests, a large military deployment and a boycott by the main Muslim party minutes before polling ended.
 
"Such a lopsided election cannot be accepted under any circumstance, and that is why our candidates, who are contesting with the 'sheaf of paddy' symbol (BNP), have rejected and boycotted the polls in their respective constituencies," Shafiqur Rahman Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) secretary general said in a statement.
 
"This is not an election but a farce and deception of the people of Bangladesh," Rahman added.
 
Around 40,000 polling stations in 299 constituencies opened at 8 a.m. for around 104 million eligible voters.
 
Since polls opened, 10 people have been killed in violent clashes between the political factions and two people died in the early hours of Sunday as a result of political disputes, bringing the day's death toll to 12.
 
The current Prime Minister and leader of the Awami League, 71-year-old Sheikh Hasina, is expected to win which would pave the way for her third mandate since she came to power in 2009.
 
The BNP-led coalition -- the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by three-time former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia who is currently in prison serving 17 years on corruption charges and as such her role as leader would be unclear -- has accused the Awami League of targeting BNP activists and spreading a climate of violence and intimidation in the lead up to the vote.
 
The BNP leads a coalition of political parties, including the JI, whose registration was canceled by a court but managed to present candidates via the BNP.
 
Clashes between the opposition and Hasina supporters have gripped Bangladesh since the date for the elections was slated on November 8.
 
The BNP has accused the government of a harsh clampdown which they claim has seen hundreds of opposition leaders and activists arrested.
 
IANS
 

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Bangladesh set for election amid mounting tension, military deployment

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On the eve of the general election in Bangladesh, opposition leaders on Saturday decried widespread arrests and violence amid a massive military deployment to contain mounting political tension.
 
Bangladesh will vote on Sunday amid an increasingly violent atmosphere which would see 104 million people going to the ballot boxes in the largely Muslim country. Voters will cast ballots for 299 parliamentary seats between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
 
The main opposition party -- the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by three-time former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia who is currently in prison serving 17 years on corruption charges -- said the elections could be rigged in favour of the ruling Awami League.
 
The current Prime Minister and leader of the Awami League, 71-year-old Sheikh Hasina, is expected to win which would pave the way for her third mandate since she came to power in 2009.
 
Khaleda's party has accused the Awami League of targeting BNP activists and fostering a climate of violence and intimidation in the lead up to the vote. In a message from prison, Khaleda urged her supporters to "guard voting centres", bdnews24.com reported.
 
Her message was read out by BNP Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi during a media briefing. "She said, 'tomorrow will bring us the opportunity to free the nation from dictators, so go to your voting centres in groups and disregard every intimidation. Each vote you cast will pave the way for freedom of democracy and people'," said Rizvi. 
 
Khaleda also instructed polling agents not to sign any document without first finding out the exact number of votes received by each candidate, he said.
 
Clashes between the opposition and Hasina supporters have been taking place since the date for the election was announced.
 
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Bangladesh authorities, meanwhile, instructed mobile network operators to shut down 4G and 3G data services across the country ahead of the election, bdnews24.com reported.
 
Mobile phone operators said they were "instructed" to shut down services for 33 hours.
 
Bangladesh Army chief General Aziz Ahmed called on voters to go to the polling stations without fear. Over 600,000 security forces, including personnel from the Bangladesh Army, marines and the police, have been deployed for the polls.
 
"They are conducting constant patrols to ensure that nobody attempts to terrorise or cause unrest. They are also working to ensure that voters are safe," said the Army chief.
 
The BNP has accused the government of a harsh clampdown which it claims has seen 10,329 opposition leaders and activists arrested. 
 
At least nine persons have been killed and over 13,000 injured in politically motivated attacks targeting the opposition, BNP leaders said.
 
The Awami League Secretary General Mahbubul Alam Hanif said the violent clashes were due to internal struggles within the BNP. 
 
Hanif dismissed accusations of lack of transparency and excessive use of force stating that it was obvious from the offset that the BNP were struggling to appoint candidates. 
 
IANS
 

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Pakistani government bans Zardari from leaving country

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The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government on Thursday decided to ban former President and PPP co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari and another 171 people from leaving the country over a money laundering case being probed on the orders of the apex court.
 
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a press briefing here that the Cabinet decided to include the Pakistan Peoples Party leader and another 171 people in the Exit Control List, which prevents those on it from leaving the country, Geo News reported.
 
"He (Zardari) does not take it (the investigation) seriously. Hopefully, after today he will take it seriously," Chaudhry said after a Cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
 
"This is not Purana Pakistan... Now, each and every penny will be accounted for," he said.
 
Hitting back, Zardari vowed to fight his political opponents "in court and everywhere else".
 
"Today, the thugs of the ladla have challenged us. We are not afraid of their tactics," he said, referring to the PTI government led by Imran Khan.
 
Criticizing the incumbent government, Zardari said: "They did nothing in their (first) 100 days... They will be unable to run the country despite foreign support by friendly countries." 
 
Zardari's son and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto said: "The country's rein has been handed to an inexperienced PM. He has drowned the public in a sea of inflation within his first 100 days. He has brought the economy to a point from where there is no return."
 
Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur and former Pakistan Stock Exchange chairman Hussain Lawai are among those being investigated by a joint commission comprising members of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and intelligence services, by order of the Supreme Court, for allegedly laundering money through at least 29 fake accounts. 
 
According to a report published by the commission recently, Zardari, along with his accomplices, laundered 4.2 billion rupees ($30 million) in the name of other people.
 
The report also asserted that the former President did not reveal all his assets in the declaration to the Election Commission during the July polls, which could lead to him being disqualified from politics for life.
 
Zardari, who was President of the country between 2008 and 2013, has denied any criminal activity and called the probe politically motivated.
 
The widower of the assassinated former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, who was killed 11 years ago, Zardari has faced several graft cases over the years and was also imprisoned for eight years in several cases.
 
IANS
 

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Nawaz Sharif moved to jail in Lahore

Nawaz Sharif
Nawaz Sharif
Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was shifted on Tuesday from a prison in Rawalpindi to the Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore, where he will serve the seven-year prison sentence handed to him for corruption a day earlier.
 
Fazeel Asghar, Home Secretary of Punjab province, told Geo News that a B-class room was readied for Sharif at Kot Lakhpat Jail with a TV set, bed, blanket, heater, a chair and table. He was provided a helper and will also be allowed food from home.
 
Asghar said the 68-year-old Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader would be placed in the same compound as his brother, Shehbaz Sharif, also sentenced for corruption, although they would be in different cells.
 
He added that instructions were issued to ensure strict security measures in the jail and anyone who indulged in vandalism will be booked under terrorism charges. 
 
A judge of the National Accountability Bureau, Pakistan's anti-corruption body, sentenced Sharif to seven years jail and imposed a fine of $2.5 million on him on Monday after ruling that Al-Azizia Steel Mills -- a Saudi Arabian firm carrying the name of his son -- belonged to the former Prime Minister, who was unable to demonstrate how the project was funded.
 
At the same time, the judge found him innocent in another case of alleged corruption concerning the Flagship Investments firm in the UK for lack of evidence. 
 
The trial against the Sharifs commenced on September 14, 2017 after Pakistan's anti-corruption body filed three cases relating to the Avenfield properties case, Al-Azizia Steel Mills and Flagship Investment Limited on the Supreme Court's directives in the landmark Panamagate verdict.
 
Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar were sentenced to 10 years, seven years and one year in prison, respectively by the same court in July in the Avenfield case -- ownership of four luxury flats in London. They later bailed on appeal when the Islamabad High Court suspended their sentence in September.
 
Sharif's sons were accused in all three references whereas daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar were accused in the Avenfield reference only.
 
In July 2017, Pakistan's Supreme Court had ousted Sharif as Prime Minister and barred him from public office for life after an investigation spurred by the publication of the Panama Papers found that he failed to disclose payments from a company belonging to his son.
 
IANS
 

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Indonesia tsunami toll hits 429 as rains hamper rescue efforts

The death toll from the deadly tsunami triggered by a volcanic eruption in Indonesia's Sunda Strait climbed to 429 on Tuesday, with search and rescue teams struggling to find survivors and bodies due to heavy rain.
 
Indonesia grapples with devastation after deadly tsunami
The death toll from the deadly tsunami triggered by a volcanic eruption in Indonesia's Sunda Strait climbed to 429 on Tuesday, with search and rescue teams struggling to find survivors and bodies due to heavy rain.
 
The toll was likely to continue rising as rescue teams were still finding bodies in the water and washed up on small outer islands, National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB) spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a press conference.
 
According to the latest figures on Tuesday, 1,485 people were injured, 154 remained missing, while 16,082 people sought safety and shelter away from their houses, the Jakarta Post reported.
 
The tsunami struck the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra almost without warning late Saturday, shortly after the Anak Krakatau volcano erupted in the Sunda Strait dividing the islands.
 
The data will change as the joint search team was scouring Pandeglang, Serang, South Lampung, Penawaran and Tenggamus (regencies) -- hardest hit by the disaster, said Sutopo. 
 
The BNPB's records showed that 883 houses, 73 hotels and villas, 60 shops and stalls, 434 boats and 41 motor vehicles were damaged in the Sunda Strait tsunami. 
 
Pandeglang regency in northern Java's Banten province had recorded the highest death toll of 290, said Sutopo.
 
Helped by dogs and heavy machinery, troops were combing through every pile of iron and wood that were once homes and market stalls.
 
The emergency response in Pandeglang would last 14 days till January 4, while it would last seven days in Lampung Selatan regency through December 29, the report said. 
 
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Sutopo said the Indonesian Navy had discovered several bodies in the water and on small offshore islands of Java. He added that overland access was disrupted to seven villages on Java's southwestern tip. "Even under normal conditions, the roads in that area are poor," he said.
 
In a video published on social media, a rescue group managed to find a five-year-old boy alive after being trapped for more than 12 hours.
 
The authorities blamed the tsunami on the collapse of part of Anak Krakatau volcano after it erupted in the Sunda Strait. Many people were celebrating the holiday period when they were hit by waves 2 to 3 metres high. 
 
The BNPB said that Indonesia does not have tsunami warning systems that are triggered by volcanic activity, and that buoys in place to detect a sudden rise in wave height after earthquakes do not work due to vandalism, lack of maintenance and funding.
 
Wednesday marks the anniversary of the Boxing Day tsunami that hit northern Sumatra and another 14 countries on Dec. 26, 2004, leaving 226,500 dead and missing, mostly in Indonesia.
 
Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of great seismic and volcanic activity that is shaken every year by some 7,000 earthquakes, most of them moderate.
 
IANS
 

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Mexican governor, senator killed in helicopter crash

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Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday confirmed the deaths in a helicopter crash of Puebla state Governor Martha Erika Alonso and her husband, former Governor Rafael Moreno Valle, and expressed his condolences to their relatives.
 
"Personally, my deepest condolences to the relatives of Sen. Rafael Moreno Valle and his wife, Puebla Governor Martha Erika Alonso. As president, I take on the commitment to investigate the causes (of the crash); tell the truth about what happened and to act accordingly," wrote the president on his Twitter account.
 
Earlier in the evening, Lopez Obrador had reported the crash but said only that it was possible that the couple had died, reports Efe.
 
"I'm receiving information about an accident in Puebla, the crash of a helicopter. Still to be confirmed is that it was Gov. Martha Erika Alonso and ex-Governor Rafael Moreno Valle. I have ordered the entire government to act immediately" on the matter, said Lopez Obrador on his Twitter account.
 
Numerous political figures have also expressed their condolences over the deaths of the couple, who were with the conservative National Action Party (PAN).
 
Senate President Marti Batres had said earlier -- before the official confirmation of Alonso and Moreno Valle's deaths -- that he was dismayed over the situation.
 
"I express my dismay over the possible deaths of... the governor of Puebla and my Senate colleague," he said.
 
According to preliminary reporting the helicopter crashed in croplands between the towns of Juan C. Bonilla and Tlaltenango.
 
Moreno Valle governed Puebla from 2010-2016 and was serving as a national senator, and Alonso took over the governorship on December 14 after a five-month election controversy during which the results of the vote were up in the air.
 
IANS
 

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At least 32 killed in attack on Afghan govt building

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At least 28 civilians, one police officer and three attackers were killed after a deadly explosion and ensuing gun firing rocked a government office near a diplomatic district in the Afghan capital on Monday, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior Affairs said on Tuesday.
 
Around 20 people, including three policemen, were also wounded. Figures about the casualties may change, spokesman Najib Danish said in a brief message sent to the media.
 
The latest information found that 357 people were rescued by the Afghan Special Operations Forces from the targeted building, he said.
 
The attack occurred on Monday afternoon when a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb outside the targeted office, which provides service to family members of soldiers and ordinary people who lost their lives during the war or terrorist attacks.
 
At least two gunmen made their way inside the building after the blast, spreading bullets on the people inside before security forces' arrival.
 
The attack occurred in Makruyan-e-Awal locality near Shashdarak, where several foreign embassies located.
 
The area also is home to several apartment buildings and several government offices, including Afghan Ministry of Public Works.
 
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far.
 
IANS
 

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