Cairo, Tel Aviv hold talks for ‘permanent ceasefire’

CAIRO: Israeli and Egyptian officials held talks in both countries on Sunday aimed at bolstering the Cairo-brokered ceasefire that ended the latest deadly flare-up of violence between the Jewish state and Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel in Jerusalem to discuss “strengthening cooperation” between their countries, Netanyahu’s office said. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi tasked Kamel and his delegation, who also visited the occupied Palestinian Territories, with hammering out a permanent ceasefire deal, senior Egyptian security officials said. On the same day, Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi made the first official visit by an Israeli top diplomat to neighbouring Egypt in 13 years, for talks with his counterpart Sameh Shoukry.

Israel, UAE sign tax treaty to boost economic cooperation

Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed a tax treaty on Monday, Israel's Finance Ministry said, describing the move as a spur to business development between the countries after they normalised relations last year. The UAE finance ministry said in October that it had reached a preliminary agreement with Israel on avoiding double taxation. The tax convention, once ratified by ministers and parliament this year, will be Israel's 59th and go into effect on Jan 1, 2022. It is the first tax treaty reached in the wake of Israel's normalising relations with the UAE and Bahrain last year. In parallel, Israel has moved to improve ties with Morocco and Sudan.

Scores of children abducted from Islamic seminary in Nigeria

Gunmen kidnapped scores of children from an Islamic seminary in central Nigeria, officials said, the latest mass abduction to hit Africa's most populous nation. Some 200 children were at the school in Niger state on Sunday during the attack, the local government tweeted, adding “an unconfirmed number” were taken. The abduction came a day after 14 students from a university in northwestern Nigeria were freed after 40 days in captivity, one of a series of kidnappings to target colleges and schools since December. Niger state police spokesman Wasiu Abiodun said the attackers arrived on motorbikes and started shooting indiscriminately, killing one resident and injuring another, before kidnapping the children from the Salihu Tanko Islamic school. One of the school's officials, who asked not to be named, said the attackers initially took more than 100 children “but later sent back those they considered too small for them, those between four and 12 years old”. The state government, in a series of tweets, said the attackers had released 11 of the pupils who were “too small and couldn't walk” very far. In a later Twitter thread, the state added the governor Sani Bello had directed “security agencies to bring back [the] children as soon as possible”.

Hamas chief urges Muslims to establish ‘strategic partnership’

PESHAWAR: Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh has hoped that Prime Minister Imran Khan will take pragmatic steps to support the Palestinian cause and fully back their struggle. In a recorded speech to “Labbaik Al-Quds Million March” in Peshawar on Sunday, he said that Muslim countries should form strategic partnership for defending holy lands. Jamaat-i-Islami organised the rally to express solidarity with the people of Gaza and other occupied territories of Palestine who recently resisted Israeli aggression. JI chief Sirajul Haq, provincial chief Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan and other senior leaders of the party also addressed the rally. A large number of supporters of JI attended the rally, which was held on the main Grand Trunk Road. The venue was decorated with the national flags of Palestine Authority. A banner read: “Israel is an Apartheid State.” The charged participants of the rally chanted slogans of “death to Israel” and “we are ready to sacrifice our lives to liberate Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Journalists, rights bodies condemn move to take TV anchor Hamid Mir 'off air'

Journalist bodies and human rights organisations on Monday condemned the move to take veteran journalist and TV show host Hamid Mir "off air". Mir told BBC Urdu he had been informed by the Geo News management that he would "not go on air on Monday" to host his five-days-a-week show Capital Talk. Although there was no official comment from Geo News, its administration confirmed to BBC Urdu that Mir would not host his talk show from Monday (today) and that "he has been sent on leave for some time". The management said Mir was still associated with the Jang Media Group; another anchorperson has reportedly been asked to host the programme in place of Mir for now.

Pakistani contracted Indian variant in Gulf

ISLAMABAD: The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Sunday released details of the only confirmed Pakistani infected by the Indian variant of Covid-19. On the other hand, Prime Minister Imran Khan is set to chair a meeting of the National Coordination Com­mittee (NCC) on Monday (today), during which the virus situation in the country and the progress of the steps taken to check its spread will be discussed. Besides, 56 patients succumbed to the dreaded virus and 2,697 more were infected during the last 24 hours as over seven million vaccines were administered across the country. The NCOC shared details of the Pakistani citizen who had contracted the Indian strain, and claimed that effective screening and quarantine for international travellers had prevented secondary infections of the variant (B.1.617.2).

Peshawar police fire tear gas, baton charge govt teachers protesting reduction in allowances

Police in Peshawar fired tear gas and baton-charged government teachers protesting university reforms, which include a reduction in allowances, in front of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on Monday. At least eight of the protesting teachers were also detained, police officials said, adding that they were held for blocking the road. Peshawar University Teachers' Association (PUTA) President Fazl Nasir was also among those detained and allegedly beaten by the police.

PM Imran launches Pakistan's first green Eurobond

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday formally launched Pakistan's first green Eurobond by the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) at a ceremony in Islamabad. The prime minister — who was the chief guest — began his address by congratulating the authority on the achievement. He also expressed satisfaction at the progress on Mohmand and Bhasha dams. "Unfortunately, one of Pakistan's biggest weaknesses is the implementation of projects. In my government I am also seeing that some things lag behind when it comes to implementation." PM Imran lamented the fact that Pakistan's potential had not been utilised. "When Shaukat Tarin and I were growing up in Pakistan, the country had a different status in the world. Our economy at one point was at the fourth spot in all of Asia."

Govt aiming to inoculate enough people to not impose restrictions on Eidul Azha: Asad Umar

Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said on Monday that the government aimed to inoculate as many people as possible by July, which would enable it to not impose difficult restrictions at the time of Eidul Azha. Addressing a media briefing after a session of the National Coordination Committee (NCC), Umar said that seven million vaccines had been administered in Pakistan so far with 5.2m to 5.3m people vaccinated and the eventual goal by the year's end was to reach 70m people. "According to our figures, more than 7m vaccine doses have been administered and some 5.2 to 5.3m people are included in this who have been vaccinated," he said. The federal minister said the target by the year's end was to inoculate 70m people across Pakistan with a particular emphasis on achieving vaccination rates at a sufficiently high level in June and July so that strict and difficult restrictions would not be required before Eidul Azha as had been placed on Eidul Fitr.

Is suicide prevention Wajib? The Grand Ayatollah Makarem’s answer

The Grand Ayatollah Makarem answered questions about suicide prevention. Question: For a person who intends to suicide; is it Wajib for others to prevent suicide? If suicide prevention has expenses, to what level this must be endured? And who is obliged to pay? If preventing a person from suicide involves danger to life or danger to health for the rescuer; to what extent must take the risk? The Grand Ayatollah Makrem: Suicide prevention is Wajib for any Muslim, and if the cost is low, the preventer must pay. But if it the cost is high, involves risk to life, it is not necessary for the preventer; but if public treasury is able must pay for it.

Patients with special and rare diseases in Iran dying under US sanctions

US Cruel Sanctions against Iran have negatively affected patients with rare diseases , from EB to epilepsy to cancer. Facing a raft of illegal US sanctions since 2018, Iran has been struggling to pay for urgent medical supplies needed for treatment of patients suffering from rare conditions. The bans effectively bar Iran from accessing the international banking system and prevent foreign companies from providing urgently needed supplies of medicines and equipment to the country, according to press TV. Hadi Keykhosravi is one of about 1,000 people in Iran stricken with epidermolysis bullosa (EB). Described by US dermatologists as “the most painful disease you’ve never heard of,” EB is caused by a genetic mutation and occurs in every 1 in 30,000 to 50,000 live births globally. Characterised by extreme fragility of the skin and mechanically induced blistering, EB patients are often referred to as ‘butterfly children’ because their skin appears as delicate as that of a butterfly wing. There is no cure. “It [feels] like boiling water, drop by drop falling on your skin. You can feel this pain no matter the time of day; you can see how you’re losing your skin,” Keykhosravi, 29, told Al Jazeera from his home in Sabzevar, northeastern Iran. The only relief patients receive on a daily basis is through specialized foam dressings that reduce and protect blisters. The most effective dressings are produced by the Swedish pharmaceutical company Mölnlycke and are used by EB patients worldwide, Atlantic Council reported. But for patients in Iran, access to Mölnlycke supplies for a few years has been next to impossible. After the United States under former president Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018 and reimposed unilateral sanctions on Iran, Molnlycke stopped exporting the Mepilix product to Iran and temporary relief was brought to an end. Without Mepilex, Keykhosravi found himself unable to control a wound on his leg that continued to grow. The infection eventually spread to his bloodstream and on June 16, 2020, his leg had to be amputated from the knee down to prevent the infection from spreading further. According to The Hague-based Iranian Centre for International Criminal Law (ICICL), nearly 30 Iranian EB patients – mostly children – have died since Molnlycke stopped selling its dressings to Iran. For EB survivors, the pain has increased by 70 percent. While the United States has claimed it kept a “humanitarian window” open under its sanctions, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated in 2019 the “overbroad” sanctions are still “harming Iranians’ right to health including access to life-saving medicines”. In April, the High Council for Human Rights of Iran also sent a letter to the Council of the European Union that said a number of EU member states have imposed “intentional damage on the health and wellbeing of the Iranian people, particularly children, women, the elderly, and persons with disability”. It listed the names of more than a dozen children who died from EB because of a lack of access to vital drugs, and described how European countries refused to work with Iranian firms on medicine, medical equipment and vaccines, Al Jazeera reported.

AQR hits record 70m printed books

Astan Quds Razavi: Publishing 14,891 titles in approximately 70 million copies during 1395 AH (March 2016-2017), Astan Quds Razavi has become a major center of promoting and deepening pure Islamic and Shia knowledge and teachings. Ramazan Ali Izanloo, an official from Astan Quds Razavi’s Scientific and Cultural Organization pointed to the publication of the “Bibliography of Astan Quds Razavi’s Publications from 1305 to 1399” and stated that “from 1926, with the publication of the first three volumes of the Central Library manuscript list, which is the first experience of cataloging manuscripts in modern style in Iran, AQR started its publishing activity.” He commented that until the victory of the Islamic Revolution, 27 books, 16 of which are inventory list, were published by the Central Library and Malek National Library, which were the only AQR cultural institutions at the time. After Islamic Revolution this establishment has achieved a high position in the field of publishing Islamic sciences and knowledge, and also in the development of the written culture of the country. He pointed out that the professional and specialized AQR activity in the field of publishing has started since 1984 with the establishment of the Institute of Printing, Islamic Research Foundation, Razavi University of Islamic Sciences and the World Congress of Hazrat Reza (AS). According to Izanloo, institutions such as the Islamic Research Foundation, Behnashr (Astan Quds Razavi’s Publishing Institute), Youth Institute, Printing and Publishing Institute, Institute of Artistic Creations, Deputy Office for Islamic Ideology Dissemination, Imam Reza (AS) University, Razavi University of Islamic Sciences, AQR Libraries, Museums and Documents Organization, Malek National Library and Museum, Razavi Cultural Foundation and Holy Quran Center are engaged in publishing AQR books. “Religious issues as well as children and adolescents’ areas have been the most published works during the 95 years of AQR’s history of book printing,” he noted.

Lebanon: Berri’s proposal brings hope for a new government

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Cabinet proposal brings hope for a new government in Lebanon. Amid a deepening Cabinet crisis that has defied local and regional mediation efforts, attention has shifted to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri who is gearing up to push with a proposal calling for the formation of a 24-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists with no veto power to any side, a political source said Wednesday. The proposal divides the suggested 24 ministers into three groups with no veto power to any side: Eight ministers to Aoun, eight ministers to Hariri, and eight ministers to Berri’s Amal Movement, Hezbollah and their allies. Berri’s proposal was initially floated by Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt during a meeting with Aoun last month, The Daily Star reported. The parliament speaker aims to establish a compromise between Aoun and Hariri to solve that problem. Previously, Berri warned that the worst is yet to come in case of continuing without a government and for that reason, he announced a total debacle or a social explosion of unforeseeable consequences, according to Agencia Informativa Latinoamericana Prensa Latina. For the first time in weeks, the conditions surrounding the cabinet formation process appear more conducive to real progress. Except, this time, Berri appears to be supported in his attempt by the Maronite Patriarch Beshara Al-Rahi and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and powerful political parties of the ruling class, according to L’Orient Today and The Bharat Express News. The government of former Lebanese prime minister, Hassan Diab, resigned in the wake of a massive explosion at Beirut port on August 4 last year, which ravaged the heart of residential areas and the city’s vibrant commercial district. Hariri was tasked with forming a government for a fourth time in October last year. That was one year after he resigned as prime minister amid mass protests. But he has failed to form a government, press tv reported.

Yemen | Undersecretary of Finance Ministry: Saudi Arabia does not want to find a real state in its nearby

The Undersecretary of the Ministry of Finance in Yemen, Ahmed Hajar, warned that "Saudi Arabia does not want to find a real state in its nearby, neither in Yemen nor elsewhere, to have the upper hand, and behind is the upper hand of America and global imperialism." In an interview with Unews Press Agency, Hajar said "The Saudi-Led Coalition forces focused from the beginning on two tracks, the first of which is the drying of foreign exchange sources which leads to finding difficulty in the standard of living. The second track was to dry up the state's revenue sources so that the state would be emptied and ceased to carry out its tasks, leading to the administrative collapse in addition to the economic collapse." Hajar added "the Yemeni economy depends mainly on the outside world, whether in providing basic food commodities, providing inputs to production, or providing capital goods, and therefore all axes of a strong economy depend primarily on the outside world." He continued "therefore, allied countries have sought from the beginning of 2015 is to dry up foreign exchange sources, foremost among which are oil and gas revenues and aid." "The main objective was to find a scarcity of monetary terms in order to raise the exchange price of dollar and commodities as a result of the income cessation due to the stricken economic and production facilities intake and consequently decline especially employment opportunities in agriculture, building and construction, and caused a scarcity of foreign currency." He said "The scarcity of foreign exchange was considered by the Riyadh government as one of the tools of economic war." Hajar pointed out that "oil derivatives are a basic income for various economic activities, whether they are linked to basic medical or agricultural services, production services, industry, electricity, etc." He pointed out that "Yemen is considered one of the worst countries to use aid in the past exploiting 20 to 25% of them in the best conditions. " Hajar noted that the poor distribution of aid is due to two reasons that are the unclear lines of international organizations and the lack of previously set plans by the beneficiaries. "-

Pakistan warns India against any ‘misadventure’

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi warned neighbouring India on Wednesday to refrain from launching any attacks on his country, saying that Islamabad will respond with full force if New Delhi embarks on ‘any misadventure’. Shah Mahmood Qureshi claimed that India is plotting an attack on Pakistan, allegedly to divert attention from a recent deadly clash between India and China in a disputed area of the Himalayas that killed at least 20 Indian soldiers. Chinese and Indian military commanders agreed on Monday to disengage their forces in the disputed area. Qureshi alleged that India, after being beaten and embarrassed by China in the Himalayan incident, is trying to find an excuse for an operation against Pakistan. “There is no doubt about what India is trying to do,” he said. “Whatever India does, it will receive a response in kind.” A day earlier, in a sign of escalating tensions between Pakistan and India, New Delhi had asked Islamabad to cut the size of its diplomatic staff in India by half within seven days after accusing its High Commission (HC) staff of engaging in espionage. “If 50 per cent of our embassy staff comes back, then the Indian embassy staff will also go back,” Qureshi said, adding that the move is a violation of the Vienna Convention.

China claims Indian troops crossed border first triggering conflict

China has given its version of the border clash with India in the Galwan Valley and said none of the responsibility lies with them but rather the Indian side violated and crossed the disputed border. china1-1 Addressing a press briefing in Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that the incident in the Galwan Valley of the China-India border has received much attention. However, he said the merits of what happened are very clear and none of the responsibility lies with China. The spokesperson said that Indian border troops crossed the line first as the boundary in the western sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is clear and the Galwan Valley lies on the Chinese side. “The Chinese border troops, who have all along been patrolling the area, know very well the situation of management and control on the ground. Since April this year, the Indian side has been building roads and bridges at and across the LAC in the Galwan Valley, unilaterally changing the status quo. China has lodged representations on multiple occasions,” said the spokesperson. Border skirmishes between China and India began on May 5 in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh, followed by another in the Nakula pass in India’s northeastern Sikkim province three days later. Monday’s violent confrontation was the first time since 1975 that China and India engaged in a military clash along the LAC, which is 4,056 kilometers (2,520 miles) long and traverses through the union territory of Ladakh and four Indian states – Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh. On the Chinese side, the line crosses the Tibet Autonomous Region. Border tensions between the two countries have existed for over seven decades, as China claims territory in India’s northeast and New Delhi accuses Beijing of occupying its territory in Aksai Chin plateau, including part of the Ladakh region in Jammu and Kashmir.

Iraq | Cabinet Discusses Covid-19, Approves Measures to Support Front Line Health Teams

The Cabinet held its regular meeting in Baghdad on Tuesday under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. At the start of the meeting, the Prime Minister thanked health teams for their sacrifices on the front line during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Cabinet received a briefing from the Minister of Health on the latest developments and the ongoing national effort to combat the pandemic. Following discussions, the Cabinet decided to implement a previous decision by the government to award, free of charge, plots of land for health staff who have direct contact with Covid-19 patients. It also decided to direct the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to allocate additional places on postgraduate courses, outside its current plan for the 2020-2021 academic year, for health staff wishing to pursue further studies. The Cabinet discussed other items on its agenda, and decided to authorize the Minister of Finance to negotiate and sign loan agreements to ensure funding for several investment projects in the electricity and health sectors, as follows: A loan to complete a project for the Ministry of Electricity to install (8) turbine refrigeration units and (32) other refrigeration units at a cost of 70,800,000 euros from Siemens. A loan for the installation and operation of (9) gas turbines for the Wasit power station for the amount of 36,000,000 euros from Siemens for the Ministry of Electricity, funded by Standard Chartered Bank and with a guarantee from the Swedish Export Credit Agency, EKN. A loan for the rehabilitation of health services infrastructure in the amount of 185,000,000 euros for the Ministry of Health funded by the German Development Bank, KFW. A loan for the rehabilitation of electricity infrastructure in the amount of 400,000,000 euros, for the Ministry of Electricity, funded by the German Development Bank, KFW. A loan for the multi-annual maintenance project – the fourth stage in the amount of US$120,000,000 implemented by GE with funding from an international bank and guaranteed by UK Export Finance, UKEF A loan for Babylon’s 400 KV Power Plant Rehabilitation Project, in the amount of 38,000,000 euros, implemented by Sweden’s ABB company, funded by JPMorgan Bank and guaranteed by the Swedish Export Credit Agency, EKN. The Cabinet also approved a draft law to ratify the agreement on air transport services between the Republic of Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, and to submit it to the Council of Representatives.

Tunisia | Iranian Ambassador, Tunisian Parliament Speaker Stress the Increase Mutual Cooperation

Iranian ambassador to Tunisia and the Tunisian Parliament Speaker stressed the increase of cooperation between the two countries' parliaments. The Iranian envoy to Tunisia, Mohammad Reza Raouf Sheibani, stressed the expansion of parliamentary relations between the two countries and the need to develop and consolidate bilateral ties in all fields, especially in the economic, cultural and political fields. Sheibani expressed the Iranian government and nation's congratulation on the Tunisian revolution and its path to democracy, announcing his country's readiness to support Tunisia. The Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rasid al-Ghanoushi, for his part, stressed the enhancement of the parliamentary relations of Iran and Tunisia as well as the activation of the friendship committee between the two countries. Al-Ghanoushi also emphasized strengthening ties between the two countries' economic and trade centers as well as the increase of meeting between the Iranian and Tunisian businessmen. He pointed to long-history relations between Iran and Tunisia and called for the two countries common ground on many regional and international issues, most notably Palestine. The Tunisian Parliament Speaker expressed hope that the two countries create opportunities for dialogue and interaction in the light of equality, justice, freedom, and democracy.

Coronavirus: Price of Oxygen cylinders rises after a severe shortage

The coronavirus in Pakistan has now exposed the flaws in the health system. svg%3E With the spread of Covid-19 in Pakistan, where there is a shortage of protective equipment for medical staff and beds, ventilators, ICU wards and medicines for patients, the problem of oxygen shortage is also on the rise. The big hospitals in the big cities may not be short of oxygen, but with the exception of a few big cities, the hospitals in most of the cities in Pakistan are running out of oxygen for the patients. Health officials refer to the demand for oxygen as an appetite or air hunger. They say that during a severe attack of the corona virus, the patient is in dire need of oxygen or artificial respiration. Failure to do so could result in death. COVID-19 or the novel Corona virus, as the name implies, is having an effect on the human body. Coronavirus patients in Pakistan have risen alarmingly. The fear is that more people may fall victim to it in the coming days. In Punjab, oxygen cylinders are being sold at three times the price. The number of critically ill patients is also increasing. As for oxygen concentrators, which use oxygen in the air to concentrate it and supply it to patients, market sources said that the device used to cost between Rs80,000 and Rs85,000, but it is now being sold for Rs135,000 to Rs150,000.

IMF orders to freeze defence budget of Pakistan

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader and Senator Raza Rabbani sharply criticized the budget presented by the government, saying that the government had mortgaged political and economic sovereignty to such an extent that the Financial Institutions (IMF) was so bold that it said that the defence budget in Pakistan should also be frozen. Pakistan raises annual defence budget to $8.78 billion U.S. He said there had never been such interference in the budget by the IMF that salaries and pensions were frozen at the behest of the International Monetary Fund. Senator Raza Rabbani said that the current budget is nothing for the common man, the current budget is not even a budget but a deception that was put in front of us. Earlier, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged Pakistan to freeze salaries of government employees and adhere to the fiscal consolidation path by showing a nominal primary deficit in the new budget – the two demands that Islamabad finds hard to digest. The IMF is insisting that Pakistan should continue to follow the fiscal consolidation path due to a high and unsustainable public debt that is set to hit 90% of the total value of national economy. The outbreak of the deadly novel coronavirus has exposed vulnerabilities of Pakistan’s economy that had already been struggling owing to weak economic foundations that caused fiscal and current account deficit crisis after every four to five years.

KP government to reopen tourism industry with SOPs

ISLAMABAD: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa govern­ment amid the increasing threat of Covid-19 has approved reopen­ing of the tourism sector under the standard operating procedures (SOPs). Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Imran Khan also announced the reopening of tourism industry and allowed all overseas Pakistanis to return home after the National Coordination Committee gave the go-ahead

Armenia’s virus battle crippled by disinformation

Marina Khachatryan is not the only person in ex-Soviet Armenia who believes the coronavirus is a government conspiracy. But her large following online means her scepticism has a wide, potentially even dangerous reach. The unemployed surgeon runs the Facebook page of a local group critical of the government’s health policies, where thousands of followers are treated to a regular dose of false claims about the pandemic. “(The authorities) want to use their own people as experimental animals to test a vaccine,” said Khachatryan, who also believes the virus was created in a laboratory. The Armenian government has come under fire for responding too slowly to the pandemic, which has seen the country’s prime minister infected, quarantine rules ignored and hospitals overwhelmed. But critics also say authorities are failing to stamp out viral disinformation like Khachatryan’s posts that fuel the pandemic and undermine lockdown rules. “Quarantine didn’t work in Armenia,” virologist Nuneh Bakunts told AFP, because people believed disinformation online and didn’t “take the threat seriously.” Claims that the virus is a global conspiracy led by the US business magnate Bill Gates and that 5G telecommunication technology is being used to spread the infection are commonplace in the country. A recent investigation by the UK-based website openDemocracy found that controversial local news portal was spreading “incredibly dangerous” virus disinformation. ‘False rumours’ One article described vaccines currently being developed as “biological weapons” and warned Armenians against participating in vaccination programmes. The post was viewed at least 131,000 times and had 28,000 Facebook likes — a huge number for a country of just three million people. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who announced on his birthday on June 1 that he had tested positive for the virus, has admitted failings in his government’s response to the crisis. He conceded earlier this month that overwhelmed hospitals can no longer cope with the number of coronavirus patients and that people are dying due to a lack of intensive care beds. But he has placed blame for widespread quarantine violations on “false rumours that the pandemic is a fiction”. Armenians largely ignored a lockdown to contain the outbreak imposed in late March, with many continuing to gather in public without mandatory face masks. “Armenian media is full of false information about the coronavirus and that harms our fight against the pandemic,” government spokeswoman Mane Gegorgyan told AFP. Analysts said, however, that the government had also sent mixed messages and unclear guidelines to the public. ‘Dangerous disinformation’ “Officials were calling for the wearing of face masks, but didn’t wear them themselves until recently,” analyst Samvel Martirosyan said. Adding to that, rights campaigner Zhanna Aleksanyan told AFP that the government’s response to false virus news had fallen short, and that it had “only recently engaged in a dialogue with the public about dangerous disinformation.” The Caucasus nation has seen new infections rapidly increase in recent weeks to a total 17,064 with 285 coronavirus deaths, while the situation looks set to further deteriorate. Pashinyan last week compared the pandemic to “hell” and said the real number of people infected could be as high as 100,000.

Defying Trump, Iran aims to keep offloading gasoline glut to Venezuela

Iran could send two to three cargoes a month in regular gasoline sales to ally Venezuela, sources say, helping offload domestic oversupply but risking retaliation from US President Donald Trump who has sanctions on both nations. Iran has since April sent five tankers totalling about 1.5 million barrels to the leftist government of fuel-starved Venezuela,

20 Indian soldiers killed in Ladakh face-off with China

At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh on Tuesday after a ‘violent face-off’ ensued as tensions brew with China near the disputed border, Times of India reported while quoting government sources. UK publication The Telegraph, quoting Indian army sources, reported that four soldiers were currently missing and a further 32 were handed back after being captured. According to earlier reports by Indian media, an officer and two soldiers were among those killed near the Line of Actual Control (LAC). “During the de-escalation process underway in the Galwan Valley, a violent face-off took place with casualties. The loss of lives on the Indian side includes an officer and two soldiers. Senior military officials of the two sides are currently meeting at the venue to defuse the situation,” an official statement by New Delhi said. China, in response to India, accused Indian troops of crossing the disputed border between the two countries. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said Indian troops crossed the border line twice on Monday, provoking and attacking Chinese personnel, resulting in serious physical confrontation between border forces on the two sides. “Beijing has lodged strong protests and solemn representations to New Delhi,” he said. “We once again solemnly ask the Indian side to follow our consensus, strictly regulate its front-line troops and do not cross the line, do not stir up troubles or make unilateral moves that may complicate matters,” Lijian said. “China and Indian side agreed to resolve the bilateral issues through dialogue to ease the border situation and maintain peace and tranquility in border areas,” he added. According to editor-in-chief of Chinese publication Global Times, the Chinese side also suffered casualties in the Galwan Valley. “Based on what I know, Chinese side also suffered casualties in the Galwan Valley physical clash. I want to tell the Indian side, don’t be arrogant and misread China’s restraint as being weak. China doesn’t want to have a clash with India, but we don’t fear it,” he tweeted. Retired Indian colonel and journalist Ajai Shukla urged the Indian government to stop lying and come clean about ‘disengagement’ and ‘mutual withdrawal’. “Reports of three soldiers killed in Galwan clash with Chinese. First LAC combat casualties since 1975. Time for the government to come clean and stop lying about disengagement and mutual withdrawal. A national crisis is no time for deception,” he tweeted. On Saturday, top Chinese and Indian military officials held high-level talks to resolve the latest border standoff between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. The talks were held at the Maldo border outpost on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border between the two countries. According to the Indian military, Lt Gen Harinder Singh, commander of India’s 14 Corps, led New Delhi’s delegation, while the Chinese team was led by Major Gen Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang Military Region. Reporting from Beijing, Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu said China has denied any responsibility for causing the altercation that resulted in the death of Indian soldiers. Last week, China said it had reached a ‘positive consensus’ with India over resolving the border tensions through diplomatic and military channels. Yu said Lijian on Tuesday accused New Delhi of violating that consensus. “Lijian said on June 15, the Indian side ‘shockingly’ violated this consensus so he is quite clearly pointing fingers at the Indian side,” she said. “China has made it quite clear it will do whatever it can to protect its sovereignty.” In a statement last week, India’s foreign ministry said the two sides would “continue the military and diplomatic engagements to resolve the situation and to ensure peace and tranquility in the border areas”. But Indian news reports suggested that India appeared to have effectively ceded to China areas that the People’s Liberation Army occupied in recent weeks, notably parts of the northern side of the Pangong Tso Lake and some of the strategically important Galwan River valley. Tensions between India and China have been mounting owing to a border dispute in the eastern Ladakh region as armies from both the countries have moved heavy weaponry and equipment to their base camps near the disputed territory. Since early May, hundreds of soldiers have faced off against each other at three locations, including along the banks of the Pangong Tso lake, each side accusing the other of trespassing.

UN nuclear watchdog meets as Iran row brews

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog’s governing body will meet on Monday as a row brews over Iran’s refusal to allow access to two sites where historic nuclear activity may have occurred. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed “serious concern” in a report earlier this month that Iran has been blocking inspections at the sites. The Board of Governors, one of the agency’s policy-making bodies, is expected to discuss the report during its meeting. If they pass a resolution critical of Iran, it would be the first of its kind since 2012. Even though the two sites are not thought to be key to Iran’s current activities, the agency says it needs to know if past activities going back almost two decades have been properly declared and all materials accounted for. The report detailed efforts made by the agency’s officials to get access to the locations. Iran told the agency the report was a source of “deep regret and disappointment” and hinted the queries were based on “fabricated information” from “intelligence services.” Israel has previously claimed its intelligence services unearthed information on an alleged previous nuclear weapons program in Iran. Western states have voiced concern over Iran’s denial of access to the sites, with the United States being particularly vocal. The latest row over access comes as a landmark deal between Iran and world powers in 2015 continues to unravel. Under the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran committed to curtailing its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief and other benefits. But the country has slowly abandoned its commitments in retaliation for US President Donald Trump’s decision two years ago to renounce the deal and reimpose swingeing sanctions. Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is now almost eight times the limit fixed in the accord, according to an IAEA assessment published earlier this month. However, the level of enrichment is still far below what would be needed for a nuclear weapon. The IAEA says it continues to have access to all the facilities needed to monitor Iran’s current nuclear activity. The latest tension will further complicate efforts by the deal’s EU signatories — the so-called E3 of France, Germany and Britain — to keep the deal from collapsing. Trump has called for the E3 to follow his lead and leave the deal. Last month, the US said it was ending sanctions waivers for nations that remain in the Iran nuclear accord — a move likely to have most impact on Russian firms working on Iran’s nuclear program. The American move brought condemnation from the E3 and was branded “unlawful” by Tehran. Iran is also concerned that the US is pushing for an extension to an international arms embargo against Tehran which is set to be progressively eased from October. Last week Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged other UN Security Council members, especially veto-wielding China and Russia, to stand against the American “conspiracy.”

Tunisia’s PM decides against relying on more external debt, will freeze salaries

TUNIS: Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh said on Sunday he had decided against the use of more external debt and that all new expenses that arise for the country would be funded only through internal loans. He said that he will freeze increases in the wages of public employees because of the critical state of public finances which was worsened by the coronavirus crisis. This move could spark a conflict with the powerful UGTT Union, which is expected to reject the decision, and could lead to protests and strikes. Tunisia needs an additional 4.5 billion dinars ($1.6 billion) of loans because of the coronavirus crisis, and the government will seek it from the local market, he added. “External debt reached dangerous levels and now reached 60% of GDP, compared to 30% in 2013 and I decided not to continue in this way,” Fakhfakh said in interview with Attessia TV. Tunisia expects the economy to shrink by up to 4.3% this year, the steepest drop since independence in 1956. Tourism revenues fell by about 50% in the first five months of this year compared to the same period in 2019, as western tourists deserted Tunisia’s hotels and resorts. “Public finances are very critical and we cannot continue with the approach of increasing wages,” Fakhfakh said. If the situation continues as it is, the government could be forced to reduce wages, he added. Tunisia is under pressure from the international lenders to freeze public sector wages — the bill for which doubled to more than 17 billion dinars in 2020 from 7.6 billion in 2010 — as part of measures to reduce its budget deficit. But the UGTT says the monthly average wage of about $250 is one of the lowest in the world, with high inflation rates which reached 6.3 percent in May.

UN agency to discuss increased risk of violence against women during COVID-19 in Arab states

DUBAI: Regional United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will organize a virtual symposium on the rise in risk of violence against women and girls during the coronavirus pandemic. The UNFPA’s Arab States Regional Office will organize the one-hour virtual event for journalists and media professionals in the region, according to their statement. The UNFPA – which is the United Nations organization that specialized in sexual and reproductive health – will live-stream the symposium on Facebook from 12 p.m. until 1 p.m on Thursday, June 18. “Organizations working to combat gender-based violence worldwide have issued an unsettling amount of reports showing that more violence is occurring against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic,” UNFPA Arab States Regional Director, Luay Shabeneh, said in a statement. “Given that many of these reports have come from Arab State organizations, it is vital for journalists in the region to not only increase coverage of this issue but to do so in a professional, survivor-centered manner,” the statement read. The event will focus on connections between health crises, gender equality and gender-based violence, the statement added. UNFPA data shows that several of the measures used to control viral outbreaks increase risk of gender-based violence by limiting the abilities of “survivors to distance themselves from their abusers” as well as limiting or severing the “survivors’ access to life-saving support.” Gender-based violence specialists, service providers in crisis countries, women’s rights activists and others will also take part in the event.

Egypt parliament allocates 25% of seats to women

The Egyptian Parliament has approved an amendment to an article in the constitution to allocate 25 percent of seats to women, local daily Egypt Today reported. During the years of 1979, 1984 and 2010, when Egypt applied a quota for women in the House, the Parliament witnessed high female representation, according to a report by The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) in 2014, which called for at least 30 percent of the Parliament to be allocated for women. Sunday’s approved amendment came as part of other amendments approved via public referendum in 2019, including setting the number of members of parliament at 568. The approved articles also included the expanding of the two presidential terms allowed for any president, from four years to six. A separate transitional article gave an exceptional right to President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi, who was re-elected in 2018, to run for a third 6-year term after he finishes his second term in 2024 instead of 2022.

Uncertainty as Spain puts virus death toll ‘on hold’

For days now, Spain’s daily coronavirus death toll has been on hold, generating widespread uncertainty about the real state of the epidemic that has claimed more than 27,000 lives. The health ministry’s emergencies coordinator Fernando Simon, who for months has given a daily briefing on the pandemic’s evolution, acknowledged the “astonishment” and “confusion” generated by the figures. On May 25, the ministry changed its method of collecting data on confirmed cases and fatalities, initially giving a daily death toll of between 50 and 100. But the figure then fell to fewer than five per day and on some days there were no deaths at all. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez even told parliament there had been “no deaths” for several days, prompting a backlash from the right and the far-right who have since accused him of hiding the real number of fatalities. “(The) biggest danger is communicating this idea that the epidemic is over because the virus is still present in our country although at much lower levels,” warned Salvador Macip, an expert in health sciences at Catalonia’s Open University. Stuck at 27,136 Simon has said the new system was set up to facilitate the rapid detection and isolation of any new outbreak and that the regions must provide a detailed breakdown of cases, rather than lumping all figures together. But last week he acknowledged that the overall number of deaths had remained “frozen” as a result of discrepancies in the figures, which he put down to delays in submitting data in certain regional areas. Since June 7, the number of dead has stuck at 27,136 while the regional authorities “review the information on deaths.. (until) they can give a precise death date which will give a clearer sequence,” Simon said. But some regions have hit back, insisting they have submitted all the required data yet saying it wasn’t reflected in the overall balance. Such was the case with Andalusia whose health minister Jesus Aguirre recently lashed out at the central government’s “total lack of respect for the dead” in publishing lower figures than those submitted by the southern region itself. One problem with the new system is that it puts “excessive emphasis on reporting the previous day’s figures” because if the data arrive after the deadline, they’re not added to the daily total, explained Kiko Llaneras, a data analyst with El Pais newspaper. It has turned into “a source of huge disinformation” and in terms of communication it has “tainted the entire debate”, he said. ‘Not communicating clearly’ The situation became even more chaotic this week after the National Statistics Institute (INE) and the Carlos III Health Institute published figures showing that Spain’s death toll has been between 43,000 and 44,000 higher than it has been on average in recent years. And this “excess mortality” has further inflamed the opposition who point to it as proof the government is playing down the death toll. But the government has rejected such claims, saying such figures include those who died of other causes or had COVID symptoms and never had a PCR test. Such testing kits, which were very scarce at the start of the outbreak, have since become essential for confirming a new case and adding it to the overall figures. “It is normal that the death toll does not coincide with the excess mortality figures,” explained Ildefonso Hernández, spokesman for the Spanish Society of Public Health, saying similar situations occur during flu season and heatwaves. “Is the government hiding deaths under the carpet? No it’s not. Is the government communicating clearly? No, it’s not doing that either,” he complained. “One of the fundamental issues is that the management of information and communicating figures in the epidemic has not been clear enough,” agreed Llaneras.

US police torn between shame and pride for their badge

US police officers at the center of demonstrations that have roiled the country are caught between their commitment to the job and recognition that reforms are needed to address institutional racism within their ranks. From California to Massachusetts, several officers interviewed by AFP said they were horrified by the killing of George Floyd while in police custody — a tragedy that sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and racism. But those interviewed also hit back at accusations that the actions of the officers involved in Floyd’s death reflected the values of law enforcement officers across the country. “I am not Derek Chauvin… He killed someone. We didn’t. We are restrained,” Michael O’Meara, head of New York state’s Police Benevolent Association, angrily said this week at a press conference. Chauvin is the officer who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. “Everybody’s trying to shame us into being embarrassed about our profession,” O’Meara added. “Stop treating us like animals and dogs and start treating us with some respect.” Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association in New Mexico, said Chauvin had clearly committed a criminal act that all police officers were ashamed of and it was unfair to paint everyone in uniform with the same brush. “I feel discriminated against, so do my officers,” he told AFP. “We’re just out here trying to do the best job that we can to protect our community and provide for our families, and now because I wear a badge I’m a problem of systemic racism in the country. “Law enforcement all over the country gets left holding the bag for the actions of a criminal in Minneapolis,” he added. Experts however say that Floyd’s death was not an isolated incident but added to long-running anger and distrust of police officers among America’s black communities. ‘Happening far too often’ “There is a long American history of harm and violence imposed on black Americans under color of law that policing as an institution has to acknowledge,” said Louisa Aviles, director of group violence intervention at the National Network for Safe Communities. Franklin Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and author of “When Police Kill,” noted that officers in the US on average kill three people a day. “At least half of those killings are not necessary to preserve the police officers’ lives or anybody else’s,” he said. African Americans represent the majority of those killed with studies showing that one in every 1,000 black men in the US will die at the hands of police. “It’s happening far too often, scenes where black people and people of color in general are dying at the hands of law enforcement, usually for really minor offenses,” said Ben Kelso, president of the San Diego chapter of the National Black Police Association. “We spend a lot of hours on what they call ‘perishable skills,’ which is driving and shooting and arresting people and things like that,” he added. “But we don’t spend as much time on just learning to talk to people. Because when it’s all said and done, the biggest weapon police officers have every day is their mouth.” A growing list of police departments across the United States have already imposed a ban on neck restraints similar to the one that killed Floyd and reinforced disciplinary measures. Steps are also being taken at the federal level to carry out reforms. O’Meara, whose union represents some 40,000 police officers, said it was essential that law enforcement be included in the conversation as stakeholders.

Record spikes in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations sweep parts of US

New coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in record numbers swept through more US states, including Florida and Texas, as most push ahead with reopening and President Donald Trump plans an indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Alabama, Florida and South Carolina reported a record number of new cases for the third day in a row on Saturday, which many state health officials partly attribute to gatherings over the Memorial Day holiday weekend in late May. Oklahoma reported record new cases for the second day in a row, and Alaska did so for the first time in weeks. Arizona and Nevada reported a near-record number of new cases. In Louisiana, which had been one of the earlier virus hotspots, new cases were again on the rise with over 1,200 – the most there since May 21. Nationally, there were over 25,000 new cases reported on Saturday, the highest tally for a Saturday since May 2, in part due to a significant increase in testing over the past six weeks. Perhaps more troubling for health officials is many of these states are also seeing record hospitalizations – a metric not affected by increased testing. Arkansas, North Carolina, Texas and Utah all had a record number of patients enter the hospital on Saturday. In South Carolina, 69% to 77% of hospital beds are occupied, depending on the region. While Utah’s governor announced last week that most of the state would pause its reopening, no state is talking about a second shutdown as they face budget shortfalls and double-digit unemployment. Many went ahead with reopenings before meeting government infection rate guidelines for doing so. Fears that a second wave of infections is happening – or that states failed to curb their first wave – prompted health officials to plead with the public to wear masks and avoid large gatherings. Trump still plans to hold his first campaign rally since early March on Saturday in Tulsa, although those attending will have to agree not to hold the campaign responsible if they contract COVID-19. About a third of the record new cases in the state came from Tulsa County, according to state data. The Tulsa Health Department on Friday said the outbreak was linked to indoor gatherings. Hospitalizations and the percent of tests coming back positive have been steady in the state.

Pentagon surplus handouts stoke the militarization of US police

When US police flooded the streets around the country to confront protesters two weeks ago, for many it appeared like the army had deployed, with camouflage uniforms and combat gear, heavily armored anti-mine vehicles, and high-powered assault weapons. That’s not by accident. For years the US Defense Department has been handing its surplus equipment over for free to police departments — and the departments, large and small, have revelled in it. Critics say it has been part of the overall militarization of the police, and helped fuel mass nationwide demonstrations against police abuse and deadly tactics that began after the May 25 killing of a handcuffed African American, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer. Small-town police armed for war As soon as protests began in Minneapolis, the city’s troubled police department rolled out armored vehicles appearing more suited to Middle East battlefields. Other large cities have them too, but also small towns.

Earthquake with 5.7 magnitude hits eastern Turkey, three injured

An earthquake with a 5.7 magnitude shook Bingol province in eastern Turkey on Sunday, causing the collapse of a military observation tower which injured three people, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said. Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) said the epicentre of the quake was in the Karliova district of Bingol.


Group Captain (Retd) Saif-ul-Azam, Sitara-i-Jurrat, war veteran of 1965 Indo-Pak war, breathed his last in Bangladesh after prolonged illness. Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, Chief of the Air staff, Pakistan Air Force has expressed heartfelt grief on the sad demise of the great war veteran. While paying rich tributes to Group Captain (Retd) Saif ul Azam, the Air Chief acknowledged his heroic deeds during the 1965 Indo-Pak and 1967 Arab-Israel wars. Air Chief further added that he was an exceptional fighter pilot who would always be remembered for his valour and professionalism. Group Captain (Retd) Saif-ul-Azam was born in Pabna District, East Bengal in 1941. He was commissioned as a fighter Pilot in October, 1960. During 1965 War, he served in No 17 Squadron at PAF Base Sargodha. Apart from inflicting heavy damage to Indian forces in 12 ground-attack missions, Azam also had one IAF aircraft kill to his credit as well. For his valour and devotion to duty in 1965 war, he was awarded with “Sitara-i-Jura’at”.

Defence Minister offer to Manzor Pashteen for negotiation

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Defence Pervaiz Khattak has invited Pakhtoon Tehafuz Moment (PTM) leaders to come and discuss all the contentious issues. He said that we pakhtoons belong to the same province thus we should collectively work for the development of Khyber-pukhtoonkhawa.

Covid-19 cases may surge to 1.2 million next month

Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar on Sunday expressed fear that the coronavirus cases can surge to 1.2 million by the end of July if strict action was not taken against the violators of standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by the government to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Four more MPAs test positive as nationwide tally soars to 142,000

The nationwide tally of Covid-19 patients jumped to 141,517 on Sunday, with 52,601 cases reported in Punjab, 53,805 in Sindh, 17,450 in KhyberPakhtunkhwa, 8,028 in Balochistan, 1,095 in GilgitBaltistan, 7,934 in Islamabad and 604 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.The virus has claimed at least 2,632 lives while around 51,735 coronavirus patients have recovered.

Pakistan urges India to focus more on its domestic concerns

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi took to Twitter on Sunday to urge the Indian government to focus more on its domestic concerns instead of ‘behaving like an expansionist nation’. “It would serve PM Modi’s government and ‘neighbourhood first’ policy well to realise India’s neighbours pose far less of a problem than their own domestic inadequacies, failures and fascism,” the foreign minister said. He called for ‘necessary introspection’ by the Indian government, saying it might help it serve India’s minorities and downtrodden better. The minister urged for a shift in focus away from ‘igniting border disputes with every neighbour’. Qureshi’s comments come days after the Indian ministry of external affairs rejected Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer to assist India with cash disbursement among citizens in the country who were hit hard by the coronavirus lockdown. “Pakistan would do well to recall that they have a debt problem which covers 90% of their GDP. As far as India goes, our stimulus package is as large as the GDP of Pakistan,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava had said. Islamabad had regretted India’s response to what it called PM Imran’s ‘goodwill’ gesture. The recent verbal sparring between the two countries comes against the back-drop of tensions between India and China, and the prevalent contentions between India and Pakistan over the issue of Indian-held Kashmir. According to a statement issued by the Indian ministry of foreign affairs earlier this month, India and China had agreed to resolve their dispute over their shared border in Ladakh region through diplomatic channels. However, a recent tweet by a Chinese diplomat in Islamabad, linking the Ladakh standoff with India ‘unilaterally changing the status quo of Kashmir’, had left many flustered in New Delhi.

Trump authorizes sanctions over ICC Afghanistan war crimes case

US President Donald Trump on Thursday issued an executive order authorizing sanctions against individuals involved in an International Criminal Court investigation into whether US forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan. A senior Trump administration official, without providing details, said the ICC investigation is “being pushed forward by an organization of dubious integrity” and accused Russia of having a role. The order authorizes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in consultation with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, to block assets in the United States of ICC employees involved in the probe, the official said. It also authorizes Pompeo to block entry into the United States of these individuals. Trump has repeatedly assailed The Hague-based ICC set up to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. It has jurisdiction only if a member state is unable or unwilling to prosecute atrocities itself. Afghanistan is a member of the ICC, though Kabul has argued that any war crimes should be prosecuted locally. The US government has never been a member of the court, established in 2002. The Trump administration imposed travel restrictions and other sanctions against ICC employees a year ago. The ICC decided to investigate after prosecutors’ preliminary examination in 2017 found reasonable grounds to believe war crimes were committed in Afghanistan and that the ICC has jurisdiction. The senior administration official, describing the order to a group of reporters on a conference call, said the directive authorizes sanctions against any individual directly engaged in any effort by the ICC to investigate US personnel without American consent. The official said the probe threatens to infringe on American sovereignty and that while the ICC was established to provide accountability, “in practice the court is an unaccountable, ineffective and out-of-control international bureaucracy that threatens American service members and intelligence officers and those of our allies.” ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wants to investigate possible crimes committed between 2003 and 2014, including alleged mass killings of civilians by the Taliban, as well as the alleged torture of prisoners by Afghan authorities and, to a lesser extent, by US forces and the CIA.

WHO warns pandemic accelerating in Africa

The speed the new coronavirus jumped from 100,000 to 200,000 confirmed cases in Africa shows just how quickly the pandemic is accelerating on the continent, the World Health Organization said Thursday. According to an AFP tally, Africa topped the 200,000 mark on Tuesday. “It took 98 days to reach the first 100,000 cases, and only 18 days to move to 200,000 cases,” Doctor Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, told a video briefing hosted by the UN press association in Geneva. “Even though these cases in Africa account for less than three percent of the global total, it’s clear that the pandemic is accelerating.” The novel coronavirus has infected nearly 7.4 million people worldwide and killed at least 416,000 since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP. Africa has reached 5,635 deaths from 210,519 confirmed cases, according to AFP’s count at 1100 GMT on Thursday. In Africa, “the pandemic is still concentrated in and around capital cities but we are seeing more and more cases spread out into the provinces,” Moeti said. She said that in most countries on the continent, the virus entered capitals through international flights from Europe. South Africa worst affected “Ten of the 54 countries in Africa are currently driving the numbers,” Moeti explained, with those states accounting for 80 percent of cases. South Africa accounts for nearly 25 percent of the continent’s total cases. “The majority of countries still have fewer than 1,000 reported cases,” said Moeti. “There is community transmission in more than 50 percent of countries, however.” Meanwhile more than 70 percent of the deaths have occurred in just five countries: South Africa, Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt and Sudan. Moeti said that while it was possible that some asymptomatic and mild cases were going undetected, WHO Africa believed that large numbers of severe cases and deaths were not being missed on the continent. Africa’s relatively young population compared to other continents, and in-built experience of dealing with disease outbreaks have been cited as reasons why Africa has not so far seen the death rates experienced on other continents. Moeti said early action by African countries had helped keep the numbers low — but constant vigilance was still needed. Asked by AFP how she saw the pandemic developing in Africa, Moeti said the continent had not seen the sustained exponential rise in cases previously witnessed in Europe and the United States. “Until such time as we have access to an effective vaccine, I’m afraid we are probably going to have to live with a steady increase in the region, with some hotspots having to be managed in a number of countries, as is happening now in South Africa, in Algeria, in Cameroon, which really require very strong public health measures,” she said. “We’re hoping very much not to see health systems overwhelmed with large numbers of people who are ill,” she said.

Earlier coronavirus second wave feared in Europe after mass protests

Europe could face a surge of COVID-19 infections in the coming weeks caused by mass protests in the continent over the last days, European Union officials and experts said on Thursday. Tens of thousands of protesters have crowded together in Europe’s big cities in recent days to demonstrate against racism after the killing in the United States of George Floyd while in police custody. “If you advise everybody to keep one and half meter from each other, and everybody just stands next to each other, holding each other, then I don’t have a good feeling about that,” Jozef Kesecioglu, who chairs the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine, told a conference. Asked whether there could be a surge of infections in the coming two weeks, he said: “Yes, but hopefully I’m wrong.” Most countries in the 27-nation bloc have passed the peak of the outbreak and are gradually reopening business and borders, as infections went gingerly down in past weeks. Before recent protests, scientists expected a second wave only after the summer. But mass gatherings might impact this positive trend.

Palestinians stranded by coronavirus seek way home

Thousands of Palestinians stranded around the world by the coronavirus are still seeking a way home, months after countries closed their borders and grounded flights in the face of the pandemic. Aseel Bader touched down in Tuscany in January, after winning a scholarship for a master’s programme at the University of Florence. Just weeks later Italy imposed a nationwide lockdown as the coronavirus spread rapidly, prompting Bader to look for a way back to Hebron in the occupied West Bank. “I tried to book to come to Palestine, but the response was to stay where you are because it’s safer,” the 26-year-old said. Bader said staff at the Palestinian embassy in Rome had been very responsive, “but their response isn’t helpful” as they have no information on when she can travel. The Palestinian Authority says 6,000 people want to come home, but the logistics are incredibly complicated. “Maybe we are the only government in the world that can’t bring back its own students” and others stranded, prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said Tuesday. “Why? Because we don’t have an airport, we don’t have planes, we don’t control our borders. This has been a real pain for us,” he said.

Govt to get tough on violators of Covid-19 SOPs, warns PM

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said having witnessed the people ignoring the anti-coronavirus standard operating procedures (SOPs), the government will get tough on the violators and they will be even ‘locked up’. “So far we had not been much strict. But now will show inflexibility. We will take action through administration and the violators will have to face the music,” he warned the people in a televised address to the nation after chairing a high-level meeting to discuss the Covid-19 situation. The prime minister said he will personally monitor the implementation of the SOPs and receive data from across the country. He said the district administrations as well as the Corona Relief Tiger Force will observe and report the status of SOPs’ implementation at shops, shopping malls, mosques, katcheries (courts) and public transport. He said all the workplaces or localities will be closed down if found spreading the deadly virus risking the people’s lives. “I have reports from Punjab and Sindh about adherence to SOPs. I know about mosques, courts, public offices, parks, industries, shopping malls, shops, local transport and inter-city travel and private transport. I will get a daily report,” he said, issuing a stark warning to those flouting the rules. The premier said he will take action based on this report. Addressing managers and owners of businesses and transport, he said,”Whomever is found not abiding by the SOPs will be shut down – shops, malls, factories and even neighbourhoods found violating the rules will be cordoned off.” He said the Tiger Force will assist the administration to ensure implementation of SOPs. “The government was not dealing with it as strictly before because we were gathering data,” he said. “But now I will ensure the full force of the law with my administration’s assistance.” He regretted people were demonstrating a very lackadaisical attitude. People say we have not seen any corona. We do not know of anyone dying from corona,” he said, quoting such people. He said this is a ‘very dangerous mindset’. “Coronavirus cases will only increase and the peak is next month,” he added. The premier said it is a national duty to abide by the safety rules, with a view to saving lives and he is placing his stock in people to follow SOPs. He also spoke at great length about India where a complete curfew was imposed and how the economy is now reeling from the after-effects. “Today a survey has been released by experts of University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago and an organisation CMI which has been monitoring the Indian economy,” said the premier. He said that owing to a sudden sweeping curfew there, the survey has revealed that 84% households were impacted. “But that is not the worst of it all. 34% households today are in a state where if they are not helped out, they will not be able to sustain themselves after two more weeks,” the premier said. Around 30 million people aged 20-30 have been rendered jobless, he said, quoting the survey. “However, the elite remained unaffected. A thing I have been saying since day one. I was saying since day one. We need to think of the slum dwellers, the poorest among us,” he said.

Pakistan’s GDP down to negative 0.38% in FY2020

Dr Abdul Hafeez ShaikhAdviser to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said Thursday that country’s economy was stabilizing before the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic, which inflicted huge losses and derailed it towards negative growth of 0.38%. Addressing the launching ceremony of Pakistan Economic Survey for the outgoing fiscal year 2019-20, the advisor said that the fiscal year 2020, before coronavirus spread, showed dedicated efforts of the government for addressing structural issues that had caused macroeconomic imbalances back in FY 2018. He said that the economic reforms programme and the implementation was also acknowledged by the international financial institutions while International Monetary Fund (IMF) had declared that Pakistan’s programme was on track and bearing fruits for the economy. He said that the pre-coronavirus economic recovery was also supported by macroeconomic indicators as on the external side, the decline in current account deficit, buildup of foreign reserves and stable exchange rate. On the fiscal side, there were significant improvements in all major indicators and the trend continued till March 2020, implying that the fiscal consolidation was on track. The primary balance witnessed a remarkable turnaround as it posted a surplus of Rs193.5 billion during July-March FY2020 against a deficit of Rs463.3 billion of the last year. He said that the government repaid around Rs 5,000 billion loans and was successful in reducing its expenditures, while no ministry or division was provided supplementary grant. During this period, he added, the government even did not borrow a single penny during this period from State Bank of Pakistan. In addition, the revenues had also witnessed significant growth of 17% whereas there was also significant growth in non-tax revenues. The advisor said that the non-tax revenues increased from Rs1100 billion to Rs1600 billion, which was a big jump. However, he added, due to Covid-19 outbreak, the economy has suffered a lot as it has been now estimated to grow negative 0.38% against the predictions of around 3%. “But Pakistan is not alone to face this hostile condition, the advisor adding that the world economy had suffered a lot due the spread of coronavirus,” he said. He said that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted 3.4% downfall in world GDP, however the developing economies are likely to suffer more as their exports would decline and remittances suffer owing to decreasing demand in international market. He said that the coronavirus had inflicted loss of around Rs 3,000 billion to national economy. He said that the agriculture growth also declined to 2.67% whereas there has been negative growth of 2.64 percent in industrial sector and negative 0.59 percent growth in services sector. Likewise, the pandemic affected exports of the country and is likely to affect remittances, which so far have been on track. The advisor said that the revenues collection was also badly damaged by the coronavirs as against the expected target of Rs4,700 billion, the collections may hardly reach to Rs3,900 billion during the current fiscal year. Dr Hafeez Shaikh said during the outgoing fiscal year, the fiscal deficit was 4% of the GDP during July-March 2019-20 as compared to 5.1 percent in the corresponding period of the last financial year.

Govt all set to unveil Rs 7.5tr budget today

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government is going to present its second budget for the fiscal year 2020-21, with an estimated outlay of around Rs 7.5 trillion on Friday (today). The National Assembly is already in session where the budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 would be presented, official sources said. This year, the budget had been formulated considering the impact of Covid-19 on the people and businesses of the country, hence mitigating people’s sufferings and bolstering businesses would be the main focus of the document. In addition to fiscal management, revenue mobilization, measures for economic stabilization and growth, reduction in non-development expenditures; boosting exports besides job creation and people friendly policies for the socioeconomic prosperity of the country would feature in the budget. It would also focus on social sector development besides introducing reforms for improving governance and boosting private sector for investment. On the revenue side, though no new taxes will be introduced. The government would introduce measures for bringing improvements in the system of tax collection, broadening the tax base, and facilitation to tax payers, sources said, arguing that a strong revenue generation will play a crucial role in achieving the targets for economic growth. The government is likely to set the revenue collection target at Rs5.1 trillion for the fiscal year 2020-21. The budget has been prepared in close coordination between all departments and ministries involved in budget related events. Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue, Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh Thursday launched Pakistan Economic Survey (2019-20), which highlighted that the country’s economy was stabilizing before the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), which inflicted losses of about Rs3000 billion and derailed it towards negative growth of 0.38 percent.

Shehbaz Sharif, two MPAs test positive as nationwide Covid-19 tally hits 124,000

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) member of Sindh Assembly Khurram Sher Zaman and lawmaker from KPIqbal Wazirtested positive for the novel coronavirus on Thursday as the nationwide tally of coronavirus patients jumped to 123,539, with 45,463 cases reported in Punjab, 46,828 in Sindh, 15,787 in KhyberPakhtunkhwa, 7,673 in Balochistan, 1,018 in GilgitBaltistan, 6,236 in Islamabad and 534 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir so far. The virus has claimed at least 2,410 lives while around 38,547 coronavirus patients have recovered as yet.

Baghdad Virus Outbreak Qassim Soleimani General News Troubled Iran struggles to maintain sway over Iraq militias

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi militia factions expected the usual cash handout when the new head of Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force made his first visit to Baghdad earlier this year, succeeding the slain Gen. Qassim Soleimani. Instead, to their disappointment, Esmail Ghaani brought them silver rings. For his second visit, Ghaani had to apply for a visa, something unheard of in Soleimani’s time — a bold step by Baghdad’s new government effectively curtailing Iran’s freedom of movement inside Iraq. The episodes, relayed to The Associated Press by several Iraqi officials, illustrate Iran’s struggles to maintain sway over Iraqi militias six months after America assassinated Soleimani and top militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone strike. Iran at the same time is grappling with the economic fallout from U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus outbreak.

British pharma giant AstraZeneca 'on track' to roll out virus vaccine in September

LONDON: The chief executive of British pharma giant AstraZeneca said on Friday that his company is "on track" to begin rolling out up to two billion doses of a coronavirus vaccine in September if ongoing trials prove successful. The company is partnering with Oxford University, which has pioneered the vaccine, and is already manufacturing doses before seeking final regulatory approval once testing concludes in the coming months. "So far we're still on track... we are starting to manufacture this vaccine right now, and we have to have it ready to be used by the time we have the results," AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot told BBC radio. "Our present assumption is that we will have the data by the end of the summer, by August, so in September we should know whether we have an effective vaccine or not." The firm announced this week it had struck agreements with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and the Serum Institute of India to double production capacity of the COVID-19 vaccine to two billion doses. The partnership with the Indian institute — one of the world's largest vaccine manufacturers — will help supply it to a large number of low- and middle-income countries. AstraZeneca has established separate supply chains for the vaccine in Europe, the United States, India and is also looking at setting up production in China, Soriot said. He added AstraZeneca, which is undertaking the work on a non-profit basis, could lose money if trials prove disappointing. But he said the company was sharing the financial risk with organisations such as CEPI. "We're manufacturing indeed at risk — and that's the only way to have the vaccine ready to go if it works," he added. Oxford University began initial trials of its COVID-19 vaccine with hundreds of volunteers in April, and is now expanding them to 10,000 participants. It said last month they were "progressing very well". Researchers announced this week they will also start tests in mid-June in Brazil, the first country outside Britain to take part in the study, as the South American country´s virus infection rate spirals while the UK's falls.

Stay out of inter-Korean matters: North Korea to US

SEOUL: North Korea rebuked Washington on Thursday for criticising its decision to cut communication links with Seoul, warning it to stay out of inter-Korean affairs if it wanted to ensure a smooth presidential election. In a statement carried by the KCNA news agency, a senior North Korean foreign ministry official slammed the "double-dealing attitudes" of the US as "disgusting". Washington should "hold its tongue and mind its internal affairs first", said Kwon Jong Gun, director general of the Department of US Affairs, if it wanted to avoid experiencing a "hair-raiser" and ensure the "easy holding" of November's presidential vote. The implicit threat comes just a day before the two-year anniversary of the landmark summit in Singapore where Kim Jong Un shook hands with Donald Trump, becoming the first North Korean leader to meet a sitting US president. Negotiations over the North's nuclear programme have been deadlocked since the collapse of a second Trump-Kim meeting in Hanoi last year over what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in exchange for sanctions relief. Analysts say it has taken no substantive steps towards giving up its weapons but the impasse has left Pyongyang frustrated over the lack of concessions. It has increasingly turned its anger towards Seoul rather than Washington, carrying out a series of weapons tests in recent months. Since last week it has issued a series of vitriolic denunciations of the South, and on Tuesday announced it was cutting all official communication links with its neighbour. The US State Department said it was "disappointed" by the decision. Seoul and Washington are security allies and the US stations 28,500 troops in the South to protect it from its neighbour. Pyongyang is subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions over its banned weapons programmes but has carried out a series of tests in recent months -- often describing them as multiple launch rocket systems, although Japan and the US have called them ballistic missiles.

Turkey's new law gives police powers to 'nightwatchmen'

ISTANBUL: Turkey's parliament passed a controversial bill on Wednesday giving neighbourhood patrols greater powers, with critics accusing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of wanting to build a loyal "militia". The new law gives "nightwatchmen", who walk the streets at night to report burglaries and disturbances, almost the same powers as police. They will now be allowed to carry firearms and have the powers to stop and search people. With more than 28,000 members, the nightwatchmen institution -- which is attached to the interior ministry and dates back more than 100 years -- has grown considerably after an attempted coup in July 2016 against Erdogan. The bill's debate in parliament triggered heated exchanges, with deputies even coming to blows during a feisty session on Tuesday. Erdogan's AKP party, which put forward the bill, says the new rules will enable the nightwatchmen to more effectively help law enforcement by thwarting burglaries and preventing assaults on the streets. In old Turkish films the guards are portrayed as benevolent uncles patrolling the streets with a whistle between their lips, on the lookout for troublemakers. But the opposition accused Erdogan of authoritarianism by setting up a loyal armed force. "They are using the institution of nightwatchmen to set up a militia," Mahir Polat from the main opposition CHP party said on Tuesday, adding the police should be reinforced if needed.

Italian PM to be questioned over handling of coronavirus pandemic

Italian prosecutors will question Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday over how the government handled the COVID-19 pandemic , The prosecutors from Bergamo, the city in the northern Lombardy region worst hit by the virus, have launched an investigation into the crisis, which has killed over 34,000 people in Italy. They are looking in particular at why a red zone was not enforced in February around the towns of Nembro and Alzano. Regional officials and the government blame each other for the failure. Italy was the first European country to be ravaged by the virus. The government imposed the country's first red zone, around the town of Codogno, 24 hours after doctors discovered a patient positive for COVID-19. It went on to shut down 10 other towns, and then large areas of the north, before imposing a nationwide lockdown. Conte, Health Minister Roberto Speranza and Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese will be called on by prosecutors in Rome later Wednesday, the Corriere della Sera and Sole 24 Ore dailies reported.

Toshakhana reference: Court issues non-bailable arrest warrant for Nawaz Sharif

An accountability court in Islamabad on Thursday issued a non-bailable arrest warrant for PML-N supremo and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the Toshakhana reference, reported Geo News. Nawaz, former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and former president Asif Ali Zardari were summoned to attend a hearing related to the Toshakhana reference today. During the hearing, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Prosecutor Muzaffar Abbasi appealed to the court to issue a non-bailable arrest warrant for Nawaz, saying that since he was abroad, advertisements against the PML-N chief can be published in foreign newspapers. The prosecutor further informed the court that another co-accused in the case, Anwar Majeed, was incarcerated in Karachi's Malir jail for his alleged involvement in other references. The hearing today was attended by Gilani and suspect Abdul Majid Ghani, while Zardari's application exempting him from appearing before the court today was accepted. The court, while exempting Zardari from attending proceedings today, ordered that another notice for appearance be sent to the former president. According to NAB, Zardari and Nawaz received cars from former prime minister Gilani illegally. Zardari had paid only 15% of the total cost of the cars through fake accounts, according to NAB. He also received the cars as a gift from Libya and the UAE when he was president and used them for his personal use instead of depositing them in the treasury, alleged NAB. The anti-graft body further alleged that Abdul Ghani Majeed paid for the vehicles through fake accounts whereas Anwar Majeed made more than Rs20 million through illegal transactions using the Ansari Sugar Mills accounts. According to reports, Nawaz was not holding any public office in 2008 but was given a vehicle without any justification. NAB says the leaders have been charged with corruption under sub-sections 2, 4, 7 and 12 of Section 9 (A) of the NAB Ordinance. The Toshakhana (gift depository) gift from any country to the head of the state remains the property of the government unless sold at an open auction. Rules allow officials to retain gifts with a market value of less than Rs10,000 without paying anything.

Two soldiers embrace martyrdom, two injured in North Waziristan IED attack: ISPR

RAWALPINDI: In an improvised explosive device attack on security forces two soldiers embraced martyrdom and two were injured, the Inter-Services Public Relations said late Wednesday. The ISPR, in a statement, said: "IED attack on Security Forces vehicle as troops were conducting routine patrolling in South East of Miranshah, North Waziristan." The soldiers who embraced martyrdom were identified as Subedar Aziz and Lance Naik Mushtaq. Last month, an officer and five other soldiers were martyred, while one was injured, in an improvised explosive device blast in the Buleda area of Balochistan. According to ISPR, security forces conducted routine patrolling in Buleda, district Kech, 14 kilometres from Pakistan-Iran Border to check possible routes used by terrorists in the mountainous and extremely treacherous terrain of Mekran. As the FC South Balochistan troops were moving back to their base after their assigned patrolling duty, the reconnaissance vehicle of FC troops was targeted with a remote-controlled IED. Resultantly, six lives were lost.

Bill Gates lauds Pakistan Army's efforts in country's anti-polio campaign

RAWALPINDI: Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa held a telephonic conversation with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) co-chairman Bill Gates, who appreciated Pakistan Army's role in the country's anti-polio campaign, the military's media wing said Wednesday. The Inter-Services Public Relations, in a statement, said: "The call was in the backdrop of polio eradication drive in Pakistan. Gates appreciated the Pakistan Army's help in enabling the campaign through the provision of security, monitoring, and bridging of capacity gaps." The COAS responding to the appreciation said that it was a national duty and Army played a part in the "significant initiatives undertaken by the Pakistani government". "The healthcare workers who played the most important part in polio drive also acted as the frontline defence against COVID-19," he said, adding: "[Despite] COVID-19, Pakistan Army in support of [government's] efforts has already made preparations to restart anti-polio campaign in coming weeks." According to ISPR, Gates and Bajwa discussed the challenges that have surfaced in the wake of coronavirus and future pandemic threats and efforts to enhance the resilience of population through education, flexible healthcare management, and the use of technology. The Army chief "thanked Bill Gates for his foundation's efforts towards the noble cause and said that every initiative aimed at [the] betterment of Pakistan and its people will be fully supported and appreciated," the statement added.

Corona killing four an hour in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Nationwide coronavirus cases jumped to over 117,200 while death toll touches to over 2,300 with 101 new deaths in Pakistan. While 6,365 new cases have been reported in a day across country. Four deaths have been reported in every hour in Pakistan while per million fatality rate is also reported fairly high. National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) Wednesday told that 23,799 COVID-19 tests have been conducted in country during last 24 hours. At least 807 people died in Punjab, 738 in Sindh, 619 in KP, 73 in Balochistan, 57 in Islamabad, 14 in Gilgit-Balochistan and 14 in AJK due to COVID-19 till Wednesday. Total active COVID cases in Pakistan were 75,139 on June 9. A total of over 117,200 cases have so far been registered in country with Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) 444, Balochistan 7,335, Gilgit-Baltistan, 1018, Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), 5,963, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 15,206, Punjab 43,460 and Sindh registered 43,790 COVID cases. The NCOC apprised that 36,308 patients have so far recovered from the pandemic. Some 2,255 deaths have so far been reported with 83 deaths on June 9. Some 696 patients have died in Sindh, 807 in Punjab, 610 people lost their lives in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 57 in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), 62 in Balochistan, 14 in Gilgit-Baltistan and 9 patients have died in AJK. Some 754,252 tests have so far been conducted. 776 hospitals were provides COVID-19 facilities. 5,546 COVID patients have been admitted in different hospitals. NCOC has geared up its preparations to deal with any contingency. Some 1,000 additional oxygenated beds would be provided to various hospitals by end June. Some 250 additional ventilators have been provided to provinces including Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT). In Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) 379 beds has been allocated for COVID patients. The allocated oxygenated beds for COVID were 68. Some 43 ventilators have been allocated including 11 for Mirpur, 18 for Muzaffarabad. No patient is currently on ventilators in AJK. In Balochistan, as many 2,148 beds have been dedicated to COVID patients. 68 oxygen allocated beds had also been allocated for COVID patients. 29 ventilators were available in Balochistan hospitals. Right now no patient was on ventilators. Some 151 beds have been allocated in Gilgit-Baltistan. Some 43 beds with oxygen, 28 ventilators have been allocated for COVID patients. In Islamabad, 520 beds, 262 beds with oxygen, 94 ventilators has been allocated. 10 patients were on ventilator. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 5,110 beds, 628 beds with oxygen, 313 ventilators were allocated for COVID patients. Right now 70 patients were on ventilators. A total of 9,276 beds, 3,500 beds with oxygen, 387 ventilators has been allocated for COVID patients in Punjab. 159 patients were on ventilators in the province. In Sindh 8,094 beds, 548 beds with oxygen, 304 ventilators have been dedicated for the patients. 83 patients were on ventilators in Sindh. While, in a statement issued Wednesday with reference to a WHO letter being referred to in the media, the PM’s Special Adviser on Health Dr Zafar Mirza has said, the government is pursuing a holistic strategy to combat coronavirus and its choice of policies is guided by best available evidence. “The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), established under the auspices of National Coordination Committee for COVID-19, meets every morning at ministerial level, and with the help of technical experts, reviews disease data and trends very minutely and takes a holistic view of the situation along with the provinces and develops recommendations for NCC that is chaired by the prime minister and participated by all chief ministers and the prime minister of AJK. All decisions are made in NCC with consensus,” Dr Zafar has communicated through a written statement Dr Zafar has pointed out that Pakistan is a low middle income country with 2/3rd of its population dependent on daily incomes. “Conscious of the disease spread and mortality and having put in place a very robust national coordinating and decision making mechanism at the highest level, we have made best sovereign decisions in the best interest of our people. We have to make tough policy choices to strike a balance between lives and livelihoods,” he states. The SAPM said, Pakistan has consciously but gradually eased generalised lockdowns, but at the same time, has focused on enforcement of SOPs in shops, industry, mosques, and public transport, etc. “Mask donning has been made compulsory in the country. Along with this, we have developed a robust Tracing, Testing and Quarantine policy to identify hotspots and cordon-off them. Currently, there are more than 700 such smart lock-downs in place. Other plank of our strategy is ramping up of our health system capacity to cater to the growing number of patients,” he said. Pakistan is the fifth largest country in the world and largest country in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region which consists of 22 countries. Dr Zafar said, “Pakistan’s choice of policies has been guided by best evidence available about the disease spread and best assessment of the fast deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country. The WHO is a UN specialised technical agency on health and they are our longstanding partner in health including in this pandemic, which we appreciate. We understand that it is their role to provide recommendations to member states but understandably theirs is the health-lens whereas governments have to take into account, a holistic picture and make decisions on relative risk assessment basis and this has been the case in Pakistan all along,” the statement concludes. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has told Pakistan it should implement "intermittent" lockdowns to counter a surge in coronavirus infections that has come as the country loosens restrictions, officials said. Since the start of Pakistan´s outbreak in March, Prime Minister Imran Khan opposed a nationwide lockdown of the sort seen elsewhere, arguing the impoverished country could not afford it. Instead, Pakistan´s four provinces ordered a patchwork of closures, but last week Khan said most of these restrictions would be lifted. Health officials on Wednesday declared a record number of new cases in the past 24 hours. "As of today, Pakistan does not meet any of the pre-requisite conditions for opening the lockdown", the WHO said in a letter confirmed by Pakistan officials on Tuesday. Many people have not adopted behavioural changes such as social distancing and frequent hand-washing, meaning "difficult" decisions will be required including "intermittent lockdowns" in targeted areas, the letter states. Some 25 percent of tests in Pakistan come back positive for COVID-19, the WHO said, indicating high levels of infection in the general population. The health body recommended an intermittent lockdown cycle of two weeks on, two weeks off. Punjab´s provincial health minister Yasmin Rashid, who received the WHO´s letter, said the provincial government had already given "orders to take strict action against those violating" virus guidelines. Hospitals across Pakistan say they are at or near capacity, and some are turning COVID-19 patients away. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that 136,000 cases had been reported in the previous 24 hours, "the most in a single day so far", with the majority of them in South Asia and the Americas.

Shehbaz Sharif tests positive for COVID-19

LAHORE: PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif has tested positive for coronavirus, party spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said on Thursday, the latest among several lawmakers who tested positive for the infection in recent days. Aurangzeb said Shehbaz was isolating at home and following doctors' advice on how to fight the infection. PML-N representative Ata Tarar, speaking to Geo News, revealed that Shehbaz had himself tested for COVID-19 after showing mild symptoms of the infection. He said that the result of the test came back positive on June 10, at 4pm. "He was summoned on June 9 by NAB. We kept saying he is a cancer survivor, and even if you do want to conduct the investigation then do so via video link. However, this is blind political vendetta," he said. In response to a question about the former Punjab chief minister traveling with hundreds of PML-N workers and not paying heed to social distancing protocols, Tarar said that he had appealed to the party's supporters to remain indoors and not gather at public places. "It wasn't an official call from the party [for them to come out]," he said. "We wanted to avoid this situation. I want to say on record that if God forbid, anything were to happen to him, NAB and Imran Niazi will be held responsible." A day earlier, PML-N Secretary-General Ahsan Iqbal tested positive for coronavirus. Earlier, Aurangzeb has tested positive for the coronavirus along with her mother. She joined a long list of lawmakers who have tested positive for the virus, including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and PTI MPA from Sindh Khurrum Sher Zaman. On Monday, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and PTIA MNA Jai Prakash contracted the infection. On Sunday, PPP MPA Sharjeel Memon announced he had tested positive for coronavirus and had gone into self-isolation. Memon is the Sindh government’s focal person for coronavirus in Hyderabad and also attended the provincial assembly session a few days ago. Last week, PML-N Punjab Assembly lawmaker Mian Naveed Ali from Pakpattan had tested positive for coronavirus. Earlier, Minister of State for Narcotics Shehryar Afridi also tested positive for the virus joining a long list of lawmakers to contract the coronavirus in Pakistan. PTI's chief whip in the National Assembly Aamir Dogar also tested positive for coronavirus. Previously, many politicians including ANP’s Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Sindh Governor Imran Ismail, Sindh education minister Saeed Ghani, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, and Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari had tested positive for coronavirus, after which they went into self-isolation and recovered. PTI Punjab Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) Shaheen Raza was the first lawmaker in the country to succumb to the virus. PTI MPA Mian Jamsheduddin Kakakhel from Nowshera and PML-N MPA Shaukat Manzoor Cheema from Gujranwala also passed away earlier this month after being on the ventilator for a few days

Singapore’s migrant workers fear financial ruin after virus ordeal

As Sharif Uddin contemplates leaving the cramped Singapore dormitory where he has spent weeks under coronavirus quarantine, fears about his future creep in. The 42-year-old Bangladeshi construction supervisor is one of thousands of low-income migrant workers trapped in packed bunk rooms that have been ravaged by the coronavirus, accounting for more than 90% of Singapore’s 38,000 infections. As Singapore began easing its lockdown measures this month, migrants like Uddin started to think about returning to the outside world, and whether a job would be available for him to help pay off his debts as Singapore braces for its deepest ever recession. “The fear of losing jobs is worrying everyone at the moment,” said Uddin, who sends the bulk of his wages to his family in Bangladesh and is still repaying loans taken to pay off his recruitment agent, like many of the South Asian migrant workers in Singapore. For Singapore, the system of cheap, imported labour to do jobs in the construction, shipping, manufacturing and service industries works effectively. When times are good, it means jobs that locals usually shun can be filled, but when the economy is weak, it is easy to cut back on foreign workers. That leaves migrant workers like Uddin vulnerable and at real risk of being forced to return to their home country where employment opportunities are scarce. In interviews with more than a dozen workers in Singapore, many said while they were still being paid, they feared they would lose their jobs when the quarantine is lifted. Uddin said Singapore was his “dream city” when he first arrived in 2008, but like many migrants he found most of his toil went towards paying family expenses and creditors, meaning he saved very little. He has worked on building Singapore’s subway, says he writes poetry and hopes to one day open a bookshop back in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. But already on his fourth job, he is still many years away from saving the money he needs. “The dreams of migrants … don’t get fulfilled very soon. It takes really long to chase them,” Uddin said. “As years pass – one year, two years, those initial big dreams and aspirations slowly start fading away.” The Singapore government has waived foreign worker levies for companies to try and ensure migrants get paid while under quarantine and introduced measures to help laid off workers find new positions without having to first travel back to their home country, a core complaint of many labourers. DEBT TRAPS Lawrence Wong, the co-head of Singapore’s virus taskforce, told Reuters the government’s waiving of levies and other steps have helped alleviate “major concerns” of workers around job security, but added that layoffs were possible given the grim economic outlook. “The contractor may have a project today, but down the road will they still have projects? That depends on the economy. So many uncertain factors when it comes to job security,” said Wong, who is also the minister for national development. He added that some workers may remain quarantined in their dormitories until August, or possibly beyond, as the government completes mass testing. The pandemic has drawn attention to the stark inequalities in the modern city-state where more than 300,000 labourers from Bangladesh, India and China often live in rooms for 12 to 20 men, working jobs that pay as little as S$20 ($14.30) a day. That is higher than they would make at home. But the median salary for Singaporean employees in 2019 was S$4,563 per month, according to the manpower ministry. The bigger worry for many migrants like Uddin is the debts they have racked up securing jobs in Singapore. Migrants will usually be charged S$7,000-10,000 in fees by a recruitment agent in their home country, equivalent to more than a year of their basic salary, according to rights groups. If they lose their job, this debt could haunt their families for years. “If there were no recruitment fees, that would solve almost all of these problems,” said Deborah Fordyce, president of Singapore NGO Transient Workers Count Too. “Recruitment costs are what keep them in debt.”

Despite Palestine rejecting 1st shipment, UAE to fly to Israel again with Palestinian aid

Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways is to operate a rare, second flight to Israel on Tuesday carrying medical aid to be delivered to the Palestinians, an airline spokeswoman as saying. Palestinian Authority rejects UAE aid sent via Israeli airport The state-owned carrier made the first known flight to Israel by a United Arab Emirates airline on May 19. It transported supplies to help the Palestinians combat the new coronavirus after the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) coordinated a 16-tonne shipment from the UAE. However, Palestinian authorities refused to receive that shipment, asserting that any assistance meant to be sent to the Palestinian people should be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority first. “The UAE authorities did not coordinate with the state of Palestine before sending the aid,” the government sources said, adding that “Palestinians refuse to be a bridge [for Arab countries] seeking to have normalised ties with Israel.” They asserted that any assistance meant to be sent to the Palestinian people should be coordinated with the PA first. “Sending them directly to Israel constitutes a cover for normalisation,” they added. Unlike Jordan and Egypt, both of which signed peace treaties with Israel in 1978 and 1994, respectively, other Arab states officially deny having ties with Israel, which has been occupying Palestinian territories for decades. In recent years, however, several Gulf states such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman, have cultivated covert ties with Israel.

Russia, China set to protect Iran from US sanctions

Russia and China have started making the case at the United Nations against Washington’s claim that it can trigger a return of all sanctions on Iran at the Security Council, with Moscow invoking a 50-year-old international legal opinion to argue against the move. Participants are seen during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Myanmar's oppression on the Rohingya people' at the UN Headquarters in New York, US on 18 July 2017 [Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency] Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Chinese government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, both wrote to the 15-member council and UN chief Antonio Guterres as the United States threatens to spark a so-called sanctions snapback under the Iran nuclear deal, even though Washington quit the accord in 2018. Washington threatened last month to trigger a return of all UN sanctions on Iran if the Security Council does not extend an arms embargo due to expire in October under Tehran’s deal with world powers to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said last week that a draft resolution on the embargo would be circulated soon. Council veto-powers Russia and China have already signaled they are against reimposing an arms embargo on Iran. If they block the U.S.-drafted resolution, then Washington will have to follow through on its sanctions snapback threat.

PM resolves to take sugar inquiry to its ‘logical end’

Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday reiterated his strong resolve to safeguard the rights of the people of Pakistan at all costs by taking the issue of sugar inquiry to its logical end. Chairing a meeting of the federal cabinet, the prime minister said the Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf’s government strongly believes in complete transparency and securing rights of the people. He assured the meeting that the prices of sugar will be brought down at all costs and the public will feel that the government is committed to secure the interest of masses. “It is a fight for the people of Pakistan. Anyone found involved in it will face the action,” a press release of the PM Office Media Wing quoted the prime minister as saying. The meeting was apprised about the steps taken on the recommendations of Sugar Inquiry Commission. After the prime minister’s approval, the action was being taken which had three dimensions. The first pertained to punishment and recovery, which entails further seven different actions as detailed below: – The commission reviewed the issue of subsidy from the year 2014 to 2019 under which a subsidy of Rs 29 billion was given. However, under the prime minister’s direction, the said issue was referred to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) that will consider the matter from 1985, especially during the 90s under its relevant jurisdiction and laws.

Covid-19: WHO wants Punjab to impose two-week strict lockdown

n a letter to the Punjab government, the WHO lauded the provincial government’s efforts in response to the pandemic. “Government intervention on April 12, 2020, detailing social distancing measures including restrictions, closure of schools and businesses, international travel restrictions and geographical area restrictions were instituted with the aim of limiting the spread of the disease,” the letter said. The WHO said during the lockdown, Pakistan was reporting 1,000 cases per day. However, this number increased after the federal government eased the lockdown in the country. “SOPs need to be strictly enforced to stem the spread of the virus,” the letter said. The WHO recommends that for any government that wants to start lifting restrictions, the following six conditions must be met: disease transmission is under control; health system can detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact; hot spot risks are minimized in vulnerable places, such as nursing homes; schools, workplaces and other essential places have established preventive measures; the risk of importing new cases can be managed; and the communities are fully educated, engaged and empowered to live under a new normal. The WHO strongly recommended that the government adopt two-week off and two-week on strategy as it offers the smallest curve. It also recommended strengthening all public health measures such as quarantine, isolation, physical distancing and contact tracing. Given due consideration to the test positivity rate, developing testing capacity beyond 50,000 tests/day is extremely important, it said.

Pakistan reports 105 deaths in a day; 58 people die in Punjab

According to the latest figures, 40,819 cases have been reported in Punjab, 41,303 in Sindh, 14,527 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 7,031 in Balochistan, 952 in Gilgit Baltistan, 5,785 in Islamabad and 412 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir so far. The virus has claimed at least 2,209 lives while around 35,070 coronavirus patients have recovered. Punjab reported an additional 1,916 new Covid-19 cases, according to the national database, taking the provincial tally to 40,819. It has also recorded the highest single-day death toll of any province after 58 more people died from the virus in the last 24 hours. This has taken the province’s total fatalities to 773. Ten employees at the Governor House Punjab have tested positive for coronavirus, a spokesperson said Tuesday. According to the spokesperson, at least 133 employees were tested for the virus. Governor Sarwar himself has tested negative and is busy with work as usual, said the spokesperson. “All possible precautions are being taken at the Governor House to safeguard against the virus,” he added.

May not adopt WHO’s lockdown recommendation: Zafar Mirza

In response to a letter by the World Health Organization (WHO) urging Pakistan to impose lockdown, Dr. Zafar Mirza said that it is not necessary to follow the recommendations of the organization. “Government has adopted a planned strategy to deal with the coronavirus. We do have an option of lockdown but people are advised to follow Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for now,” he said. It is impossible to defeat Coronavirus without changing attitudes,” he maintained. He further said that the non-operational sectors will continue to remain closed adding, “The government knows what is in the best interest of people.” It is pertinent here to mention that the WHO wrote a letter to the Punjab government on Tuesday and lauded the provincial regime’s efforts against the pandemic.

The WHO recommended that for any government that wants to start lifting restrictions, the following six conditions must be met: 1) Disease transmission is under control 2) Health system can “detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact” 3) Hot spot risks are minimized in vulnerable places, such as nursing homes 4) Schools, workplaces and other essential places have established preventive measures 5) The risk of importing new cases “can be managed” 6) Communities are fully educated, engaged and empowered to live under a new normal The WHO said Pakistan does not meet any of the aforementioned conditions and suggested it to follow two weeks off and two weeks on strategy against coronavirus.

Park Lane case: AC adjourns Zardari’s indictment till July

Accountability courAccountability court has postponed the hearing of the Park Lane case filed against former president Asif Ali Zardari till 17th July.t has postponed the hearing of the Park Lane case filed against former president Asif Ali Zardari till 17th July.

AC Judge Azam Khan conducted the hearing during which Asif Ali Zardari’s counsel submitted an application seeking exemption of former president from the court appearance as he is unable to attend the court hearing due to his ailment. The court accepted his exemption in the Park Lane case and postponed the proceedings till July. The Park Lane reference has been registered against Asif Ali Zardari and Faryal Talpur under different sections of the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, and the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2010. Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and other accused face charges of corruption through fake bank accounts and embezzlement in the financial facility for Park Lane Private Limited and Parthenon (Pvt) Limited.

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