Iraq PM Adel Abdel Mahdi asks MPs to fire governor over ferry capsize

Iraq PM Adel Abdel Mahdi asks MPs to fire governor over ferry capsize

Baghdad: Iraqi PM Adel Abdel Mahdi made a formal request to parliament on Saturday to fire the governor of Niniveh province where 100 people were killed in a ferry capsize. Most in Thursday’s sinking on the Tigris River were women and kids headed out of Iraq’s second city Mosul for a Mother’s Day picnic on Kurds’ Nowruz New Year holiday.

In a letter to the speaker of parliament, Abdel Mahdi said there was clear evidence of “negligence and concrete failings” that merited a vote on dismissing governor Nawfel Akoub. “An ongoing investigation has found evidence of the misuse of public funds and the fraudulent abuse of his office,” the prime minister alleged. Akoub has already been subjected to the anger of victims’ relatives and their supporters over alleged corruption and cronyism.

When he visited the scene of the tragedy on Friday stones were thrown at his convoy by protesters demonstrating against perceived corruption and neglect. There is widespread anger in Mosul at the slow pace of reconstruction since the city’s recapture from the Islamic State group in 2017 by Iraqi troops backed by a US-led coalition.

The city still bears the scars of three years of iron-fisted rule by the jihadists who made it their “caliphate’s” de facto capital. Survivors of Thursday’s disaster were treated in hospitals heavily damaged by the months-long military campaign against IS.

British PM Theresa May may not seek vote on Brexit deal this week

British PM Theresa May may not seek vote on Brexit deal this week

London: British PM Theresa May has told lawmakers she may not seek passage of her troubled Brexit withdrawal plan in Parliament next week. The embattled leader, who faces a major protest march in central London on Saturday, wrote to lawmakers Friday night saying she would bring the European Union withdrawal back to Parliament if there seems to be enough backing for it to pass. “If it appears that there is not sufficient support to bring the deal back next week, or the House rejects it again, we can ask for another extension before 12 April, but that will involve holding European Parliament elections,” she said.

May’s changing stance reflects the plan’s dismal chances in the House of Commons after two prior defeats. She also says she would need the approval of House Speaker John Bercow to bring the plan back for a third time despite his objections. Bercow has said a third vote would violate parliamentary rules unless the plan is altered.

May said in her letter to lawmakers that if the deal is approved, Britain will leave the EU on May 22, a date agreed with EU officials. Lawmakers have twice rejected the deal and haven’t shown any clear swing toward endorsing it in recent days. Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union on April 12 if no deal is approved. May told lawmakers in her letter that Britain still has options including an extension that would require taking part in European Parliament elections in May.

She also said Britain could revoke Article 50 but characterized that as a betrayal of the Brexit vote in favor of severing EU ties. She also said Britain could leave without a deal. In a conciliatory tone, the prime minister offered to meet with lawmakers to discuss Brexit policy. She had offended many legislators with a speech Thursday night that seemed to blame Parliament for the stalled Brexit process.

Italy supports China’s Belt and Road initiative

Italy supports China’s Belt and Road initiative

Rome: Italy has signed a memorandum of understanding with China in support of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, which aims to weave a network of ports, bridges and power plants linking China with Africa, Europe and beyond. PM Giuseppe Conte and Chinese Prez Xi Jinping shook hands during a ceremony in Rome after 29 separate sections of the memorandum were inked by members of both govts.

With the memorandum, Italy becomes the first member of the Group of Seven major economies that includes the US, to join Belt and Road, following Portugal’s embrace of the initiative in December. Italy’s involvement gives China a crucial inroad into western Europe and a symbolic boost in its economic tug-of-war with Washington.

Cyclone Idai: More than 1,000 feared dead in Mozambique storm

Cyclone Idai: More than 1,000 feared dead in Mozambique storm

Beira (Mozambique): More than a thousand people are feared to have died in a cyclone that smashed into Mozambique last week, while scores were killed and more than 200 are missing in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

The city of Beira in central Mozambique bore Cyclone Idai’s full wrath on Thursday before the storm barrelled on to neighbouring Zimbabwe, unleashing fierce winds and flash floods and washing away roads and houses. “For the moment we have registered 84 deaths officially, but when we flew over the area… this morning to understand what’s going on, everything indicates that we could register more than 1,000 deaths,” Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi said in a nationwide address.

“This is a real humanitarian disaster,” he said. “More than 100,000 people are in danger”. Survivors have taken refuge in trees while awaiting help, the president added. Aerial photographs released by a Christian non-profit organisation, the Mission Aviation Fellowship, showed groups of people stuck on rooftops with flood waters up to window level. “The scale of damage… (in) Beira is massive and horrifying”, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said.

Ninety per cent of the city of some 530,000 people and its surrounding area has been “damaged or destroyed,” it said in a statement. “The situation is terrible. The scale of devastation is enormous,” the IFRC’s Jamie LeSueur said. “Almost everything is destroyed. Communication lines have been completely cut and roads have been destroyed. Some affected communities are not accessible.” A large dam burst on Sunday and cut off the last road to Beira, he said.

Sofala province governor Alberto Mondlane warned that the “biggest threat we have now, even bigger than the cyclone, is floods because it’s raining more and more”. Emma Beaty, coordinator of a grouping of NGOs known as Cosaco, said: “We’ve never had something of this magnitude before in Mozambique”. “Some dams have broken, and others have reached full capacity, they’ll very soon open the flood gates. It’s a convergence of flooding, cyclones, dams breaking and making a potential wave: everything’s in place so we get a perfect storm.”

Nyusi said the Pungwe and Buzi rivers in central Mozambique “have burst their banks and engulfed entire villages.” “Communities are isolated and bodies are floating” on the waters, he said. Beira international airport was closed because of cyclone damage but later reopened. In neighbouring Zimbabwe, Idai left 98 dead and at least 217 more missing, according to the information ministry. Families started burying their dead on Monday in damp graves, according to an AFP photographer.

The storm swept away homes and ripped bridges to pieces, leaving destruction that acting defence minister Perrance Shiri said “resembles the aftermath of a full-scale war”. Some roads were swallowed up by massive sinkholes, while bridges were ripped to pieces by flash floods. “This is the worst infrastructural damage we have ever had,” Zimbabwe’s Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Joel Biggie Matiza said.

The eastern district of Chimanimani was worst-hit, with houses and most of the region’s bridges washed away by flash floods. The most affected areas are not yet accessible, and high winds and dense clouds have hampered military rescue helicopter flights. Two pupils and a worker at a secondary school in the area were among those killed after a landslide sent a boulder crashing into their dormitory. Soldiers on Sunday helped rescue the surviving nearly 200 pupils, teachers and staff who had been trapped at the school in Chimanimani.

Joshua Sacco, lawmaker for Chimanimani, told AFP that “150 to 200 people” are missing. The majority of them are thought to be government workers, whose housing complex was completely engulfed by raging waters. Their fate was unknown because the area was still unreachable. Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa cut short a visit to Abu Dhabi, returning home on Monday.

“With every hour and day that passes, our worst fears become increasingly real,” he said in a statement. “Many drowned while others were killed in their sleep from swift and unexpected rockfalls which demolished their homes”. His government has come under fire for failing to evacuate people in time.

19-year-old woman pleads guilty after pushing friend off bridge in Vancouver

19-year-old woman pleads guilty after pushing friend off bridge in Vancouver

Vancouver: A woman has pleaded guilty to pushing her 16-year-old friend from a bridge at a popular swimming area near Vancouver. The Columbian reports 19-year-old Tay’lor Smith pleaded guilty to misdemeanour reckless endangerment Monday in Clark County District Court. Prosecutors are recommending no jail time when Smith is sentenced later this month.

Smith pushed Jordan Holgerson off the bridge August 7 at Moulton Falls northeast of Vancouver. Video posted on YouTube that went viral shows Holgerson being pushed. Holgerson broke six ribs and punctured her lungs in a fall of over 50 feet (15 metres).

In an interview on “Good Morning America,” Smith said she didn’t consider the repercussions. Outside the courtroom, Genelle Holgerson said she and her daughter want this chapter of their lives to be over.

Media working overtime to blame me for Christchurch attacks: Donald Trump

Media working overtime to blame me for Christchurch attacks: Donald Trump

Washington DC [USA]: US President Donald Trump on Monday accused American media organisations of blaming him for last week’s twin terror attacks in New Zealand, calling it “ridiculous”.

“The Fake News Media is working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand. They will have to work very hard to prove that one. So Ridiculous!” Trump tweeted. The US President’s comments came after some American media coverage had been focusing on the terrorist’s manifesto, which called Trump a “symbol of renewed white identity.” The White House has rejected claims that Trump backed white nationalist views.

“The president is not a white supremacist. I’m not sure how many times we have to say that,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday.” Earlier, a social media account believed to be linked to Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian-born terrorist had posted a lengthy manifesto, expressing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views.

He wrote that he supported Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” but not as a “policymaker and leader.” On March 16, Trump said that he did not see a rise in white nationalism across the world after the terrorist had called the US President “a symbol of renewed white identity.” “I don’t really think so. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems,” The Hill quoted Trump as saying when asked if he saw a rise in white nationalism. “If you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s the case. I don’t know enough about it yet,” he added.

New Zealand is currently on a state of high alert after Tarrant, who is believed to have lived in Dunedin, killed 50 people in the Al Noor and the Linwood mosques in Christchurch on March 15, police said. Tarrant live-streamed his gruesome act on Facebook for 17 minutes and police believe that the accused had single-handedly carried out the terror attack at both the mosques under a span of 36 minutes during the Friday prayers for which a large number of worshippers had congregated. Using automatic weapons, the 28-year-old terrorist launched a “well-planned” attack on the mosques when devotees had assembled for the weekly prayers, following which mosques across the country were advised to shut down.

Tarrant, who appeared before a Christchurch court on murder charges, was remanded in custody without plea until April 5. Condemning the terror strikes, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had described the attack as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days” and said it “appears to have been well planned”. She asserted that the country “will not and cannot be shaken” by the attack. Ardern underlined that the country’s gun laws will undergo changes and become stricter.

Indian-American couple from California held guilty of human trafficking

Indian-American couple from California held guilty of human trafficking

Washington: An Indian-American couple from California – Satish Kartan and Sharmistha Barai – has been found guilty to the charges of forced labour of foreign nationals from India and Nepal.

Residents of Stockton in California, Satish Kartan (45) and his wife Sharmistha Barai (45) took advantage of overseas workers, forcing them to work without pay, physically abusing them and threatening them of negative repercussions if they tried to leave, Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said. The Indian-American couple faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a USD 250,000 fine. The sentencing is scheduled for June 6.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, between February 2014 and October 2016, Kartan and Barai hired workers from overseas to perform domestic labour in their home in Stockton. In advertisements seeking workers on the internet and India-based newspapers, the defendants made false claims regarding the wages and the duties of employment. Then, once the workers arrived at the defendants’ Stockton residence, Kartan and Barai forced them to work 18 hours a day with limited rest and nourishment.

Few of them were paid any wage, court documents said. They kept their domestic workers from leaving and induced them to keep working for them by threatening them, by creating an atmosphere of fear, control and disempowerment, and at times, by physically hitting or burning them. When a victim pushed back or said she wanted to leave, it got worse. Victims flew from India and Nepal to testify. According to evidence presented at trial, the couple struck one worker on multiple occasions.

Barai threatened to kill her and throw her bones in the garbage, backhanded her across the face for talking back and slammed her hands down on a gas stove, causing her to suffer first- and second-degree burns on her hands from the flames. They also threatened several other victims to coerce them to keep working, including by telling the victims they would report them to police or immigration authorities if they tried to leave. Throughout the victims’ time in their home, they were deprived of sleep and food.

According to court papers, they subjected the victims to verbal abuse and harassment in an effort to intimidate them into continuing to provide labour and services. “Kartan and Barai did not simply fail to pay victims for their work,” said Sean Ragan, Special Agent in Charge of the Sacramento FBI Field Office. “They deprived them of their dignity and robbed them of their federally-protected civil rights,” he alleged.

Ethiopian Airlines offers grieving plane crash victims soil to bury

Ethiopian Airlines offers grieving plane crash victims soil to bury

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian Airlines has offered the grieving families of 157 victims of last Sunday’s Boeing 737 Max plane crash sacks of earth to bury in place of their loved ones.

As per AP, officials have begun delivering bags of earth to the family of the victims of the crash instead of the remains of their loved ones as the identification will take such a long time. “The soil came as it became impossible to identify bodies and hand over remains to family members,” one family member said.

“We will not rest till we are given the real body or body parts of our loved ones.” Mean while, black box data indicate “clear similarities” between last week’s crash and the Oct crash of an Indonesian Lion Air plane, Ethiopia’s transport minister said.

NASA spacecraft explored edges of Martian sea 2 decades ago

NASA spacecraft explored edges of Martian sea 2 decades ago

Washington: NASA’s first rover mission to Mars, the Pathfinder, may have explored the edges of an early Martian sea in 1997, according to scientists who say that images from the probe could yield evidence of habitability on the Red Planet. The landing site is on the spillway of an ancient sea that experienced catastrophic floods released from the planet’s subsurface and its sediments.

Nearly half a century ago the Mariner 9 spacecraft returned images of some of the largest channels in the Solar System.
Orbital observations of the gigantic channels suggested they were formed approximately 3.4 billion years ago by cataclysmic floods, much larger than any known to have occurred on Earth.

The prospect that abundant flowing water once sculptured the Martian landscape ignited renewed interest in the possibility that life may have once thrived on the planet. To test the Martian mega-flood hypothesis, NASA deployed its first Martian rover; the Sojourner, on board the 1997 Mars Pathfinder spacecraft that journeyed to the Red Planet.

NASA spent a total of $280 million on the mission, including the launch vehicle and mission operations. The terrain within the rover’s visual range includes potential fluvial features suggestive of regionally extensive flooding. However, those features suggest floods that were at least 10 times shallower than those estimated using images obtained from orbit.

Hence, the mission was not able to exclude still disputed alternative views sustaining that debris or lavas flows could have in fact dominated the channels’ formational history without significant water discharges. “Our paper shows a basin, with roughly the surface area of California, that separates most of the gigantic Martian channels from the Pathfinder landing site,” said said Alexis Rodriguez, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

“Debris or lava flows would have filled the basin before reaching the Pathfinder landing site. The very existence of the basin requires cataclysmic floods as the channels’ primary formational mechanism,” he said. The basin is covered by sedimentary deposits with a distribution that precisely matches the inferred extent of inundation from potential catastrophic floods, which would have formed an inland sea,” Rodriguez said.

“This sea is approximately 250 kilometres upstream from the Pathfinder landing site, an observation that reframes its paleo-geographic setting as part of a marine spillway, which formed a land barrier separating the inland sea and a northern ocean,” he said. “Our simulation shows that the presence of the sea would have attenuated cataclysmic floods, leading to shallow spillovers that reached the Pathfinder landing site and produced the bedforms detected by the spacecraft,” Rodriguez said.

The team’s results indicate that marine spillover deposits contributed to the landscape that the spacecraft detected nearly 22 years ago, and reconcile the mission’s in situ geologic observations and decades of remote-sensing outflow channel investigations.

The sea bears an uncanny resemblance to the Aral Sea on Earth in that in both instances they lack distinct shoreline terraces.  Its rapid regression over shallow submerged slopes resulted in rates of shoreline front retreat too fast for the terraces to form. The same process could partly account for the long-recognised lack of northern plains shorelines.

Sources: JuD, FIF leaders have gone underground after Pakistan crackdown

Sources: JuD, FIF leaders have gone underground after Pakistan crackdown

Lahore: Except Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafeez Saeed, almost all leaders of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) have gone underground after the Pakistan government placed the two outfits in the list of banned organisations, official sources said on Sunday.

Under immense international pressure, the Imran Khan-led government placed the Saeed-led JuD and its wing FIF in the list of proscribed organisations and arrested over 100 members of the outfits, including Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar’s son and his brother.

Pakistan also took control of the properties of the JeM, the JuD and the FIF, including seminaries and mosques, across the country. The government termed the action in accordance with the National Action Plan (NAP) and meeting the obligations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

“Except the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai terror attack, Hafiz Saeed, almost all main leaders of the JuD and the FIF have gone underground and they will reappear once this dust settle,” an official source told PTI. He said JuD chief Saeed is keeping a low profile and currently living at his Lahore residence amid high security.

The JuD’s media team has also gone underground, as they are neither issuing any statement nor taking calls from the media persons. Even messages sent by PTI to JuD media team members Yahya Mujahid and Ahmed Nadeem asking if the JuD leadership has gone underground to escape arrests or waiting the dust to settle down, it remained unanswered.

For the first time in two decades Saeed was also not allowed to enter and deliver the weekly sermon at JuD headquarters in Lahore. “The Pakistan government is yet to take a decision on taking Azhar and Saeed into the protective custody,” the official said.

The government has upgraded a group of proscribed organisations to “high risk” and started monitoring and re-examining their activities and profiles under heightened security checks at all layers of legal, administrative, investigative and financial regimes to comply with the requirement of the FATF.

The Paris-based global watchdog against financial crimes had expressed dissatisfaction over considering these entities as “low” to “medium” risk by Islamabad, saying Pakistan did “not demonstrate a proper understanding of the terror financing risks posed by Daesh (ISIS), Al Qaeda, Jud Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), LeT, JeM, Haqqani network (HQN), and persons affiliated with the Taliban”.

According to the government, all the entities have now been described as “high-risk” and will be subjected to greater scrutiny by all agencies and institutions of the state, starting from their registration to operations and from their fund collection to bank accounts and issuance of suspicious transactions, information sharing and so on. These decisions are being taken to comply with the FATF obligations. Recently, the Dawn said that merely making an announcement about a group’s proscription was not enough.

“If the state has evidence of the outfit’s involvement in militancy it should present the facts and pursue the legal course so that JuD’s leadership can face justice,” it said.  “As has been witnessed for nearly two decades now, the state moves to ban militant outfits, but, in very little time they are back, up and running, with new names and the entire structure of violence intact,” it said.