Lahore High Court annuls Pervez Musharraf’s death penalty


Lahore High Court annuls Pervez Musharraf’s death penalty

Lahore: In a huge relief for Pakistan's self-exiled former dictator, a top court here on Monday declared Pervez Musharraf's trial in the high treason case as "unconstitutional", leading to the annulment of the death sentence against the ex-Army chief by a special tribunal.

The special court in Islamabad on December 17 last handed down the death penalty to the 74-year-old retired general, now based in Dubai, after six years of hearing the high-profile treason case against him.

The case was filed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 2013.

A three-member full bench of the Lahore High Court comprising Justices Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Mohammad Ameer Bhatti and Chaudhry Masood Jahangir unanimously declared the formation of the special court against Musharraf as "unconstitutional".

 
 
 



All onboard passengers killed in Ukrainian airplane crash: Report


All onboard passengers killed in Ukrainian airplane crash: Report

A Ukrainian airplane carrying at least 180 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport. Now reports have surfaced saying that all onboard passengers were killed in the crash.

According to a report by breakingthenews.net, Iran Red Crescent said on Wednesday that there is no chance of finding survivors in a plane crash that happened earlier today. From Boeing Co, it was announced it is still gathering more information.

"Obviously it is impossible that passengers" on flight PS-752 "are alive," the head of Red Crescent told semi-official news agency ISNA, adding that 170 passengers and crew had boarded the plane, reported AFP.

A passenger plane had 180 passengers who were flying to the Ukrainian capital Kiev and crashed just a few minutes after taking off from Tehran’s main international airport.

The plane had taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport. The crash is suspected to have been caused by mechanical issues, without elaborating, Iranian state TV reported.

AGENCY 




United Methodist Church leaders propose plan for amicable separation


United Methodist Church leaders propose plan for amicable separation

Nashville: United Methodist Church leaders from around the world and across ideological divides unveiled a plan Friday for a new conservative denomination that would split from the rest of the church in an attempt to resolve a yearslong dispute over gay marriage and gay clergy.

Members of the 13-million-person denomination have been at odds for years over the issue, with members in the United States leading the call for full inclusion for LGBTQ people.

At a specially called meeting last February in St Louis, delegates voted 438-384 for a proposal called the Traditional Plan, which affirmed bans on LGBTQ-inclusive practices. A majority of US-based delegates opposed the plan, but they were outvoted by US conservatives teamed with most of the delegates from Methodist strongholds in Africa and the Philippines.

Methodists in favour of allowing gay clergy and gay marriage vowed to continue fighting. Meanwhile the Wesleyan Covenant Association, representing traditional Methodist practice, had already been preparing for a possible separation.

The Rev Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and one of 16 people on the mediation team that developed and signed the separation proposal, said he is "very hopeful" the plan will be approved at the denomination's General Conference this year.

This is the first time that "respected leaders of groups from every constituency" have come together to form a plan, he said. "And this is the first time that bishops of the church have signed on to an agreement like this."

Boyette stressed that while the churches remaining in the United Methodist Church would keep the denomination's name, both the new church and the post-separation Methodist Church would be different from the current Methodist Church.

"This is not a leaving, but a restructuring of the United Methodist Church through separation," he said.

The proposal, called "A Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation," envisions an amicable separation in which conservative churches forming a new denomination would retain their assets. The new denomination also would receive USD 25 million.

"The undersigned, in recognition of the regional contexts and divergent points of view within the global United Methodist Church, propose separation as a faithful step with the possibility of continued cooperation around matters of shared interest, enabling each of us to authentically live out our faith," the proposal states.

 
 
 



Qamar Javed Bajwa emphasises maximum restraint after Soleimani's death


Qamar Javed Bajwa emphasises maximum restraint after Soleimani's death

Islamabad: Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff General (COAS) Qamar Javed Bajwa in a call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasised the "need for maximum restraint and constructive engagement" following the death of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in an American airstrike.

Maj Gen Soleimani was killed on Friday morning in the strike ordered by US President Donald Trump on Baghdad's international airport, in a dramatic escalation of tensions between the two countries.

"COAS received telephone call from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Regional situation including possible implications of recent escalation in Middle East was discussed," Dawn news reported citing the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) as saying in a tweet on Friday night.

COAS emphasised need for maximum restraint and constructive engagement by all concerned to de-escalate the situation in broader interest of peace and stability.

COAS also reiterated the need for maintaining focus on success of Afghan Peace Process," the ISPR added.

Besides speaking to Bajwa, Pompeo also made calls to German Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Following the development, the Pakistan Foreign Office earlier on Friday expressed "deep concern" over the tensions, urging all sides to exercise restraint, said Dawn news.

Pakistan has viewed with deep concern the recent developments in the Middle East, which seriously threaten peace and stability in the region," it said.

The Foreign Office urged all parties involved to "exercise maximum restraint, engage constructively to de-escalate the situation, and resolve issues through diplomatic means, in accordance with UN Charter and international law".

 
 
 



'Attack to end, not start war': Trump after US kills General Soleimani


'Attack to end, not start war': Trump after US kills General Soleimani

US President Donald Trump claimed that Soleimani, top Iran Army official was ‘terminated’ right before he could launch an attack on US diplomats. The president claimed that Soleimani had been planning to take down US diplomats for some time. However, Trump tried to assure that the US does not aim to harm any further or topple the Iranian government.

In a statement before television cameras in Florida, Trump said, "Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him."

Amidst escalation of tension with Iran, Trump claimed Soleimani's killing will not lead to war.

"We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war. I have deep respect for the Iranian people. They are a remarkable people with an incredible heritage and unlimited potential. We do not seek regime change," Trump said.

"However, the Iranian regime's aggression in the region, including the use of proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbours, must end and it must end now. The future belongs to the people of Iran, those who seek peaceful co-existence and cooperation, not the terrorist warlords who plunder their nation to finance bloodshed abroad," he said.




80 Hong Kong teachers arrested over anti-govt protests


80 Hong Kong teachers arrested over anti-govt protests

Hong Kong: At least 80 teachers in Hong Kong have been arrested over their involvement in the anti-government protests, while at least four have resigned or were suspended, the city's Education Minister has revealed.

Addressing the media on Friday, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said that the latest fallout of the ongoing civil unrest, has seen students make up for nearly 40 per cent of the 6,000 people arrested, reports the South China Morning Post.

According to the Education Bureau, there were 123 complaints of protest-related misconduct against teachers between mid-June and late November.

 
 

Among the 123 complaints, investigations had been completed in 74 cases, with wrongdoing confirmed in 13, and dismissed in another 30.

The remaining 31 cases were initially substantiated, but some are still being reviewed or waiting for explanations from the teachers involved, according to the Bureau.

Apart from the disciplinary action taken by the Bureau, Yeung said that some schools had also taken other action over the complaints like demotion, postponement of salary increase, or transferring the teachers to another post.

He said that most of the complaints the bureau received were related to hate speech or provocative acts, while others involved inappropriate teaching materials or violation of the law.

Also on Friday, the Bureau issued a letter to principals and supervisors of primary and secondary schools listing how schools should handle cases of teachers arrested over the protests.

According to the police, 6,105 people had been arrested over the anti-government protests, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill, since the first mass demonstration was staged on June 9.

Of all those arrested, 2,430 people, or 39.8 per cent, were students.

 
 
 



When Economy met Business Class…


When Economy met Business Class…

A flight attendant on a Virgin Atlantic flight to London, Leah Amy, shared this lovely story on Facebook recently, about her two most favourite passengers lately – Jack and Violet.

So Violet Allison, 88, was flying economy class on an overnight flight from New York to London when another passenger, Jack Littlejohn, walked up to her and asked if she’d like to fly first class and he would swap seats with her. Allison thought he was joking. But Littlejohn was not, he meant business.

For Allison, it was an offer too good to be true and she was unsure what to do, so she asked the woman sitting next to her. Go for it, the neighbour said and that’s what happened next. Littlejohn helped her move to his first class seat and he sat in her economy seat, which was directly next to the washrooms.

For Allison, what this exchange meant was being able to lie down and rest in her unexpected, upgraded seat after dinner while Littlejohn had done his bit towards fixing what he considered an inequality – that fliers had to walk all the way through the business class to reach their seats in the lower portion of the plane.

His mother had, as a gift to Littlejohn and his family, booked them first class seats as they were returning home to Scotland after a charity event. Evidently, Littlejohn had decided he would pay it forward and so he did, taking care to inform his mother first.

Amy wrote on FB, “Littlejohn ‘then sat on the row of seats directly next to the economy toilets and never made a peep or asked for anything the rest of the flight. No fuss, no attention, literally did it out of the kindness of his own heart.”

The next morning, he went to check on Allison and Amy decided this event had to be chronicled for the world to see. So the group gathered together for a picture before proceeding on their way and now the whole world knows.

Brings back memories from a few years ago, when the erstwhile aviation minister Jayant Sinha and his wife gave up their front row seats on a flight, to a woman travelling with her sick mother.

 
 
 



Notre Dame Cathedral to miss first Christmas in centuries


Notre Dame Cathedral to miss first Christmas in centuries

Paris: Notre Dame kept Christmas going even during two world wars - a beacon of hope amid the bloodshed.

Yet, an accidental fire in peacetime finally stopped the cathedral from celebrating Midnight Mass this year, for the first time in over two centuries.

As the lights stay dim in the once-invincible 855-year-old Paris landmark, officials are trying hard to focus on the immediate task of keeping burnt-out Notre Dame's spirit alive in exile through service, song and prayer.

It has decamped its rector, famed statue, liturgy and Christmas celebrations to a new temporary home pending the restoration works, just under a mile away, at another Gothic church in Paris called Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois.

And there it will remain, as works slowly progress to rebuild the cathedral after the April 15 fire destroyed its lead roof and spire and was moments away from engulfing its two stone towers.

"This is the first time since the French Revolution that there will be no midnight Mass (at Notre Dame)," cathedral rector Patrick Chauvet said.

There was even a Christmas service amid the carnage of World War I, Chauvet noted, "because the canons were there and the canons had to celebrate somewhere". During World War II, "there was no problem," he said, adding that only once was it closed for Christmas to his knowledge after 1789, when the anti-Catholic French revolutionaries turned the monument into "a temple of reason".

Christmas-in-exile at Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois this year will be a history-making moment.

"We have the opportunity to celebrate the Mass outside the walls, so to speak... but with some indicators that Notre Dame is connected to us," Chauvet said.

Those indicators include a wooden liturgical platform that has been constructed in the Saint-Germain church to resemble Notre Dame's own. A service will be led at midnight on December 24 by Chauvet to a crowd of faithful, including many who would normally worship in the cathedral, accompanied by song from some of Notre Dame's now-itinerant choir.

The cathedral's iconic Gothic sculpture "The Virgin of Paris", from which some say Notre Dame owes its name, is also on display in the new godly annex.

The 14th-century masterpiece, which measures around two metres (six feet) and depicts Mary and baby Jesus, has come to embody the officials' message of hope following the fire, after it was spared from destruction by a "miracle".

"It's a miraculous virgin. Why? Because at the time of the fire, the vault of the cathedral completely crashed. There were stones everywhere, but she was spared. She could have naturally received the vault on her head and have been completely crushed," Chauvet said.

He recalled the moment on the night of the fire when he discovered it was saved, as he was holding hands with French President Emmanuel Macron on the cathedral's forecourt.

Around midnight as the flames subsided, they were finally let inside to look. Chauvet pointed and exclaimed to Macron: "Look at the Virgin, she is there!" He said later that Notre Dame's workmen on the ground implored him to not remove the statue from the cathedral, crying that during the restoration "we need it. She protects us". Chauvet said having it nearby for Christmas is comforting.

"She lived very much in Notre Dame. She watched the pilgrims, all the 35,000 visitors a day...It keeps us going," Chauvet said.

Another reason for hope: Since November, after months in the dark, the facade of the cathedral is being lit up after dusk for the first time since the fire. Tourists over the festive period can now see the famed gargoyles and stone statues at night in their full illuminated splendour from the adjacent bridges, although the forecourt is still closed.

Cathedral officials carefully chose Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois as the new temporary home because of its proximity to Notre Dame, just next to the Louvre, allowing ease of movement for clerics who lived near the cathedral. Also, because of its prestigious history.

It was once a royal church that boasted among its faithful French kings, in the days when they lived in the nearby Louvre Palace. The kings, Chauvet explained, would simply cross the esplanade to come and attend Mass.

Since September, the church has been welcoming the cathedral's flock each Sunday.

Though Notre Dame has moved liturgically to a new home, Notre Dame will always remain Paris' cathedral - officials are at pains to point out - so long as the bishop's physical chair, or "cathedra" doesn't move.

Derived from the Greek word for "seat", and giving the building its very name, a cathedral's entire identity technically boils down to the presence of a chair.

"The cathedra is at the cathedral and so it remains Notre Dame Cathedral, which is the cathedral in the heart of Paris," Chauvet said.

It is not only the faithful who have been displaced since April's devastating blaze.

Notre Dame was home to a vibrant 160-strong choir-school, which provided singers for each and every one of the cathedral's some 1,000 annual services. Midnight Mass at Christmas was always a special event in the year: One of the rare times the entire choir sung together and used the cathedral's famed acoustics to their fullest.

 
 
 



Shah Mahmood Qureshi again writes to UN on Kashmir, claims India deploys missiles in region


Shah Mahmood Qureshi again writes to UN on Kashmir, claims India deploys missiles in region

Islamabad: Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has written another letter to the UN Secretary General, claiming that India has deployed and tested several types of missiles and could launch an attack against his country to divert world's attention from the "grave situation" in Kashmir.

In his seventh letter written on December 12, Qureshi "apprised the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary General on Indian actions that continue to escalate tensions in an already tense environment in South Asia", the Foreign Office said on Wednesday.

 
 

The actions, Qureshi claimed, included "deployment and testing of missiles of various ranges and capabilities" by India. He also warned that India could launch "false flag" attack on Pakistan to divert the world's attention from the "grave situation" in Kashmir.

In a series of letters in recent months, Qureshi has consistently updated the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on the situation in Kashmir, the Foreign Office said.

Qureshi also urged the UNSC to play its rightful role and reiterated Pakistan's proposal to strengthen the UNMOGIP's presence in the region.

India maintains that the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), established in January 1949, has outlived its utility and is irrelevant after the Simla Agreement and the consequent establishment of the Line of Control (LoC).

The foreign minister also asked the UNSC to intervene and avert any threats to peace and security in South Asia as well as bringing an immediate end to the suffering of the Kashmiri people.

The earlier letters by Qureshi to the UNSC and UN Secretary General were written on August 1,6,13 and 26, September 16 and October 31.

 
 
 



Maldives arrests 3 suspected religious extremists on island


Maldives arrests 3 suspected religious extremists on island
 



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