Swaraj meets counterparts from five nations


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New York, Sep 19 (PTI) External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has held meetings with her counterparts from five countries on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session here to discuss bilateral cooperation and push for India’s development agenda.

Swaraj held talks with the foreign ministers of Tunisia, Bahrain, Latvia, the United Arab Emirates and Denmark.

“Broadly the focus was on bilateral cooperation,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told reporters at a news conference here.

During the meeting with Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui, Swaraj told him that she was looking forward to the next joint commission meeting between the two countries to be held in New Delhi on October 30-31.

“There are a lot of discussions on how to reinvigorate economic relationship. Sectors like pharma, textiles biotechnology, renewable energy and IT were identified for future cooperation,” Kumar said.

Swaraj, according to Kumar, felt that there was a huge potential for exporting Indian pharma products especially vaccines to Tunisia as the price of its drugs are very competitive.

In her meeting with the Denmark Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen, discussion was held on when to hold the next meeting of the Joint Commission.

Denmark is also the partner country for the World Food India extravaganza, which is going to take place in the first week of November.

Swaraj also invited Danish participation for investment in India.

In her meeting with the Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, the focus was on expanding trade relations.

“Latvian Foreign Minister announced that their prime minister will visit India for the World Food Summit later this year,” Kumar said, adding the two leaders also discussed the ways to enhance cooperation in the sectors like I-T, education and culture.

In her meeting with the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the two sides discussed measures to attract more foreign direct investment from the UAE into India.

The UAE is India s strategic partner. The bilateral trade between India and the UAE is worth USD 52.8 billion.

“It was felt that at this point of time it was below potential. Cooperation in energy sector, civil aviation especially in the capacity building and best practices was discussed,” Kumar said.

Trump to host world leaders in UN to push for reform


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New York, Sep 18 (PTI) US President Donald Trump, a critic of the UN, will seek to gather global support for reforming the world body, ahead of his maiden address to the General Assembly.

India along with some key members of the UN has also been seeking reforms and expansion of the UN Security Council.

Ahead of his address, Trump would host and chair a high- level meeting of the world leaders on reforms in the UN.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj would be participating in the meeting.

During the meeting, Trump “will express support for Secretary General (Antonio) Guterres’ reform efforts,” said National Security Advisor Lt Gen H R McMaster.

“The United Nations, of course, holds tremendous potential to realise its founding ideals, but only if it’s run more efficiently and effectively,” he told reporters in Washington last week.

On Tuesday, Trump will address the General Assembly during which he will tackle multiple global issues such as North Korea s nuclear ambitions and the crisis in Syria.

The UN reforms will focus on ensuring that other countries take a more equitable burden to ensure international security, to demand greater accountability of UN officials, and to reduce the budget by eliminating duplication.

Trump had once described the UN as “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time”.

“The utter weakness and incompetency of the United Nations. The United Nations is not a friend of democracy.

It’s not a friend to freedom. It’s not a friend even to the United States of America, where, as you know, it has its home,” Trump had said during his presidential campaign last year.

India s Permanent Representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin on Saturday said India wants these reforms to be broad-based and all encompassing.

The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, on Sunday said that Trump wants the world body to be efficient and effective.

“We said that we needed to get value for our dollar. And what we’re finding is the international community is right there with us in support of reform. So, it is a new day at the UN,” she told the CNN in an interview on Sunday.

The 72nd session of the UN General Assembly would be discussing 172 items on its agenda.

US options on North Korea effective and overwhelming: Trump


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Washington, Sep 16 (PTI) A day after North Korea fired an intermediate range ballistic missile over Japan, President Donald Trump said he is confident that the US’ options towards North Korea are “effective and overwhelming.”

“After seeing your capabilities and commitment here today, I am more confident than ever that our options in addressing this threat are both effective and overwhelming,” Trump said in his address to air force personnel and families on the 70th anniversary of the US Air Force.

Trump said America and its allies will never be intimidated.

“We will defend our people, our nations, and our civilisation from all who dare to threaten our way of life.

This includes the regime of North Korea, which has once again shown its utter contempt for its neighbours and for the entire world community,” he said.

North Korea yesterday fired an intermediate range ballistic missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. But the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) had said the ballistic missile did not pose a threat to North America.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis spoke over phone with his Japanese counterpart Defense Itsunori Onodera following the latest North Korean missile launch, the Pentagon said.

“The secretary reassured his Japanese counterpart of America’s unwavering commitment to the defense of Japan and the broader security of the region,” Director of Defense Press Operations Colonel Rob Manning said.

“Mattis and Onodera agreed that the North Korean provocation called for a strong demonstration of a unified front between the US, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, and agreed on the importance of robust trilateral defense cooperation between the three nations,” he said.

Mattis told reporters on his way to Mexico that as a result of the North Korean missile test, tens of millions of Japanese people were seen going into duck and cover, which was second time that they’ve had to do that since World War II.

“I believe it will further North Korea’s isolation — diplomatic and economic isolation — because more and more nations are realising there’s simply no collaboration with the international community. There’s a dismissal of international concern, unified UN Security Council concerns,” he said.

“I think they’re deepening their isolation, economic and diplomatic. And right now, I don’t have any more forensics on it. That takes us a little while, as we amass everything and analyse it,” Mattis said.

Nepal signs agreement with US to get grant worth USD 500 mn


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Washington, Sep 15 (PTI) Nepal has signed an agreement with the US government’ Millennium Challenge Corporation to receive a grant worth USD 500 million in next five years to spur private investment and economic growth to reduce poverty in the country.

Nepal would contribute another USD 130 million to support the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

Nepalese Minister of Finance Gyanendra Bahadur Karki and MCC Acting CEO Jonathan Nash signed the agreement in this regard at the State Department.

The ceremony was joined by Deputy Secretary of State John J Sullivan, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, and Lis Curtis who heads the South Asia division of the National Security Council, the White House.

Describing it as a historic occasion, Sullivan said the signing of an MCC grant agreement is not only a milestone for development, but also serves as a mark of great distinction for Nepal.

“The compact recognizes Nepal’s vast progress and ongoing efforts to establish the rule of law and implement democratic institutions. The Board of Directors of the Millennium Challenge Corporation first selected Nepal for a compact in December of 2014,” he said.

Sullivan said Nepal’s progress over the past few years, both politically and economically, represents a vital turning point for the country.

By holding its first elections under a new constitution, Nepal has signaled the beginning of a new democratic age.

“This compact will enable support for Nepal’s greater economic security and help to transform lives for the better.

As Acting CEO Nash mentioned, with the signing of this USD 500 million compact, we are committing to tackle the greatest constraints to growth in Nepal’s energy and transportation sectors,” he added.

“But this is more than just a grant. It’s a plan for investment jointly developed to address the inadequate supply of electricity in Nepal and the high cost of transportation in that country. Together, we will work to improve the availability of electricity and make road transportation safer and more affordable,” the top American diplomat said.

Karki said this compact of USD 500 million, combined with the Government of Nepal’s commitment of USD 130 million, will surely create a lasting impact on Nepal’s sustainable development for generations to come.

Recognising the several decades of cooperation between two countries in socioeconomic development programs, the Finance Minister said over the years, America has supported Nepal in building peaceful, prosperous, and a democratic society.

“Today’s signing ceremony is the epitome of the US’ continued encouragement towards democratic development and a lasting peace in Nepal, he said.

According to Nash, the programme will tackle two of Nepal’s most binding constraints to economic growth: low energy supply and high transportation cost.

Irma toll jumps to 12 in Florida: official


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Miami, Sep 13 (AFP) Hurricane Irma killed at least 12 people in Florida when it cut a deadly path of destruction through the idyllic Key islands and deep inland in the southeastern US state, officials say.

“Currently, the number of confirmed deaths attributable to Hurricane Irma stands at 12,” Florida Division of Emergency Management spokesman Alberto Moscoso told AFP yesterday, as workers picked through the rubble left by the storm.

Indians evacuated from hurricane-hit Sint Maarten


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1:37 HRS IST
New Delhi, Sep 12 (PTI) Over 100 Indian and Indian-origin people were today evacuated from the hurricane Irma-hit Sint Maarten and brought to the Caribbean island of Curacao on a special flight chartered by the Indian government.

“The special flight chartered by the government of India just arrived in Curacao with 110 Indian and Indian-origin evacuees from Sint Maarten,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had said yesterday that the evacuation of Indian nationals from Sint Maarten was a priority.

Sint Maarten, that is jointly administered by France and the Netherlands, was directly in hurricane Irma’s path. The island suffered widespread destruction after the storm made landfall last week and wreaked havoc on the Caribbean islands.

Rahul Gandhi visits solar research center in Silicon Valley


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Washington, Sep 13 (PTI) Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has visited a research centre in California and interacted with scientists to understand the utility of solar power for India.

Gandhi, 47, spent several hours at Sun Power and sought information on its advantages and disadvantages.

“Idea (behind visiting the center) was to really understand implications (of solar system) in India,” senior Congress leader Sam Pitroda, who accompanied Gandhi, said after his visit to Sun Power’s research center in the Silicon Valley.

After his visit to the solar research center, Gandhi flew to Los Angeles.

He is scheduled to interact with members of the think- tank community and local leaders there.

A day earlier, Gandhi visited the Tesla factory in Fremont in California.

“To me, Rahul Gandhi is not just India’s leader, he is a global leader. Today there is a vacuum of global leadership,” Pitroda said.

I’m not robotic: Theresa May fights back


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London, Sep 8 (PTI) British Prime Minister Theresa May today fought back claims that she is robotic in her responses, a tag she was given by the media during the general election campaign earlier this year for repeating stock phrases.

The ardent cricket fan was at the England versus West Indies Test match at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London today when she was brought on as guest on the BBC’s Test Match Special radio show.

“I get frustrated… people used the word robotic about me during that campaign. I don’t think I’m in the least robotic,” said May, on being asked about the election campaign that ended with her Conservative party losing its overall majority in the House of Commons.

“As the leader of the party of course you have to take it to a degree personally and you have to accept that responsibility,” 60-year-old May said in reference to the June election outcome.

The campaign – which had been masterminded by Australian strategist Sir Lynton Crosby – has been widely criticised for failing to connect with the UK electorate, with the PM even being labelled “Maybot” for a robotic approach.

“In any election campaign a plan is made about what that campaign is going to be like… What I really enjoy is getting out there talking to people, hearing from them, understanding what the issues are for them,” she said.

“That’s what drove me when I first became prime minister.”

Guests traditionally bring cakes to BBC’s Test Match Special, and after an initial chat about Hurricane Irma which May described as “absolutely devastating” May said she had baked chocolate brownies herself at Downing Street.

She admitted finding it “much harder” to follow cricket as PM, “I’m not able to see much these days, I’m afraid, and there’s not a lot of time to keep up with it.

At least 17 dead as Hurricane Irma ravages Caribbean


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Cap-Haitien (Haiti), Sep 8 (AFP) Hurricane Irma ripped through the Caribbean today, leaving a trail of devastation and killing 17 as it barrelled towards the United States where up to a million people have been told to flee.

So far, 1.2 million people have been affected by Irma, the Red Cross said.

But that number looks set to rise — and could reach as high as 26 million, the agency said.

With the monster storm expected to reach the American south by the weekend, coastal areas of Florida and Georgia were battening down the hatches and carrying out their biggest evacuation since 2005.

“The entire southeastern United States better wake up and pay attention,” warned US federal emergency chief Brock Long.

“It will be truly devastating.”

Roaring across the Caribbean, the rare Category Five hurricane laid waste to a series of tiny islands like St Martin, where 60 percent of homes were wrecked, before slamming into the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

By this morning, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) had downgraded Irma to Category Four with maximum wind speeds of up to 250 kilometres per hour while warning it was still extremely dangerous.

On many islands, violent winds have ripped roofs and facades off buildings, hurling lumps of concrete, cars and even shipping containers aside.

At least two people were killed in Puerto Rico, and more than half of its three million residents were without power after rivers broke their banks in the center and north of the island.

Another four people were killed on the US Virgin Islands, with the governor’s office saying a number of badly injured people had been airlifted to Puerto Rico.

One person died in tiny Barbuda which also suffered “absolute devastation,” with 300 people evacuated to Antigua and up to 30 per cent of properties demolished.

St Martin, a pristine island resort divided between France and the Netherlands, also suffered the full fury of the storm, as did the French island of St Barthelemy.

France said at least nine people had been killed across its Caribbean territories and seven more were missing. There were 112 people injured, including two seriously, said Interior Minister Gerard Collomb.

Six out of 10 homes were left uninhabitable, with insurers in Paris estimating their overall costs would likely be “much higher” than 200 million euros (USD 240 million).

On the Dutch side of St Martin, one person died, officials said. Dutch King Willem-Alexander will head to the island of Curacao to the south on Sunday for a briefing on the aid operation, and may travel on to St Martin, officials said.

“It’s as if a bomb went off. Before everything was so beautiful and green here. Now everything is as grey as a Dutch winter,” retired police officer Klaas Groen told Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad.

A state of emergency has been declared in the British Virgin Islands where residents spoke of scenes of “total devastation”.

“Our downstairs doors suddenly blew out, which was terrifying,” Emily Killhoury told the BBC from her home in Tortola.

“We eventually emerged at about 7:00 pm to see total devastation.”

Britain’s defence ministry said it was sending two military transport planes to the region carrying personnel, supplies and recovery equipment.

As European nations quickly mobilized to help their citizens in the Caribbean, French and Dutch ministers said they were sending hundreds of extra police to St Martin tackle a spate of “looting”.

The storm has caused major shortages of food, water and petrol.

“The situation is serious,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said today when asked about reports of looting on the island.

Speaking to Algemeen Dagblad, one witness reported seeing “people with guns and machetes” in the street.

French Overseas Territories Minister Annick Girardin said 400 police officers would be deployed after seeing “pillaging right in front of us” in St Martin where most of the 80,000 inhabitants have lost their homes.

In the Dominican Republic, torrential rain and powerful winds whipped the northern and eastern coasts, leaving 17 districts cut off.

Nearly 20,000 people were evacuated and more than 100 houses destroyed.

And in Cuba, some 10,000 foreign tourists were evacuated from beach resorts as authorities hiked the disaster alert level to maximum.

As of early today, the eye of the storm was just north of Great Inagua, at the southern tip of the Bahamas.

80 Indian fishermen released by Lankan navy


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12:53 HRS IST
Colombo, Sep 5 (PTI) Sri Lanka has released 80 Indian fishermen who were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy for allegedly fishing illegally in the island nation’s territorial waters, according to a media report.

Four of them were rescued by the Sri Lankan Navy when they were drowning in northern seas on August 31 while the others have been arrested for trespassing into the Sri Lankan territorial waters and engaging in illegal fishing activities, The Colombo Page reported.

The 76 Indian fishermen were apprehended on separate occasions by the Sri Lankan Navy and Coast Guard for engaging in the illegal fishing method of bottom trawling in the Sri Lankan territorial waters.

The repatriated Indian fishermen were handed over to the Indian Coast Guard Ship ‘Sarang’ at the International Maritime Boundary Line north of Kankasanthurai, the report said.

Fishermen from both countries are arrested frequently by the maritime security agencies of both countries for illegal fishing and often stray into illegal waters due to absence of any proper technology to confirm the coastline border between Pakistan and India near Sir Creek in the Arabian Sea.