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India’s energy muscle helps Petronet get better Qatar gas deal | Reuters

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Box Office: ‘Star Wars’ crosses $1 billion globally at record pace | Reuters

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Russia and India cement ties with energy and defence deals | Reuters

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India approves conversion of ONGC loan to unit into equity | Reuters

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Mourinho sacked as Chelsea manager | Reuters

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Maruti wins shareholder approval for Gujarat plant | Reuters

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How Sirajuddin brainwashed girl from Pune

The probe has also revealed that out of the 150 members who formed the core ISIS group on Telegram app, at least six, including Sirajuddin, reside in India.

The reclusive Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) polymer wing marketing manager, Mohd Sirajuddin, who never connected with even his neighbours in the multi-storeyed apartment where he lived in Jaipur, had brainwashed a girl and a woman from India and South America respectively into becoming suicide bombers.Ongoing police investigations and Sirajuddin’s sustained grilling have revealed that he had brainwashed a 16-year-old school girl from Pune and a young woman in Argentina into becoming suicide bombers for the ISIS.The duo formed seminal part of the 150-odd core group members from across the world who were connected actively with the IOC manager over the online application Telegram.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Both, the Argentine woman who converted from Christianity to Islam a few years ago and the school girl from Pune were in constant touch with Sirajuddin over phone as well. They had been brainwashed to the extent that both of them were readying selves for training abroad to become suicide bombers, who would wreak havoc on selected targets anywhere in the world, state police sources in the know of the investigations confided to dna.The probe has also revealed that out of the 150 members who formed the core ISIS group on Telegram app, at least six, including Sirajuddin, reside in India.Besides the Pune girl, two young working professionals hailing from Jammu and Kashmir, a youngster based in national capital Delhi and a youth from South India were among the Indians featuring in the core group.Sirajuddin, who in the past had spurned an offer by ISIS elements to go to Fiji with other members of his group for some major plans, was offered to travel to Libya along with his close channel members for some big task, sources added.The IOC marketing manager’s grilling has also revealed that he was in constant touch with a United Arab Emirates woman (an office executive in health sector) over phone and used to discuss with her several plans, including fund raising and recruitment. The woman who had honey-trapped Sirajuddin over a popular social media platform has already been grilled by anti-terror agencies after being brought to Hyderabad.Investigations have also brought to the fore that right from his engineering education days in Suratkal (Karnataka) and Coimbatore he was inclined to extremist ideology, particularly owing to growing US intervention in affairs of Muslim nations and also happenings in Kashmir.His quizzing has revealed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is among the four global enemies for ISIS members and sympathisers. The other three ISIS adversaries include US president Barack Obama, Israeli premier Benjamin Netantyahu and Iranian supreme leader Sayyed Ali Khamenei.The ISIS propagators indoctrinate among their followers on how to conquer three parts of the world, the battleground (including Syria and Iraq and adjoining neighbourhood where they were engaged in bloody battle for supremacy now), the entire west which is now fighting against them and the entire Indian sub-continent, which in the past was ruled by Muslim rulers.

Mahindra close to purchase of Italian car designer Pininfarina – sources | Reuters

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India, Japan close in on military pacts as Abe visits | Reuters

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GMR Group plans to raise $1 bln as it eyes turnaround | Reuters

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Prospects for India’s landmark tax reform brighten as panel backs lower rate | Reuters

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Volkswagen Group to recall 323,700 diesel cars in India | Reuters

NEW DELHI Volkswagen’s Indian unit will recall 323,700 diesel cars after a government investigation found it had flouted local pollution limits, the latest blow to a company that has admitted to cheating emission tests.

Volkswagen Group India will recall cars from Volkswagen, Skoda and Audi brands across various models equipped with the EA 189 engines, it said in a statement late on Tuesday.

In November, India found cars made by Volkswagen’s local business had surpassed nitrogen oxide emissions limits, with significantly higher variations in some Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars.

The findings came two months after the carmaker admitted to cheating U.S. diesel emissions tests and said that up to about 11 million vehicles worldwide could be affected.

The emissions scandal is the biggest business crisis in the carmaker’s 78-year history. It is facing slowing orders for new cars, its labour boss said, with consumers shunning purchases after news of the cheating broke in September.

To fix the issue in India, Volkswagen said it will update the software carried in EA 189 engines after getting an approval from the ministry of heavy industries and testing agency, the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI).

Ambuj Sharma, additional secretary in the ministry of heavy industries, said the voluntary recall would begin this month.

In the wake of the scandal, India will, over the next six months, test diesel vehicles manufactured by all other carmakers to assess if the problem is industry-wide, Sharma said.

Volkswagen sold 26,479 vehicles between April and October giving it less than 2 percent share of the passenger vehicle market, industry data showed, lagging carmakers such as Toyota Motor Corp, Ford and Maruti Suzuki.

(Reporting by Aditi Shah; editing by David Clarke)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Exclusive: Shire prepares to make new bid for Baxalta – source | Reuters

ZURICH/LONDON Drugmaker Shire (SHP.L) is preparing to make a new takeover offer for U.S. biotech firm Baxalta (BXLT.N) that if successful will create one of the world’s leading specialists in rare diseases, a source with direct knowledge of the situation said on Tuesday.

The London-listed group has asked its advisers to renew its bid effort, the source said, almost four months after Baxalta rejected an unsolicited $30 billion offer that it said significantly undervalued the company.

Shire’s bid preparations come three weeks after it announced its $5.9 billion purchase of U.S. rare disease specialist Dyax Corp (DYAX.O).

Shire is working with Morgan Stanley (MS.N), Evercore (EVR.N) and Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) on the offer which could be structured in cash and shares, the source said, cautioning that no deal was certain and negotiations could still fall through.

Spokesmen at Shire and Baxalta had no immediate comment. Morgan Stanley, Evercore and Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

Baxalta, which has a market capitalisation of $22.7 billion, would help complement Shire’s growing portfolio of high-priced treatments for rare or “orphan” diseases.

On Aug. 3 Shire valued each Baxalta share at $45.23. Its share price has dropped more than 26 percent since then, and was trading around $33 at 2000 GMT on Tuesday.

If it goes ahead, the deal will create a rare diseases company with product sales of around $20 billion by 2020 and double-digit percent annual sales growth.

Shire Chief Executive Flemming Ornskov has relentlessly pursued a merger with Baxalta for the past six months, the source said. 

“He’s never given up,” the source said, adding that Shire is keen to buy Baxalta to deliver on its goal of doubling its revenue in the next few years. On Nov. 2 Ornskov said the acquisition of Dyax had not compromised Shire’s ability to pursue a bid for Baxalta.

“Even with this transaction, we will continue to have the financial firepower to pursue other value-added strategic acquisitions, including Baxalta,” he said at the time.

Baxalta, advised by Goldman Sachs, said Shire’s bid did not reflect its potential as a newly listed company which expects its shares to rise as it becomes better known. The biotech firm was spun off by Baxter International (BAX.N) in July.

Baxalta develops biotech treatments for rare blood conditions, cancers and immune system disorders. It employs 16,000 people and had proforma revenue of $6 billion in 2014.

The transaction, however, faces several hurdles mainly due to Baxalta’s state-of-the-art takeover defences, with a “poison pill” that effectively stops unwanted suitors buying more than 10 percent of the company and a hard-to-replace board.

(Additional reporting by Carl O’Donnell in New York and Paul Sandle in London; editing by Susan Thomas)

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Nuclear club eyes Indian inclusion, but risks Pakistan’s ire | Reuters

NEW DELHI Diplomats have quietly launched a new push to induct India into a club of nuclear trading nations, but rather than increasing stability in South Asia, the move could escalate strains with rival Pakistan.

The chairman of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) visited New Delhi recently to meet Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj as part of a diplomatic “outreach” that seeks to build a consensus to admit India at its annual meeting next June.

Membership of the 48-nation club would bring India into the nuclear fold 41 years after it tested its first nuclear bomb, and give the nation of 1.25 billion a vested interest in curbing the world’s most dangerous regional arms race.

“It’s a very delicate process, but I think there is less and less justification for the impasse,” Rafael Grossi, the Argentinian ambassador to Vienna who heads the NSG, told Reuters in an interview.

Yet there are doubts. For one, India has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, which seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

And Pakistan, an ally of China, also aspires to join the NSG. With a history as a proliferator, Pakistan’s accession would be a tough sell.

Because the NSG operates by consensus, admitting India alone would mean it could then bar its western neighbour from the club, potentially pushing Pakistan further to the fringes.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has been testing missiles that can reach all of India, and very short-range missiles that it insists could be used only if Indian troops cross onto Pakistani soil.

A seat at the NSG would strengthen India’s geopolitical clout and help it capitalise on nuclear trade and technology transfer opportunities, while also raising concern in Pakistan.

“India has a nuclear deal with the U.S., with France, it will soon have deals with Australia and Japan. So all this will of course complement its effort to get into NSG,” said a senior Pakistani security official with knowledge of nuclear issues.

“But people don’t understand that India will use all this additional fuel (through civil nuclear deals) to make energy and have a lot more left over to use to make weapons.

“So at the end of it, the need for even more deterrence from our side will grow, not decrease.”

UPPER HAND

Pakistan sees a nuclear lead as vital insurance against possible aggression by its larger neighbour, and it appears to be gaining the upper hand over India in the nuclear contest.

Analysts Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon estimate Pakistan is producing 20 nuclear warheads a year to India’s five.

Yet defending that lead is a “losing proposition” that imposes huge costs on Pakistan’s economy and strains its social fabric, they said.

In a report for the Carnegie and Stimson think tanks, Dalton and Krepon argued Pakistan should abandon its goal of “full-spectrum” deterrence against India and satisfy itself with “strategic” deterrence, or the ability to launch an effective counter-strike in the event of an attack.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence and partition in 1947, two over Kashmir. Their disputed frontier is one of the world’s most heavily militarised regions. Border clashes and incursions pose a constant risk of escalation.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on specific discussions over Pakistan, but an official said Washington had not entered into talks on a civil nuclear pact with it. Nor was it seeking a waiver for Pakistan to trade with the NSG.

The United States was continuing to integrate India into the “global non-proliferation mainstream”, this official also said, adding that Washington supported India’s membership in the four multilateral export control regimes. One of those is the NSG.

COMFORT LEVEL

India’s long road to nuclear legitimacy began with a bilateral deal with the United States in 2005 that, three years later, yielded an exemption allowing it to trade in sensitive nuclear technology with NSG nations.

New Delhi expressed its interest in 2010 in formally joining the nuclear club.

But India’s lobbying has met with scepticism from European countries like Austria and Switzerland, who have questioned its refusal to sign the NPT and give up nuclear weapons.

Indian negotiators now detect a change of tone, and are focusing on winning over European sceptics. That, in turn, could bring round China, they calculate.

“We are optimistic; there is a desire within the NSG to bring this process to a conclusion sooner rather than later,” one Indian diplomat told Reuters. “People are comfortable with India.”

Despite two summit meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing has yet to signal its assent and may not agree, analysts caution.

Despite those concerns, India is upbeat: “France joined the NSG before ratifying the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” said the Indian diplomat.

“It’s not about arms controls. It’s about export controls.”

(Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra Malik in Islamabad, Idrees Ali in Washington and Adam Rose in Beijing; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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Three generations in three decades: 29-year-old woman becomes grandmother in Argentina

Buenos Aires: A 29-year-old woman in Argentina became a grandmother after her 14-year-old son became a father, the media reported.

Lucia Desiree Pastenez, a resident of San Rafael city in Argentina’s Mendoza state, described her young son as an upstanding father, Xinhua reported on Friday.

Representational image. Image courtesy: ibnliveRepresentational image. Image courtesy: ibnlive

Representational image. Image courtesy: ibnlive

“He continues to go to secondary school… he takes care of his son as he has family values,” Pastenez was quoted as saying.

“There are older fathers that do not take responsibility and abandon their babies.”

The mother of four said she does not interfere in her son’s relationship with the mother of his child.

“I did not force them to get married or to stay together. The mother of my grandchild lives with her family and he lives with me.”

“We won’t stop supporting him, because we know how hard it is to go through this experience in adolescence,” said Pastenez, who said she had advised her son not to become a teenage father.

IANS

Murray key as Britain eye first final in 37 years | Reuters

LONDON Britain’s rise from embarrassing Davis Cup lightweights to title contenders has been nothing short of spectacular and they will begin slight favourites to reach a first final in 37 years against Australia on Friday.

A glance at the respective depth of the two sides contesting the semi-final would appear to question that wisdom, but with talisman Andy Murray in their ranks and an expected vociferous crowd in Glasgow, the momentum is with the hosts.

While Britain claimed the last of their nine titles in 1936, Belgium have never won the team competition and will also approach their home semi-final against Argentina in Brussels with opportunity knocking loudly on the door.

Australia’s cause has not been helped by volatile talent Nick Kyrgios being left out after a spate of disciplinary problems, yet they still boast a line-up consisting of world number 23 Bernard Tomic, Thanasi Kokkinakis, big-serving Sam Groth and former world number one Lleyton Hewitt who is bidding for a golden finale to a career that will end in January.

Britain, though, have Murray — two of them in fact with Andy’s less-celebrated brother Jamie fresh from reaching the U.S. Open doubles final with Australian John Peers.

“If we’re being honest, if we’ve got Andy in our team then we’ve got a great chance to beat anyone,” Jamie told the ITF’s website in the build-up to the tie.

His younger brother’s contribution to Britain’s cause has been immense, building a 23-2 record in singles rubbers to steer his country out of the Davis Cup wilderness they inhabited in 2010 when they nearly dropped into the bottom division.

In July he dredged every last drop of energy to win three matches against France in the World Group quarter-finals, clinching the decisive point despite being almost on his knees against Gilles Simon at Queen’s Club.

He also won both his singles against the U.S. in round one.

But he will need help, from brother Jamie, and either Kyle Edmund or James Ward who are vying for the second singles spot.

The 20-year-old Edmund, ranked 100 in the world, suffered an injury scare this week, but is relishing a red-hot debut.

“It’ll be a great experience if I get chosen to play, but whoever plays is going to do the best for the team, for the crowd, for the country, it’s the team that matters,” he said.

Hewitt, 34, will be a formidable foe, whichever role he plays and his desire will no doubt rub off on his team mates.

“We won’t be leaving anything in the locker room, that’s for certain,” he said as 28-times champions Australia seek a first final since 2003.

Belgium will rely heavily on mercurial world number 15 David Goffin against an Argentina side featuring Leonardo Mayer as their top singles player in the continued absence of former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro.

Argentina are trying to shake-off the “nearly man” tag having lost four finals.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Toby Davis)

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Police hunt for owner of explosives after blast kills 88 | Reuters

NEW DELHI Indian police said on Sunday they were hunting for the owner of illegally stored explosives which accidentally detonated in the centre of a crowded town, killing at least 88 people.

Rajendra Kaswa has been charged with illegally storing gelatin sticks and urea, a common fertiliser, next to a restaurant and busy junction in the town of Petlawad in Madhya Pradesh, a senior police official and the divisional commissioner Sanjay Dubey said. 

“He is on the run. One of his accomplices has already been arrested. He has been charged under the Explosives Act,” Dubey told Reuters by telephone from the site of Saturday’s blast, one of the deadliest in India in recent years.

Police initially thought the accident was triggered by an exploding gas cylinder in the restaurant, which then detonated the explosives next door, but officers now believe it originated in the warehouse next to the restaurant where Kaswa stored explosive materials and chemicals.

Kaswa held a licence for the explosives but keeping them so close to a restaurant in a densely populated part of town was illegal, senior police official Seema Alava said.

At least 88 people were killed in the explosions as the multi-storey restaurant and adjacent buildings collapsed, sending debris hurtling into the streets during the morning rush hour.

Television footage showed bodies strewn across the ground amid mangled motorbikes and chunks of concrete. Police said they had since removed all the bodies from the scene.

More than 100 were injured in the blasts.

The chief minister of Madhya Pradesh arrived at the scene on Sunday where his convoy was blocked by angry locals waving black flags, the Times of India reported.

Local media have said residents previously complained about the location of the explosives but authorities failed to act.

The state government said a full probe into the explosions would be carried out, while officials from New Delhi have been dispatched to help with the investigation.

(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes and Karen Rebelo; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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Two British women killed as Kalka-Shimla toy train derails | Reuters

NEW DELHI Two British women were killed and 11 people injured on Saturday after three carriages of a tourist train derailed on its way to the Himalayan city of Shimla, a railways spokesman said.

The women were part of a group of 37 British tourists who had chartered four carriages on the Kalka-to-Shimla train, a popular heritage journey in northern India. Three of the carriages derailed about 15 minutes after setting off from Kalka at 1245 IST, said Neeraj Sharma, a spokesman for Indian Railways’ northern division.

Three of the tourists were injured seriously and are being treated in a hospital in the city of Chandigarh, Sharma said, and eight have already been discharged.

The cause of the derailment is not yet known and the railways are investigating, said Anil Saxena, a Delhi-based spokesman for the railways.

Accidents are common on India’s railways, where investment has failed to keep up with the needs of the network.

Famed for its panoramic views as it climbs more than 4,000 feet through heritage tunnels and along multi-arched bridges, the narrow-gauge 96 kilometre Kalka-to-Shimla route is a UNESCO world heritage site.

The line, known affectionately as the “toy train” line, was opened in 1903 to connect Shimla, the summer capital under British colonial rule, to the north Indian plains.

(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes, editng by Larry King)

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Fed says rate hike next month hinges on market volatility | Reuters

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. The Federal Reserve on Friday left the door open to a September interest rate hike even while several U.S. central bank officials acknowledged that turmoil in financial markets, if prolonged, could delay the first policy tightening in nearly a decade.

Some top policymakers, including Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, said recent volatility in global markets could quickly ease and possibly pave the way for the U.S. rate hike, for which investors, governments and central banks around the world are bracing.

With a key policy meeting set for Sept. 16-17, at least five Fed officials spoke publicly in what amounted to a jockeying for position on whether increasing the Fed’s benchmark overnight lending rate was too risky amid an economic slowdown in China, a rising U.S. dollar .DXY and falling commodity prices XAU= CMCU3.

“It’s early to tell,” Fischer told CNBC on the sidelines of the annual central banking conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “We’re still watching how it unfolds.” He, along with other Fed officials, acknowledged that the global equities sell-off that began last week would influence the timing of a rate hike, which until only a couple of weeks ago seemed increasingly likely to occur in September.

Concerns about China’s economy have whipsawed markets, including Wall Street, even while U.S. economic data has been robust. U.S. stock indexes ended largely unchanged, capping a week that included both the market’s worst day in four years and biggest two-day gain since the 2007-2009 financial crisis. [.N]

“I think they could settle fairly quickly,” said Fischer, a close ally of Fed Chair Janet Yellen.

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard told Reuters he still favoured hiking rates next month, though he added that his colleagues would be hesitant to do so if global markets continued to be volatile in mid-September.

The Fed’s policy committee “does not like to move right in the middle of a global financial storm,” Bullard, a Fed hawk, said in an interview. “So one of the advantages we have is that this storm is occurring now and, at least as of now, we think it will be settled down” by the September meeting.

The comments suggest the next two and a half weeks will be critical for the Fed as well as for global markets. A U.S. rate hike is expected to hit emerging market equities and currencies particularly hard, adding to the sell-offs already seen.

The American economy, however, continues to shine despite longer-term concerns about low inflation.

The U.S. government reported this week that the economy grew at a 3.7 percent annualised pace in the second quarter, sharply higher than its previous estimate, and that consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of economic activity, rose again in July.

‘HANG OUT’ AFTER A HIKE

Investors and economists have been betting the Fed would delay a policy tightening to December or later, prolonging the monetary stimulus that has kept rates at rock-bottom levels for more than six years and has pumped trillions of dollars into the global banking system.

But after Fischer spoke, traders added to bets that a rate hike would come this year, with overnight indexed swap rates implying a 35 percent chance the Fed would move in September and a 77 percent chance of a December move.

Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, a centrist who has become less resolute about a September rate hike as markets have tumbled, told Bloomberg TV that it was reasonable to see the odds of a move next month as roughly even.

One idea appearing to gain ground on Friday hinged on the Fed raising rates once or twice and then holding off until inflation started to rise to its 2 percent target. A strong dollar and lower oil prices CLc1 LCOc1 have kept a lid on prices despite an unemployment rate that is close to normal at 5.3 percent.

Bullard told Reuters the Fed could hike rates once then “hang out” at that level if inflation remains too low.

Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, another so-called hawk who, like Bullard, sometimes runs against the grain at the central bank, said the economy still could handle a modest rate hike, though she did not commit to backing a move next month.

“I want to take the time I have between now and the September meeting to evaluate all the economic information that’s come in, including recent volatility in markets and the reasons behind that,” she was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal.

The Fed decision has drawn unusually intense interest from both foreign central bankers, who will have to respond, and from Americans on both the right and left.

The conservative American Principles Project held speeches at a nearby hotel urging a prompt rate hike. Meanwhile, a floor below the main Federal Reserve conference space, the Centre for Popular Democracy hosted workers and economists calling on the Fed to keep rates low to get more Americans back to work.

The Fed needs to re-think “full employment in a way that recognise the high joblessness of black and Latino communities,” Sarita Turner of PolicyLink told about 60 advocates, noting that U.S. joblessness among blacks is twice that of whites.

Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota, a dove who wants to stand pat on rates until the second half of 2016, said in an interview China’s slowdown heightens the risk of a U.S. shock. “There’s just no reason to go now,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Jason Lange and Krista Hughes in Washington; Editing by Paul Simao and James Dalgleish)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Modi urges calm in Nepal after deadly protests | Reuters

KATHMANDU Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for calm in neighbouring Nepal on Monday, a day after at least nine people were killed during protests against a proposed new constitution.

Modi, leader of Nepal’s largest donor and trading partner, “appealed to the government, all political parties and the people of Nepal to eschew violence and maintain social harmony,” during a telephone call with Nepali Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, the Indian foreign ministry said.

The rare intervention by Modi reflected India’s concerns about unrest just over its border and fears that the new constitution, to replace the interim one in place since the end of civil war in 2006, may ignore the aspirations of some minorities.

At least nine people, including seven police officers and an 18-month-old baby, were killed during Monday’s unrest in Tikapur, close to the border with India. One officer was burned to death, the government said.

The protesters, mainly from the ethnic Tharu community, oppose a plan to include their area in a larger province, and want a separate province for the southwestern plains under the new federal constitution that is supposed to be finalised this month.

The Nepali authorities imposed a curfew and mobilised the army to quell the protests. The town remained tense but quiet on Tuesday, officials said. In Gaur, another border town 80 km (50 miles) southeast of Kathmandu, police shot dead a demonstrator as protests spread to new areas, an official said.

“The political leadership of Nepal should resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue … and arrive at solutions that reflect the will and accommodate the aspirations of all citizens,” India’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The United Nation’s human rights agency urged political leaders and protesters to find a peaceful solution before violence spirals out of control.

“We urge the government of Nepal to create a climate where minority or dissenting views or beliefs are respected, and security forces only employ force as a last resort,” Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.

So far at least 13 people have died in violence related to protests over the new constitution.

(Additional reporting and editing by Douglas Busvine in New Delhi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Yuan devaluation, China slowdown a worry – Jaitley | Reuters

NEW DELHI An expected slowdown in China’s economy and the devaluation of its yuan currency are reasons for worry, television channels quoted Finance Minister Arun Jaitley as saying on Monday after a collapse in Chinese stocks caused a global selloff.

Jaitley, who spoke after briefing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said he wanted more steps to be taken to strengthen the Indian economy but cautioned that this could not be done in the next day or two.

Earlier, Jaitley said the factors causing turmoil on India’s financial markets were external and transient.

The BSE Sensex and Nifty closed 6 percent lower on Monday and the rupee hit its lowest since an emerging markets selloff in Sept. 2013.

(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Rajapaksa’s comeback fails as Sri Lankan voters back reforms | Reuters

COLOMBO Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s attempt to stage a comeback in Sri Lanka’s general election has ended in defeat as results on Tuesday showed the alliance that toppled him making decisive gains.

The ruling United National Party (UNP) fell just short of an outright majority, but Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should still command enough support to form a stable government after eight months of minority rule.

“I invite all of you to join hands,” Wickremesinghe, 66, said in a statement. “Let us together build a civilised society, build a consensual government and create a new country.”

The outcome is a victory for President Maithripala Sirisena, who beat his former ally Rajapaksa in a presidential election in January and called an early parliamentary vote to secure a stronger mandate for reforms.

That poll triumph triggered wild street celebrations, but this time Colombo was quiet – reflecting a sense that a difficult political transition was being completed rather than marking a new beginning.

Defeat for Rajapaksa will keep Sri Lanka on a non-aligned foreign policy course and loosen its ties with China, which during his rule pumped in billions of dollars to try to turn the Indian Ocean island into a maritime outpost.

Wickremesinghe’s UNP doubled its representation to win 106 seats, final results showed, seven short of a majority in the 225-seat chamber. The alliance led by Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) took 95 seats after suffering heavy losses.

The UNP won 45.7 percent of the popular vote, ahead of 42.4 percent for Rajapaksa.

The outcome was welcomed by investors, who drove up local shares to seven-month highs on hopes that a stronger government would step up the pace of reforms and repair strained public finances.

“The policy stability created by the election result is positive and will reduce uncertainty,” said Prithviraj Srinivas, an economist at HSBC.

FAILED COMEBACK

Rajapaksa, a nationalist strongman, set his sights on becoming premier of an SLFP-led government but Sirisena, who succeeded him as party leader in January, ruled that out and purged Rajapaksa loyalists from senior posts.

A group of Sirisena followers is expected to cross the floor to join a broad-based national unity government led by Wickremesinghe, who was likely soon to be confirmed in the post.

“The UNP will have to look for coalition partners from those who support Sirisena,” said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, head of the Centre for Policy Alternatives.

With outside support, the centre-right alliance could hope to muster the two-thirds majority required to pass proposed constitutional reforms that would make government more accountable and simplify Sri Lanka’s complex election laws.

The power struggle between the past and present presidents overshadowed the election in a country with a history of political feuding that has often spilled over into violence and even the assassination of its leaders.

A backlash against Rajapaksa’s attempt to win an unprecedented third term led support to coalesce around his former health minister Sirisena, a humble figure with none of the muscular bravado of his predecessor.

The 69-year-old Rajapaksa, now expected to lead a rump parliamentary opposition, told Reuters earlier he would “support good policies and oppose bad things”.

Yet he could now be confronted with a judicial reckoning, along with two brothers who held high office, for alleged corruption and abuse of power during his decade in office. They have denied any wrongdoing.

“Mahinda has to compromise – resign from politics and parliament, and settle down as a former president – or face the legal consequences,” said a Sirisena aide, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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DLF’s quarterly profit down 5 percent | Reuters

MUMBAI DLF Ltd, India’s biggest listed property developer, reported on Thursday a 5 percent fall in quarterly profit amid a market slump due to weak economic growth.

Developers in India have been left with thousands of unsold flats and stalled projects as the absence of a sustained economic recovery, expected after Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government was elected last year, has kept home buyers away.

Years of high interest rates have also deterred home buyers and elevated borrowing costs for companies.

New Delhi-based DLF said net profit for the April to June quarter was 1.22 billion rupees, compared with 1.28 billion rupees a year ago.

Income from operations rose nearly 30 percent from a year earlier to 22.31 billion rupees. But the cost of land, plots, development rights and constructed properties also jumped an annual 30 percent in the quarter, weighing on profit.

Home sales in India’s eight major cities, including Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore, fell 4 percent to 72.3 million square feet in the quarter ended June 30 from with a year earlier, according to real estate research firm Liases Foras.

Sales in New Delhi and the surrounding region, DLF’s home market, fell 14 percent from a year earlier to 15.4 million square feet — the steepest fall among the major cities.

(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in Mumbai and Aditi Shah in New Delhi; Editing by David Goodman and Mark Potter)

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Government offers seed, diesel subsidies to farmers hit by patchy monsoon | Reuters

NEW DELHI India will offer subsidies on seeds and diesel to help farmers facing patchy monsoon rains in some key growing states, a government statement said on Wednesday.

The government, which has earmarked 1 billion rupees for diesel subsidies, will also ensure subsidised seeds are available in case farmers need to plant their crops again, the statement said after a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Monsoon rains irrigate nearly half of India’s farm lands. So far, the June-September monsoon rains have been 9 percent below a long-term average.

Fourteen states, including Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have received less than satisfactory rains this year.

Subsidies for seeds and diesel and a few other measures to help cushion the blow of poor monsoon would cost 3 billion rupees, said the statement.

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Mark Potter)

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‘Sea monster’ figurehead salvaged from Baltic Sea wreck | Reuters

AT SEA NEAR RONNEBY, Sweden A wooden figurehead of a sea monster with ears like a lion and a crocodile’s jaw was carefully lifted from the sea in southern Sweden on Tuesday by divers bringing up treasures from the wreck of a 15th-century Danish warship.

The figurehead came from the wreck of the Gribshunden, which is believed to have sunk in 1495 after it caught fire on its way from Copenhagen to Kalmar on Sweden’s east coast.

Although the hull suffered extensive damage, the remaining bits make it one of the best preserved wrecks of its kind, dating from roughly the same period as Christopher Columbus’s flagship, the Santa Maria.

“Last time it looked at the world, Leonardo da Vinci and Christopher Columbus were still living,” Johan Ronnby, professor of marine archaeology at Sodertorn University, said as the ferocious-looking figurehead, which was intended to scare the enemy, was brought to the surface.

“It’s a monster. It’s a sea monster and we have to discuss what kind of animal it is. I think it’s some kind of fantasy animal – a dragon with lion ears and crocodile-like mouth,” Ronnby said.

“I’m amazed, We knew that it should be a fantastic figure, but it was over our expectations when we saw it now. It’s a fantastic figure, unique in the world.”

Researchers are hoping to bring more of the wreck to the surface in future. They say the hulk is well preserved, because sea worms do not like the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea.

“The ship comes from a time just when Columbus was sailing across the ocean and Vasco da Gama also went to India, and this is the same period and we can learn very much about how the ships were made, how they were constructed since there are no ships left from this time,” said Marcus Sandekjer, head of the Blekinge Museum, which is involved in the salvage effort.

“It’s unique in the world and I think there are going to be more excavations around here and we’re going to find some more unique objects. But this … today is just fantastic.”

(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Larry King)

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Gajendra Chauhan to Pahlaj Nihalani: The unstoppable rise of the anti-intellectuals under Modi sarkar

By Rishi Majumder

It’s a question that’s been puzzling many for a while. Why is the government appointing individuals without much standing to the country’s leading cultural and educational positions when they have better candidates among those who endorse their politics?

For example, why has Gajendra Chauhan been appointed as Chairman of the FTII governing council and not, say, Anupam Kher? The NDA-I, for instance, had appointed Vinod Khanna, of arguably greater stature than Chauhan, to the same post.

Also, did the Indian Right Wing really not find better believers among its ranks for the chair of the Central Board of Film Certification than Pahlaj Nihalani?

In the field of history one would have to search harder for illustrious figures the Cultural Right could use to further their agenda. Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, whose body of scholarship the Right,now employs as a springboard for their ideological notions of history, died in 1980. The veteran historian might well have taken great objection to some of the distortions but the point is the Right has been hard pressed to find a historiographer of enough indisputable clout whose work they can cull for fresh ammunition.

Gajendra Chauhan and Pahlaj Nihalani. Image courtesy: IBNLiveGajendra Chauhan and Pahlaj Nihalani. Image courtesy: IBNLive

Gajendra Chauhan and Pahlaj Nihalani. Image courtesy: IBNLive

But think a minute. Is it possible that, if historians of Majumdar’s stature were alive, Yellapragada Sudershan Rao would still be chosen for Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research? Wouldn’t a historian like Majumdar be seen to have too much of a mind of his own?

As we chew on this, do please Google the credentials of the distinguished appointees mentioned above. The problems sane questioners had with their exaltations have been documented well enough, across diverse media, for one not to have to raise them again.

Do also keep in mind that these appointments are only a few of those that have occurred, and are likely to occur, in the institutions mentioned above as well as others. For more, see here.

The relevant question— Why?

One reason could be found in a thesis put forth by Ramchandra Guha, in an essay this March, which has been debated avidly. Guha bemoaned a paucity of conservative Indian intellectuals and his writing evoked various reactions. One among them was from Jaideep A Prabhu who pointed to some exceptions Guha may have overlooked and suggested that Guha expand his scope while defining a ‘public intellectual’. Another was G Sampath’s piece just a week ago, calling the assertion a meaningless one. Sampath examined the issue through a caste prism to conclude that India’s left and liberals could be seen as socially conservative anyhow, and so, where’s the need for a removed secular conservative camp?

Let’s adopt a different approach, one that Sampath touched upon in his piece but then chose to move on from— the anti-intellectualism of the present Indian Right.

For, returning to the three appointments cited above, while Guha’s assertions may, if stretched, explain the lack of a credible Chairperson for the ICHR, it doesn’t address the willful appointments of relative nobodies to steer the two film bodies. “The work is administration,” said Chauhan in a TV debate when he realized he was ill equipped to defend himself. “Give me a chance. I will manage.”

For perspective, revisit the first appointment that landed this government in a soup. Smriti Irani as HRD Minister. The sidelining of an Arun Shourie may be seen through the lens of the party’s deliberate retiring of the old guard, but why appoint someone, with hardly any academic credentials to speak of, to govern Indian academia?

Here’s a hint. Speak to officials in the Education ministry and you will probably hear that Irani is, as Chauhan wishes to be, ‘a good administrator’. By this they mean she works hard and does her homework on various fronts. She manages.

Another hint— besides ‘managing’, what other virtue do Irani and Chauhan have in common? Answer: The lack of a strong, distinct, individual vision for what they want to achieve with their charges.

And so, one obvious reason for such appointments is that the Indian Right, overseen not just by the ruling BJP but also the party’s ideological parent organization the RSS, wants – in the cultural and educational spheres particularly – ideological puppets who will be grateful enough to work hard and get things done, but who will not in any way obstruct their agenda.

But wait a while. Have you noticed the unabashed manner in which the appointments are being made? A message, almost in the form of a Chinese whisper, seems to be being sent out with the announcement of each new appointee. Can you hear it?

The message is: What did your intellectualizing get you? Did it prevent us from coming to power? Did it prevent people from voting for us or volunteering for us or funding us? What can you do if you dislike an appointment? Write a column? Lambast us on a TV show? We will appoint 10 more candidates, equally distasteful to you, in response.

Mihir S Sharma, in a recent column, suggested an ideological takeover of culture and education in the country. In doing so, he compared what the Right is doing to what the Left did in West Bengal and differentiated it from what the Congress did in India.

Right Wing publications such as Swarajya, on the other hand, in many of their articles, have suggested that such a takeover comprises a sort of counter-intellectualism on the part of the Right— an effort to gain more legitimate representation in the educational and cultural worlds.

But what if it weren’t counter-intellectualism? For – let us raise the question for the third time, how on earth does that explain the appointment of those less eligible for a post, when those clearly more eligible, from the same ideological spectrum, are around? What if it were instead, ‘anti-intellectualism’?

Anti-intellectualism is not a new or an Indian phenomenon. In a milder form, for instance, the idea has been defined, in America, in the writings of journalist Paul Johnson and economist Thomas Sowell. Sowell also argues that anti-colonialism may have formed the basis for anti-intellectualism. It persists, in the US, in the more ridiculous ideas of some Republican politicians.

In its more horrifying avatars, anti-intellectualism has emerged in incidents such as the Khmer Rouge trials, where individuals have been condemned to death for wearing glasses or knowing a foreign language or ‘The Night of the Long Batons’ in Argentina where five faculties of the university of Buenos Aires were dislodged. The name for the latter incident derives from the sticks used to strike hundreds of students and professors while they were being forced out of university buildings.

Anti-intellectualism was married steadfastly with Fascism when philosopher Giovanni Gentile presented it as an ideological basis for the same. At a ‘Congress of fascist Culture’, Gentile said: “Fascism combats not intelligence, but intellectualism which is a sickness of the intellect… ”

Examine the above examples closely and it will strike you that the ultimate failing of anti-intellectualism lies in the fact that its proponents are hypocrites. Pol Pot, or Benito Mussolini or Argentina’s Juan Carlos Ongania could never really discard intellectualism completely. You will always need an idea to rule. Each of these dictators needed a body of thought – be it Communism, or Fascism or Corporatism – from which they could appear to derive legitimacy. What they sought to do, therefore, was to mould one body of thought to make it fit into a box designed and owned by them.

The Indian Cultural Right as embodied by the RSS is also trying to put things into a box. And rather than counter-intellectuals it needs an abundance of ‘good managers’ through whom to do so.

For another strain of anti-intellectualism, examine Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own speeches. “There is nothing accidental about him, beginning with his anti-intellectualism,” Jug Suraiya had written, earlier this year, in a column titled Narendra Modi: Our anti-intellectual PM. The column was one of many inspired by the PM’s citing the Hindu god Ganesh as proof of transplant surgery in ancient India.

Let’s revisit that too. “Hum Ganeshji ki pooja karte hain (We worship Lord Ganesh),” the Indian Prime Minister had said, according to the text posted on the PMO website. “Koi to plastic surgeon hoga us zamaane mein jisne manushya ke shareer par haathi ka sar rakhkar ke plastic surgery ka prarambh kiya hoga. (There must have been some plastic surgeon in that era who placed an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery).”

If this were just a case of one man’s gaffe, it could, possibly, be overlooked. But the PM was echoing a wider Right Wing Agenda that was thumbing its nose at prevailing intellectual standards. There is nothing accidental about this agenda either.

Finally, two things. The intellectuals of India, as elsewhere, are really far from perfect. How so, is another debate altogether, but, for an indication, let us borrow from Noam Chomsky’s criticism of the American liberal intellectual establishment, “Intellectuals are specialists in defamation, they’re basically (political) commissars, they’re the ideological masters so they are the ones who feel most threatened by dissidence”.

But would you really want to throw the baby away with the bathwater? Because you are dissatisfied with questions, would you do away with questioners altogether?

Secondly, it may seem premature to draw from a few lame appointments and speech excerpts to generalize and warn of the way totalitarian regimes have gone.

But consider a recent incident. On August 1, the Saturday that just passed, a screening of the documentary Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai- Muzaffarnagar Eventually, on the massacre of Muslims in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, was stalled at Delhi’s Kirori Mal College.

Here’s what those present have to say about what transpired. Thirty to Forty young men who called themselves Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (the RSS Student Wing) members rushed in and demanded that 100 odd students should not be allowed to see the film. It was against their caste and against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they claimed, despite not having seen it. When professors at the screening suggested they watch the documentary and then express any reservations in the discussion after, one of them charged towards a senior professor, Keval Arora, screaming, “Main Hindu hoon. Main Jat hoon. Main tujhein thappad maar doonga (I am a Hindu. I am a Jat. I will slap you).” He was restrained before he could do so, not by the police who had been called in and who were standing by, but by his companions who appeared to have sensed that things could escalate beyond their control.

What if, tomorrow, they don’t restrain him? Is a night of long batons really such a distant possibility?

Abdul Kalam, father of India’s missile programme, dies at 83 | Reuters

NEW DELHI Former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, considered the father of the country’s missile programme, died on Monday in hospital at the age of 83, a doctor said.

Popularly known as “Missile Man,” Kalam led the scientific team that developed missiles able to carry India’s nuclear warheads. He became a national folk hero after helping oversee nuclear tests in 1998 that solidified India’s status as a nuclear weapons state. India’s first atomic test was in 1974.

Kalam died from cardiac arrest in Bethany Hospital in the northeastern city of Shillong, capital of Meghalaya state, according to hospital chief executive officer John L. Sailo.

Kalam, who was India’s 11th president from 2002 to 2007, had collapsed earlier in the day while delivering a lecture, according to Indian media reports.

Kalam, who wrote a book called “Ignited Minds,” became best known as a tireless campaigner for unleashing India’s technological muscle and discouraging expensive imports from the West.

Born on Oct. 15, 1931 in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, Kalam graduated from the prestigious Madras Institute of Technology in aeronautical engineering.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley expressed his condolences on Twitter: “We have lost an ideal citizen. May his soul rest in peace.”

(Reporting by Biswajyoti Das in Guwahati and Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi; Writing by Krista Mahr; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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SEBI urged to step up efforts against ‘black money’ | Reuters

MUMBAI A Supreme Court-appointed special investigations team said regulators need to provide greater oversight of money laundering in stocks as well as “black money” being repatriated to the country through investments in equity derivative products.

The recommendations were part of a report detailing the need for greater oversight across a variety of activities that have long been suspected of being fronts to avoid taxes, including via shell companies, imports and exports, or even cricket bets.

India has long suffered from so-called black money, or funds illegally deposited in banks outside the country to avoid tax.

A report by Washington-based think-tank Global Financial Integrity estimated that India suffered $344 billion in illicit fund outflows between 2002 and 2011.

The special investigations team was set up last May to investigate black money, a key priority for Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government, which this year unveiled tougher penalties against people convicted of illicitly stashing wealth abroad.

Among the proposals, the panel said the market regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), needed to ensure it can better identify owners behind overseas investments into participatory-notes (P-notes), or popular derivative products that track domestic equity markets.

Regulators have long suspected flows into P-notes are in reality domestic money being repatriated back into India because of looser registration standards for owners of these products.

For example, the panel noted that 850 billion rupees had flowed to P-notes from the Cayman Islands, a jurisdiction with a population of less than 55,000. About 2.75 trillion rupees worth of P-notes were outstanding as of the end of June.

“It does not appear possible for the final beneficial owner of ODIs (offshore derivative instruments) originating from Cayman Islands to be from that jurisdiction,” the panel wrote in the report.

The panel also recommended SEBI examine whether P-Notes should be allowed to be transferred, saying it made it harder to trace “the true beneficial owner” of these derivative products.

The report also asked for SEBI to investigate cases where shares of penny-stock companies are used in pump-and-dump schemes to launder money and evade taxes.

The panel also said the government needed to become more proactive about going after shell companies used to launder black money and take stronger action against the use of inflated imports and export bills to move illicit funds.

(Reporting by Himank Sharma; Editing by Rafael Nam and Toby Chopra)

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Hizbul Mujahideen disowns splinter faction in Kashmir | Reuters

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan A Pakistan-based militant group on Thursday disowned a splinter faction suspected of a string of killings in Indian-occupied Kashmir, with concerns growing that rogue insurgents could ratchet up tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

The two neighbours both claim the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, and have fought two of their three wars over it since becoming separate countries in 1947.

Hizbul Mujahideen, a Kashmiri separatist group whose leader Syed Salahuddin is based in Pakistan, said it had expelled Abdul Qayoom Najar over his involvement in “gruesome murder” and the “character assassination of established pro-freedom leadership”.

Indian security forces say Najar leads a breakaway group called Lashkar-e-Islam that carried out a series of recent attacks around the town of Sopore, killing five telecoms workers and vendors.

The decision to expel Najar was taken by Hizbul Mujahideen’s command council headed by Salahuddin, a 69-year-old Islamic preacher who turned to militancy in the 1980s. He is widely viewed as allied to hardline Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who is 85.

“The report submitted by the inquiry commission has proved that Qayoom Najar, in an utter disregard of the Hizb leadership, violated the constitution of the outfit and carried out condemnable acts. Our constitution does not allow or permit such actions,” Salahuddin said in a statement.

Analysts say the emergence of a breakaway faction could mean that a new generation of Kashmiri militants is trying to break free from the ageing separatist leadership — inspired by jihadists elsewhere who have resorted to extreme violence and spread their message through social media.

(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Douglas Busvine/Mark Heinrich)

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Family of six hacked to death for witchcraft in Odisha | Reuters

BHUBANESWAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A couple and four of their children were hacked to death by a mob of villagers who accused them of practicing witchcraft and making their children sick, police in Odisha said on Monday.

The victims were asleep in their mud house in the hamlet of Lahanda in Keonjhar district, when a group of around five people armed with axes broke in.

The suspects, believed to be relatives of the family, accused the victims of being behind for a spate of frequent illnesses among infants in the village, said police.

District Superintendent of Police Kavita Jalan said two surviving children alerted authorities.

The police reached the village in the early hours of Monday to find the mutilated bodies in pools of blood, an axe abandoned inside the hut, and a young boy still alive.

“The eight-year-old boy was found by police gasping between the dead bodies,” Jalan told Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that a search was being conducted to find the suspects, who had fled the village after the incident.

The practice of branding men and women as witches and assaulting or killing them remains common is some parts of India, particularly among tribal communities, despite there being a law against it.

There were 160 cases of murders linked to witch hunts in 2013, and 119 in 2012, data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows.

In a separate incident, police on Monday recovered the remains of a man who was beaten to death and burnt by a mob over allegations of sorcery in Rayagada district, also in Odisha state.

Charity workers say as well as trying to disabuse some tribes of superstitious beliefs, the government needs to focus on education and economic development.

India’s tribes make up more than 8 percent of its 1.2 billion population. Yet many live on the margins of society – inhabiting remote villages and eking out a living from farming, cattle rearing and collecting and selling forest produce.

Social indicators in these communities, including literacy, child malnutrition and maternal mortality, are among the lowest in the country. Neglect by the authorities and a Maoist insurgency in the country’s central tribal belt have further exacerbated their plight.

“People believe in superstition because they do not have health care. They are uneducated. Unless we provide them these basic facilities, the situation will not improve,” said Debendra Sutar, secretary of the Odisha Rationalist Society, a charity.

(Reporting by Jatindra Dash. Editing by Nita Bhalla and Leslie Gevirtz. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

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Broad and Moeen lead England to victory | Reuters

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U.S. air strike kills Islamic State leader in Afghanistan | Reuters

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Serena mauls Sharapova to reach Wimbledon final | Reuters

LONDON Serena Williams feasted on familiar prey as she reached an eighth Wimbledon final with a superb 6-2 6-4 victory over Maria Sharapova on Thursday, her 17th win in a row over the Russian.

The five times champion is one match away from reinforcing her stranglehold on the women’s game by holding all four grand slam titles at the same time, a feat she will achieve for the second occasion if she beats 20th-seeded surprise package Garbine Muguruza of Spain in Saturday’s final.

“I’m so excited. I got a bit nervous because it was a semi-final and it’s a long time since I’ve been this far,” said Williams, who last reached the Wimbledon final in 2012.

“I’m excited to get through it.

“Maria played well and when she stepped up, I managed to step up. It wasn’t easy, it was interesting.”

Sharapova could not deal with the ferocity of the Williams return, her serve crumbling as the American increased the pressure.

The Russian is one of the game’s most powerful hitters but looked overawed at times in the face of Williams’s sledgehammer game.

Double faults are a familiar flaw for Sharapova, but three in the opening game handed an early break and the initiative to her opponent.

It was then one-way traffic as a cool-headed Williams set about savagely dismantling her opponent.

The world number one launched an attacking barrage, breaking twice in the first set, which she clinched in 33 minutes with a scorching backhand winner.

The second set was closer as Sharapova ditched all caution and came out swinging, but when Williams broke for a 3-2 lead, the outcome seemed inevitable.

Sharapova saved one match point on her own serve, but the reprieve lasted just one game as Williams brought up another match point with an ace and thundered down a huge serve to clinch a one-sided victory.

(Reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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Honda India CEO to increase local content in cars, improve quality | Reuters

NEW DELHI Increasing the local content in cars and improving the quality of its supply chain will be a priority for Honda Motor Co in India, the new chief executive of the Japanese carmaker’s local unit told Reuters on Wednesday.

The carmaker will work to reduce costs by using more local components and it will focus on improving the quality of logistics, manufacturing and dealerships before launching new models, according to Katsushi Inoue, CEO, Honda Cars India Ltd.

“I am going to improve quality further more. However, in this emerging market we need volume as well,” said Inoue, who took charge of India’s third-largest carmaker by sales in April.

Increasing the level of local content in India, expected to be the world’s third largest car market by 2020, is crucial for Honda which wants to sell 300,000 vehicles in the country in the year to end-March 2017.

On average about 90 percent of components used by Honda in cars made in India are sourced locally.

While Inoue said Honda is open to partnerships with local component makers if they meet the company’s quality, cost and delivery time requirements, he did not give the extent of localisation it plans to achieve.

Honda grew the fastest among carmakers in India in the 12 months ended March 31, selling more than 189,000 passenger vehicles – 41 percent more than a year ago and faster than the 4 percent growth in the overall market.

But it trails market leader Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai Motor Co.

India is Honda’s biggest market in Asia and the Oceanic region, making up about 30 percent of the 660,000 vehicles sold in the region in the year to end-March.

Honda, which has invested 30 billion rupees ($472 million) in India since 2013, said it would invest another $60 million to increase production capacity in the country to 300,000 vehicles by 2016 across two plants from 240,000 today.

The focus on improving quality is a global mandate led by Honda’s new CEO Takahiro Hachigo who has made it a mission to restore the firm’s reputation after regulators linked eight deaths to faulty air bags in cars made by Honda.

($1 = 63.5412 Indian rupees)

(Editing by Keith Weir)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Cheeky Sanchez penalty clinches Chile’s first Copa | Reuters

SANTIAGO Chile won the Copa America for the first time on Saturday when a cheeky penalty from Alexis Sanchez clinched a shootout victory over Argentina and glory for the host nation’s golden generation in front of their own fans.

The two sides were deadlocked 0-0 after 90 minutes and when another half an hour of extra time failed to produce a goal, the contest was destined to be decided by penalties.

Lionel Messi stepped up to score Argentina’s first spot kick but, as the first three Chileans converted unerringly, Gonzalo Higuain and Ever Banega missed.

That left the stage set for forward Sanchez, who made up for a quiet game by dinking the ball into Sergio Romero’s net to send the capacity crowd at Santiago’s National Stadium into raptures.

“Our whole idea was to win something, we knew that this was the moment,” goalkeeper Claudio Bravo told reporters.

“This is a privileged generation and now it is time to enjoy it. We are not used to winning anything so this is an exception.” Chile had beaten Argentina just once in 38 competitive matches before the final and were outsiders to take the trophy for the first time in the 99-year history of the tournament.

Few sides were able to handle their fast-paced football, however, and they won four of their five games on their way to the deciding match, scoring 13 goals and delighting their home fans.

“This is something so nice for all the Chilean people,” midfielder Arturo Vidal told reporters after the whistle.

“We Chileans needed a triumph, something like this Cup, today we took an incredible step, we’re America’s best.”

The final itself was a poor game with neither side able to create many chances.

With Messi uninspired and Sanchez faltering, the teams attempted just 19 shots between them — less than all but one of the Copa America finals contested since 1993.

Higuain came closest to breaking the stalemate for Argentina in the last minute of regulation time.

Messi sent Ezequiel Lavezzi through on the leftand he crossed to Higuain at the far post but the striker could only put the ball in the side netting.

Sanchez had one great chance to steal the game for Chile in extra time but blazed over with just the goalkeeper to beat.

(Writing by Andrew Downie, editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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Crop sowing accelerates on surplus monsoon rains | Reuters

MUMBAI Ample monsoon rainfall in June accelerated planting of main crops such as rice and cotton, government data showed on Friday, though the current dry spell could slow down the pace of sowing in coming weeks.

Weather officials forecast monsoon rains would remain subdued in large parts of the country in the first half of July.

Good rainfall this year is key to boosting a rural economy hit by delayed and lower rains last year, as well as keeping a lid on food inflation and giving India’s central bank more scope to cut lending rates.

Though agriculture accounts for about 15 percent of India’s $2 trillion economy, three-fifths of its 1.25 billion people depend on it for their livelihood.

(Compiled by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Sunil Nair)

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Seven more airports in India to be declared entry points for e-visa

New Delhi: Seven more airports, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s constituency Varanasi and Ahmedabad in his home state, will soon be declared as entry points along with the existing nine where citizens from eligible countries can land with an e-tourist visa.

File/ReutersFile/Reuters

File/Reuters

Besides these two, Jaipur, Amritsar, Gaya, Lucknow and Trichy will be declared as entry points as government is expecting rush of Chinese tourists to India when the e-tourist visa facility will be finally rolled out to the citizens of the neighbouring country.

The existing nine airports where one can land with an e-tourist visa are Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Goa, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Thiruvananthapuram.

“We are also planning to set up additional counters in the existing nine airports as we are expecting rush of Chinese tourists,” a Home Ministry official said.

As promised by the Prime Minister, India is all set to roll out e-tourist visa facility to Chinese nationals along with citizens of 31 more countries soon.

Issues related to e-visa to be offered to citizens of the 31 countries were discussed threadbare at a high-level meeting attended by representatives of ministries of Home, External Affairs and Tourism today.

“Preparations are going on smoothly. We want to announce some more countries along with China whose citizens will be offered e-tourist visa,” the official said.

Among the countries that will benefit from the extension are the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Malaysia, Tanzania and Argentina.

Other countries whose citizens will also be eligible for e-visas are Armenia, Aruba, Belgium, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, Hungary, Ireland, Jamaica, Malta, Mongolia, Mozambique, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Surinam, Sweden, East Timor, Turks and Caicos Islands, Uruguay and Venezuela.

PTI

Air strikes in northwest Pakistan kill 20 militants – officials | Reuters

BANNU, Pakistan Air strikes killed at least 20 suspected militants in Pakistan’s northwestern Shawal Valley on Sunday, intelligence officials said, more than a month after security forces moved in on Pakistani Taliban strongholds in the region.

The deeply forested ravines are a smuggling route between Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, and are dotted with militant bases used as launch pads for attacks on Pakistani forces.

Two intelligence officials, who declined to be identified as they are not authorised to speak on the record, said the latest air strikes occurred in the Zoinari area of North Waziristan.

“We got information that local and foreign fighters were hiding in this area,” said one of the officials. “Three hideouts were also completely destroyed.”

Initially, 10 militants were reported killed but the intelligence officials later raised the toll to 20.

The hard-line Islamist Taliban’s Pakistani wing used to control all of North Waziristan, a mountainous region that includes the Shawal Valley and runs along the Afghan border. But the Pakistani military has recaptured most of it in an operation launched last June.

NATO forces had long urged Pakistan for such an offensive, saying Taliban safe havens in Pakistan were being used to attack NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

Since last month, the military has stepped up operations in Shawal Valley, where the Taliban still operates freely.

The area is a stronghold of Khan “Sajna” Said, the leader of a Taliban faction whose name was added to a sanctions list of “specially designated global terrorists” by U.S. authorities last year.

Most phone lines to the area have been cut and military roadblocks curtail civilian movement.

The Pakistani Taliban mainly fight against the government in Islamabad and are separate from, but allied with, the Afghan Taliban that ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s before being expelled in a U.S.-led intervention.

Both groups send fighters against Afghanistan’s Western-backed government. Afghan officials have said the Pakistani army offensive has driven large numbers of fighters over the border, complicating the war in Afghanistan’s east and north.

(Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Digby Lidstone)

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Air strikes in northwest Pakistan kill 10 militants – officials | Reuters

BANNU, Pakistan Air strikes killed at least 10 suspected militants in Pakistan’s northwestern Shawal Valley on Sunday, intelligence officials said, more than a month after security forces moved in on Pakistani Taliban strongholds in the region.

The deeply forested ravines are a key smuggling route between Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, and are dotted with Taliban bases used as launch pads for attacks on Pakistani forces.

Two intelligence officials, who declined to be identified, as they are not authorised to speak on the record, said the latest air strikes killed the militants in the Zoinari area of North Waziristan.

“We got information that local and foreign fighters were hiding in this area,” said one of the officials. “Strikes were launched and 10 militants were killed. Three hideouts were also completely destroyed.”

The hard-line Islamist Taliban’s Pakistani wing used to control all of North Waziristan, a mountainous region that includes the Shawal Valley and runs along the Afghan border. But the Pakistani military has recaptured most of it, in an operation launched last June.

NATO forces had long urged Pakistan for such an offensive, saying Taliban safe havens in Pakistan were being used to attack NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

Since last month, the military has stepped up operations in Shawal Valley, where the Taliban still operates freely.

The area is a stronghold of Khan “Sajna” Said, a leader of a Taliban faction whose name was added to a sanctions list of “specially designated global terrorists” by U.S. authorities last year.

Most phone lines to the area have been cut and military roadblocks curtail civilian movement.

The Pakistani Taliban mainly fight against the government in Islamabad and are separate from, but allied with, the Afghan Taliban that ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s before being expelled in a U.S.-led intervention.

Both groups send fighters against Afghanistan’s Western-backed government. Afghan officials have said the Pakistani army offensive has driven large numbers of fighters over the border, complicating the war in Afghanistan’s east and north.

(Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Tevez to join Boca Juniors from Juventus | Reuters

BUENOS AIRES Argentina forward Carlos Tevez is to leave Juventus after two seasons in which he has revived his career and will rejoin Boca Juniors, the club where he started out and remains a cult figure.

The 31-year-old will cut short his three-year contract with Juventus despite an outstanding last season in which he helped them win Serie A and the Coppa Italia and reach the Champions League final, scoring 29 goals in all competitions.

Boca Juniors announced the move on their website while Tevez was playing for Argentina in their Copa America quarter-final against Colombia on Friday night.

Tevez converted the winning penalty as Argentina won 5-4 in a shootout following a 0-0 draw.

Although South American players commonly return home to play out their careers, Tevez’s move is unusual in that he is returning at the peak of his form rather than waiting until his mid-30s.

Boca Juniors president Daniel Angelici said Juventus and Boca had agreed terms and would finalise the transfer “in the next few hours.”

“It’s a happy and very satisfying day,” Angelici said in a statement.

“The return of Carlos Tevez, at an extraordinary moment in his career, is fantastic news for all the members and fans of Boca, and also for Argentine football.”

“Carlos’s presence will give the squad added quality. Between us, the directors, coaching staff, players and fans, we will build the sporting success that Boca deserves.”

Tevez spent three years at Boca from 2001 and 2004, and went on to play for Corinthians, West Ham United, Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus, where he has spent the last two seasons.

Tevez arrived at Juventus with a reputation as a troublemaker who had fallen out of favour both at his former club Manchester City and with Argentina.

But two years in Turin turned Tevez back into what he was earlier in his career, a forward whose speed, quick thinking and instinct for goal made him a nightmare for opposing defenders.

When Tevez joined Juventus, he was worn out after four eventful seasons at City where he infamously refused to warm up during a Champions League match at Bayern Munich.

He was also shunned by then Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella, who never once selected him during three years in charge amid speculation that he was considered too much of a disruptive influence.

After missing the 2014 World Cup, Tevez has since been recalled by Sabella’s successor Gerardo Martino.

(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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AC Milan sack coach Inzaghi and bring in Mihajlovic | Reuters

MILAN Sinisa Mihajlovic became AC Milan’s fourth coach in 18 months on Tuesday after Filippo Inzaghi was sacked following yet another disappointing season for the seven-times European champions.

Former Milan striker Inzaghi, 41, had been in charge for one season, leading them to a modest 10th as they failed to qualify for Europe for the second consecutive season.

Milan said Mihajlovic had signed a two-year contract.

The Serb, who took charge of Sampdoria in November 2013 when they were second from bottom in Serie A, leading them to a 12th-place finish last season and seventh this term, faces a huge task turning round Milan’s fortunes.

The club have become rudderless and the job of steering them back towards challenging for trophies proved beyond Massimiliano Allegri, Clarence Seedorf and Inzaghi in quick succession.

Inzaghi, who spent 10 years at the club as a player and twice won the Champions League, struggled throughout much of a campaign that brought their lowest number of wins since 2001 and his future had long been questioned.

“AC Milan communicate that Filippo Inzaghi has been discharged of his responsibilities as first team coach. The club thank him for his work,” the club said on their website.

In what has become a familiar routine in the last few years, Milan’s season was a story of crises, false dawns, injuries and new signings failing to settle in.

Fernando Torres came and went, scoring one goal in four months, and forwards Alessio Cerci and Mattia Destro managed four league goals between them after joining in the January transfer window.

Like Allegri, dismissed in January last year, and Seedorf, who followed him at the end of last season, Inzaghi fell victim to a combination of unrealistically high expectations and a lacklustre squad.

Allegri is now with Juventus, who won the Serie A and Coppa Italia double and reached the Champions League final, eliminating Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid on the way.

Inzaghi, who during his playing days was famously described by then Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson as having been “born offside”, was hugely popular with Milan fans, having spent most of his playing career at the club.

He was handed the role as their youth team coach after ending his playing career three years ago.

He played at the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups, scoring a total of 25 international goals.

(Writing by Mitch Phillips and Brian Homewood, editing by Martyn Herman/Ian Ransom)

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Iran’s Rouhani aims to limit nuclear inspections, warns of talks delay | Reuters

DUBAI Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday a comprehensive nuclear deal could be delayed if world powers brought new issues into play, and he would not accept a U.N. inspections regime that jeopardised state secrets.

Iran is aiming to strike an accord with six powers by June 30 that would curtail its nuclear programme in exchange for relief from sanctions. But negotiators have hit an impasse in part over how much enhanced access International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors should have to Iranian sites. [ID:nL5N0YX22Y]

“Iran will absolutely not allow its national secrets to fall into the hands of foreigners through the Additional Protocol or any other means,” Rouhani said in a televised news conference, referring to an IAEA provision that would allow more intrusive inspections in the Islamic Republic.

U.S. and French diplomats have called for Iran to accept stringent measures including granting inspectors access to its military sites as well as inspections on as little as two hours notice — access that the Protocol could encompass.

Rouhani said Iran could embrace the Protocol, noting that other states that are signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) had done so without problem. But he insisted Iran should not face especially far-reaching measures.

“A problem we face on many issues is that when we reach a framework in one meeting, our negotiating partners go back on it in the next meeting,” said Rouhani, a pragmatist elected in 2013 on a platform of limited Iranian engagement with the West, after many years of deepening hostility.

“If the other side sticks to the framework that has been established, and does not bring new issues into play, I believe it can be solved… But if they want to take the path of brinkmanship, the negotiations could take longer.”

The IAEA has long had regular, if limited, access to Iran’s nuclear-related sites. But Tehran has refused to let the agency visit military sites, citing the risk of security-sensitive information being passed on to Western intelligence agencies.

The U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, said on Thursday that additional nuclear transparency measures were outlined in a preliminary deal reached in April between Iran and its negotiating partners. [nL5N0YX1X7]

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on Iran’s foreign and security policy, has ruled out several requests by the West, including on interviewing its nuclear scientists and “extraordinary supervision measures”. [ID:nL5N0YB1Z7]

The Additional Protocol would also permit the IAEA to collect environmental samples like soil that can unearth military dimensions to nuclear activities years after they have taken place.

Western powers have long suspected Iran of trying to develop the means to make atomic bombs, while Iran insists its uranium enrichment programme is purely for peaceful purposes.

Rouhani said: “What is important to Iran is that, in implementing this protocol, we make it clear to the world that the accusations we have faced about trying to build a bomb are baseless.”

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Indian army hunts militants on Myanmar border days after ambush | Reuters

NEW DELHI India’s army conducted a military operation against separatist guerrillas near the border with Myanmar on Tuesday, it said, days after 20 of its soldiers were killed in the deadliest attack on security forces in the remote area in two decades.

The army said in a statement it had engaged with two groups of militants along the border and inflicted “significant casualties”.

Indian television channels said special forces carried out “surgical strikes” inside Myanmar where the guerrillas had fled to, something that was not confirmed by the army.

The operation took place in the Indian states of Nagaland and Manipur, where the soldiers were killed last week in an ambush on their convoy. The army said it had received intelligence that the guerrillas were plotting further ambushes.

India’s remote northeast is home to dozens of insurgent groups, fighting for either greater autonomy or secession. For decades, the army has been deployed to the area that has borders with China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan but it has not been known to carry out cross-border raids.

The army said it was in communication with Myanmar authorities regarding its operations against the guerrillas. “There is a history of close cooperation between the two militaries,” it said, adding it would firmly deal with any threat to India’s security.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought better relations with neighbours to help fight cross-border terrorism and build tighter economic links. But his administration has also repeatedly said it would deal with militants firmly.

(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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Hong Kong issues ‘red alert’ against South Korea travel due to MERS | Reuters

SEOUL/HONG KONG Hong Kong issued a “red alert” advisory on Tuesday against non-essential travel to South Korea, where eight new cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) were reported, bringing the total to 95 with seven fatalities.

The number of new South Korean cases was a sharp drop from 23 on Monday, but the number of schools closed grew to 2,208, including 20 universities.

“At this stage, to issue a clear message is something the Hong Kong government thinks is necessary,” Hong Kong’s number two official, Carrie Lam, told reporters just before the travel warning was posted.

A red alert, the second-highest outbound travel advisory on a three-point scale, is defined as a “significant threat” according to the Hong Kong government, and means people should “adjust travel plans” and “avoid non-essential travel”.

On Monday, Hong Kong upgraded its response to the outbreak in South Korea to “serious”.

Nam Kyung-pil, governor of Gyeonggi province, which surrounds the South Korean capital, Seoul, said 32 of its large general hospitals have joined the campaign to fight the outbreak by offering to take in anyone who is showing MERS symptoms.

“We are fighting two wars; The war against the disease and the war against fear,” Nam said.

The head of the Korean Hospital Association, who accompanied the country’s deputy prime minister on a visit on Tuesday to a Daejeon hospital where MERS patients were being treated, criticised the government for poor communication.

“The hospitals that did not receive information on patients have been wounded deeply,” Park Sang-geun said during an open meeting.

It was only on Sunday that South Korean officials released the names of all the health facilities where MERS victims had been treated or visited, which now number 35.

TOURISTS CANCEL TRIPS

The World Health Organization (WHO) began work on a joint mission with South Korean doctors and officials to review the country’s response and analyse the virus.

The WHO has not recommended any curb on travel, but thousands of tourists have cancelled plans to visit South Korea.

The Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong has cancelled all tours to South Korea that were scheduled to set off between now and June 30, excluding cruises, with 10,000 to 12,000 travellers to be affected, the city’s public broadcaster reported.

South Korea’s response has been aggressive and is getting better, a WHO specialist, Peter Ben Embarek, said in Geneva, adding it should still not be surprising if there were a few cases of infection coming outside of hospitals.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has called for an all-out national effort to eradicate the outbreak, which has been spreading since a 68-year-old businessman brought it home from a Middle East trip last month.

All subsequent infections in South Korea have occurred in healthcare facilities and been traced to the original patient.

South Korea has the second highest number of infections, after Saudi Arabia, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The seventh reported MERS death in South Korea was a 68-year-old woman who had an existing heart ailment and had been in the emergency room of a Seoul hospital, where a number of previous confirmed cases had been traced.

South Korea’s central bank is now expected to cut interest rates on Thursday in a preemptive move to dampen the economic impact of the MERS outbreak, according to a Reuters poll of analysts released on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Goldman Sachs downgraded the 2015 GDP growth forecast for South Korea to 2.8 percent from a previous estimate of 3.3 percent. It said 0.2 percentage points of this reduction could be ascribed to the MERS outbreak.

The Chinese territory of Macau required masks for people entering local healthcare facilities as a precaution against MERS, and advised residents to avoid travel to South Korea unless absolutely necessary.

Singapore said it would start screening body temperatures of passengers arriving from South Korea from late Tuesday.

Taiwanese health authorities issued a travel alert to cover all of South Korea late on Tuesday, widening its caution on travel to the country. Earlier, Taiwan had issued its travel alert only for Seoul, while putting the rest of the country on a less serious “watch” level.

Some 2,892 people who may have had contact with MERS patients have been put under quarantine, some in hospitals but most at home. Authorities are using mobile phones to track people who violate quarantine.

South Korea’s new cases bring the total of MERS cases globally to 1,244, based on World Health Organization (WHO) data, with at least 446 related deaths.

(Additional reporting by Seungyun Oh and Christine Kim in SEOUL, Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA, J.R. Wu in Taipei and Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Tony Munroe and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Apple announces new streaming music service | Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO Apple announced its new music streaming service on Monday, dubbed Apple Music, entering a hotly competitive market but offering a product that comes with tremendous strengths.

Calling it a “revolutionary music service,” legendary music industry figure Jimmy Iovine took the stage at the company’s annual conference for developers to unveil what had been widely expected ahead of the event. Apple Music includes a service to connect artists and fans and what the company described as a global radio station called Beats 1.

While late to the streaming music business, Apple has strong advantages: deep relationships with music companies; a global brand; and hundreds of millions of customers – and their credit cards – through iTunes.

Apple Music’s $9.99 a month price takes effect after a three-month free subscription period. The company is also offering what it calls a “family plan” for $14.99 a month for up to six family members.

Earlier in the event, Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook announced that so-called “native” apps will be introduced in the next version of the operating system for its Watch that should make apps for its latest gadget speedier and help untether it from the iPhone.

The company also unveiled new details about its Apple Pay service, saying it was already supported by more than 2,500 banks and will surpass 1 million locations accepting it next month. In addition, the company said it would roll out the service to the United Kingdom next month.

In a related move, Apple said it would rename Passbook, its app for credit and debit cards and boarding passes, to Wallet.

Apple Inc (AAPL.O) shares were down 0.5 percent at $128.05 in afternoon trading.

The company also unveiled the next version of its operating system for Macs, El Capitan, continuing the company’s theme of naming key updates to the software after California landmarks. The software will be available in the fall.

Like other Apple products, the Watch’s commercial success will likely hinge on a compelling collection of apps. But early apps for the timepiece have been tethered to the iPhone, placing some limits on what developers could do.The expanded software kit should lead to better and faster watch apps, said Bob O’Donnell, an analyst at TECHnalysis Research, in an interview before the event.

But it was the music service that was the highlight of the event. The company behind the iPod and iTunes has long been a leader in digital music, but it has lost ground in recent years as subscription services such as Spotify have caught on with consumers.

(Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by Leslie Adler, Bernard Orr)

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Bieber pleads guilty to assault, careless driving in Canada | Reuters

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Apple Watch to hit retail stores on June 26 | Reuters

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Wawrinka trips up Federer in all-Swiss duel | Reuters

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China to extend military reach, build lighthouses in disputed waters | Reuters

BEIJING China outlined a strategy to boost its naval reach on Tuesday and announced plans for the construction of two lighthouses in disputed waters, developments likely to escalate tensions in a region already jittery about Beijing’s maritime ambitions.

In a policy document issued by the State Council, the Communist-ruled country’s cabinet, China vowed to increase its “open seas protection”, switching from air defence to both offence and defence, and criticised neighbours who take “provocative actions” on its reefs and islands.

China has been taking an increasingly assertive posture over recent years in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where it has engaged in extensive land reclamation in the Spratly archipelago.

China claims most of the South China Sea and criticised Washington last week after a U.S. spy plane flew over areas near the reefs. Both sides accused each other of stoking instability.

A U.S. State Department spokesman declined to make a specific comment on the Chinese strategy paper, but said Washington urged Beijing “to use its military capabilities in a manner that is conducive to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Jeff Rathke reiterated the U.S. view that China’s reclamation work had contributed to rising tensions and said building up of underwater features did not confer a right to a territorial sea or an exclusive economic zone.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama considered the South China Sea security situation “critically important” to U.S. national security and the global economy and said Washington was committed to working with other Asia-Pacific states to protect the free flow of commerce there.

While also declining to comment on the content of China’s policy paper, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said its publication was “a step in the right direction” in terms of transparency and “exactly the type of thing that we’ve been calling for” in that respect.

China has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said China’s reclamation in the Spratlys was comparable with construction of homes and roads on the mainland.

“From the perspective of sovereignty, there is absolutely no difference,” he told reporters.

Some countries with “ulterior motives” had unfairly characterized China’s military presence and sensationalised the issue, he said. Surveillance in the region was increasingly common and China would continue to take “necessary measures” to respond.

“Some external countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs. A tiny few maintain constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China,” the strategy paper said in a thinly veiled reference to the United States.

OFFENCE AND DEFENCE

It said China’s air force would shift its focus from territorial air defence to both offence and defence, and building airspace defences with stronger military capabilities.

China also announced plans for the building of two lighthouses in the South China Sea on Tuesday and broadcast a groundbreaking ceremony on state television, defying calls from the United States and the Philippines for a freeze on such activity.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the construction was to help maritime search and rescue, disaster relief, environmental protection and navigational security.

Wu Shicun, president of the government-affiliated National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said the lighthouses were among the first of planned civilian-use facilities in the region.

“The reefs are located near an important commercial shipping route, so there will be continued development to maintain the security of those shipping lanes,” he told Reuters.

The strategy paper also said the People’s Liberation Army’s nuclear force, known as the Second Artillery Corps, would strengthen its capabilities for deterrence and nuclear counterattack as well as medium- and long-range precision strikes.

“China faces many complex maritime security threats and challenges and requires a navy that can carry out multifaceted missions and protect its sovereignty,” Wang Jin, a senior colonel, told reporters.

The paper also cited “grave threats” to China’s cyber infrastructure, adding that China would hasten development of a cyber military force.

Self-ruled Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province, called on all South China Sea claimants to shelve their disagreements to enable talks on sharing resources before a conflict breaks out.

Japan meanwhile will join a major U.S.-Australian military exercise for the first time in a sign of growing security links between the three countries as tensions fester over China’s moves.

All three nations have said they are concerned about freedom of movement through the South China Sea and air space.

China’s Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday it had carried out military training for party cadres from border and coastal areas on border defence, among other topics.

The trainees, who visited military combat units, developed a better understanding of the “national security situation”, said a statement on the ministry’s website.

(Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Michael Martina in Beijing, Matt Siegel in Sydney and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis)

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Tennis-Sharapova and Murray show off title credentials | Reuters

PARIS Maria Sharapova got back in the groove at her happiest hunting ground while Andy Murray’s growing love of clay blossomed as both posted easy first-round wins at the French Open on Monday.

Defending champion Sharapova was nursing a cold but opened her bid for a third Roland Garros title in four years with a 6-2 6-4 victory over Estonian Kaia Kanepi on a breezy Court Phillipe Chatrier.

Men’s third seed Murray then took his winning streak on the red dust to 11 matches by overpowering Argentine lucky loser Facundo Arguello 6-3 6-3 6-1, maintaining his unbeaten run since marrying long-term partner Kim Sears.

Sharapova, who was also champion in 2012 and runner-up in 2013 despite an intense dislike for the surface earlier in her illustrious career, produced her usual power tennis to ease through to the second round.

It was not a perfect performance, perhaps due to the cough that was troubling her, but she never looked in danger as she set up a meeting with fellow Russian Vitalia Diatchenko.

Sharapova left to a few boos though after declining an on-court interview.

“Unless I’m really in my coffin I’m going to be out there,” she told reporters. “I got sick a week before the tournament, not right before.

“I guess it’s a little bit better timing but it’s just the way it is. I’m getting over it, hopefully it will pass soon.”

DARK HORSE

The world number two is in the opposite side of the draw to her old nemesis, top seed Serena Williams, and will need to be 100 percent to negotiate her way through to the final.

Former runner-up Samantha Stosur, an easy winner against American Madison Brengle, could await in the third round while eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain, tipped as a dark horse for the title, is a possible foe in the quarter-finals.

Suarez Navarro beat Monica Niculescu of Romania 6-2 6-2 but several seeds tumbled on day two in swanky western Paris.

Spain’s Feliciano Lopez, the men’s 11th seed, became the highest casualty so far, losing 6-3 7-6 (9) 6-3 to Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili while women’s 14th seed Agnieszka Radwanska’s slump continued as the former world number two succumbed 6-2 3-6 6-1 to Germany’s Annika Beck.

American veteran Venus Williams, seeded 15, also lost, although a 7-6 (5) 6-1 defeat by compatriot Sloane Stephens barely registered on the shock scale.

With nine-times champion Rafa Nadal and top seed Novak Djokovic keeping their powder dry until Tuesday, Murray joined Roger Federer in getting a head start with a confident display on Court Phillipe Chatrier.

There were a few early nerves, a double-fault in the opening game giving Arguello a break point that he could not convert and again when he allowed his 137th-ranked opponent to recover from 3-0 down to level at 3-3 in the first set.

Once Murray, twice a French Open semi-finalist, broke in the eighth game though he was untroubled.

“I hope (nerves) are always there,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time I played a first-round match in a slam and did not feel nervous.”

Murray was joined in the second round by fourth seed Tomas Berdych who beat Yoshihito Nishioka 6-0 7-5 6-3.

Nishioka was one of seven teenagers in the men’s draw, two of whom produced excellent wins on Monday.

Croatian Borna Coric, 18, beat American Sam Querrey 7-6 (8) 6-3 0-6 6-3 while Australian wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis, 19, put out Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Kokkinakis will face countryman Bernard Tomic next.

Nick Kyrgios, yet another Aussie young gun, lived up to his 29th seeding by breezing past Denis Istomin.

Home crowds flocking in to the grounds had plenty to cheer too with French number one Alize Cornet opening proceedings on centre court with a fighting 4-6 6-4 6-1 triumph over Italian Roberta Vinci and the ever-popular Gael Monfils, the 13th seed, defeating compatriot Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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Nepalese river blocked by landslide flowing again | Reuters

KATHMANDU A river dammed up by a huge landslide in Nepal’s northwest has begun flowing again but the risks of flash floods are not over yet, police said on Sunday.

The landslide at Ramche village in Myagdi district, about 140 km (90 miles) northwest of Kathmandu, struck on Saturday night and blocked the Kali Gandaki river, triggering fears that a large volume of water would build up and then burst through, causing floods downstream that could reach as far as India.

“The river has started overflowing the dam. The water build-up is no more rising,” police official Kamal Singh Bam told Reuters.

“We think it will not breach the dam suddenly and cause downstream floods. But the risk for that is not totally out yet,” he said.

Earlier the authorities asked thousands of downstream villagers to move to safer areas amid concerns that the river could bring floods in the districts of Parbat, Syangja, Gulmi, Palpa, Nawalparasi and Chitwan.

The river flows into India where it is known as the Gandak.

A big earthquake hit Nepal on April 25, triggering numerous landslides and avalanches and killing more than 8,000 people. A second quake hit the mountainous country on May 12, killing scores.

Myagdi district administrator Tek Bahadur K.C. said the landslide had created a 150 metre-high dam and the water build- up spread about three kilometres.

“We had already moved 123 people in the area to safe places fearing landslides as the mountain had developed cracks in the earthquake,” he said.

“This is why there is no human casualty even in such a massive landslide that has destroyed part of a dirt road connecting the nearby areas,” K.C. said.

In August last year a massive landslide blocked the Sunkoshi river in northeast Nepal killing more than 150 people and causing fears of flooding as far away as the eastern Indian state of Bihar, where thousands of people were evacuated.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Greg Mahlich)

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Vettel fastest in final Monaco practice | Reuters

MONACO Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel broke the Mercedes stranglehold on the Monaco timesheets with the fastest lap in Saturday’s final practice for the showcase race.

The German, four times a world champion with Red Bull and Monaco winner in 2011, lapped the metal-fenced streets with a best time of one minute 16.143 seconds in a session red-flagged after team mate Kimi Raikkonen hit the barriers.

Mercedes duo Nico Rosberg, winner of the last two Monaco races from pole position, and world champion Lewis Hamilton were close behind with qualifying to follow later.

A Ferrari has not been on pole position in Formula One since July 2012.

Rosberg was 0.218 slower than his compatriot while Hamilton, fastest in both of Thursday’s sessions but unhappy with the handling of his on Saturday, was 0.562 off the pace.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo was fourth quickest for Red Bull, ahead of Spanish rookie Carlos Sainz in a Toro Rosso and Raikkonen, who crashed at Sainte Devote just after setting his best lap.

Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, who was second fastest behind Hamilton in Thursday’s opening practice, was ninth on the timesheets after spinning and clouting the barriers, damaging the rear wing, at the last corner.

Hamilton leads Rosberg by 20 points in the championship after five races.

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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Crop-loss farmers sell their children to survive – authorities | Reuters

Strong aftershock hits Nepal, near Kathmandu – USGS | Reuters

REUTERS – A magnitude 5.7 earthquake hit Nepal on Saturday, about 76 km east south east of the capital Kathmandu, at a shallow depth of 10 km, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck on April 25, killing more than 8,000 people and there have been a series of aftershocks since then.

(Editing by David Clarke)

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Hundreds of refugees arrive in Malaysia and Indonesia after Thai crackdown | Reuters

LHOKSUKON, Indonesia/KUALA LUMPUR Malaysia has detained more than a thousand Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugees, including dozens of children, police said, a day after authorities rescued hundreds stranded off Indonesia’s western tip.

There has been a huge increase in refugees from impoverished Bangladesh and Myanmar drifting on boats to Malaysia and Indonesia in recent days since Thailand, usually the first destination in the region’s people smuggling network, announced a crackdown on the trafficking.

Over 100 refugees from these countries were found wandering around in southern Thailand last week, apparently having been abandoned by smugglers.

An estimated 25,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar boarded rickety smugglers’ boats in the first three months of this year, twice as many in the same period of 2014, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR has said. Most land in Thailand, where they are held by the smugglers in squalid jungle camps until relatives pay a ransom.

Police on the northwest Malaysian island of Langkawi, close to the Thai border, said three boats had arrived in the middle of the night to unload refugees, who were taken into custody as they came ashore. One boat was discovered after it got stuck on a breakwater, but the other two vessels escaped. There was no immediate word on the crew.

The boats contained 555 Bangladeshis and 463 Rohingya, who were being handed over to the immigration department, local police chief Harrith Kam Abdullah said.

MAGNET FOR MIGRANTS

Malaysia, one of Southeast Asia’s wealthier economies, has long been a magnet for illegal immigrants.

On Sunday, nearly 600 migrants thought to be Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshis were rescued from at least two overcrowded wooden boats stranded off Indonesia’s Aceh province, believing they had landed in Malaysia, authorities said.

The boats were towed to shore by fishermen after running out of fuel. Among the refugees were nearly 100 women and dozens of children.

Thai police spokesman Lieutenant General Prawut Thawornsiri said the crackdown in people smuggling had prompted the rush of arrivals elsewhere.

“Yes, our crackdown is affecting the boats,” he told Reuters in Bangkok. “They are going to Indonesia. Why else would they go to Indonesia? It is so far … Our job is to block the boats and not let them land on our shores.”

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered a clean-up of suspected traffickers’ camps after 33 bodies, believed to be of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, were found in shallow graves in the south, near the Malaysian border.

Of those rescued off Indonesia, around 50 were taken to hospital. “In general, they were suffering from starvation and many were very thin,” said North Aceh police chief Achmadi.

The refugees were being held in a gymnasium in the town of Lhoksukon, about 20 km (12 miles) from where they were brought ashore.

“YOU GOT WHAT YOU PAID FOR”

“We are hearing the passengers were left close to shore and were told that this is Malaysia and you got what you paid for,” said Mark Getchell, head of the International Organization for Migration in Indonesia.

“They came onshore and found out it wasn’t Malaysia.”

An agency official estimated that around 300 people had died at sea in the first quarter of this year as a result of starvation, dehydration and abuse by boat crews.

Mohammad Kasim, a 44-year-old Bangladeshi migrant on one of the boats, told Reuters that each passenger paid 4,400 ringgit ($1,200) for the journey. Three people died on the way and were dumped in the sea.

“I worked in Malaysia for three years in construction when I was 16. I wanted to go back because it is very difficult to find work in Bangladesh,” he said, speaking in Malay.

Kasim said he had left the Bangladesh town of Bogra a month ago on a small boat with 30-40 others in the hope of finding a job in Malaysia. An agency in Bogra helped arrange the trip.

They group landed on a beach in Thailand, where they stayed for 21 days before leaving on a larger ship with hundreds of passengers.

In Bangladesh, where the authorities are trying to stamp out the crisis at its source, police say they have arrested more than 100 people traffickers in recent months.

Mohammad Ataur Rahman Khandaker, a senior police officer in Teknaf, close to the Myanmar border, said that on Friday and Sunday, four “notorious” traffickers had been killed in gun fights with police. He also said three people suspected of smuggling thousands of people had been arrested in the town.

(Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Aubrey Belford in Bangkok; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by John Chalmers and Kevin Liffey)

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Pakistan helicopter crash kills Norwegian, Philippine ambassadors | Reuters

ISLAMABAD A Pakistan military helicopter carrying diplomats to inspect a tourism project crashed on Friday killing seven people, including the ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines and the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was travelling to the mountainous northern region of Gilgit on a separate aircraft when the accident happened. He returned to Islamabad, his office said.

Norwegian Ambassador Leif Larsen, Philippine Ambassador Domingo Lucenario and the wives of the ambassadors of Malaysia and Indonesia were killed, along with two pilots and a crew member, military spokesman Asim Bajwa said in Twitter posts.

He said initial information indicated the cause was a technical fault. The foreign secretary also said technical problems caused the crash.

“Apparently its engine failed,” Foreign Secretary Azaz Chaudhry said. “It was not terrorism.”

The Pakistani Taliban claimed they shot down the aircraft but witnesses on the ground, and in other helicopters on the trip, reported nothing to indicate any firing.

Malaysian state media identified the wife of the ambassador as Habibah Mahmud, while Indonesia said its ambassador Burhan Muhammad was injured and his wife, Heri Listyawati Burhan Muhammad, was killed.

Bajwa said the ambassadors of Poland and the Netherlands were among the injured. The ambassadors of South Africa, Lebanon and Romania were also on board, according to a flight list obtained by Reuters. The Romanian Foreign Ministry said its ambassador was alive and uninjured.

An official in Gilgit said nine people had been killed.

“The bodies are so badly torched that they can’t be identified,” said Sibtain Ahmed, the home secretary of Gilgit-Baltistan.

The Foreign Office said 17 people were on board the Mi-17 when it crashed into a school in Gilgit and caught fire. Media said there were 11 foreigners and six Pakistanis.

“GOOD REPUTATION”

Farmer Shakil Ahmed saw the helicopter crash into the school roof from his house about 100 metres away.

“The helicopter came very close to the helipad, maybe 250 meters in the air, just above the school,” Ahmed told Reuters.

“It hovered there for a while and then tried to turn when it crashed. Thankfully there were no kids in the school because it was an off-day for security reasons. The helicopter caught fire and was on fire for over an hour.”

Pakistani Taliban militants said they brought down the helicopter with a shoulder-launched missile, adding they had been hoping to shoot down Sharif’s aircraft.

“Nawaz Sharif and his allies are our prime targets,” Taliban spokesman Muhammad Khurasani said in an emailed statement.

Gilgit, about 250 km (150 miles) north of Islamabad, is not a militant stronghold and the Taliban often claim responsibility for incidents that they had nothing to do with.

The Mi-17 is considered a reliable, no-frills helicopter, first built by Russians for use in hot and high conditions in Asia, said James Hardy, the Asia-Pacific editor for IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.

“The military has a lot of money and a good reputation for looking after its equipment,” he said. “The air force is well trained and highly professional.”

The Pakistan military was believed to operate about 29 Mi-17s and the air force about six, he said. Media have reported four other Mi-17 crashes in Pakistan in the last 11 years.

(Additional reporting by Manzar Shigri in GILGIT, Katharine Houreld in ISLAMABAD, Syed Raza Hassan in KARACHI, Luiza Ilie in BUCHAREST, Kanupriya Kapoor in JAKARTA and Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie, Larry King)

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Hundreds of bodies may be buried in Nepal avalanche, official says | Reuters

KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Body parts are strewn on the slopes of a mountain in Nepal, and up to 300 people, many of them foreigners, are believed buried there by an avalanche set off by last month’s earthquake, an official said on Thursday.

Rescuers pulled out six bodies from the Langtang village area, 60 km north of Kathmandu, on Wednesday but operations were being hampered by bad weather, said Gautam Rimal, assistant district administrator.

In the same area, the bodies of two Russian diplomats have been found, Russia’s RIA news agency reported on Thursday, quoting the press secretary of the Russian embassy in the Himalayan nation.

Both the diplomats had been working in the Russian embassy in Pakistan, the news agency said.

About 100 bodies were recovered in the area on Saturday and Sunday and Rimal had previously said about 120 more were buried.

But on Thursday he said the number could be as high as 300, including 110 foreigners. “There are body parts, broken limbs and pieces of flesh scattered in the area,” he said.

Nepal’s government has said 7,759 people were killed in the April 25 earthquake and more than 16,000 injured.

Langtang is on a trekking route popular with Westerners and had 55 guesthouses catering for visitors. The village was wiped out by the avalanche and it is not clear how many people were there at the time.

Only a fraction of the emergency funds the United Nations has requested for victims of the earthquake have come in, U.N. officials said on Thursday, as crises around the world put unprecedented demands on international donors.

Of the $415 million requested by the U.N. and its partners last week, just $22.4 million has been provided.

“It’s a poor response,” Orla Fagan, spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told Reuters.

Fagan attributed the shortage to “donor fatigue,” citing more than a dozen other long-running international crises, such as the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, which are also making demands on donor nations.

(Additional reporting by Alexander Winning in Moscow; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Nick Macfie and Andrew Roche)

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Climate change sparks tension in India’s tea gardens | Reuters

JORHAT, India (Reuters) – Usha Ghatowar smiles wryly when asked about the pay she earns picking leaves at a colonial-era tea garden in Assam.

“Do you think 3,000 rupees are enough when your monthly expenses can be double that?” she mumbles, as she puts on her “jaapi” hat of woven bamboo and palm leaves and takes a sip of tea from a steel mug.

As the women workers around Ghatowar nod in agreement the heavens open – it has started raining heavily in recent days after three largely dry months.

Unrest is brewing among Assam’s so-called Tea Tribes, whose forefathers were brought here by British planters from neighbouring Bihar and Odisha more than a century ago, as changing weather patterns upset the economics of the industry.

Scientists say climate change is to blame for uneven rainfall that is cutting yields and lifting costs for tea firms such as McLeod Russel (MCLE.NS), Tata Global Beverages (TAGL.NS) and Jay Shree Tea (JYST.NS).

While rainfall has declined and become concentrated, temperatures have risen – ideal conditions for pests like looper caterpillar and tea mosquito to infest the light green tea shoots just before they are ready to be plucked for processing.

Use of pesticides and fertilisers has nearly doubled as a result in Assam’s 800 big tea plantations, known as gardens, and the rising costs are making Indian tea less competitive.

As a result, firms in Assam are resisting calls from activists and student leaders to lift the daily wage of tea workers from about $2 agreed to recently, blaming weak prices and the doubling of crop expenses over the past 10 years.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, whose Congress party was routed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 general election, has sided with the workers ahead of state polls due early next year.

COURTING THE TEA VOTE

State elections have national significance in India – Modi needs to win most of the state assembly contests in the next four years if he is to take control of the upper house of the federal parliament and ease the passage of his reform agenda.

Tea tribe votes can swing results in about a quarter of the seats in Assam, the country’s main growing area, and the BJP has been making inroads.

In an interview to Reuters, Gogoi denied an opportunistic motive behind his call for the wage to be raised to about $3 a day.

“I had warned the tea planters about climate change but they did not take care for a long time,” Gogoi said. “They thought it would be easy money. I can’t allow injustice for tea labourers.”

Assam Tea Planters Association (ATPA) Chairman Raj Barooah said they would examine Gogoi’s demand but “there has to be a fair wage that can sustain the industry”.

The average temperature in Assam has risen by 1.4 degrees Celsius in the past century and rainfall is down by 200 mm (8 ins) a year, said R.M. Bhagat, chief scientist at the Tea Research Association in Assam’s tea hub of Jorhat.

“In the last 30 years we have seen that the magnitude of the effect of climate change is pretty high,” he said. “Rainfall has gone topsy-turvy. There is either too much or too little water, forcing planters to use sprinklers on what is a rain-fed crop.”

Several tea garden labourers and planters Reuters spoke with said tea factories in Assam now only run for about six months compared with round-the-year operations earlier.

Less rainfall resulted in an 8 percent fall in tea exports last year, according to the Indian Tea Association (ITA).

India is the world’s No.2 tea producer but is less export-oriented than other producers thanks to its big home market, and Sri Lanka has been extending its lead as the world’s third largest exporter behind China and Kenya.

LEARNING TO ADAPT

Labour accounts for 60 percent of the total costs for tea firms in Assam, whose prices last year were higher than those auctioned in Mombasa in Kenya, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Limbe in Malawi and Indonesian capital Jakarta.

Profit margins at Kolkata-based McLeod Russel, the world’s largest tea producer, are estimated to have fallen to their lowest in six years in the year ended March 31, according to Thomson Reuters data.

To cut labour costs, tea companies like Aideobarie Tea Estates, owned by ATPA’s Barooah, are exploring greater use of machines to harvest and spray nutrients or pesticides.

Barooah, whose company employs 48-year-old leaf plucker Ghatowar, her husband and now her eldest son, is also thinking of expanding into high-margin white tea made from tea buds.

Other tea gardens have moved to cultivating black pepper, turmeric, ginger, vegetables and fruit alongside tea, while Indian scientists are testing tea varieties that can adapt and survive in hotter and drier conditions.

But in the face of long-term climate change, that may not be enough.

“With rain so scarce, a day may come when Assam will not grow tea any more,” said tea scientist Subhash Chandra Barua. “Planting a crop is fine but economic cultivation may not be feasible”.

(Editing by Douglas Busvine and Alex Richardson)

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Mayweather beats Pacquiao in megabout, remains undefeated | Reuters

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Floyd Mayweather Jr. cemented his place among the pantheon of boxing greats by improving to 48-0 with a unanimous decision over Manny Pacquiao on Saturday in a fight that lived up to its immense hype and price tag.

Mayweather weathered an early assault by the Filipino southpaw and then won the later rounds to finish ahead on all three judges’ scorecards in a welterweight showdown that is expected to be the top grossing prize fight of all-time.

“When the history books are written, it was worth the wait,” Mayweather said in the ring after a fight that was over five years in the making.

Though Pacquiao repeatedly forced Mayweather to backpedal, the wily American blunted his opponent’s best efforts by using his renowned defensive skills while getting in several telling jabs and punches of his own.

Mayweather and Pacquiao had promised to deliver on years of hype and give fans their money’s worth and were true to their word in delivering everything but a knockout.

“Manny Pacquiao is a hell of fighter, I see now why he is at the pinnacle of boxing,” Mayweather said after an emotional embrace with Pacquiao. “I’m a smart fighter, I outboxed him.

“We knew what we had to do. He’s a tough competitor … a very awkward fighter and I had to take my time and watch him closely.”

Mayweather is guaranteed at least a $120 million payday from the title bout that had been dubbed the “Fight of the Century” and he said in the ring that his next fight will be his last.

“My next fight in September will be my last and I will retire 49-0,” said the 38-year-old American.

The 16,800 spectators packed an MGM Grand Garden Arena that crackled with energy as the rich and famous settled into their ringside seats.

Actors Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro, Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington rubbed shoulders with sports celebrities such as Michael Jordan, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and billionaire Donald Trump.

With ringside seats commanding six-figure sums on the resale market even the very wealthy and very famous were forced to call in favours to secure a golden ticket while an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 fight fans flooded into the desert gambling capital to be part of the buzz.

“It is a good fight. I thought I won the fight. He didn’t do nothing. He always moved outside,” said Pacquiao, who dropped to 57-5-3. “I got him many times. I threw the punches and I thought I won the fight.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Customs checks hold up relief for Nepal quake victims – U.N. | Reuters

KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Customs inspections at Kathmandu airport are holding up vital relief supplies for earthquake survivors in Nepal, a U.N. official said on Saturday, as the death toll from the disaster a week ago passed 6,600.

United Nations Resident Representative Jamie McGoldrick said the government must loosen its normal customs restrictions to deal with the increasing flow of relief material now pouring in from abroad and piling up at the airport.

But the government, complaining it has received such unneeded supplies as tuna and mayonnaise, insisted its customs agents had to check all emergency shipments.

U.S. military aircraft and personnel due to arrive on Saturday to help ferry relief supplies to stricken areas outside the capital were delayed and tentatively scheduled to arrive on Sunday, a U.S. Marines spokeswoman said.

“They should not be using peacetime customs methodology,” the U.N.’s McGoldrick said. Instead, he argued, all relief material should get a blanket exemption from checks on arrival.

Nepal lifted import taxes on tarpaulins and tents on Friday but a home ministry spokesman, Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, said all goods coming in from overseas had to be inspected. “This is something we need to do,” he said.

Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat appealed on Friday to international donors to send tents, tarpaulins and basic food supplies and said some of the items received were of no use.

“We have received things like tuna fish and mayonnaise. What good are those things for us? We need grains, salt and sugar,” he told reporters.

TRUCKS AND DRIVERS

Some survivors held a candle-light ceremony in Kathmandu on Saturday to mark the passing of one week since the disaster, many of them breaking down in tears as they prayed.

Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy said the delayed U.S. contingent included at least 100 U.S. soldiers, lifting equipment and six military aircraft, two of them helicopters.

He also warned against bottlenecks at Kathmandu airport, saying: “What you don’t want to do is build up a mountain of supplies” that block space for planes or more supplies.

Nepali government officials have said efforts to step up the pace of delivery of relief material to remote areas were also frustrated by a shortage of supply trucks and drivers, many of whom had returned to their villages to help their families.

“Our granaries are full and we have ample food stock, but we are not able to transport supplies at a faster pace,” said Shrimani Raj Khanal, a manager at the Nepal Food Corp.

Army helicopters have air-dropped instant noodles and biscuits to remote communities but people need rice and other ingredients to cook a proper meal, he said.

The government said the death toll from last Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake had reached 6,655 and that more than 14,000 people were injured.

In Kathmandu, teams with sniffer dogs slowly searched through ruined buildings for bodies still buried in the rubble. Elsewhere, volunteers stacked up bricks recovered from the debris to begin the slow process of reconstruction.

Some agencies are beginning to look for demolition crews capable of bringing down thousands of dangerous buildings.

MONSOON AND DISEASE

Many Nepalis have been sleeping in the open since the quake, with survivors afraid to return to their homes because of powerful aftershocks. Tents have been pitched in Kathmandu’s main sports stadium and on its golf course.

According to the United Nations, 600,000 houses have been destroyed or damaged.

The United Nations said 8 million of Nepal’s 28 million people were affected, with at least 2 million needing tents, water, food and medicines over the next three months.

The top priorities now are getting aid and shelter to people before the monsoon season starts within weeks and adds to the difficulty in distributing relief supplies, World Food Programme executive director Ertharin Cousin told Reuters.

“Our fear is the monsoon will come early,” she said.

Disease is also a worry. “Hospitals are overflowing, water is scarce, bodies are still buried under the rubble and people are still sleeping in the open,” Rownak Khan, UNICEF’s deputy representative in Nepal, said in a statement.

“This is a perfect breeding ground for diseases.”

(Additional reporting by Ross Adkin; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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