China, US trade talks begin
Beijing: US and Chinese officials on Thursday began a two-day meet here to sort out their trade differences as the March 1 deadline for the truce in their festering trade war draws near. If the two sides fail to patch up before March 1, Washington will raise the existing 10 per cent tariffs to 25 per cent on Chinese goods worth $200 billion, taking the spat to the next level.
So the Chinese and the US officials are racing against time to avert such a scenario, which, experts worry, will also have an impact on the global economic growth. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met China’s Vice Premier and its point man on trade Liu He, Xinhua news agency reported. Lighthizer and Mnuchin are also likely to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the last day of the parleys.
Even though US Prez Trump has said he might extend the deadline if something substantial is achieved, experts say a deal in this meeting looks far-fetched. “If we’re close to a deal where we think we can make a real deal and it’s going to get done, I could see myself letting that slide for a little while. But generally speaking, I’m not inclined to do that,” Trump said earlier this week.
The world’s two largest economies are locked in arguably the biggest trade war in history with both sides slapping each other’s goods with tariffs worth $360 billion. Trump accuses China of arm-twisting American companies to transfer technology to their Chinese counterparts and ballooning trade deficit. Beijing denies these charges and accuses Washington of containing it. The bruising trade dispute has hurt the already flagging Chinese economy which grew at 6.5 per cent in the third quarter, the slowest since 2009.
‘Suicide attack suspects will be hunted down’
Tehran: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday that the masterminds behind the deadly suicide bomb attack against the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that claimed 27 lives will be brought to justice. At least 13 others were injured when a suicide bomber targeted a bus carrying IRGC members on a highway near the city of Zahedan, located close to the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan in Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province. According to the semi-official news agency Fars, Jeish al-Adl, a Sunni extremist group, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Indonesian police use snake during interrogation process
Jakarta: Police in Indonesia admitted using a snake to terrorise a detainee during interrogation in Papua province, after a video of the incident went viral on social media. The video shows the detainee, accused of theft, with his hands tied behind his back and a snake wrapped around his neck while he screams in fear.
The officials interrogating him laugh and bring the snake’s head near his face, reports Efe news. Papua Police spokesperson Suryadi Diaz said action has been taken against the officials but he also justified the use of the reptile as part of the interrogation.
“Inhumane treatment against West Papuans is regularly reported. The culture of impunity makes West Papuans just let it go and not pursue further,” human rights lawyer Veronica Koman told Efe. Koman added that the use of snakes in interrogations has been reported on previous occasions, also against activists calling for the independence of the provinces of Papua. The western half of the island of New Guinea belongs to Indonesia, a territory rich in natural resources and the scene of a separatist conflict since its independence from the Netherlands in 1963.
Three killed in UN helicopter crash
Juba: 11 An Ethiopian military helicopter crashed inside a United Nations compound in the disputed Abyei region between Sudan and South Sudan, killing 3 crew members and injuring 10 passengers, the UN has said. The UN said Sunday in a statement that the helicopter was carrying 23 passengers when it crashed on Saturday inside the compound of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), “killing three of its crew members.”
China rejects Turkey’s charges on Uighurs, says the poet did not die
Beijing: China hit back on Monday at Turkish criticism over its treatment of Uighurs and denied Ankara’s claim that a renowned poet from the Muslim minority had died in custody, calling it an “absurd lie”. Turkey’s foreign ministry had released a statement on Saturday severely criticising China’s mass detentions of its Turkic-speaking Uighurs, and claiming that poet Abdurehim Heyit had died serving an eight-year Chinese prison sentence imposed as punishment over “one of his songs”.
But China on Sunday released a video showing a man who identified himself as Heyit and saying that he was alive and well.
“China has made solemn representations toward Turkey. We hope the relevant Turkish persons can distinguish between right and wrong and correct their mistakes,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said during a daily press briefing. She called the Turkish statement “vile” and urged Ankara to withdraw its “false accusations”.
Crypto-Exchange CEO dies in India, USD 145 million stuck as he had the passwords
Toronto/New York: One of Canada’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges has been granted bankruptcy protection after its 30-year old founder died unexpectedly in India, taking with him passwords of tens of thousands of customers who are unable to access USD 145 million in funds.
Quadriga said it was unable to gain access to Canadian dollar 190 million (USD 145 million) of bitcoin and other digital assets after Gerald Cotten, its CEO and co-founder, died in December. He died of complications arising from Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel ailment, while volunteering at an orphanage in India. Many of the digital currencies held by Quadriga are stored offline in accounts known as “cold wallets,” a way of protecting them from hackers. Cotten is the only person with access to the wallets, according to the company.
Cotten’s sudden death has plunged Quadriga into crisis and left it struggling to figure out how to refund more than 100,000 of its users, CNN reported. On Tuesday, the Vancouver-based company said it was granted creditor protection in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in British Columbia as it tries to sort out its financial mess. Cotten’s widow, Jennifer Robertson, described people posting inaccurate speculation on social media about “whether he is really dead.”
“For the past weeks, we have worked extensively to address our liquidity issues, which include attempting to locate and secure our very significant cryptocurrency reserves held in cold wallets,” Quadriga said in a statement. “Unfortunately, these efforts have not been successful.” Robertson said that the laptop that Cotten used to run the currency exchange is encrypted, according to a copy of her affidavit posted online by cryptocurrency news site CoinDesk.
“I do not know the password or recovery key,” she said. “Despite repeated and diligent searches, I have not been able to find them written down anywhere,” she said. The company has hired tech experts in an attempt to hack into Cotten’s laptop and other devices to retrieve the missing cryptocurrencies, but Robertson warned that at least some of them “may be lost.” Quadriga, which is based in Vancouver, also owes about 70 million Canadian dollars (USD 53 million) in cash that it is unable to pay back, she said, citing difficulties accessing funds through the traditional banking system.
The Nova Scotia court appointed financial services firm Ernst & Young as an independent monitor that will oversee Quadriga’s efforts to resolve its financial problems. The exchange, launched in December 2013, allowed users to deposit cash or cryptocurrency through its online trading platform, storing the digital coins on blockchain ledgers that are accessible only by an immutable alphanumeric code.
The company had 363,000 registered users, of which 92,000 have account balances owing to them in cash or cryptocurrencies, Bloomberg reported, quoting court filings. Cotten was the sole officer and director. The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi told CNN that it was aware of Cotten’s death on December 9 and had “provided consular assistance,” but declined to reveal further details. Elvis Cavalic of Calgary said that he bought a few hundred dollars of bitcoin using Quadriga’s platform.
When he tried to withdraw 15,000 dollars in his account in October, he could not. “This is a tough lesson learned. I would probably avoid [cryptocurrency] in the future,” Cavalic was quoted as saying by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). ‘”They’ve left us completely in the dark. I’m kind of preparing for the worst,” Cavalic said. The CBC reached out to lawyers for CIBC and Robertson for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.
While the case is unusual, it is not the first time the cryptocurrency industry has been hit by security concerns. Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of digital currencies have been stolen by hackers over the past few years. In India, the Reserve Bank of India had banned the use of virtual currencies and informed the Supreme Court that allowing dealings in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoins would encourage illegal transactions. The spectacular boom and bust in the prices of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have presented a quandary for governments around the world, which have taken differing approaches in trying to regulate their use.
Guest at SOTU, 11-year-old Joshua Trump, falls asleep during Donald Trump’s speech
Washington D.C. [USA]: Joshua Trump, an 11-year-old boy who was bullied for his last name, was visibly enjoying the best sleep of his life at the State of Union address by US President Donald Trump on Tuesday night (local time). Joshua was one of the special guests for Trump’s State of Union address.
Joshua, a sixth-grade student from Wilmington, Delaware who had to drop out of school, had been invited to the event by first lady Melania Trump. She hoped his presence would send an important message that’s in line with the anti-bullying platform of her Be Best initiative. Photos of the night that went viral on the internet, showed Joshua within a distance of two seats from Melania Trump during the most awaited address of the year, where many hailed him as an unlikely talisman of the anti-Trump ‘resistance’ while one wag remarked: “Joshua Trump spoke for all Americans”.
ISIS caliphate has been decimated: US President Donald Trump
Joshua can be seen enjoying an open-mouthed sleep, uninterrupted by the loud applause of the Parliamentarians, flashing cameras, or the 82 minutes speech of the US President. “Joshua Trump is a Trump I can get behind,” quipped another while a third enthused: “Not all heroes wear capes.” While giving a brief description of the young guest, the White House in a statement said that the sixth-grader is a fan of science, art and history and hopes to pursue a career that has something to do with animals.
South China Morning Post reported that Joshua, after dropping out of school in 2017, “had lost the will to live” according to his mother. Joshua was home-schooled for a year, before getting re-enrolled in middle school.” They say are you related to Donald Trump? And I say, ‘Would I be here if I’m related to him’ the schoolboy told Inside Edition in December.” However, Joshua’s school has instructed his teachers not to use his surname any more and disciplined five students, who apologised to the boy regarding the issue.
ISIS caliphate has been decimated: US President Donald Trump
Washington: ISIS has been decimated, US President Donald Trump has said, adding that sometime probably next week, he will formally announce to have 100 percent of the caliphate.
The United States military, its Coalition partners and the Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated virtually all of the territory previously held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Trump said on Wednesday. “It should be formally announced sometime probably next week that we will have 100 percent of the caliphate. But I want to wait for the official word. I don’t want to say it too early,” Trump said in his address to the Ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
He said the new approach developed by his administration, empowered US commanders in the field, enabled partners on the ground, and directly confronted ISIS’s “wicked” ideology. Over the past two years, US and its partners have retaken more than 20,000 square miles of land, he said. “We have secured one battlefield. And we’ve had victory after victory after victory, and retaken both Mosul and Raqqa. We have eliminated more than 60 mile high-value ISIS leaders,” he said.
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“Now, they re-form; we know that. But they’re having a hard time re-forming, and I wouldn’t say it’s a great job to have because of us. It’s not exactly – hopefully will not be a sought-after occupation,” he said. “More than a hundred other top ISIS officials have been eliminated, and tens of thousands of ISIS fighters are gone. They’re gone,” he stressed. US and its international partners, he said, have freed more than five million civilians from the grip of these bloodthirsty killers.
“Thanks to the Global Coalition, including all of you here today, and to our other partners, the ISIS caliphate has been decimated. Nobody thought it was possible to do it this quickly,” Trump said. Observing that the struggle against terrorism was a shared fight, Trump said: “We do it together. If we don’t do it together, it can never be the same. Everyone must do their part and contribute their fair share.” “We must also recognise that immigration security is national security, and that foreign fighters must not gain access into our nations,” he said.
Later in a statement, the Ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS/DAESH said that the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria will mark a significant milestone in the war against ISIS. But this does not mean the campaign against ISIS is over, it said. Further engagement was needed in Iraq and Syria, where the terrorist group is still resilient, it added. ISIS’s leadership, affiliates, and its supporters view its territorial losses in Iraq and Syria as a setback, not as defeat, the statement said.
In 2019, with the conventional military effort against ISIS in Syria nearing culmination and shifting to a supporting rather than a central role, the Coalition members will open a discussion to plan the next phase of the campaign, it said. This could involve an effort to counter ISIS’s reversion to insurgency in Syria and Iraq, the statement said.
“The Coalition is determined to increase the pressure to disrupt ISIS’s trans-regional network through increased information sharing and complementary efforts in counter-finance, strategic communication, law enforcement, the justice sector, and security for our homelands,” the statement said. The meeting was attended by foreign ministers and representatives from more than 70 countries. Afghanistan was the only South Asian country to be present in this international coalition to defeat ISIS.
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Australia: Military joins rescue efforts as devastating floods bring crocodiles to streets
Cairns: Australia’s military has been deployed to tackle devastating “once-in-a-century” floods that have inundated homes, schools and airports in the country’s northeast, forcing hundreds to flee and bringing crocodiles onto the streets. The Australian Defence Forces filled sandbags, deployed amphibious cargo vehicles and helped pluck flashlight-wielding residents from their rooftops Monday, as monsoon rains drenched the northern state of Queensland.
Australia’s tropical north typically experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season, but the recent downpour has far exceeded normal levels. The authorities were forced to open floodgates late Sunday, unleashing what they called “dangerous and high velocity flows.” Images from the city of Townsville showed cars mostly submerged and picket fences barely poking through waist-deep flood waters.
Desperate residents had to contend not only with flash flooding, landslides and power blackouts, but also reptilian predators that have been spotted in residential roads and cul-de-sacs. The Townsville Bulletin said it had received reports of several saltwater crocodile sightings in the flood-ravaged area.
Emergency services struggled to respond, carrying out 18 “swift water rescues” overnight. More than 1,100 people have called the emergency services for urgent help, according to state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Around 400 Townsville residents have sought shelter at nearby Lavarak military barracks and the Red Cross is also assisting with the response and recovery effort.
“Small boats worked through the night to evacuate members of the community,” said local commander Brigadier Scott Winter. Palaszczuk warned the communities face more difficulties ahead. Schools and courts remain closed, more rain is on the way and emergency warnings still in effect for more than a dozen rivers.
The town of Ingham, just north of Townsville, got over 10 centimetres of rain in just a few hours on Monday morning, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Winds are expected to gust at up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) an hour on the coast.
Up to 20,000 homes are at risk of being inundated if the rains continue, officials said.
“It’s basically not just a one in 20-year event, it’s a one-in-100-year event,” said Palaszczuk. “This is unprecedented, we’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said. The Bureau of Meteorology’s Adam Blazak told AFP the downpours could continue until Thursday, while floodwaters will take some time to recede even when the rains lessen. Some areas are expected to get a year’s worth of rain in just over a week.
The region receives an average of about 2,000 millimetres (6.5 feet) of rain annually, but some towns are already on track to pass that. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Townsville resident Chris Brookehouse told national broadcaster ABC, adding that his house was flooded with water more than one metre deep.
“The volume of water is just incredible. Downstairs is gone, the fridge and freezer are floating. Another five or six steps and upstairs is gone too.” Blazak said that with adverse weather predicted to continue for up to 72 hours, some regions could see record-breaking levels of rainfall.
France: 7 dead, 1 injured after building catches fire in Paris
Paris: Seven people died and another was seriously injured in a building fire in a wealthy Paris neighbourhood on Monday night, the fire service said. “The toll could still increase because the fire is still in progress on the 7th and 8th floors” of the eight-storey block, a fire service spokesman said at the scene. The blaze in the French capital’s trendy 16th arrondissement also left 27 people — including three firefighters — with minor injuries.