California wildfire bigger than New York city

Los Angeles: The most destructive wildfire raging in southern California has expanded significantly, scorching an area larger than New York City, according to fire officials.  The Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties has consumed 230,000 acres since it broke out on December 4, reports the BBC.

Fanned by strong winds, it has become the fifth largest wildfire in recorded state history after it grew by more than 50,000 acres in a day.  Residents in coastal beach communities have been ordered to evacuate.  On Sunday, firefighters reported that 15 per cent of the blaze had been contained but were forced to downgrade that to 10 per cent as it continued to spread.

Winds whip California fires as they spread south
“This is a menacing fire, certainly, but we have a lot of people working very diligently to bring it under control,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said.  The other fires hitting California are largely controlled, but 200,000 people have evacuated their homes and hundreds of buildings have been destroyed since December 4.  Evacuation orders were issued overnight on Sunday for parts of Carpinteria close to Los Padres National Forest, about 160 km northwest of Los Angeles, the BBC reported.

California has spent the past week battling wildfires. Six large blazes, and other smaller ones.  The Thomas Fire – named according to where it started, near the Thomas Aquinas College – is by far the largest of the fires.  The authorities issued a purple alert – the highest level warning – amid what it called “extremely critical fire weather”, while US President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency.  On Saturday, California Governor Jerry Brown described the situation as “the new normal” and predicted vast fires, fuelled by climate change, “could happen every year or every few years”.

Trump calls for calm, moderation in Middle East, says White House

Washington : US President Donald Trump has called for calm and moderation in the Middle East, the White House said on Saturday, amid reports of clashes in the region following his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“The president has called for calm and moderation and we are hoping that the voices of tolerance prevail over purveyors of hate. The president does remain committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” the White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told reporters. Shah defended Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, saying “We think that the decision to recognise reality, and recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is the right decision”.

Nepal polls: Left alliance wins 26 seats, Nepali Congress 3

Kathmandu: The Left alliance has won at least 26 of the 30 parliamentary seats and is leading comfortably against the opposition NC which has won three seats in the historic parliamentary and provincial assembly polls in Nepal, officials said today.

The Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist–Leninist (CPN-UML) has won 18 seats while its alliance partner the CPN Maoist-Centre eight. The opposition Nepali Congress (NC) has won three seats while independent one.

The CPN-UML is leading on 44 seats, the CPN-Maoist Centre on 18 and the NC on 12 seats, they said.

A total of 1,663 candidates contested polls for parliamentary seats while 2,819 were in the fray for the provincial assembly seats in the historic elections that many hope will bring the much-needed political stability to the Himalayan nation.

The polls will elect 128 members of parliament and 256 members of provincial assemblies.

The house of representatives consists of 275 members, of which 165 would be elected directly under the first-past-the- post system while the remaining 110 will come through the proportional representation system.

Of the 10 parliamentary seats in Kathmandu district, the CPN-UML has won three while the NC two.

Senior NC leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Prakash Man Singh has won from Kathmandu-1 seat by a thin margin against his rival Ravindra Mishra, a senior journalist who was contesting from a new party Sajha Viveksheel.

Popular NC youth leader Gagan Thapa won from Kathmandu-4 by defeating Rajan Bhattarai of the CPN-UML.

Left alliance candidates Krishna Kumar Rai, Jeevan Ram Bhandari and Krishna Gopal Shrestha have won from Kathmandu-3, Kathmandu-8 and Kathmandu-9 seats respectively by defeating their NC opponents.

In the 2013 Constituent Assembly elections, the Nepali Congress had won eight out of ten seats from Kathmandu.

The heavy weights who lost include NC leader Shekhar Koirala, Communication minister and NC candidate Mohan Basnet and Rastriya Prajatantrik Party leader Pashupati Shumsher Rana.

Koirala lost to Lal Babu Pandit of the CPN-UML from Morang–6 while Basnet lost to Agni Sapkota of the CPN-Maoist Centre from Sindhupalchowk–1 seat. Rana lost to Sher Bahadur Tamang of the CPN-UML on Sindhupalcowk–2 seat.

In the provincial assemblies, the CPN-UML has won 12 seats while the CPN-Maoist Centre and the NC won 8 and 3 seats respectively, they said.

Voting in two-phased the parliamentary and provincial assembly elections were held on November 26 and December 7.

In the first phase, polling were held in 32 districts, mostly situated in the hilly and mountainous region, in which 65 per cent of voters had exercised their franchise. In the second phase, 67 per cent voter turnout was registered.

The elections are being seen as the final step in Nepal’s transition to a federal democracy following a decade-long civil war till 2006 that claimed more than 16,000 lives.

While many hope Nepal’s first state elections will hasten regional development, others fear they will spark a fresh wave of violence.

In 2015, when Nepal adopted a new Constitution that split it into seven states, dozens of people were killed in ethnic clashes over territory and rights.

Following the adoption of the new Constitution, the ethnic Madhesi group, mostly of Indian-origin, protested for months, saying they were not getting enough territory in one of the provinces and were also facing discrimination.

The polls are seen as a major step towards implementing the new Constitution.

UNSC members warn against US’ decision on Jerusalem

United Nations: Members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) have criticised Washington’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and warned that it would raise tensions in the area even as Washington stood alone steadfastly defending its decision.

The political conflict over Jerusalem could turn into an unrelenting religious conflict, France’s Permanent Representative Francois Delattre told an emergency meeting on Friday. Citing several Council resolutions, he said that any unilateral changes to the city’s status would be null and void.

The international community would only recognise modifications of the 1967 borders accepted by both sides, he said in a statement that reflected the broad convergence of views of both US allies and others in the Council. One of the Council resolutions adopted in 1980 specifically asks member countries not to put their diplomatic missions in the “Holy City” considered sacred by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

In contrast to the UN, where even Washington’s allies crticised President Donald Trump’s decision announced on Wednesday, there was a broad consensus in the US reflected in a law passed by Congress in 1995 move the embassy to Jerusalem. About 1,000 Palestine supporters protested in New York’s Times Square on Friday evening.

Separated by police barriers across the avenue, a smaller group held a counter demonstration supporting Trump. US Permanent Representative Nikki Haley reiterated the Trump administration’s commitment to a peace process and to a two-state solution.

“The US has not taken a position on boundaries or borders… The specific dimensions of sovereignty over Jerusalem are still to be decided by the Israelis and the Palestinians in negotiations.” Haley said that it was “simple common sense” to move Washington’s embassy to Jerusalem because “in virtually every country in the world, US embassies are located in the host country’s capital city”.

US to begin process to move embassy to Jerusalem: Tillerson
British Permanent Representative Matthew Ryrcroft said that Jerusalem should be the joint capital of Israeli and Palestinian states and the US decision was unhelpful. He said that the expansion of Israeli settlements, particularly in East Jerusalem, terrorism and incitement to violence were barriers to a lasting solution to the conflict there.

China’s Deputy Permanent Representative Wu Haitao said that any unilateral actions on Jerusalem’s status could trigger new confrontations. Earlier while briefing the Council, UN’s Middle East Peace Process Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov noted that Trump had said final status issues, including the boundaries, remains to be determined.

“It is up to all of us in the international community, as much as it is up to Israeli and Palestinian leaders, to urgently advance a just and lasting resolution to this conflict,” he said, warning of the risks of “being engulfed in the vortex of religious radicalism”.

Ramallah : A senior Palestinian official said on Friday that US Vice President Mike Pence was “not welcome in Palestine” during his upcoming regional visit after a White House decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “The American vice president is not welcome in Palestine,” Jibril Rajoub, a senior member of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah, told AFP. Rajoub also signalled that Abbas would not meet with Pence during his planned visit later this month. “And President Abbas will not welcome him because of the statements he made” about Jerusalem. Abbas has not made similar comments and his office could not immediately be reached. The White House warned on Friday that cancelling a planned meeting between Abbas and Pence in the wake of the US policy shift on Jerusalem would be “counterproductive”. US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday in a move that outraged Palestinian leaders, but which was hailed as historic by Israel

Islamabad : The Embassy of China in Islamabad has warned Chinese citizens and organisations in Pakistan to be on alert for possible terror attacks on them, reports ANI.

Citing a statement by the embassy, South China Morning Post reported that the consulate had been informed that terrorists were planning “a series of attacks soon” against Chinese.

“The embassy alerts all Chinese organisations and citizens in Pakistan to stay vigilant, safeguard personal security, reduce time spent outside and avoid going to crowded places as much as possible,” the newspaper quoted the statement of the Chinese embassy in Islamabad.

According to an estimate, there are nearly 400,000 Chinese people living in Pakistan, with a large number of professionals involved in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The warning has also reportedly asked the Chinese to cooperate with Pakistani police and military and contact the embassy, if necessary.

After the two Chinese were killed earlier this year, Beijing accelerated its security plans to protect the more than 30,000 Chinese nationals living in Pakistan. There had been occasional attacks by separatist groups in Balochistan and Sindh, where China has invested billions to build the Gwadar port and roads.

Peeved Palestine refuses to welcome US Vice-President

Ramallah : A senior Palestinian official said on Friday that US Vice President Mike Pence was “not welcome in Palestine” during his upcoming regional visit after a White House decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The American vice president is not welcome in Palestine,” Jibril Rajoub, a senior member of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah, told AFP.

Rajoub also signalled that Abbas would not meet with Pence during his planned visit later this month.

“And President Abbas will not welcome him because of the statements he made” about Jerusalem.

Abbas has not made similar comments and his office could not immediately be reached.

The White House warned on Friday that cancelling a planned meeting between Abbas and Pence in the wake of the US policy shift on Jerusalem would be “counterproductive”.

US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday in a move that outraged Palestinian leaders, but which was hailed as historic by Israel.

The move was fully supported by Pence. Abbas said Trump has disqualified the United States from its traditional role as peace broker in the Middle East conflict. Pence is expected to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories sometime before Christmas.

Protests all over
Lahore: Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed on Friday made his first public appearance after he was freed from house arrest and led a rally here to launch a country-wide campaign against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, hundreds of people took part in protests on Friday against the decision of US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, prompting the American diplomatic delegations in both countries to issue security alerts for their employees.

Pakistan boat capsize death toll reaches 21

Islamabad: The death toll in a boat capsize off the coast of Pakistan’s Thatta district has increased to 21 with several others still reported missing, police said on Friday.

According to district officials, there were about 70 people on-board when then accident took place on Thursday evening, reports Dawn news.  Thatta Deputy Commissioner (DC) Nasir Baig said 20 people were rescued and have been hospitalised.  Rescue efforts were ongoing in coordination with military units in the area.

The passengers were mostly pilgrims were travelling to attend an annual celebration of a sufi saint.   Most of the passengers were residents of Karachi, the police added.  According to initial investigation, the capsize took place as the boat lost balance because it was overcrowded.

US-Sikh community raise USD 210k for underprivileged children in Punjab

Washington: The Sikh community here has raised USD 2,10,000 for underprivileged youth pursuing higher education in Punjab. The fund was raised at an event this week by the Sikh Human Development Foundation (SHDF), featuring Bollywood actor and Punjabi comedian Gurpreet Ghuggi.

“The SHDF has so far given more than 5,000 scholarships to students. Out of them, 2,700 have already graduated and found jobs of doctors, engineers, scientists and others. Some of them are now helping other needy children,” said Gajinder Singh Ahuja, chairman of the SHDF.

The SHDF provides scholarships to bright but poor students in Punjab and surrounding areas, he said. Based in Washington, it has been giving scholarships to students since 2001 and over the years USD 2 million in scholarship money has been provided.

Jasdeep Singh Juneja, an IT professional from Dallas in Texas, has been one of the recipient of the SHDF scholarship programme. He now runs a major operation for ATT. “If there was no SHDF, I would not have be in the US. My family was not able to support me. It is only because of financial assistance at a very crucial time that I was able to become a professional. Now I am able to support the education of my own younger brother,” Juneja said.

Similarly, Jasmeet Singh Bhatia, another scholarship recipient, shared his journey from an underprivileged family to being a professional in Richmond, Virginia, at the event. The participants donated funds for 420 scholarships with each scholarship worth USD 510, a media release said.

Amid rising tensions in Palestine, Israeli army fires at Hamas posts in Gaza Strip

Gaza: A tank and an aircraft targeted two military posts in the Gaza Strip, following projectiles that was fired from the northern Gaza Strip and exploded in southern Israel, according to a statement made by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on Thursday.
The IDF held Hamas responsible for the hostile activity perpetrated against Israel from the Gaza Strip, said the statement, Xinhua reported.

Two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip on Thursday afternoon, according to another IDF statement.

The rockets came amid rising tensions in Gaza and the West Bank following US President Trump’s announcement that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Israel closed the Gilboa Crossing in the northern West Bank after Palestinians threw rocks at it during a demonstration, the Israeli Defense Ministry said Thursday.

The ministry said that the reopening of the crossing will be dependent upon situational assessments.


Russian President Vladimir Putin confirms that he will run for presidency again in 2018

Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said he would seek a new six-year term in the country’s March 2018 elections in a move that would make him the longest-serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin.

Putin, who has been in power for the past 18 years, is expected to sail to victory, with only token opponents competing against him. “I will offer my candidacy for the post of president of the Russian Federation,” he said during a visit to a car factory in Nizhny Novgorod.

He made the widely-expected announcement surrounded by cheering workers, who prodded him to unveil his plans in a carefully-choreographed ceremony. “There is perhaps no better place and better excuse to announce this,” Putin said in a nod to his core constituency. “Russia will go only forward! And no-one would ever stop her in this direction.”

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Predictably, a chorus of Russian politicians praised the announcement, while social networks were abuzz, with many ridiculing the Kremlin strongman. Top Putin critic Alexei Navalny, who has earlier declared a Kremlin bid even although he will not be allowed to run due to a suspended sentence for fraud, called Putin a “swindler.”

“I suggest we don’t agree,” the 41-year-old Western-educated lawyer said on Twitter, referring to Putin’s plans to seek a fourth Kremlin term. Putin’s confirmation of the Kremlin bid came as Russia reeled from a decision by the International Olympic Committee to ban the country from the Winter Games as punishment over claims of state-orchestrated doping.

But despite a litany of mounting problems including corruption, poverty and poor healthcare, the 65-year-old leader enjoys approval ratings of some 80 percent. Just hours earlier Putin visited a glitzy ceremony for volunteers in Moscow where he sought to rouse supporters. “I want to ask, do you trust and support me?” he addressed the huge audience of mostly young people.

“Yes!” the audience chanted. Before Putin took the floor prominent figures, including athletes and Soviet-era celebrities such as 83-year-old actor Vasily Lanovoi, took to the stage to extol the country’s successes, such as Soviet victory in World War II.

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Cosmonaut Sergei Ryazansky addressed the audience via video link from the International Space Station. Putin has sought to appeal to the country’s youth after thousands of young Russians took to the streets earlier this year to protest alleged corruption among the elites, targeting Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev among others.

The demonstrations were sparked by a documentary fronted by Navalny. Putin, who first became president after Boris Yeltsin sensationally resigned on New Year’s Eve 1999, handed power to his ally Medvedev in 2008 at the end of his second term. Putin served as prime minister — though few doubted who was really in charge — and returned as president in 2012.

If he extends his rule to 2024, Putin will have led Russia longer than Leonid Brezhnev, who presided over an era of stagnation from 1964 to 1982 and became the target of derision in his later years. “He cannot seek a new term,” independent analyst Dmitry Oreshkin told AFP.

“If he left the system he himself created he would become weak and vulnerable.” Analysts say that after more than 17 years of leadership — both as president and prime minister — Putin fatigue may be spreading across the country. Many Russians say they would vote for Putin simply because they don’t see an alternative to him amid the former KGB officer’s chokehold on domestic politics. With the result of the election already a foregone conclusion, turnout could be low, dealing a blow to the Kremlin’ hopes for a decisive new mandate, observers say.

‘Donald Trump was offered women during Russia trip’
According to a poll conducted by the independent Levada Centre pollster last month, just 58 percent of respondents said they would take part in the polls, down from 75 per cent in December 2007. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed this week that those figures came ahead of the start of a political campaign, saying they were set to grow. Many expect that Kseniya Sobchak, a 36-year-old glamourous former host of a television reality show and daughter of Putin’s former mentor, will likely be allowed to run against Putin to rekindle public interest in the dull election.

With the election virtually devoid of any suspence, the question is what will happen after Putin’s expected re-election and later, after his new term ends in 2024, analysts say. “The main intrigue is, what will happen after 2018, how the configuration of power will be changing,” Tatyana Stanovaya, a Paris-based analyst for the Centre of Political Technologies in Moscow, to AFP.

Speculation has swirled over the past weeks that the Kremlin may be considering whether to change the constitution or create a brand new post for Putin in an effort to extend his grip on power. “The main task for the Kremlin is to adapt the regime to Putin’s future status – be it an extension of presidential powers or the creation of a new post,” said Stanovaya.

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