Sunday, September 13, 2020

Death toll rises to 11, over 20 still missing in Central Nepal landslide

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Kathmandu [Nepal], September 13 (ANI): Death toll in Sindhupalchowk District of Central Nepal has risen to 11 while 20 are reported missing after landslide triggered by incessant rainfall over-night swept residential area.

Preliminary report of Police stated that a total of 11 houses were swept by t
he landslide.

"A total of 7 houses were swept by a landslide in Nagpuje, 2 in Virkharka and 2 in Newar Tole. As per our report a total of 31 people were in those house before it was swept overnight, out of them we have recovered bodies of 11 people, 20 are still unaccounted for," Information Officer at District Police Office Prakash Sapkota told ANI over the phone.

Police have established the identity of those dead in the latest round of calamity that has struck the district. Earlier in 2015, hundreds of people lost their lives due to the massive earthquake which laid some of its epicentres in the district.

"We recovered one body nearly 8 kilometres down, the Sunkoshi River this afternoon," Sapkota added.

Search and rescuers had struggled throughout the day to find the missing ones hoping for lives under the debris. Along with search, assessment of the damage caused by the landslide result of downpour is being conducted simultaneously.

"A total of 3 residents of Virkharka Tole, 16 of Nagpuje and One of Newar Tole is missing. It is assumed that a big mound of soil triggered the landslide. It has reached up to the Bhotekoshi River which lies around 700 meters down from the site of impact," Superintendent of Police, Sindhupalchowk Rajan Adhikari said.

The Nepal Army, Nepal Police and Armed Police Force have been undertaking search operation with the help of locals. As the impact of the landslide has been seen up to riverine down, a search operation is being conducted in the river. (ANI)

Afghan govt remains grateful to India's commitment, solidarity with Afghanistan: Acting FM

Foreign Minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar. (Photo: ANI)

Kabul [Afganistan], September 13 (ANI): The Afghan government remains grateful to India's commitment and solidarity with Afghanistan, the country's acting Foreign Minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar.

Taking to Twitter, Atmar appreciated External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar for reaffirming India's suppo
rt for peace and to the people of Afghanistan.

"My sincere appreciation to EAM @DrSJaishankar and @MEAIndia for reaffirming India's support for peace and the free will of the Afghan people. We profoundly remain grateful to India's commitment and solidarity with Afghanistan," Atmar tweeted.

Atmar's appreciation for India comes when the peace talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban have opened in Qatar's capital Doha to end the decades of war that has killed ten of thousands.

Jaishankar on Saturday participated during the opening ceremony of Afghan peace negotiations in Doha through video conferencing and reiterated that the peace process should be Afghan-led and ensure the interests of minorities and women.

He said Afghan soil should never be used for carrying out anti-India activities and supported the need for an immediate ceasefire in order to establish long-lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Taking to his Twitter, the External Affairs Minister said, "Addressed the conference on Afghan peace negotiations at Doha today. Conveyed that the peace process must be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled, respect national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, promote human rights and democracy, ensure the interest of minorities, women and the vulnerable and effectively address violence across the country." (ANI)

Belarusian security forces detain at least 20 people during protests in Minsk

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Minsk (Belarus), September 13 (ANI/Sputnik): Belarusian security forces have detained at least 20 people during the latest day of unsanctioned protests in central Minsk, Sputnik correspondents at the scene report on Sunday.

A large column of protesters, many waving the white-red-white flag of the Be
larusian opposition, has been moving along Independence Avenue throughout the day.

The demonstrators were accompanied by security forces, who attempted to push them back onto Independence Avenue as they sought to turn onto Victors' Avenue.

Several dozen people scattered into neighbouring courtyards, and security forces eventually cornered one group of protesters, and conducted at least 10 arrests. Both men and women were among the detainees, according to the correspondent.

At least 10 others were also detained by security forces at the intersection of Melnikaite Street and Victors' Avenue, another Sputnik correspondent reports. During the arrests, which were made after demonstrators ignored orders to disperse, some of the protesters were beaten by security forces

On Sunday, the Belarusian Interior Ministry stated that 114 protesters were detained across the country during Saturday's demonstrations.

A sustained protest movement has swept through Belarus since the August 9 presidential election, which saw incumbent Alexander Lukashenko win a sixth term in office. The Belarusian opposition has rejected the results of the vote. (ANI/Sputnik)

Pakistan: Suspect in motorway gang-rape case surrenders, denies involvement

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Islamabad [Pakistan], September 13 (ANI): One of the two suspects in the motorway gang-rape case, which has caused a national outcry in Pakistan, has surrendered to Punjab police on Sunday, Pakistani media reported.

The 30-year old woman was raped by two men in front of her two children on motorway 
after her car ran out of petrol on Wednesday night. The incident has resulted in national outrage and protests erupted in many parts of the country.

On Sunday, Model Town Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) Deputy Superintendent of Police Hasnain Haider said that Hassan has been taken into custody as the investigation continues. According to officials, Waqarul Hassan had been released in one of two robbery cases only 14 days ago, Dawn reported.

However, the suspect denies any involvement in the rape. Local media reported that the suspect turned himself over to police to plead his innocence.

Yesterday,Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar held a press conference alongside Law Minister Raja Basharat, Information Minister Fayyazul Hasan Chohan and Inspector General of Police Inam Ghani in which he announced that the government had been able to trace the "real culprits" in the case.

"I want to inform you all, [we] have been able to identify the real culprits in this tragic incident in less than 72 hours," Buzdar told the news conference.

IGP Ghani said it was confirmed through scientific evidence that the primary suspect in the case was Abid Ali, a resident of Fort Abbas in Bahawalnagar district.

He also said police were "95-96 per cent" sure of the identity of Ali's accomplice, 37-year-old Waqarul Hassan, whose presence at the crime scene was shown by telephone data.

Protests held across Pakistan over the rape with people demanding immediate enquiry and criticising inaction of the police. The indifferent and unhelpful remarks by Lahore's police chief added fuel to the fire, according to Dawn.

CCPO Umer Sheikh on Thursday invited criticism when he pontificated that the victim had failed to take due precautions before setting off for her journey. According to the Lahore police chief's logic, the woman could have avoided being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

According to reports, Abid Ali, along with his four accomplices, had allegedly raped a woman and her 15-year-old daughter on June 15, 2013. (ANI)

Residential building collapse kills 2 people in Pakistan's Karachi

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Karachi [Pakistan], September 13 (ANI/Sputnik): At least two people were killed and 10 others got injured after a double-storey residential building collapsed on Sunday in the Pakistani city of Karachi, the media reported.

According to the Samaa broadcaster, the injured people were taken to a hospit

Rescuers arrived at the incident site and were making efforts to locate people who could be stuck under the debris, the broadcaster added. (ANI/Sputnik)

US committed to protect Afghan people's interests in Doha talks: Khalilzad

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad (File photo)

Kabul [Afghanistan], September 13 (ANI): The United States is committed to ensure that personal interests do not take precedence over the national interests during the crucial negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban in Doha, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said.

In an interview with TOLOnews in Doha, Khalilzad said a solution should be found to end the Afghan crisis, which will lead to long-lasting peace.

Asked if the intra-Afghan talks would see a breakdown, the US envoy remarked that such a development will not be acceptable for Washington.

"It is not acceptable and there is a solution to every problem, and a solution must be found. We are ready to help if the country's interests come first and personal interests do not come first. I am confident that a solution will be found and we will not allow personal interests to take precedence. This is the promise of the US to the people of Afghanistan," Khalilzad said.

He said there are some people in Afghanistan who prefer the current situation to peace with the Taliban while some are attempting to keep Washington engaged in war so that it could pay the price, according to TOLOnews.

"Some prefer the current situation rather than peace with the Taliban. For instance, within Afghanistan there are some who are trying to keep the US engaged in the war," Khalilzad said.

Earlier on Friday, Khalilzad said he is hopeful that talks between the Afghan government and Taliban will pave the way for a peace process and withdrawal of foreign troops after decades of war and insurgency.

The intra-Afghan talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban which opened in Qatar's Doha on Saturday is aimed at establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government's 21-member negotiating team was led by Masoom Stanekzai, a former intelligence chief. On the other hand, the Taliban was led by Mawlavi Abdul Hakim, the terror group's chief justice and a close aide of the group's chief Haibatullah Akhunzada, Al Jazeera reported.

Calling the beginning of intra-Afghan peace talks a "truly momentous occasion," US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo urged the Taliban and the Afghan government to "seize the opportunity", adding that Washington is ready to support the negotiations.

Peace talks were expected to take place in March but were delayed repeatedly due to a prisoner exchange agreement made as part of the deal signed between the US and Taliban in February. (ANI)

India gifts consignment of disaster relief materials to Nepal

The consignment was handed over by India's deputy envoy in Nepal, Namgya Khampa, to Chanda Chaudhary, Member of Parliament and President of the Nepal-India Women Friendship Society. (ANI)

Kathmandu [Nepal], September 13 (ANI): India on Sunday gifted to Nepal a consignment of disaster relief material including tents and plastic sheets for distribution to flood and landslide affected families in five districts of the Himalayan nation.

The consignment was handed over by India's deputy e
nvoy in Nepal, Namgya Khampa, to Chanda Chaudhary, Member of Parliament and President of the Nepal-India Women Friendship Society (NIWFS).

This gift is part of the Government of India's regular humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support to Nepal, according to India mission to Nepal.

"The relief material includes tents and plastic sheets for distribution to flood and landslide affected families in five districts of Nepal," the mission said in the statement.

"In view of the recent destruction and loss of life caused by floods and landslides the entire consignment will be distributed through NIWFS in coordination with local governments in the affected districts of Sindhupalchok, Kailali, Mahottari, Nawalparasi and Sarlahi in Provinces 2, 3, 5 and 7," it added. (ANI)

In contrast to Pakistan, China concerned about Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan

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Kabul [Afghanistan], September 13 (ANI): China is concerned about terror groups like Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan while its close ally Pakistan, in contrast, wants to see a Taliban government that will be remotely controlled by Islamabad, according to an expert in international affairs.

 the backdrop of US-Taliban peace talks, China does not want to see a Taliban government in Afghanistan as its primary concern regarding terrorism in Afghanistan is about the security of Xinjiang Province, which is home to the Uyghur Muslims, according to Habiba Ashna writing in an op-ed article for Pajhwok News Agency.

The writer says the security of Xinjiang Province is directly relevant for Beijing's 'March West' strategy which includes the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and related projects in Central Asian countries. For China, the key is to counter jihadi terrorism in this regard.

On the other hand, Pakistan's outright support to the terror groups in the region, many of which have foreign fighters and are based in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to name a few, is unlikely to help to ensure security in Xinjiang and its nearby areas of the Central Asian countries and Afghanistan.

According to Ashna, China's move of engaging Pakistan and Afghanistan on a bilateral level is seen as an attempt to ensure that Pakistan's support to jihadi terrorism does not move into Beijing and endanger any BRI project.

"From Kabul's vantage point, China is the only country that is likely to be able to keep Pakistan in check. From Pakistan's vantage point, this trilateral is useful for both optics, as well as to remain relevant in any Afghanistan-China dialogue," the author notes.

The Taliban is not seen as anti-China so far and Beijing maintained direct communication channels with it since the 1990s when the terror group was in power in Afghanistan. However, China does not hold a direct grip over the Taliban, but it is Pakistan which possesses such leverage.

Hence, a Taliban government in Afghanistan will mean a "fundamentalist Islamist theocracy" in control over a strategic territory with China having limited controls over the developments, says Ashna.

The writer states, "Combined with the US's increasing inroads in Central Asia (especially with the US's new February 2020 Central Asia Strategy), and the thawing US-Taliban relationship, this does not portend well for Chinese objectives."

In contrast, Pakistan believes that installing a Taliban government in Afghanistan will be a way to ensure its own security along its western borders and it is unlikely that it will abandon such attempts.

"While economic interests could, perhaps to a degree, enable overcoming this conundrum, the extent to which it has the potential to calibrate these opposing priorities is debatable. As such, at present, the trilateral relationship is unlikely to deliver any substantial outcome," the author notes.

The intra-Afghan talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban opened in Qatar's Doha on Saturday, which is aimed at establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan after nearly two decades of war.

The Afghan government's 21-member negotiating team was led by Masoom Stanekzai, a former intelligence chief. On the other hand, the Taliban was led by Mawlavi Abdul Hakim, the terror group's chief justice and a close aide of the group's chief Haibatullah Akhunzada, Al Jazeera reported.

Speaking at a conference on Afghan peace negotiations in Doha through video conferencing, India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that Afghan soil should never be used for carrying out anti-India activities, in an apparent reference to Pakistan. (ANI)

Russia records 5,449 COVID-19 cases in past 24 hours

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Moscow [Russia], September 13 (ANI/Sputnik): Russia has registered 5,449 COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, which brings the cumulative total to 1,062,811, the country's coronavirus response centre said on Sunday.

"Over the past 24 hours, Russia has confirmed 5,449 COVID-19 cases in 84 regions, of
 which 1,238 (23.5 per cent) have been detected actively, with people showing no clinical symptoms," the response centre said in a statement.

Moscow recorded 650 cases, St. Petersburg registered 206 cases and the Moscow region confirmed 166 new cases.

In the past 24 hours, Russia recorded 94 COVID-19 fatalities, bringing the death toll to 18,578 and 2,690 recoveries, taking the total to 876,225. (ANI/Sputnik)

UK to begin trials of lower motorway speed limit to reduce traffic emissions

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London [UK], September 13 (ANI/Xinhua): Speed limits on stretches of motorways in England will be reduced as a trial measure to reduce air pollution, Highways England announced on Saturday.

Limits on motorways are currently set at the national maximum of 70 mph (112 km/h). Under the new plan, this w
ill be reduced to 60 mph (96 km/h) along four pilot stretches of motorway by the end of this month.

It is the first time the government has planned reducing the maximum speed limit to tackle vehicle emissions.

Nitrogen dioxide released from car exhausts is a serious air pollutant, which indirectly contributes to the warming of the planet and aggravates the airways in the human respiratory system.

Over the next 12 to 15 months, Highways England, a government-owned company, will test the impact of lower speeds on localised pollution. If proven effective, the plan could remain in place and lead to speed reductions in other parts of the country.

Motorists could be hit with a 100 pound fine (128 US dollars) and three penalty points for breaching the lower limit.

"Ultimately the air-quality challenge will be solved 'at the tailpipe' by vehicle manufacturers and changes in vehicle use. Until this happens, we will continue our extensive program of pioneering research and solutions," said Ivan Le Fevre, head of Environment at Highways England.

The trial will take place on M6 junctions 6 to 7 by Witton, M1 junctions 33 to 34 by Rotherham, M602 junctions 1 to 3 by Eccles and M5 junctions 1 to 2 by Oldbury. Each stretch is up to 4.5 miles (7.24 km) long. (ANI/Xinhua)

1.77 lakh tourists visit Nepal in first 8 months of 2020, Indians top list

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Kathmandu [Nepal], September 13 (ANI): As many as 1,77,675 foreign tourists visited Nepal in the first eight months of 2020, according to data from the country's Department of Immigration (DOI).

Among the 1.77 lakh tourists, Indian travellers topped the list despite the lockdown imposed in Nepal to 
curb the COVID-19 infection.

In early January, a total of 16,800 Indians visited Nepal, 16,558 in February, 6,793 in March, two in April, seven in May, 26 in June, 41 in July and 23 in August, the DoI data said.

In January, 65,983 tourists had visited the Himalayan nation while the figures soared to 77,064 in February. The numbers came down to 34,025 in March before the enforcement of nationwide COVID-19 lockdown that month.

A total of 13 foreign nationals entered Nepal in April, out of which two were Indians, 30 in May, 100 in June, 195 in July and 265 in August. a total of 30 entered Nepal on May, 100 in June, 195 in July and 265 in August.

In August, 55 US and 42 UK nationals visited Nepal, which was the highest number for that particular month.

Last year, a total of 7,39,000 tourists had arrived in the Himalayan nation between January to August. (ANI)

US envoy to India visits Chhatarpur Temple in Delhi

US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster at the Chhatarpur Temple in New Delhi on Sunday. (Photo source: Kenneth Juster Twitter)

New Delhi [India], September 13 (ANI): US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster paid a visit to the Chhatarpur Temple in the national capital on Sunday.

The envoy posted photographs of his visit in his Twitter account and said it was great to visit the temple, which is dedicated to Goddess Katyayani, t
he sixth form of Goddess Durga.

"Great to visit the Chhatarpur Mandir in south Delhi. This is one of the largest temple complexes in the country and is dedicated to Goddess Katyayani," Juster wrote.

Also known as Shree Adya Katyayani Shaktipeeth Mandir, the Chhatarpur Temple is situated in Chhattarpur area in south Delhi. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the national capital.

The entire complex of the temple is spread over a wide area of around 70 acres.

The temple was established in 1974. (ANI)

Pak opposition leader moves court seeking daily hearings in defamation case against Imran Khan

Pakistan's opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif (File photo)

Lahore [Pakistan], September 13 (ANI): Pakistan's opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif has appealed to a sessions court, hearing his defamation suit against Prime Minister Imran Khan, to conduct daily hearings.

In a tweet on Saturday, Sharif alleged that he filed the defamation case against Khan for "hi
s blatant lies of offering him Rs 10 billion".

"In a defamation case that I filed against Imran Khan for his blatant lies of offering him Rs 10 billion, he has sought 33 deferments so far. I have petitioned the court to hear the case on daily basis. IK failed to submit his written reply to the court despite the passage of three years," he wrote.

Sharif had filed a Rs 10 billion defamation suit against Khan in 2017.

The petition, filed under Sections 4 and 9 of the Defamation Ordinance, 2002, said that Imran falsely accused Sharif of making him a financial offer for his "silence over the Panama Papers case", Geo News reported.

It stated that "the facts and circumstances giving rise to the filing of the instant suit are that since the last week of April 2017, the Defendant (Imran Khan) started uttering, spreading and resorting to the publication, communication and circulation of maliciously false, baseless and unfounded oral statements and representations against the plaintiff (Shehbaz)."

According to the suit, Khan claimed that Sharif "offered to pay a sum of (Rs 10 billion) to the defendant in exchange for his withdrawing/backing-off from, or remaining silent on the issue of the Panama Papers' case."

In April 2017, Khan had alleged that he had been made an offer in the Panama case. He made the comments while addressing a gathering at Shaukat Khanum Hospital in Lahore.

"Just imagine how much money he offered me to be silent -- Rs10 billion! If he can offer me this much money, just imagine how much he could offer to others. That is why if we do not maintain public pressure on this issue, then after two months it will be dragged to the next year," Khan was quoted by Geo News as saying.

In an interview after making the comments, Khan did not disclose the name of the person who made the offer, but said the individual was close to the Punjab Chief Minister.

Sharif had served as Punjab Chief Minister from 2013 to 2018. (ANI)

Belarusian opposition denies receiving overseas funding to organise women's protests

A women's protest in Belarus. (Photo credits: Minsk-based journalist Franak Viacorka Twitter)

Minsk [Belarus], September 13 (ANI/Sputnik): The marches of women in Belarus amid the post-election protests have not been funded from abroad, the Belarusian opposition-led Coordination Council said on Saturday.

Earlier, the Belarusian national television released a story implicating Californian-hea
dquartered IT company PandaDoc in soliciting funding from the US State Department for the opposition protests in Belarus, specifically the all-women rallies.

"The female protest movement in Belarus exists thanks to the strength, courage and political will of women in Belarus and does not receive funding from outside Belarus," the Coordination Council's female arm said in a statement.

A few PandaDoc senior staff in Belarus were arrested and faced with criminal persecution on fraud charges after CEO Mikita Mikado vowed support to the pro-opposition protests and offered assistance to officers who chose to quit the law enforcement.

Belarusian opposition initiated mass protests nationwide after a presidential election on August 9 saw incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko re-elected for a sixth term.

According to the electoral authorities, he secured over 80 per cent of the vote, but the opposition has insisted that Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, an opposition candidate, won the election.

Police cracked down on protestors during the first several days of the unrest, but have since halted the excessive use of force. More than 6,700 people were detained during the initial phase of the protest. According to the Belarusian Interior Ministry, three people died and several hundred others sustained injuries during that period, including more than 130 security officers.

The Coordination Council was established on August 14 with the goal to carry out a peaceful transition of power. (ANI/Sputnik)

Iran to soon start human trials for anti-coronavirus vaccine

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Tehran [Iran], September 13 (ANI/Xinhua): Iranian medical scientists will soon start human trials for an anti-coronavirus vaccine after the stage of animal trials has passed, official news agency IRNA reported on Saturday.

"We hope these activities will bear the desired result in order to provide be
tter preventive services for the people," Jalil Koohpayehzadeh, dean of Iran University of Medical Sciences and a member of Tehran anti-coronavirus committee, told IRNA.

As neither a working vaccine nor a specific drug has yet been produced against the COVID-19 infection, Koohpayehzadeh urged the people to strictly follow health instructions to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.

People should follow rules regarding the use of masks and social distancing and avoid gatherings and crowded places "as much as possible," he said.

Iran's confirmed COVID-19 cases hit 399,940 on Saturday, including 23,029 fatalities.

The country confirmed its first case of the virus on February 19. (ANI/Xinhua)

3 dead, dozens missing in Nepal landslide

Visuals of the spot in Nepal's Sindhupalchowk district. [Photo/ANI]

Kathmandu [Nepal], September 13 (ANI): At least three people lost their lives and more than two dozen others went missing due to a landslide in Barhabise Rural Municipality-7 of Nepal's Sindhupalchowk district last night, following heavy rainfall.

Around 20 to 25 people are missing after the landsli
de swept away nine houses at Bhirkharka area in the district, Nim Phinjo Sherpa, chairman of Barhabise Rural Municipality, was quoted as saying by Republica.

The exact details of the losses are yet to be ascertained.

"We have received information that nine houses have been destroyed. We fear that 20 to 25 people are missing. We are yet to receive the exact details of the losses," Sherpa told Republica over the phone.

He said he is currently on his way to the site.

A team of Nepal Army personnel have reached the site for the search and rescue operation. A delegation of Nepal Police personnel is expected to reach the area shortly. (ANI)

Mali's military, civil society agree to form 18-month transitional govt

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Bamako [Mali], September 13 (ANI/Sputnik): A public debate on Mali's political future among representatives of the military leaders, state officials and civil society has resulted in an agreement to form a transitional government that would rule the country for the next 18 months, Malian broadcaster Studio Tamani reported on Saturday.

"President, Vice-President, the transitional government and the National Committee (for the Salvation of the People) will serve as the authorities for this period which will last for 18 months," the debate's speaker, Moussa Camara, was quoted by the broadcaster as saying.

Negotiators have reportedly adopted a "basic law" and a "road map" for the transition period.

Colonel Assimi Goita, the head of the military-led National Committee, expressed hope that the plan would be supported by the international community, according to the report.

On August 18, a group of Malian soldiers initiated an uprising at a military base near Bamako. They demanded political reforms, a transition of power and a new general election. Rebels kidnapped several high-ranking officials, including then-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cisse.

Keita subsequently announced the resignation of the government and dissolved the parliament.

The restive military set up the National Committee for the Salvation of the People and announced the plan to form a transitional government until a new election is held. (ANI/Sputnik)

Death toll from devastating US West Coast wildfires approaching 30

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Washington [US], September 13 (ANI/Sputnik): Nearly 30 people have been killed and dozens of others remain missing amid unprecedented wildfires on the US West Coast, NBC reports.

"There are going to be a number of fatalities, folks who just couldn't get warning in time and evacuate their homes and g
et to safety," Oregon Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps told MSNBC, warning of a "mass fatality incident."

Tens of thousands of people in California, Oregon and Washington have been forced to evacuate amid the wildfires, NBC said on Saturday. In Oregon, the death toll from the fires currently stands at eight; in Washington, a 1-year-old boy was reported to have died in a fire.

According to the Saturday report from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), a total of 19 people have been killed by wildfires in the state so far.

"Over 16,000 firefighters continue working to gain containment on the 28 major wildfires across California," Cal Fire said on Saturday, adding that "since the beginning of the year, wildfires have burned over 3.2 million acres in California, which is larger than the State of Connecticut" and have destroyed over 4,000 structures.

Five of California's current wildfires are in the state's top 10. The North Complex Fire has become the largest wildfire in state history and California is also struggling with the third largest and fourth largest fires in its history.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a Twitter statement on Saturday that US President Donald Trump was going to visit California on Monday, to get briefed on the wildfire situation. (ANI/Sputnik)

US, Cyprus sign MoU for new training centre on border security

US Secreatry of State Michael Pompeo with Cyprus President Anastasiades. (Photo credit: Michael Pompeo official twitter)

Washington [US], September 13 (ANI):
The United States and Cyprus have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to construct a new training centre which will provide expertise for the rest of the region on border security and nonproliferation, said Michael Pompeo, State Department Secretary on Sat
urday (local time).

Following the meeting with Cyprus President Anastasiades, Pompeo tweeted, "Fantastic to see Cyprus President Anastasiades today in Nicosia. The Republic of Cyprus is a key partner in the Eastern Mediterranean and we are committed to deepening our bilateral relationship."

According to a press statement issued by the State Department, "Today the foreign minister and I just signed an MoU to create a new training center to be funded by the United States and built here in Cyprus. It will provide expertise for the rest of the region on border security and nonproliferation. It will be known as the Cyprus Center for Land, Open-seas, and Port Security, or CYCLOPS," Pompeo said as quoted in a Saturday release from the US State Department."

Pompeo further said that the US will continue to support a comprehensive settlement to reunify the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation which would benefit all Cypriots as well as the wider region. (ANI)

Louisiana Governor declares emergency as state prepares for Tropical Storm Sally

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Washington [US], September 13 (ANI/Sputnik): Louisiana Governor John Bel has declared a state of emergency as Tropical Storm Sally moved into the Gulf of Mexico.

"Today, I declared a State of Emergency in advance of Tropical Storm Sally, which is forecast to strengthen to a hurricane that could impa
ct Louisiana as early as Monday morning," Bel wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

"This, when combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, can make us all weary. I implore Louisianans to take their preparations seriously," the governor added in a separate tweet.

Tropical Storm Sally brought heavy rain and winds to Florida on Saturday.

According to the US National Hurricane Center, Sally will strengthen to a hurricane by Monday afternoon, but will weaken back to a tropical storm while moving inland over Louisiana and Mississippi on Wednesday. (ANI/Sputnik)

US, UAE sign agreement for enhanced consular privileges and immunities

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Washington [US], September 13 (ANI): The United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Saturday (local time) signed an consular-privileges-and-immunities-agreement">Enhanced Consular Privileges and Immunities Agreement providing protection to Emirati and American consular staff serving their citizens in both countries.

According to an official statement issued by the US Department of State, this agreement will boost the ability of consular staff to protect the interests of citizens and advance national interests.

"The United States and the United Arab Emirates signed an consular-privileges-and-immunities-agreement">Enhanced Consular Privileges and Immunities Agreement which will provide enhanced protections to Emirati and American consular staff serving their citizens in both countries. This agreement will strengthen the ability of consular staff to protect the interests of citizens and advance national interests, and is a testament to the value that the United States and the UAE place on the safety and morale of their consular teams," read the statement.

It further said, "The UAE continues to be an important strategic partner in maintaining stability in the Gulf, protecting American interests in the Middle East, and ensuring the free flow of commerce throughout the Gulf region."

"We are grateful for the strong bilateral partnership we continue to have with the UAE and look forward to future initiatives," the State Department added. (ANI)

Fresh clashes between Taliban, Afghan army result in multiple casualties

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Kabul [Afghanistan], September 13 (ANI/Sputnik): Clashes between the Afghan army and the Taliban in the country's southern province of Kandahar and eastern province of Nangarhar have left at least six insurgents killed and many others injured, a Sputnik correspondent reported on Saturday, citing officials.

"This morning, the Taliban attacked a number of security checkpoints in the Maiwand district [Kandahar province]," Khwaja Yahya Alawi, a spokesman for the 205th Atal Corps, said.

The attack was repelled by the Afghan air force, with the airstrikes killing six Taliban insurgents and injuring three others, according to the military official.

Some of the Taliban's equipment was also destroyed, he added.

In a separate clash in the Zojan Qala area of the Sherzad district of Nangarhar, a clash between the army and insurgents left at least 13 casualties on the Taliban's part, including nine Pakistanis, Attallah Khogyani, the governor's spokesman, said.

The Taliban have not yet commented on the matter. (ANI/Sputnik)

EU welcomes establishment of diplomatic relations between Bahrain, Israel

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Brussels [Belgium], September 13 (ANI/Sputnik): The European Union welcomed on Saturday the US-brokered establishment of diplomatic relations between Bahrain and Israel on the heels of an analogous Israel-UAE agreement, stressing its continuous commitment to promote the UN-championed two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Friday, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain officially agreed to recognise the State of Israel in a trilateral phone conversation with US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The EU welcomes the announced establishment of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Bahrain and Israel," the statement, released by the European Council, read.

Brussels acknowledged the role of the United States in facilitating this and a similar landmark agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, describing it as a "positive contribution to peace and stability in the Middle East."

"The EU recalls its Declaration of 15 August 2020 and its longstanding position that a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict requires a regional inclusive approach and engagement with both parties. In this regard, the EU remains firm in its commitment to a negotiated and viable two-state solution built upon the internationally agreed parameters," the statement added.

The European Union reasserted its readiness to support Israel and Palestine in their efforts to resume "meaningful negotiations on all final status issues."

Bahrain became the fourth Arab country to recognise Israel. The first two were Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

On August 13, Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalise ties, which among other things entailed Israel giving up its annexation plans in the West Bank. The two countries are planning to sign a variety of agreements for cooperation in investments, tourism, security and other areas in the coming weeks. The US expects other countries of the region to follow the lead.

Palestine has called on fellow Arab nations to reconsider recognising Israel, which, in turn, has not recognised the Palestinian state.

The United Nations stands by the so-called two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which means a peaceful coexistence of two sovereign states within mutually acceptable borders. (ANI/Sputnik)

US urges for international order to address tensions in South China Sea at ASEAN Regional Forum ministerial meet

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Washington [US], September 13 (ANI): US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun-led delegation at the 27th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Ministerial Meeting discussed the importance of the international rules-based order in addressing increasing tensions and militarisation in the South China Sea.

he delegation also discussed the need for unhindered humanitarian access and the cessation of violence in Rakhine State, concern over the erosion of autonomy and human rights in Hong Kong, and the US support for a path to lasting peace in the Korean Peninsula.

The meeting was attended by Foreign Ministers of the 26 ARF participating countries, including the DPRK, as well as the EU High Commissioner.

US Department of State Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said, "Deputy Secretary Biegun was joined by several foreign ministers in underscoring the importance of the international rules-based order in addressing increasing tensions and militarisation in the South China Sea, the need for unhindered humanitarian access and the cessation of violence in Rakhine State, concern over the erosion of autonomy and human rights in Hong Kong, and the US support for a path to lasting peace in the Korean Peninsula."

She further said that the Deputy joined other ARF participants in expressing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic's impact and the need for a well-coordinated regional response and an affordable vaccine.

"The Deputy called for timely and transparent information exchange and highlighted the USD20.5 billion that the US government has allocated for the development of vaccines and therapeutics, preparedness efforts, and other foreign assistance," Ortagus said.

During the meeting, Biegun also highlighted the beginning of the Mekong-US Partnership and announced more than USD150 million in additional funding to combat transnational criminal activity in the Mekong, including the trafficking of persons, drugs, wildlife, and natural resources.

"The Deputy also recognised the powerful role of women as peacemakers and leaders and championed the US commitment to advance the global Women, Peace, and Security agenda. Deputy Secretary Biegun highlighted USAID's support to ASEAN in developing the ASEAN Plan of Action to implement its Women, Peace, and Security agenda," Ortagus added. (ANI)

Trump to visit fire-engulfed California on Monday: White House

US President Donald Trump

Washington [US], September 13 (ANI/Sputnik): US President Donald Trump will pay a visit to the US west coast state of California, where devastating wildfires have been raging for close to a month now, Judd Deere, the White House's deputy press secretary, said on Saturday.

"President @realDonaldTrump
 will visit California on Monday where he will be briefed on the state's wildfires," Deere said on Twitter.

The spokesman added a link to a report of the Fox 11 local broadcaster, which said that Trump would visit the McClellan Park in Sacramento County, where the local fire fighting forces headquartered throughout the disaster, to meet with local and federal fire and emergency officials.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, five of the 20 largest wildfires in California's history were registered this year. The state is currently struggling with several hundred blazes. Some 5,000 square miles of land burnt out and over 6,300 buildings were destroyed as a result.

The death toll from fires in California has reached 19 people. (ANI/Sputnik)

American Express commits more than USD 200 million to help get customers shopping small with its largest-ever global Shop Small campaign

American Express

New Delhi [India] September 12 (ANI/BusinessWire India): American Express, which has a long history of backing small businesses, announces the launch of its largest-ever global Shop Small campaign, which includes a commitment of more than USD 200 million to help jumpstart spending at small merchants, many of which were impacted by COVID-19.

To encourage consumers to Shop Small, American Express is offering Rs 300 cashback for the enrolled India Card members after they spend Rs 1,500 or more at any eligible small merchant when they shop in-store, up to five times beginning now till November 30, 2020.

In India, the Shop Small campaign covers small and medium-sized merchants across Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru covering retail shops, healthcare services, restaurants, and hotels.

American Express has also made it easier for its card members to locate small merchants that are open for in-store purchases in their vicinity through a Shop Small Map.

As part of the Shop Small campaign, American Express is providing Merchant Recovery Kits to small businesses with a range of Shop Small POP, social distancing materials, and hygiene supplies such as hand sanitizer sprays, masks, and face shields to help them maintain in-store hygiene and re-start their business with confidence while ensuring the safety of their customers.

"Small businesses are the backbone of the Indian economy and have been impacted the most during the pandemic. Through our Shop Small initiative, we are reinforcing our long-standing commitment to supporting small businesses by bringing them closer in the safest possible way to the consumers and providing them the required resources to revive their business with confidence," said Manoj Adlakha, SVP and CEO, American Express Banking Corp India about the launch.

To support small merchants with the reopening, American Express has also created an online hub 'All for Small' which will host turnkey marketing tools, expert insights, and advice, special savings on curated solutions to help them market their business and other resources.

For this, American Express has partnered with Google, Facebook, Amazon, and PayPal amongst others to provide online marketing tutorials and tools.

"The pandemic has changed the way all of us live, eat, and shop. Shop Small by American Express is a welcome initiative as it encourages us to get back to our lives and livelihoods and also ensures that small shops are supported. We, at Retailers Association of India, believe that these kinds of initiatives help in bringing back the cheer to one of the largest growing economies of the world," said Kumar Rajagopalan, Chief Executive Officer, Retailers Association of India.

American Express has backed its merchants during the unprecedented pandemic through a slew of measures:

(i) Increased communication to help them accelerate their digital journey and manage financial information

(ii) Providing recovery support by conducting sanitization drives at the offline shops

(iii) Growth support through the Shop Small campaign and

(iv) Extending dispute response time for merchants to 30 days between March 1, 2020, and June 30, 2020.

This story is provided by BusinessWire India. ANI will not be responsible in any way for the content of this article. (ANI/BusinessWire India)

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