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Mullah Omar is dead: Government official

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(Last Updated On: July 29, 2015)

OMAR

An Afghan governmental source has confirmed that Mullah Omar, the supreme leader of Taliban group is dead.

“Pakistani officials officialy confirmed death of Taliban’s leader and informed the news to the Afghan authorities,” on the condition of anonymity the source has said.

Earlier a splinter group of the Afghan Taliban claimed that Mullah Omar was killed two years ago.

The Afghanistan Islamic Movement Fidai Mahaz’s spokesperson Qari Hamza, said the reclusive Omar was killed by commanders Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor and Gull Agha in July 2013.

The Taliban supreme leader has not been seen in public in years, but recently an Eid message was released in his name endorsing peace talks.

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Nine dead, more than 50 missing in landslide in India

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(Last Updated On: August 7, 2020)

At least 15 people have been killed after a massive landslide destroyed a tea plantation workers’ settlement in India, local media reported.

The incident took place in Rajakkad in Idukki district of Kerala, India, early on Friday morning.

The Hindustan Times reported that around 50 others are feared trapped in a mound of slush and rock debris.

According to the report, so far, at least 16 people were rescued and taken to the hospital for treatment.

“It is a major tragedy. It is a hilly terrain and some roads connecting to the settlement were washed away in torrential rain. We have sought the Air Force help for airlifting the injured but we were told it will be difficult in inclement weather,” State Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan to the Times.

He added that a team of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has arrived at the scene.

Meanwhile, local people said the area has been witnessing heavy rains over the last three days and power and communication networks in the area were disrupted due to this. This delayed the rescue work. Since the mishap took place in the early hours, many of those affected were in deep slumber due to which they couldn’t escape, they said.

“We have information that at least 84 people lived in the settlement. Most of them are from neighboring Tamil Nadu. And there was also a canteen to cater to their needs at the settlement,” Parthasarathy, a social worker from the area said quoted by the Hindustan Times.

He added that the death toll may rise up.

The place where the incident took place is about 25 kilometers away from hill resort Munnar which was ravaged by the 2018 flood.

The India Metrological Department (IMD) has declared a red alert in three districts, Kozhikode, Wayanad and Idukki, and orange alert in five other districts. Many rivers are in spate after a heavy downpour and the irrigation department said shutters of some dams, including Idukki, will be opened if the wet condition continued.

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Lebanon’s president probes ‘possibility of external interference’

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(Last Updated On: August 7, 2020)

Lebanon’s president said on Friday an investigation into the biggest blast in Beirut’s history would examine whether “external interference” had a role, as residents tried to rebuild their shattered lives and homes after the explosion, Reuters reported.

The search for those missing intensified, as rescuers sifted rubble in a race to find anyone still alive after Tuesday’s explosion that killed 154, smashed up a swathe of the city and sent shockwaves around the region.

“The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act,” President Michel Aoun said in comments carried by local media and confirmed by his office.

He said it would also consider whether it was a result of negligence or an accident. 

Aoun previously blamed negligence in the storage of highly explosive material for years at the port.

The United States has previously said it has not ruled out an attack. 

Israel, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, has also previously denied it had any role.

Meanwhile, security forces fired teargas at a furious crowd in Beirut late on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the ruling elite, who have presided over a nation that faced economic collapse even before the deadly port blast injured 5,000 people.

The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life in Beirut, as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.

“There is no way we can rebuild this house. Where is the state?” Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old.

His family home is in Gemmayze, a district that lies a few hundred meters from the port warehouses where 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate was stored for years, a ticking time bomb near a densely populated area.

A security source and local media previously said the fire that caused the blast was ignited by warehouse welding work.

Volunteers outside swept up debris from the streets of Beirut, which still bears scars from the 1975-1990 civil war and has often witnessed big bombings and other unrest since then.

“Do we actually have a government here?” said taxi driver Nassim Abiaad, 66, whose cab was crushed by falling building wreckage just as he was about to get into the vehicle.

“There is no way to make money anymore,” he said.

The government has promised a full investigation. 

State news agency NNA said 16 people were taken into custody. But for many Lebanese, the explosion was symptomatic of the years of neglect by the authorities while state corruption thrived, Reuters reported.

Officials have said the blast, whose seismic impact was recorded hundreds of kilometers away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion – a bill the country cannot pay when it has already defaulted on its mountain of national debt, exceeding 150 percent of economic output, and talks about a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund have stalled.

Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and pulled down ceilings, have been overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Many were struggling to find enough foreign exchange to buy supplies before the explosion.

In the port area, rescue teams set up arc lights to work through the night in a dash to find those still missing, as families waited tensely, slowly losing hope of ever seeing loved ones again. 

Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.

A pressing challenge for the government is ensuring the nation has enough food, after the blast destroyed the country’s only major grain silo. 

UN agencies were working to hand out food parcels and deliver medical supplies.

Offers of immediate aid have also poured in from Arab states, Western nations and beyond. But none, so far, address the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.

French President Emmanuel Macron came to the city on Thursday with a cargo from France. 

He promised to explain some “home truths” to the government, telling them they needed to root out corruption and deliver economic reforms.

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Trump preps bans on WeChat, TikTok, stoking tension with China

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(Last Updated On: August 7, 2020)

U.S. President Donald Trump has unveiled sweeping bans on U.S. transactions with the Chinese owners of messaging app WeChat and video-sharing app TikTok, escalating a high-stakes confrontation with Beijing over the future of the global tech industry.

The executive orders announced Thursday and effective in 45 days come after the Trump administration this week flagged increased effort to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from U.S. digital networks, calling Tencent Holdings Ltd’s <0700.HK> WeChat and Bytedance’s popular TikTok “significant threats.”

China said on Friday the companies comply with U.S. laws and regulations and warned that the United States would have to “bear the consequences” of its action.

“The U.S. is using national security as an excuse and using state power to oppress non-American businesses. That’s just a hegemonic practice,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a media briefing.

TikTok has come under fire from U.S. lawmakers over national security concerns surrounding data collection as distrust between Washington and Beijing grows. Reuters on Sunday reported that Trump has given Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O> 45 days to complete the purchase of TikTok’s U.S. operations.

“We are shocked by the recent Executive Order, which was issued without any due process,” TikTok said in a statement on Friday, adding that it would “pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure that the rule of law is not discarded”.

The ban on U.S. transactions with Tencent, one of the world’s biggest internet companies, portends further fracturing of the global internet and severing of long-standing ties between the tech industries in the United States and China.

“This is the rupture in the digital world between the U.S. and China,” said James Lewis, a technology expert with Washington-based think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Absolutely, China will retaliate.”

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expanded a program dubbed “Clean Network” to prevent various Chinese apps and telecoms firms from accessing sensitive information on U.S. citizens and businesses.

Trump’s new orders appeared coordinated with Pompeo’s announcement, Lewis said.

“We are reviewing the executive order to get a full understanding,” a Tencent spokesperson said.

ByteDance declined to comment.

WeChat has been downloaded a relatively small 19 million times in the United States, showed data from Sensor Tower. In China, however, the app is ubiquitous as a medium for services as varied as games and payment. It is also a common platform to communicate with individuals and businesses outside China.

U.S. social media and messaging services such Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp and Messenger are blocked in China, where a “great firewall” prevents citizens from freely accessing the worldwide web, and where online communication is routinely monitored and censored.

U.S. concerns about China’s tech industry had until recently focused on telecom equipment vendor Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL]. As relations soured over a host of economic and human rights issues, it has sanctioned numerous other Chinese tech firms.

Tencent is the biggest target yet. It is Asia’s second most-valuable company after Alibaba Group Holding Ltd <BABA.N> with a market capitalization of $686 billion, and is among the world’s largest social media and video game companies. It opened a California gaming studio this summer and owns minority stakes in numerous gaming and internet firms around the world, including U.S. messaging app operator Snap Inc.

Trump’s order sent Asian stock markets lower on Friday, with Tencent shares falling as far as 10.1% before recouping some of its losses in afternoon trade. [MKTS/GLOB]

The yuan, a barometer of Sino-U.S. relations, posted its steepest drop since the United States expelled China from its Houston consulate a little over two weeks ago. [CNY/]

Trump issued the orders under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a law that grants the administration sweeping power to bar U.S. firms or citizens from trading or conducting financial transactions with sanctioned parties.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will identify transactions covered after the orders take effect in mid-September.

Tension has been simmering between the two powers for months, with the United States taking issue with China’s handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak and moves to curb freedoms in Hong Kong. The increasingly aggressive posture towards China comes as Trump bids for re-election in November.

Trump said this week he would support Microsoft’s efforts to buy TikTok’s U.S. operations if the U.S. government got a “substantial portion” of the proceeds. He nevertheless said he will ban the popular app on Sept. 15, though some Republicans have raised concerns about potential political fallout.

The app may be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, and the United States “must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security,” Trump said in one order.

In the other, Trump said WeChat “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”

The United States is not alone in its concern about Chinese internet apps: WeChat and TikTok were among 59 mostly Chinese apps that India outlawed in June for threatening its “sovereignty and integrity”.

The WeChat order would effectively ban the app in the United States by barring “to the extent permitted under applicable law, any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings Ltd.”

It was not clear whether the sanction would effect Tencent’s other holdings in the country.

Meanwhile, WeChat users in the United States were quickly evaluating alternatives.

“Banning WeChat is against America’s liberal principles,” Jeason Ma, a 33-year-old in Los Angeles who obtained U.S. citizenship in November, told Reuters. “Most of our family and friends are in China. This will cause significant inconvenience to our lives.”

Ma has been sharing his account information for WhatsApp and messaging rival Line Corp with friends and family, fearing he could lose access to WeChat.

The order “calls TikTok a national security threat,” said Derek Scissors, an expert on Sino-U.S. economic relations at the American Enterprise Institute think-tank. “Either we’ve missed the threat for three years or it just became one and yet we are waiting 45 days.”

Source: Reuters

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