Pakistani man sentenced to death for blasphemy on Facebook


Islamabad: An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has sentenced a man to death for allegedly committing blasphemy on Facebook, the media reported. According to a report in the Guardian on Sunday, a court in Bahawalpur in Punjab province of Pakistan handed out the verdict, the harshest yet for such a crime, after finding Taimoor Raza, 30, guilty of insulting the prophet Muhammad.

Raza had indulged in a debate about Islam last year with a man who later turned out to be a counter-terrorism agent. Soon after the sectarian debate, Raza was arrested. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Raza, who belongs to Pakistan’s minority Shia Muslim community, was one among 15 people arrested by the counter-terrorism department last year, accused of blasphemy.

“My brother indulged in a sectarian debate on Facebook with a person, who we later come to know, was a (counter-terrorism department) official with the name of Muhammad Usman,” the report quoted Waseem Abbas, Raza’s brother, as saying. According to Raza’s defence attorney, he has been charged with two unrelated sections of the law to ensure the maximum penalty.

“Initially, it was a case of insulting remarks on sectarian grounds and the offence was 298A, which punishes for derogatory remarks about other religious personalities for up to two years,” said Fida Hussain Rana, the defence counsel. “Raza was later charged under section 295C of the penal code, related to “derogatory acts against prophet Muhammad”, Rana added.

To battle the blasphemy, Pakistani authorities have asked Twitter and Facebook to help identify users sharing blasphemous content. The government has also circulated text messages encouraging citizens to report fellow citizens sharing blasphemous content.

However, human rights defenders have expressed concern and opine that the stringent blasphemy laws are used as a tool to carry out personal vendettas.

“The casual manner in which death sentences are handed in blasphemy cases coupled with the lack of orientation of Pakistani courts with technology makes this a very dangerous situation,” said Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch in Pakistan. Also, the sentence was handed down by an anti-terrorism court and not a regular court, sowing the confusion between national security and religion.




JIT summons Sharif on Jun 15 in Panamagate case


Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been summoned by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) investigating the high-profile Panamagate case on June 15 to question him about the scandal, the first sitting premier to
appear before a team probing graft charges. JIT chief Wajid Zia, in a letter dated Saturday, asked the prime minister to appear before the six-member probe team at 11.00 am on June 15 with all documents relevant to the
case.

The summon was issued to Sharif after he returned from his Kazakhstan visit where he attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit. Sharif, who is currently in Lahore, met with his close confidantes this morning to discuss the issue. After consulting with his aides, the prime minister has decided to honour the summons and appear before the JIT on Thursday, the Dawn reported.

Xi snubs Sharif by skipping bilateral meet after murder of Chinese nationals
The Joint Investigation Team, formed by the Supreme Court to probe the money trail of the property owned by Sharif family in London, had questioned Sharif’s sons – Hussain and Hasan – last month over the family’s alleged improper business dealings. His eldest son Hussain was questioned five times while Hasan, the younger son was summoned twice.
The court last year took up the case and issued split decision regarding allegations that money laundered when Sharif was prime minister in 1990s was used to buy the property.

On May 5, the Supreme Court set up a high-level six- member JIT to probe Sharif and his sons’ alleged corruption in
the Panama Papers case. The JIT is bound to complete the probe in 60 days unless it is granted additional time. It is for the first time that a sitting prime minister is appearing before a high-level probe team traditionally constituted to investigate high-profile criminal cases. It is not yet clear that Sharif will be questioned for once or he would be called again like his two sons.




North Korea launches multiple missiles: South Korea defence ministry


Seoul, North Korea launched what appear to be ballistic missiles from its east coast today, South Korea’s defence ministry said — in what would be the latest in a series of tests by Pyongyang in defiance of UN sanctions.

“North Korea fired multiple unidentified projectiles, assumed to be surface-to-ship missiles, this morning from the vicinity of Wonsan, Gangwon Province,” it said.




UK to vote in general election today


London: Millions of people across the UK are set to vote in the general election on Thursday where the ruling Conservatives are predicted to secure an overall majority despite an energetic bid for power by the opposition Labour Party, the media reported. Voting will begin at 7 a.m. (local time) in over 40,000 polling stations across the country, the BBC reported. Counting will start once the voting ends at 10 p.m.

A total of 650 Westminster MPs will be elected, with about 46.9 million people registered to vote. Some votes have already been cast, through postal voting. A handful of seats will be declared by Thursday midnight, with the final results expected on Friday afternoon. To form a majority in the House of Commons, one party must win 326 seats.

On Wednesday, the last day of election campaigning, Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “feeling good” and used her final push to pitch for what she termed as “fiercely patriotic” voters across Labour Party strongholds — the West Midlands, Yorkshire and the north-east, reports the Guardian.

During a 48-hour tour of places in marginal constituencies such as Fleetwood, Bradford, Stoke, Southampton and Nottingham, she also made clear that she wanted people to vote in defiance of the terror attacks. May also stressed to voters that there were only 11 days until the Brexit negotiations start, saying the “final” choice was between her or Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn, attended six rallies, starting at Glasgow, Scotland at 8 a.m. and ending in Islington, London with a speech at 9 p.m., where he claimed that Labour’s anti-austerity message was the “new centre ground” of British politics. Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron urged supporters to “send a message” to May on issues such as Brexit and social care by supporting his party.

Campaigning in Edinburgh, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said re-electing Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs would ensure Scotland retained a “strong voice” in Westminster and deny the Conservatives a “crushing majority”, reports the BBC. At their final election rally, the Green Party called on people to “vote with their hearts”.

Visiting Great Yarmouth, UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Paul Nuttall said only his party could keep the pressure on the next government to deliver a “real Brexit” — with lower immigration, exclusive fishing rights for British trawlers within UK territorial waters and no “divorce bill”.




Myanmar military finds wreckage of plane that went missing with 120 on board in Andaman Sea


Yangon: Myanmar’s military said today it has found the wreckage of a plane in the Andaman Sea that went missing with around 120 people on board, along with several bodies. “We have found the plane and some dead bodies this morning about 8.25 AM (0725 IST),” a spokesman from the military’s information team told AFP.

The country’s Commander in Chief confirmed in a Facebook post that the wreckage had been found off the coast of Launglon, in southern Myanmar, by a navy search team this morning. Nine navy ships and three air force planes had been dispatched to search for the aircraft, which disappeared yesterday as it flew from the southern city of Myeik to Yangon.

There was conflicting information on the number of people on board, but in the latest update the military said the plane was carrying a total of 122 people. More than half of the passengers were from military families, including 15 children, along with 35 soldiers and 14 crew members, the army chief’s office said in a statement.

“Some were on their way for medical checkups and to attend school,” said a spokesman from the military’s information team. It is monsoon season in Myanmar but there were no reports of stormy weather in the area at the time. Sources told AFP that debris had been found in the sea off the coastal town of Dawei, which lies an hour’s flight southeast of Yangon.

The commander-in-chief’s office said the plane lost contact with air traffic control at 1:35 PM (local time) yesterday, about half an hour after takeoff. The military named the captain of the Chinese-made Y-8F- 200 four-engine turboprop as Lieutenant Colonel Nyein Chan, who it said had more than 3,000 hours of flying experience.

The plane was bought in March 2016 and had a total of 809 flying hours. Myanmar’s military fleet has a chequered recent history of plane crashes. A five-strong crew died when an air force plane burst into flames soon after taking off from the capital Naypyidaw in February last year.

Three army officers were also killed in June when their Mi-2 helicopter crashed into a hillside and burst into flames in south-central Bago




Trump lashes out at Germany over trade and NATO, promises ‘change’


President Donald Trump has renewed his criticism of Germany following Chancellor Angela Merkel’s suggestion that her country needs to adopt a more independent stance in world affairs.

US President Donald Trump is seen at the Naval Air Station Sigonella following the G7 Summit, in Sigonella, Sicily, Italy, May 27, 2017. (Reuters Photo)

President Donald Trump has renewed his criticism of Germany following Chancellor Angela Merkel’s suggestion that her country needs to adopt a more independent stance in world affairs.

Trump posted a tweet Tuesday saying “we have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.”Trump rattled some in Europe with his statements on NATO last week.

Merkel said Tuesday Germany’s relations with the United States are of “outstanding importance” but it must engage with other key nations going forward. She also suggested in the wake of the Trump visit that Europe’s relationship with Washington had shifted significantly and reiterated her position that “we in Europe have to take our fate into our own hands.”




Female driver on drugs mows down five pedestrians in Rome


Police in Rome on Tuesday arrested a woman motorist who knocked down five pedestrians including a mother and son, seriously injuring two of them.

All five victims were hospitalised.

One of the pedestrians, a 30-year-old man, is in intensive care at Rome’s San Camillo Hospital after he was dragged under the car’s wheels for several metres, while a young woman suffered a spinal cord injury, local daily Il Messaggero reported.

Passers by had to lift the car off the 30-year-old man who was trapped underneath it after the accident, the paper said.

Police ruled out an act of terrorism after the 43-year-old woman tested positive for drugs and was found in possession of 6 grammes of cocaine.

The woman allegedly felt unwell at the wheel and lost control of her Smart, which jumped a red light in the via dei Colli Portuensi in west Rome on Monday evening as people were crossing the road, police said.

The woman, referred to as MLA, lost her driving licence in February 2016, according to the police. She had allegedly knocked pedestrians before also, Il Messaggero said, without citing its sources.




White House communications director Michael Dubke resigns amid tensions


Dubke is the latest White House staffer to leave this administration as scrutiny intensifies over contacts Trump staffers may have had with Russian government officials during the campaign and transition period.

Dubke’s hiring was intended to lighten the load on Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, who had also been handling the duties of communications director during Trump’s first month in office.(AFP File Photo)

A top White House communications staffer has resigned as President Donald Trump considers a major staff overhaul.

The departure of Michael Dubke, Trump’s communications director, comes as aides say Trump has grown increasingly frustrated by allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and revelations of possible ties between his campaign and Moscow.

“It has been my great honor to serve President Trump and this administration,” Dubke wrote in a statement. “It has also been my distinct pleasure to work side-by-side, day-by-day with the staff of the communications and press departments.”

Dubke’s last day has not yet been determined.

A Republican consultant, Dubke joined the White House team in February after campaign aide Jason Miller — Trump’s original choice for communications director — withdrew from the White House team. Dubke founded Crossroads Media, a GOP firm that specializes in political advertising.

Dubke is the latest White House staffer to leave this administration as scrutiny intensifies over contacts Trump staffers may have had with Russian government officials during the campaign and transition period.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Dubke resigned before Trump left for his international trip earlier this month, suggesting that his departure is not linked to any pending shake-ups.

But his departure raises questions about whether previous Trump loyalists are headed to the White House. Trump has entertained formally bringing back his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and former deputy campaign manager, David Bossie.

Bossie told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” that the Trump administration has reached out to him but hasn’t offered him a job yet.

“They have talked to many people, including me,” Bossie said. He later added: “It’s an ongoing conversation and that’s a fair way to put it.”

In an interview on Fox News on Tuesday, Conway said Dubke “made very clear that he would see through the president’s international trip, and come to work every day and work hard even through that trip because there was much to do here back at the White House.”

Dubke’s hiring was intended to lighten the load on Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, who had also been handling the duties of communications director during Trump’s first month in office. Trump has privately pinned some of the blame for his administration’s rough start on the White House’s communications strategy.

While overseas, Trump’s longtime lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, joined a still-forming legal team to help the president shoulder the intensifying investigations into Russian interference in the election and his associates’ potential involvement. More attorneys with deep experience in Washington investigations are expected to be added, along with crisis communication experts, to help the White House in the weeks ahead.

The latest revelations to emerge last week involved Trump’s son-in-law and top aide, Jared Kushner. Shortly after the election, Kushner allegedly discussed setting up a secret communications channel with the Russian government to facilitate sensitive discussions about the conflict in Syria.

The intent was to connect Trump’s chief national security adviser at the time, Michael Flynn, with Russian military leaders, a person familiar with the discussions told the AP. The person wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss private policy deliberations and insisted on anonymity.

Flynn handed in his resignation in February after it was revealed he misled top White House officials about his contacts with Russian officials.

The disclosure of the back channel has put the White House on the defensive. Just back from his nine-day trip to the Middle East and Europe, Trump dismissed recent reports as “fake news.”




Iraq: Islamic State using women fighters in Mosul


Clashes have intensified in recent days between the US-backed Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants in the vicinity of the Old City of Mosul, where an estimated 200,000 civilians are trapped.

As Iraqi forces launched a broad offensive to re-take western and northern areas of Mosul still held by the Islamic State, the jihadist group has begun to use women to defend its last holdouts in the city after losing many of its men in the battle, a local news site reported Monday.

Major General Maen al-Saadi, chief of the Iraqi second anti-terrorism special operations, confirmed that IS is now using women fighters in Mosul, Ara News said

“After having lost many of its men, IS began to use women in the fight,” Saadi said, quoted by Ara News.

“In a bid to impede the Iraqi forces’ progress, Daesh (IS) terrorists began to spread out snipers in the Old City of Mosul, beside using suicide bombers and car bomb attacks,” Ara News cited the Iraqi general command as saying on Sunday.

Clashes have intensified in recent days between the US-backed Iraqi forces and IS militants in the vicinity of the Old City, where an estimated 200,000 civilians are trapped.

The winding streets, blind alleyways and densely-packed buildings makes military progress especially difficult, but Iraqi commanders are adamant that the city will be re-taken by June 10.

The Joint Operations Command said Iraqi aircraft dropped thousands of leaflets on the IS-held areas of the Old City and al-Shifaa, al-Zanjili and al-Saha districts on Monday, urging to civilians to leave their homes.

The Save the Children charity said it is “deeply concerned that any calls to leave west Mosul will mean that civilians, particularly children, are in significant danger of being caught in the crossfire”.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled Mosul amid the fighting while hundreds more have been killed or wounded.

The offensive to recapture Mosul - Iraq’s second largest city - began more than seven months ago in mid-October and several previous deadlines for its liberation have passed.

IS overran Mosul, 400 km north of Baghdad, in July 2014 during a lightening campaign when it captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and established a so-called ‘Islamic Caliphate’ there.




Pakistan tells its lawmakers to forcefully defend its position at ICJ in Jadhav case


Islamabad: Pakistan will forcefully defend its position in the Kulbhshan Jadhav case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on June 8, National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq said on Tuesday. The speaker chaired a meeting of Parliamentary Committee for National Security where Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali and Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua briefed parliamentarians from different parties on the issue of Indian national Jadhav. The lawmakers were told that the legal team was working on the case and will present its case with full vigour at the
next hearing of the ICJ.

The government also came under criticism from the Opposition parliamentarians for the “poor handling” of the case at the court. The lawmaker were informed that the Attorney General will also be part of the legal team that will plead Pakistan’s case at the ICJ against Jadhav. The speaker later told media that Pakistan will pursue Jadhav’s case at the ICJ with full preparation on June 8. Ayaz also said that all members of the parliamentary committee discussed the case beyond their political affiliation. He said the next meeting of the committee on the issue will be held on May 30 when the judicial process of the case will be discussed in more details. Jadhav, 46, was sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on charges of “involvement in espionage and sabotage activities” against the country.The ICJ on May 18 stayed the execution of Jadhav and also endorsed Indian request for consular access to him. The Pakistan government has come under a lot of criticism for its “mishandling” of the case at ICJ. Jadhav’s case is the latest flash-point in the tensions between Pakistan and India. The two countries last faced off at the ICJ 18 years ago when Islamabad sought its intervention over the shooting down of its naval aircraft.




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