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YEREVAN/BAKU: Fierce clashes left at least 30 Azerbaijani and Armenian soldiers dead yesterday as Russia and the West urged an immediate ceasefire after a major escalation in violence over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said 18 Armenian troops were killed and some 35 wounded in the “largest-scale hostilities” since a 1994 truce ended a war that saw Armenian-backed fighters seize the territory from Azerbaijan.

Sarkisian did not specify if the troops were from the forces of unrecognized Karabakh – which claims independence but is backed by Yerevan – or Armenia’s army. Earlier Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said that 12 of its soldiers were killed in the clashes and a military helicopter shot down.

The surge in fighting over the disputed territory reportedly also claimed the lives of one Armenian and one Azeri civilian after the arch foes accused each other of unleashing heavy weaponry across the volatile frontline. Armenia accused Azerbaijan of launching a “massive attack along the Karabakh frontline using tanks, artillery, and helicopters” on Friday night. Azerbaijan, however, insisted it had counter-attacked after coming under fire from “large-calibre artillery and grenade-launchers”.

Sarkisian said that clashes were continuing yesterday evening “in the north and south” of the frontline but insisted the “armed forces of Karabakh are in control of the situation”. Ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control of the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region in the early 1990s war that claimed some 30,000 lives and the foes have never signed a peace deal despite the 1994 ceasefire.

The region is still internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan and the two sides frequently exchange fire across the front, but the latest episode marked a surge in violence and sparked frantic appeals for peace from international powers. Azeri forces claimed that they had taken control of several strategic heights and a village in the Armenian-controlled territory, but Yerevan denied the claim as “disinformation”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an immediate end to fighting along the frontline, the Kremlin said. “President Putin calls on the parties in the conflict to observe an immediate ceasefire and exercise restraint in order to prevent further casualties,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu held phone talks with their counterparts in Armenia and Azerbaijan to urge a de-escalation in the fighting.

Meanwhile, mediators from a group made up of representatives from Russia, the United States, France and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has been trying to negotiation a settlement, expressed “grave concern”. The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that the reports of heavy fighting were “deeply worrying” and called on all sides to “avoid any further actions or statements that could result in escalation”.

Azerbaijan’s strongman President Ilham Aliyev also spoke by phone to ally President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which the Turkish leader expressed “solidarity” with Azerbaijan, Aliyev press office said. Energy-rich Azerbaijan, whose military spending has in the past exceeded Armenia’s entire state budget, has repeatedly threatened to take back the breakaway region by force if negotiations fail to yield results. Moscow-backed Armenia says it could crush any offensive.

The last big flare-up occurred in Nov 2014 when Azerbaijan shot down an Armenian military helicopter. US Vice President Joe Biden met this week separately with both Aliyev and Sarkisian, as they attended a nuclear summit in Washington. He urged a peaceful settlement to the dispute. Biden “expressed concern about continued violence, called for dialogue, and emphasized the importance of a comprehensive settlement for the long-term stability, security, and prosperity of the region”, the White House said. – AFP

WASHINGTON: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, known more for his bravado than for sound policy statements, did not specifically condemn Sunday's terrorist attack in Lahore's Gulshan-i-Iqbal park, but said on Monday that he alone can solve the issue.

Trump, who has made headlines for spewing anti-Muslim rhetoric during his presidential campaign, tweeted about the 'radical attack' in Lahore targeting Christians, claiming he alone can solve the issue, without clarifying what issue he was referring to.

Source: Dawn News

NEW DELHI: As Pakistan’s five-member team investigating the Pathankot terror attack received DNA samples of the gunmen from Indian investigators, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar seemed to pour scorn on the visit on Monday.

Press Trust of India said Mr Parrikar had got his hands off the controversy over the Joint Investigation Team’s visit to the Pathankot airbase on Tuesday.

Mr Parrikar said the “crime scene” was under the control of Home Ministry’s National Investigating Agency and it was up to the agency to decide who to allow there or not.

Noting that no permission has been given by the Defence Ministry for entry into the airbase, he said that the “crime scene”, a “non-sensitive” area, has been completely barricaded, including visually, on his orders and no defence asset would be used to facilitate the visit of the Pakistani team.

“However, an area where the actual crime had taken place had been handed over to NIA long back which is conducting the entire investigation. Who will be taken there, who will probe, depends on the decision of NIA,” Mr Parrikar said replying to questions here on the sidelines of Defexpo.

“We have specifically refused them permission to go anywhere in the airbase,” he said.

He said that as far as the Defence Ministry is concerned, they have issued clear directions that the “crime scene” should be barricaded — visually blocked or obstructed — and that external entry should be given to NIA.

The minister said he had issued the instructions following media reports.

“Whom to bring, when to bring is their responsibility till they complete the investigation,” he said.

“If I don’t permit them this crime investigation freedom, then the crime investigation failure would be blamed on the Defence Ministry. We have isolated the area completely,” PTI quoted the minister as saying.

Mr Parrikar had earlier publicly spoken against the planned visit of the Pakistani team to the Pathankot airbase. He said the crime scene was least sensitive and a non-functional area except for a hostel for foreign cadres and mess.

“This area is isolated and taken out from airbase till the investigation is completed. Permission to land at airbase has been refused; permission to use any of the defence instruments like vehicles has been refused. Permission to speak to any defence personnel has been refused,” he said, adding these questions should be directed to NIA.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2016

DUBAI: Kuwait has cut a long way in removing obstacles on the would-be lines of the Gulf railway project, Minister of Public Works and Minister of State for National Assembly Affairs Ali Al-Omair said.

The project’s course in Kuwait has been identified, and will go through cultivated lands whose owners will be compensated, the minister said during a reception held by the Kuwaiti Consul General in Dubai Theyab Al- Rashidi. Al-Omair is taking part in the Middle East Rail 2016 fair which opened yesterday.

Removing the obstacles was a major condition for offering the project through the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program, which is likely to make it easy to find a Gulf investor for the project. He said that the Public Authority for Roads and Land Transport will monitor the project in Kuwait. Referring to the two-day Middle East Rail 2016, Omair said it is a chance to get acquainted with latest technologies in the field. — KUNA


BEIJING: China’s ruling Communist Party said yesterday that it punished nearly 300,000 officials for corruption last year. The party’s official watchdog body said that 200,000 of those were given light punishments and 82,000 handed severe penalties, including demotions within the bureaucracy.

The body known as the Central Committee for Discipline Inspection rarely explains its methodology or what evidence it considers, and no other details were given in the brief statement posted on its website. President Xi Jinping has pressed a massive nationwide probe of corruption among officials of all ranks, including those in the party, government, military and staterun industries. Hundreds of thousands of officials have been interviewed in the campaign, but only a small number have been identified.

An independent database lists 1,567 as having been investigated, expelled from the party or sentenced. Among the highest-level targets of the campaign was Zhou Yongkang, the head of a rival power network and former member of the party’s inner sanctum, the Politburo Standing Committee, who was sentenced last year to life in prison for corruption. —AP

ABU DHABI: US Vice President Joe Biden said yesterday Washington was going to have to “squeeze the heart of” the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq to wipe it out. “We have to squeeze the heart of Daesh in Iraq and Syria so they can’t continue to pump the poison in the region and the rest of the world,” he said, using an Arab acronym for IS. Biden was speaking to hundreds of American and allied forces inside a hangar at a military base in the United Arab Emirates. “This fight is going to take time, but we are committed to seeing it through until we wipe out this evil – and we will wipe out this evil,” Biden said.

Earlier, he ruled out a military solution to end Syria’s conflict, and called for a political transition. “That should be clear to everyone,” Biden told Abu Dhabi newspaper The National at the start of his visit to the UAE ahead of travelling to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. “So as hard as it is, we have to keep trying to reach a political settlement,” he said. Saudi Arabia, which backs the Syrian opposition, and ally the UAE have said they are willing to send ground troops to Syria under US command to battle IS.

Biden’s comments come as President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and its opponents are due this week to resume UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva as a fragile ceasefire holds in Syria. The talks are aimed at ending the five-year Syria war that has killed more than 270,000 people, displaced millions and devastated the country.

Sticking Point: Assad’s Fate

The fate of Assad, who is refusing to step down, has been one of the main sticking points in talks. “A political solution between the parties is the only way to end the violence and give the Syrian people the chance they deserve to rebuild their country. To create a credible, inclusive, and non-sectarian system, a new constitution and free and fair elections,” Biden said. He said the truce that went into effect in Syria on Feb 27 “seems to be holding” but was “not perfect”.

But he also noted that “levels of violence have dropped significantly across the country”, and said this opened the way for the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid. Biden also praised US relations with the UAE and its partners in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which also includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. He acknowledged the “challenges” posed by the historic nuclear deal struck last year between Iran and world powers and also the concerns it raised in GCC countries which are wary of Tehran.

“That’s why we worked so hard to achieve a nuclear agreement with Iran, because as dangerous as Iran’s actions are, they would be exponentially greater if Iran possessed a nuclear weapon.” He said steps were being taken to bolster the security of the GCC monarchies to be able to “deal with Iran diplomatically from a position of strength”. Biden held talks later yesterday with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and today will meet Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

Earlier in the day, Biden visited Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, pausing outside to remove his black dress shoes in keeping with Islamic custom. He examined a wall in the ornate mosque bearing the 99 names of God written in Arabic before stepping outside to wave at visiting tourists kept a short distance away. Accompanying Biden on the mosque tour was its director-general, Yousif Abdallah Alobaidli, and Minister of State Reem Al-Hashimi.

Biden later visited Masdar City, a government-backed clean energy campus on the capital’s outskirts, taking a few moments to talk to Shefaa Mansour, a student from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, studying at the affiliated Masdar Institute. He later looked at a model of a desalination plant, something crucial to the Emirates, which experts warn may run out of groundwater in the next 15 years. Emirati Minister of State Sultan Al-Jaber handed him a bottle of water made at the plant. The vice president looked at it, then smiled. “Now make sure I’m still standing,” he said. “Watch what happens when I take the first sip. I’m more energized.” Biden then paused for a moment and added: “Do you need a partner? I’m out of a job soon.” – Agencies


TUNIS: Kuwait’s Interior Minister affirmed yesterday that combating terrorism and drying up its sources constitute the greatest challenge facing Arab security apparatuses. Addressing the 33rd session of the Arab Interior Council, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, also the Deputy Premier, said hard circumstances prevailing in a number of Arab states led to insecurity and instability. “It is our duty to sense these circumstances and we should seek maximum cooperation and coordination” to deal with these challenges, he said.

Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khaled sounded the alarm bell due to the terrorist incidents, warning that no country “would be immune from the terrorist operations.” He called for serious action to cutt off “arteries of terrorism and drying up financing resources and protecting our sons from its perils.”

“Intellectual security is the mightiest arm in facing and conquering terrorism,” he said, praising in particular role at this level by the Saudi Naif University for Security Sciences. Tremendous development in the social media means rendered the electronic realms a fertile entity for terrorist organizations, threatening the intellectual security by large, and this warrants unification of efforts and activation of pacts for combating cybercrimes and establishing bridges of cooperation with the operating companies for sake of preserving peoples’ security, the Kuwaiti Interior Minister stated at the Arab conference.

Extraordinary security conditions in the Arab world have resulted in arms proliferation, in addition to drugs’ spread, he said, warning against an approach to amend some anti-narcotics international conventions, including the notion to cancel execution and allowing deals in some drugs.

Such ideas are expected to be put forward at the 59th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs due in Vienna next month and the extraordinary UN General Assembly session for discussing drugs in April, Sheikh Mohammad Al-Khaled added. Arab states should unify their stances and take a joint attitude to “abort this scheme and confront notions that compromise our basic principles and doctrine,” he said.

Broad strategy
Arab interior ministers agreed to enhance cooperation and information exchange, as part of a broad strategy to stifle terrorism. Speaking at the session, Crown Prince, First Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior of Saudi Arabia Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud underscored the need to boost cooperation amongst Arab security apparatuses, saying that “combating crime is a joint obligation.”

The Arab world faces growing challenges that threaten peace and security, “which calls for increased efforts to generate awareness on the need to uphold peace in society,” Prince Mohammad said. Moreover, Arab League Secretary General Nabil Al-Araby underlined the fact that the session takes place amidst trying times, saying that cooperation is necessary to wipe out terrorism.

Araby also said that eradicating terrorism is the Arab world’s biggest challenge, calling for plans to hold similar meetings of Arab defense, justice and foreign ministers in attempt to consolidate efforts against terrorism.
Secretary General of the Arab Interior Minister Council Dr Mohammad bin Ali Koman pointed to “the atrocities committed by terrorist groups in Yemen and Syria. Koman also said that the Arab Interior Minister Council encapsulates Arab cooperation, and is evident of successful, joint Arab work.

Security cooperation
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi had called on Arab nations to ramp up security cooperation to combat terrorism, “which has sparked disarray and threatened peace.” Speaking at the session, Essebsi said that the Arab region is faced with perilous challenges, “as sectarian tensions and internal strife is plaguing the region.” He also singled out the so-called Islamic State (IS) as “a major threat to Arab security, by virtue of the group’s ability to attract sympathizers.”

Moreover, Essebsi warned that Arab nations are on the cusp of collapse, in light of rampant conflict that pervades the region. “The fight against terrorism necessities a united front to uphold security and peace in the Arab world,” he noted.

On security conditions in his country, Essebsi said that Tunisia is facing an unprecedented level of danger that threatens security in the country. “Deterioration of security in Libya is detrimental to security in Tunis, as Tunisia is most vulnerable to the ill effects of the conflict in Tripoli,” the Tunisian President said. “These obstacles behoove us to constantly reshape our strategies of fighting terrorism,” he said.”

Earlier yesterday, the 33rd session of the Arab Interior Minister Council kicked off, with participation of Arab interior ministers, security delegations and representatives of the United Nations (UN), Arab League (AL) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). – KUNA


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