Passenger plane crashes in mountains of Iran, killing 66 people

Tehran: All 66 people on board an Iranian passenger plane were feared dead today after it crashed into the country’s Zagros mountains, with emergency services struggling to locate the wreckage in blizzard conditions.

Aseman Airlines flight EP3704 left Tehran around 0800 (local time) for the city of Yasuj, some 500 kilometres (300 miles) to the south, the airlines public relations chief Mohammad Tabatabai told state broadcaster IRIB. The ATR-72 twin-engine plane, in service since 1993, disappeared from radar around 45 minutes after takeoff from the capitals Mehrabad airport.

Emergency services had yet to locate the precise location of the crash. The plane was carrying 60 passengers, including one child, as well as six crew, said Tabatabai. “After searches in the area, unfortunately we were informed that the plane crashed. Unfortunately, our dear ones lost their lives in this incident,” he said. But he later retracted his statement, telling the ISNA news agency: “We still have no access to the spot of the crash and therefore we cannot accurately and definitely confirm the death of all passengers.” There were conflicting reports on the location of the crash site as emergency teams battled severe weather.

“The rescue and relief teams were sent to the possible area of the crash… but the helicopter could not continue its path due to snow and blizzard,” Jalal Pooranfar, regional head for Iran’s emergency services, told the ISNA news agency. He said teams were being sent by land. “Right now there are five rescue and relief teams of the emergency service in the area. But they still haven’t spotted anything,” said Pooranfar. The Relief and Rescue Organisation of Iran’s Red Crescent said it had also sent 12 teams to the region.

Aseman currently has a fleet of 36 planes, including at least three ATR-72s that date back to the early 1990s, according to the IRNA news agency. A spokesman for ATR, a subsidiary of Europes Airbus, told AFP in Paris the company was “researching the details” of Sundays crash. President Hassan Rouhani ordered the transport ministry to set up a crisis group to investigate the crash and coordinate rescue efforts, ISNA reported.

Decades of international sanctions have left Irans airlines with ageing fleets of passenger planes which they have struggled to maintain and modernise. Asemans three Boeing 727-200s are almost as old as the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution, having made their first flights the following year. Iran has suffered multiple aviation disasters, most recently in 2014 when a Sepahan Airlines plane crashed killing 39 people just after take-off from Tehran, narrowly avoiding many more deaths when it plummeted near a busy market.

Lifting sanctions on aviation purchases was a key clause in the nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers in 2015. Following the deal, Aseman Airlines finalised an agreement to buy 30 Boeing 737 MAX jets for $3 billion (2.4 billion euros) last June, with an option to buy 30 more.

However, the sale could be scuppered if US President Donald Trump chooses to reimpose sanctions in the coming months, as he has threatened to do. The US has maintained its own sanctions on Iran, blocking almost all trade with the country, but plane manufacturers were given a specific exemption under the nuclear deal.

The US Treasury Department, which must approve each such sale, has done so for 80 Boeing jets destined for national carrier Iran Air as well as 100 Airbus planes for Iran Air. The first few Airbus jets have already arrived in Tehran. Boeing faces heavy criticism from US lawmakers, who say Iranian airlines have been used to ship weapons and troops to Syria and other conflict zones.

US: Make Pluto a planet again, 6-year-old girl urges NASA

Washington: Six-year-old Cara O’Connor of Ireland, who dreams of becoming a NASA astronaut one day, wrote a letter to the space agency urging it to reclassify Pluto as a planet, The Washington Post reported this week. Pluto was downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet in 2006 by the governing body of astronomy, the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

The decision has not gone down well with Cara and she wants NASA to “fix this problem” for her and “make Pluto a planet again.” “I listened to a song and at the end of it the song said “Bring Pluto Back” — and I would really like that to happen,” Cara wrote. She talked about the Kuiper belt, a doughnut-shaped ring beyond Neptune where many dwarf planets are located, the Post reported on Saturday.

“I really think Pluto should be a main planet again like Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus & Neptune, because in one video I watched called ‘Let’s go meet the planets,’ Pluto was at the very end,” she wrote. In another video, she said, Pluto “was put in the trash can and was scared by planet Earth.”

“This was really mean,” Cara wrote, “because no one or no planet or dwarf planets should be put in the trash can.” Cara’s plea did not fall on deaf ears as she received a reply from James Green, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, who complimented her on her interest in Pluto.

“I agree with you that Pluto is really cool — in fact, who would have believed that Pluto has a heart? … It’s a fascinating world that appears to be constantly changing. To me, it’s not so much about whether Pluto is a dwarf planet or not; it’s that Pluto is a fascinating place that we need to continue to study,” Green wrote.

“I hope that you will discover a new planet, and I trust that if you continue to do well in school we will see you at NASA one of these days,” he added.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions defends recusal from Russia probe

Washington DC [United States]: United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Sunday said that he did the right thing to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

“I believe I did the right thing, the only thing I could do. I participated in this campaign, and as such, under the explicit regulations of the Department of Justice, no one can participate in an investigation of a campaign in which they were an active participant,” Sessions said on Fox News’ ‘Sunday Morning Futures.’ “You can’t ask other members of the department to follow the law and follow the rules if the attorney general himself refuses to do so,” he added.

Last year, Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department’s investigation. It had emerged that Sessions spoke twice with the Russian ambassador to the United States during former’s presidential campaign. Sessions did not mention either meeting, during his confirmation hearings when he said he knew of no contacts between Trump surrogates and Russians.

The probe grew out of the FBI’s Russia investigation after Trump fired FBI director James Comey and Sessions recused himself from the investigation. Russia has denied meddling in the election campaign and Trump called Mueller’s probe a “political witch hunt”.

Most Internet scam victims are young people: Report

Beijing: China’s younger generation may be more Internet savvy than the older people, but they still account for most of the victims of Internet scams, according to an anti-fraud website.

More than 70 per cent of 24,260 Internet fraud reports received by the website, operated jointly by China’s software security firm Qihoo 360 and the Beijing Public Security Bureau, involved victims born in the 90s and 80s, according to the website’s 2017 report on telecom fraud in China, Xinhua news reported.

Beware! Google Docs hit by phishing scam
The website, is open for the reporting of Internet scams and does not have a financial minimum for fraud cases. Even a loss of 1 yuan ($0.16) can be registered for complaint. The report shows that total Internet fraud cases in 2017 involved more than $55 million, up 17.6 per cent year-on-year.

“People born in the 90s and 80s are the main Internet users, they are also the main victims of Internet fraud,” said Liu Yang, an anti-fraud expert with the website. He said 65.6 per cent of the victims fell into fraud traps in the process of bank transfers, third party payments and QR code scanning. He also warned that those born this century had become a target for Internet fraud, accounting for 8.4 per cent of the victims in 2017, from three per cent a year ago.

Partial Solar Eclipse 2018: Where to watch LIVE streaming, and countries where it will be visible

The first solar eclipse of 2018 is here. The said eclipse is a partial solar eclipse (aanshik surya grahan).Total solar eclipse and partial solar eclipse are different as in the latter only part of the solar disk is obscured. Scientists have warned that any kind of eclipse should not be watched with naked eyes keeping in mind the health reasons.

Also known as Aanshik surya graham, it is going to take place today on February 15 and will be visible in countries like Argentina, Paraguay, Chile and Uruguay, and in Antarctica, reported India TV. People can watch the live streaming on the YouTube channel of NASA. It can be seen from 6:55 PM to 10:47 PM (UTC) and 12:25 AM to 4:17 AM (IST, February 16).

Watching solar eclipse or partial solar eclipse with naked eyes, even for few seconds, can result in impairment of vision. So, please don’t get carried away and use requisite solar filters.

NASA has strongly suggested that people should be careful while watching this spectacle and should buy foolproof solar filters. In case, they are scratched or damaged, don’t use it. Don’t remover your filters while watching the eclipse. First turn and then remove it. Don’t look at the partially eclipsed sun with telescope, binoculars or unfiltered camera.

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai passes away

Johannesburg [South Africa]: Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, passed away on Wednesday. He had been suffering from colon cancer for at least two years, and his condition deteriorated rapidly in the last few days.

Tsvangirai, aged 65, died in a clinic in Johannesburg, according to The Guardian. His illness, which was revealed in 2016, had divided the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, with three deputy leaders and other officials publicly maneuvering to succeed him. The party will now have to choose a new leader and launch a campaign against a resurgent Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), the ruling party, to contest polls which might be held as early as May 2018.

“Tsvangirai’s death will force the MDC to convene an emergency conference to sort out the differences between the three vice-leaders. His sickness meant an impasse around internal dynamics so this might force a resolution. That’s a possible silver lining to this tragic event,” The Guardian quoted Piers Pigou, Zimbabwe analyst for the International Crisis Group as saying. The course of Tsvangirai’s life was determined by his long political battle against Robert Mugabe, the former guerrilla leader who had run Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980 until November 2017.

Military helicopter disappears off Taiwan east coast

Taipei: A military helicopter with six people on board was missing after taking off from Orquideas island, east of Taiwan, the Interior Ministry said on Tuesday.  The US-made “Black Hawk” helicopter was an emergency medical flight and is feared to have crashed in the Pacific Ocean on Monday night, reports Efe news.

The helicopter arrived at Orquideas from the city of Taitung, located in the southeast of Taiwan, at 11.09 p.m., and took off at 11.48 p.m., but lost contact three minutes later.  Witnesses, including relatives of some of those on board, said the helicopter took off and suddenly fell into the sea, according to local media reports.  Rescue operations were ongoing.

Donald Trump slams Britain’s health service; UK hits back

London: US President Donald Trump has attacked Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), claiming it is “going broke and not working.” The US President hit out on Twitter on Monday, minutes after a segment aired on Fox News that highlighted winter strains on the UK health care system, CNN reported. Trump accused the Democrats of pushing a similar universal health care system for the US.

“The Democrats are pushing for Universal HealthCare while thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U system is going broke and not working. Dems want to greatly raise taxes for really bad and non-personal medical care. No thanks,” Trump wrote. Trump drew swift condemnation from Britain’s Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has been under fire for the government’s handling of a winter health crisis that prompted a protest march in London at the weekend.

Tweeting back at the President, Hunt said he was “proud” of Britain’s universal coverage, which allows patients free health care at the point of access. “I may disagree with claims made on that march but not ONE of them wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover,” he tweeted, referring to the 28 million people in the US who lack health insurance.

“NHS may have challenges but I’m proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage — where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance.” Asked about Trump’s comments, a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “proud” of Britain’s health care system.

“The prime minister is proud of having an NHS that is free at the point of delivery,” the spokesperson said, adding that NHS funding is “at a record high” and was prioritized in the fall budget with an extra 2.8 billion pounds (about $3.9 billion). Trump, whose relationship with Britain and May has been punctuated by Twitter tussles, was also criticised by opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“People were marching because we love our NHS and hate what the Tories are doing to it,” Corbyn said, using a colloquialism for the Conservative Party. “Health care is a human right.” NHS funding is one of the most hotly contested topics in British politics and Trump’s comments highlight a sensitive subject in the UK — how to maintain universal access to health care at a time of rising costs and demand.

Maldives’ top judge arrested as state of emergency declared

Male: The Maldives’ top judge was arrested today as security forces stormed the Supreme Court at dawn, in a deepening confrontation with President Abdulla Yameen who has declared a state of emergency in the troubled honeymoon islands.

The detention of Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another Supreme Court judge raised the stakes in a dramatic clash after Yameen refused to comply with an order to release nine political dissidents. Police said both men were under investigation for corruption and that the court’s top administrator had also been detained.

Yameen has presided over an escalating crackdown on dissent that has battered the image of the upmarket holiday paradise, and left almost all the political opposition jailed since he came to power in 2013. Yesterday he even ordered the arrest of his estranged half-brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had sided with the main opposition.

Maldives President declares state of emergency
The 80-year-old — president for 30 years until the country’s first democratic elections in 2008 — was taken from his home in the capital Male around midnight on Monday, according to a tweet from his daughter Yumna Maumoon. “I have not done anything to be arrested,” Gayoom said in a video message to supporters posted on Twitter.

“I urge you to remain steadfast in your resolve too. We will not give up on the reform work we are doing.” Heavily armed troops and police special operations units stormed the Supreme Court in the early hours, the court said on Twitter, as police used pepper spray to disperse hundreds of people gathered outside.

The court’s shock move in support of the political dissidents on Thursday also included an order for the government to restore the seats of 12 legislators sacked for defecting from Yameen’s party. The opposition now has the majority in the assembly — meaning they could potentially impeach the president. But the government, which has ordered police and troops to resist any attempt to arrest or impeach Yameen, said the court was not above the law.

“The Supreme Court ruling stands in defiance of the highest authority in the country: the constitution,” spokesman Ibrahim Hussain Shihab said in a statement. “The Supreme Court must remember that it too is bound by law.” He said the government would “facilitate calm” and ensure the safety of all citizens and tourists “throughout this unusual period”.

The court’s decision also paved the way for exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed — the nation’s first democratically elected leader who was controversially convicted of terrorism in 2015 — to run for president this year. Yameen, who has faced several unsuccessful opposition attempts to impeach him for alleged corruption, responded by shuttering parliament and on Monday his administration announced a 15-day state of emergency.

“The reason for the declaration is that the Supreme Court’s ruling was obstructing the functioning of the government,” presidential aide Azima Shukoor said on national television. The declaration gives sweeping powers to security forces to arrest and detain individuals, curtails the powers of the judiciary and bars parliament from impeaching Yameen.   But it must be officially conveyed to parliament within two days, according to officials.

Nasheed, who has expressed fears of unrest, said the declaration amounted to martial law, while an opposition legislator called it a “desperate move”. “(This) is tantamount to a declaration of martial law in the Maldives,” Nasheed said, urging regional super power India to intervene. Opposition legislators have also called on the international community to pressure Yameen.

Supreme Court over-stepped its power, says Maldives President

Male  : The political crisis in the Maldives deepened on Monday, as the president of the island nation said the Supreme Court had overstepped its authority in ordering the release of a group of imprisoned opposition leaders.

The surprise judicial ruling last week has led to an increasingly tense standoff between President Yameen Abdul Gayoom and the Supreme Court, with protests spilling into the streets of the capital, Male, and soldiers in riot gear deployed to the parliament building to stop lawmakers from meeting. Yameen, in a letter to the court released by his office, said the order had encroached on the powers of the state and was an “infringement of national security and public interest.” He urged the court to “review the concerns” of the government. Earlier, Legal Affairs Minister Azima Shakoor said that “the government does not believe that the Supreme Court ruling to release the political prisoners can be enforced.”

Officials say the court has not properly responded to a series of letters citing problems with implementing the order, including that the cases against the political prisoners are at different legal stages. A Supreme Court statement on Sunday said “there are no obstacles in implementing the ruling … and that this has been informed to the Prosecutor General’s office.” There was no immediate comment from Yameen’s main rival, exiled former President Mohammed Nasheed, who is among the prisoners ordered freed, report AP. The Supreme Court ruled that the political leaders’ guilty verdicts had been politically influenced.

The ruling has led to protests by opposition supporters urging the government to obey the order. Clashes erupted between police and the political opponents on Thursday and Friday.

Soldiers surrounded the parliament building over the weekend to stop lawmakers from entering. The United Nations and several foreign governments, including the United States, have urged the Maldives to respect the court order. Nasheed has been living in exile in Britain since 2016 after being given asylum when he traveled there on medical leave from prison.

China asks its citizens not to travel to Maldives

Beijing :  China on Monday warned its citizens not to tavel to the Maldives for holidays due to the political turmoil there, in a setback to beleaguered President Abdulla Yameen whose country’s economy relies heavily on Chinese tourists.

The Maldives has plunged into political crisis as the Supreme Court on Sunday asked Yameen to comply with its order to release political prisoners and reinstate dissident lawmakers.

This led to a tense standoff as Yameen, reports PTI.

“China is closely following the developments in the Maldives,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told media here asking the Maldivian government and the political parties to resolve differences through dialogue while maintaining national stability and social order. He, however, declined to join the calls by the United Nations, the US and India asking Yameen who is widely regarded as pro-China to implement the Supreme Court order. “What happened in the Maldives is Maldives’ internal affair. China supports the relevant parties in the Maldives to properly resolve their differences through dialogue and consultation and maintain national stability and social order,” he said.

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