Queen to hail terror-hit UK cities in Christmas Day message

London : Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II will reflect on the “appalling” terror attacks in London and Manchester this year in her traditional Christmas Day message televised to the Commonwealth on Monday.

The 91-year-old monarch, whose pre-recorded message will air at 0830 IST, will pay tribute to the “powerful identities” of the two cities which suffered the loss of 35 lives in attacks claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.

“This Christmas, I think of London and Manchester, whose powerful identities shone through over the past 12 months in the face of appalling attacks,” she will say in her message recorded in the 1844 Room at Buckingham Palace in London.

Five people, four pedestrians and a police officer, were killed in the Westminster Bridge attack near Parliament in London in March, reports PTI.

In May, the Queen visited victims of the bombing at Manchester Arena, in which 22 people died. A suicide bomber struck as they left the venue following a performance by American singer Ariana Grande.

The following month, eight people died when three men in a van ploughed into pedestrians on London Bridge before going on a knife attack in nearby Borough Market.

Later that month, a man died when a hired van ran into worshippers near the Muslim Welfare House in Finsbury Park, north London.

In this year’s message, the Queen also pays tribute to her 96-year-old husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh who retired from royal duties earlier this year.

She is set to deliver a poignant thanks to him, hailing his valuable support throughout her record-breaking reign and his “unique sense of humour”. “We think of our homes as places of warmth, familiarity and love.

 There is a timeless simplicity to the pull of home,” the Queen will say, dressed in an ivory white dress by Angela Kelly, which she first wore for the Diamond Jubilee Thames River Pageant in 2012.

Her words about family will be illustrated by photographs on her desk: her 1947 black and white wedding picture, the official photograph to commemorate the 70th wedding anniversary this November and portraits of her great grandchildren Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

Pope Francis pleads for migrants at Christmas mass

Vatican City: Pope Francis in his Christmas eve mass urged the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics not to ignore the plight of migrants who are “driven from their land” because of leaders willing to shed “innocent blood”.

“So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary,” the Argentine pontiff, himself the grandson of Italian migrants, told worshippers in Saint Peter’s Basilica. “We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones.”

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Many engulfed in the ongoing migration crisis were forced to flee from leaders “who, to impose their power and increase their wealth, see no problem in shedding innocent blood”, said the 81-year-old, who will give his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” Christmas address today. The pontiff’s plea for “hope” came as fresh tensions simmered in the West Bank following Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The announcement by US President Donald Trump on December 6 unleashed demonstrators and clashes, including in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank where Christians will mark the birth of Jesus at a midnight mass.

Santa may be at serious health risk: UK experts

London: Santa Claus is adored by youngsters the world over, but he could be setting a bad example when it comes to his physical health and mental well-being, according to UK doctors. Centuries of sherry-drinking, eating mince pies and working night shifts could be putting Santa Claus at serious health risk, according to the Royal College of General Practitioners – a professional body for doctors in the UK.

With every house leaving carrots for his reindeers and mince pies and cookies for him, it is likely Santa’s BMI is exceptionally high. Obesity can lead to numerous health problems, such as hypertension, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and cancer, the RCGP said in a statement. As a result of his waistline, unhealthy diet, and alcohol intake, it is also possible that Santa Claus has developed gout -– a painful joint condition caused by the build-up of uric acid in the blood.

Santa Claus is known for his tight black boots to help him combat the snow, but with all his long haul travel they could be damaging his blood vessels – although the activity throughout his journey will help reduce his risk a little. It is not known if Santa has a companion at home, so he could be at risk of feeling lonely, they added. Loneliness and social isolation can be just as bad for his health and wellbeing as having a chronic condition. He also experiences a lot of work stress, as well as sleep deprivation in the week leading up to Christmas.

‘‘Santa Claus embodies what should be the happiest time of the year, and he is loved by children all over the world,” said Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the RCGPs. “Although he sets a brilliant example of good behaviour and teaches the importance of giving rather than receiving, he could probably do more to encourage healthy lifestyles – something youngsters and adults alike can benefit from,” said Stokes-Lampard.

“Santa is almost certainly living with multiple morbidities, which, if left untreated, can become increasingly distressing and debilitating,” she said. Having a tipple of sherry at every house around the world in one night is a serious case of binge-drinking, which we know is incredibly dangerous, according to the experts.

“We’re concerned that over the years he is likely developed a significant addiction. If left untreated, this could lead to immune system dysfunction, cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis or brain damage, not to mention bad skin and strong body odour,” they said. “The human body can only process one unit of alcohol per hour, which means excessive consumption could make Santa drunk very quickly,” Stokes-Lampard said.

“This not only increases the likelihood of him slipping in the snow or mixing up important presents, but could also lead to long-term issues affecting his mood and mental health,” she said. “In the meantime, I would recommend that Santa gives the sherry a miss this year — and maybe asks Rudolph if he can share his carrots,” she added.

N Korea slams new UN sanctions as an act of war

Seoul : North Korea on Sunday slammed the latest UN sanctions imposed on it over the isolated country’s widely-condemned intercontinental ballistic missile tests, describing the move as an “act of war”.

“We fully reject the latest UN sanctions… as a violent breach of our republic’s sovereignty and an act of war that destroys the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and a wider region,” Pyongyang’s foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run KCNA news agency.

It was the first official reaction from Pyongyang, a day after the UN Security Council unanimously passed new, US-drafted sanctions that will restrict oil supplies vital for the impoverished state, reports AFP.

The sanctions received the backing of Pyongyang’s key ally China and also orders the repatriation of North Korean workers sent abroad to earn much needed revenue for Kim Jong-Un’s regime.

The third raft of sanctions imposed on the North this year came about three weeks after Pyongyang test-fired its longest-range ICBM, which it said was capable of striking all major US cities.

The test of Hwasong-15 further heightened global concerns over the rapid advance in the North’s missile and nuclear weapon programmes that has accelerated since Kim took power in 2011.The North says its weapons programmes are designed for self-defence against “hostile” US policies towards the isolated but nuclear-armed nation.

Beijing calls for balanced implementation of sanctions on Pyongyang
Beijing : China on Saturday called for the latest UN sanctions on North Korea to be implemented in a comprehensive and balanced manner for a peaceful solution to the problem in the Korean peninsula. The UN Security Council imposed fresh sanctions on the Kim Jong-un regime, Efe news reported.

In a statement, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying reiterated Beijing’s call for restraint and working to ease tensions while finding an appropriate solution to the conflict in the Korean peninsula.The new resolution number 2397 increases sanctions to pressurise North Korea into stopping its nuclear program and missile tests, by banning the export of nearly 90 per cent of refined petroleum to the country.

Ex-US Marine arrested for planning Christmas attack

Washington: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has arrested a former US marine who was planning to attack a tourist pier in San Francisco on Christmas Day in the name of the Islamic State (IS).

Everitt Aaron Jameson, 26, became a suspect of US authorities in September because of his postings on social medial in support of jihadis, according to court documents entered on Friday by the FBI.

Jameson had celebrated on Facebook the attack that left eight people dead on October 31 in Manhattan, perpetrated by a man who also said he was acting on behalf of the IS, reports Efe news.

It was a trusted FBI informer who tipped off the agency about Jameson’s cyber plotting.

Earlier this month, an undercover FBI agent posing as an IS member got in touch with Jameson.

The man now in custody offered to do “whatever” in the name of the IS and particularly noted how his military experience in the “army of the infidels” equipped him to perpetrate the attack.

According to the FBI, Jameson spoke in that way about his time in the US Marine Corps in 2009, when he was discharged for “fraudulent enlistment” because he never mentioned his chronic asthma.

During his time in basic training with the marines, Jameson earned a “sharpshooter” qualification.

Asked by the undercover agent about some specific plan, Jameson spoke of attacking the Pier 39 in San Francisco on Christmas Day.

Jameson, who had conceived a combined bombs and firearms attack, asked the undercover agent for a rifle and explosive material, and told him he was “ready to die”.

His plan was to make the bombs at a distant campsite, then store them in his house in Modesto, California.

In a statement from the Department of Justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that “today, our incredible law enforcement officers have once again helped thwart an alleged plot to kill Americans”.

Widespread protests in PoK, Gilgit Baltistan against ill treatment of locals by Pakistan

Gilgit/Rawalakot: Widespread protests have erupted across Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit Baltistan against Pakistan’s ill treatment of the region and its people. In Gilgit-Baltistan, people have come out onto the streets shouting anti-Pakistan slogans and rejecting the Pakistan Government’s enforced taxation.

Markets and business establishments remained shut and traders in large numbers gathered in major cities, including Gilgit and Skardu to express their anger against the imposition of `illegal’ taxes by Islamabad.

They called on the government to withdraw all taxes imposed in Gilgit Baltistan under the GB Tax Adaptation Act 2012. The protest call was given by the Anjiman-i-Tajran and the Awami Action Committee (AAC), and backed by all political and religious parties in Baltistan.

Addressing a gathering in Skardu, Basharat, an advocate and member of Baltistan civil society, blamed Islamabad for its autocratic behaviour and for abusing the powers of the Gilgit Baltistan Council which is headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

He said, “Gilgit-Baltistan Council is chaired by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He definitely has no sympathy for Gilgit-Baltistan. If it was so, he would have taken decisions as per the convenience of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. He never attends any meeting. It is very sad. The Prime Minister only endorses a plan designed by a section officer in Islamabad. The protests will continue till the government meets the demands, the organisers have announced.

“This is the height of barbarism. We don’t have any party to express our concerns. So, the people have no option but to block roads and go on strike. Now, the government will use force to demolish our campaign. For the past 47 years, they have kept us confined by dividing us on sectarian lines”, said a protester. In Rawalakot city, people came out onto the streets to protest against the discriminatory surge in load shedding hours.

The protest was organised by the Jammu Kashmir National Awami Party (JKNAP), which claimed that the PoK produces some 5,000 mega watts of electricity from five dams and 4500 Megawatts of that electricity is diverted to the Islamabad grid leaving the local people with just 500 Megawatts.

Sardar Liaqat Hayat, President of JKNAP, said, “We people are paying hefty bills despite having hours long load shedding. We all need to come onto the streets to protest for our right to free electricity. We need to give sacrifices as nothing comes free. Those who are getting everything free are the `moulvis’ sitting in a mosque. Ordinary people have to fight for their rights”.

The JKNAP has threatened to intensify its protest against Islamabad if their demands are not met. It also blames Pakistan for exploiting resources from PoK and being responsible for the poverty and underdevelopment in the region.

ISIS has been crushed in Iraq and Syria: May

London : The Islamic State terror group has been “crushed” in Iraq and Syria with the efforts of Britain’s armed forces, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday during a surprise Christmas visit to troops in Cyprus.

May praised the Royal Air Force (RAF) men and women at Britain’s Akrotiri base in the country for their key role on Operation Shader, the codename for the fight against Islamic State (ISIS), and diminishing the hold of terrorists in the Middle East.

“Just three years ago, Daesh [ISIS] declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, a safe haven in which to carry out the most barbaric acts and in which to plot murder on our streets at home,” she said.”But today, thanks in very large part to your efforts, the so-called caliphate has been crushed and no longer holds significant territory in Iraq and Syria. You should be incredibly proud of that achievement,” May said. The RAF base in Cyprus is at the heart of the UK’s operations in Iraq and Syria.

It is home to 2,000 military personnel and has been the launch point for more than 1,300 sorties to Iraq and more than 250 to Syria since the US-led action against ISIS began.

“It’s from here that you have conducted more than 1,600 air strikes against Daesh targets and supported more than 1,450 personnel working with our allies and partners in Jordan and Iraq to fight Daesh and prevent its re-emergence,” she said. Standing in front of a Typhoon fighter jet to speak to 100 servicemen and women at RAF Akrotiri, May said that British military intervention was still needed in the region to ensure the terror group did not regroup or give way to a splinter force.

Earthquake of 5.2 magnitude shakes areas near Iranian capital

Tehran: An earthquake measuring 5.2 magnitude on the Richter scale shook Malard town in Iran’s Tehran Province on Wednesday, the Iran Seismological Center (ISC) said.
The epicentre of the earthquake, about 50 kilometre east of Iranian capital Tehran, was at the depth of seven kilometre, 35.69 degree north latitude and 50.96 degrees east longitude, Xinhua quoted the ISC, as saying.
The quake was felt in the capital as well as Alborz, Qazvin, Ghilan and Qom provinces.
Power lines in some towns of Tehran province have been cut off and communication and internet systems have been disrupted.
Emergency teams have been dispatched to the quake-hit areas, the report said. People in Tehran and suburban towns are on the streets in panic.

The report said Akhtar Abad village in suburban Tehran has sustained damage and one person was injured.


Dog survives US plane crash

Washington: A dog survived a plane crash in the US state of Indiana while three passengers and another dog were killed, authorities said.

A single-engine plane going from Missouri to Maryland crashed in a wooded area near Oldenburg in Franklin county on Saturday night, reports Xinhua news agency.

At the crash scene, three people and a dog were found dead.

Police said a second dog survived the crash and showed up at a nearby residence. It was taken to a veterinarian to be treated for injuries.

US: Power outage paralyses world’s busiest Hartsfield-Jackson airport

Washington: A power failure at the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, has crippled air traffic, forcing the cancellation of more than 1,150 departing or arriving flights and stranding thousands of travellers in the US just as people begin the busy Christmas travel week.

Officials said that the power outage at the airport started on Sunday with a fire in a Georgia Power underground electrical facility causing extensive damage, the New York Times reported.

The power failure sent a ripple of disruptions across the US, affecting flights in Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere. There were signs the problems would linger into Monday as Delta Air Lines announced on Sunday evening that it planned to cancel 300 flights the next day.

Three major airlines — American, Southwest and United — cancelled arrivals and departures at the airport on Sunday as a result of the power outage. Travellers were encouraged to check with their airlines before heading to the airport on Monday. Many flights in the air were diverted when the power went out and the US Customs and Border Protection said on Twitter that international flights destined for Atlanta were rerouted to other airports.

The airport is the busiest in the world for passenger traffic, serving more than 104 million passengers last year, according to Airports Council International. The failure affected at least 30,000 people, airport officials said. There were reports that some planes sat on the tarmac for more than six hours waiting to move. Earlier in the night, after more than six hours, power had been restored in one of the seven concourses.

Passengers waited in long lines on Sunday to catch taxis and public transportation. With no announcement system working and few uniformed airline employees available, passengers said they did not know whether they should stay at the airport or how and when they could reschedule their flights. In one video, passengers at an airport terminal were seen sitting in the dark and using flashlights on their phones to see where they were going.

“There were a few emergency lights on, but it was really dark — felt totally apocalyptic,” said passenger Heather Kerwin. Airlines cancelled more than 1,150 flights into or out of Atlanta, according to FlightAware, the flight data website. Hartsfield-Jackson Airport handles 2,500 flights and an average of 275,000 passengers daily, according to its website.

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