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Europe must speak up for Catalan separatists, says Puidgemont

November 7, 2017 rbksa 0
Author: 
AP
Tue, 2017-11-07 03:00
ID: 
1510075813478484100

MADRID: Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who wants to lead a pro-independence coalition of political forces in an upcoming regional election, has criticized the passivity of European politicians in denouncing the prosecution of dismissed secessionist officials.
In an interview on Tuesday in Brussels with Catalan public radio, the separatist leader says there is an “absolute disconnect between the interests of the people and the European elites” and that Catalonia’s problem is an “issue of human rights that requires maximum attention.”
Puigdemont is fighting extradition to Spain, where other members of the ousted Cabinet have been sent to jail while awaiting the results of a probe for allegedly implementing a strategy to secede from Spain.
Spanish central authorities are now in direct control of the northeastern region, where an early election on Dec. 21 is shaping into a tight race between separatist and pro-union forces.
The civil society group that spearheaded the Catalan endeavor for secession from Spain on Tuesday called for the region’s separatist political parties to run in a “unified pro-independence ticket.”
In a statement, Assemblea Nacional Catalana said such a joint coalition should include jailed separatist activists and the members of the deposed Catalan Cabinet as candidates.
The parties were facing a midnight deadline to register an interest in forming coalitions.
But a repetition of the ousted ruling coalition of the center-right PDeCAT and the left republican ERC that also appeals to the anti-establishment CUP party seems unlikely before the deadline expires.
PDeCAT wants Puigdemont to lead a hypothetical coalition, while ERC says it will only agree if deposed and jailed Vice President Oriol Junqueras heads a ticket supported by the CUP and even far-left non-nationalists.
A recent poll by the Barcelona-based La Vanguardia newspaper predicted that the three pro-secession parties would win between 66 and 69 seats in December. Sixty-eight seats are needed for a majority.
Pro-secession parties held a slim majority of 72 of 132 seats in the Catalan Parliament before it was dissolved by Spanish authorities after lawmakers passed a declaration of independence on Oct. 27.
The central government also removed Puigdemont’s Cabinet and called for a snap election to replace them.
Catalonia’s opposition leader Ines Arrimadas said on Tuesday she hoped that disillusionment among pro-independence supporters would help her Ciutadans (Citizens) party and other pro-Spanish unity groups to band together and oust the pro-secessionists.
Arrimadas, 36, said secessionist parties will have no credibility if they again promise a bright future for Catalonia’s independence.
She said no country recognized their secession declaration on Oct. 27, the EU insists independent Catalonia will be expelled and thousands of businesses have since moved their headquarters from the region.
Arrimadas, whose party holds 25 seats in the 135-deputy Catalan parliament, said “demoralization” among the pro-independence camp and mobilization of unionist parties could help swing the balance in Spain’s favor.
Meanwhile, judges are also gauging possible rebellion charges against the former Catalan separatist officials and lawmakers who made the vote possible. Eight former Cabinet members including Junqueras have been jailed, one of them released on bail and five more, including Puigdemont, are in Belgium where they plan to campaign while fighting extradition to Spain.
Six lawmakers, including the regional parliament’s speaker Carme Forcadell, could also be sent to jail as soon as Thursday after they testify before a Supreme Court judge on a similar probe. They face possible charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement, which can be punished with up to 30 years in prison.
Catalan separatist parties are planning to include some of the officials in ballots as a way to draw more attention to a situation that they consider unjust. Lawyers are also arguing that the officials should be spared jail before trial because running for a parliamentary seat means that they have no intention of fleeing the country.

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Catalonia’s ex-leader urges unity as deadline for secessionist pact nears

November 7, 2017 rbksa 0
Author: 
Reuters
Tue, 2017-11-07 13:44
ID: 
1510052383716146300

MADRID: Catalonia’s deposed leader Carles Puigdemont on Tuesday urged the region’s political forces to unite against Spain, as hours remained for him to agree terms for an electoral pact with other pro-independence parties.
Puigdemont went into self-imposed exile in Belgium last month after Spain’s central government fired his secessionist administration, dissolved the Catalan parliament and called an election in the region for Dec 21.
Madrid also issued an arrest warrant against him on charges including rebellion, but a Brussels court ruled on Monday he could remain at liberty in Belgium until it had decided whether he should be extradited.
The independence push has deeply divided the country, dragging it into its worst political crisis since its return to democracy four decades ago and fueling anti-Spanish feelings in Catalonia and nationalist tendencies elsewhere.
Pro-independence parties want the December vote to become a de facto independence referendum, and Puigdemont’s PDeCAT and the ERC party led by Oriol Junqueras said at the weekend they might contest it on a combined ticket.
But they must register any alliance by the end of Tuesday, and prospects of them bridging their differences in time looked slim.
ERC’s spokesman Sergi Sabria said on Monday his party did not rule out a coalition with PDeCAT, but would agree only if other parties joined them, including the anti-capitalist CUP which has yet to decide whether it will contest the December ballot.
Polls suggest secessionist parties would win enough votes combined to hold a slim majority in the Catalan parliament. Running together would increase their chance of success.
Puigdemont and other secessionist leaders face charges of rebellion, sedition, misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of public trust for organizing an illegal independence referendum on Oct. 1 and later proclaiming a Catalan republic, something that goes against Spain’s constitution.
In an interview with Catalunya Radio on Tuesday, Puigdemont said all parties standing in the region should unite against Madrid’s actions.
He also called on the Spanish government to suspend article 155, which Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy enacted last month to rule Catalonia directly from Madrid, ahead of the December vote.
“The ideal would be a broad regional list of parties… PDeCAT, CUP, (left-wing) Podemos, ERC… that stand for democracy and freedom.” Puigdemont said.
“The Spanish state is committing a brutal repression … If we don’t battle repression together, the Spanish state may win this fight.”
Around 200 Catalan mayors who are in favor of independence traveled to Brussels on Tuesday to back Puigdemont and defend the Catalan cause in the European capital. They were due to hold a rally at 5 p.m. (1600 GMT).

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‘He needed to be stopped,’ says local hero who pursued Texas gunman

November 7, 2017 rbksa 0
Author: 
Reuters
Tue, 2017-11-07 06:19
ID: 
1510032244685242100

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas: A Texas man who saw a local exchanging gunfire with the assailant who had just massacred 26 people at a small town church said he had no hesitation in pursuing the gunman because he needed to be stopped.
“That’s it. I mean that’s the bottom line, he needed to be stopped,” Johnnie Langendorff told Reuters TV. “He was stopped and he’s not going to hurt anyone else ever again.”
Langendorff was driving his pickup truck in Sutherland Springs on Sunday when he saw a local man, Stephen Willeford, trading rifle fire with a black-clad stranger who had just emerged from the First Baptist Church.
“He jumped in my truck and said ‘He just shot up the church, we got to get him’ and I said ‘OK, let’s go,’” Langendorff said of his rapid words with Willeford.
“And so from there we blew through this intersection and he started going about 90-95 (miles per hour) (145-153 km per hour) keeping up with this guy,” Langendorff said.
At the time, neither of them knew they were chasing Devin Kelley, 26, an Air Force veteran who police say put on tactical gear, a ballistic vest and skull-like mask to carry out the most deadly mass shooting in the modern history of Texas.
The pursuit lasted about 10-12 minutes, Langendorff said. Then Kelley lost control and crashed into a ditch. They stopped too and Willeford trained his rifle on the disabled vehicle, Langendorff added, but the gunman never emerged.
Willeford’s cousin Ken Leonard told CNN that Willeford shot Kelley where there was a gap in his vest.
“Stephen is the best shot that I know,” Leonard told CNN. “He without armor and barefooted ran into the fire and put his own life at risk, took return fire and fired accurately three times. That’s an amazing accomplishment, especially for a man who has, who was never in the military.”
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Freeman Martin, a regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, described Willeford as a good Samaritan and a “Texas hero.”
Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt also hailed Willeford for grabbing his gun and responding to the danger.
“He didn’t have to come out,” Tackitt told Reuters. “He could have stayed at his house.”

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related_nodes: 
Texas church attack stemmed from domestic situation, say police
26 killed in church attack in Texas’ deadliest mass shooting

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Venezuela opposition leader seeks refuge in Chilean Embassy

November 5, 2017 rbksa 0
Author: 
AP
Mon, 2017-11-06 21:57
ID: 
1509902827103691100

CARACAS: One of Venezuela’s most prominent opposition leaders has sought refuge in the Chilean ambassador’s residence after being targeted for arrest by the Supreme Court.
Chile’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had welcomed congressman Freddy Guevara as a guest, in line with Chile’s humanitarian tradition. He entered the ambassador’s residence in Caracas late Saturday with his girlfriend, ending more than 24 hours of suspense in which he went into hiding and vehicles belonging to the Sebin intelligence police had surrounded his residence.
There were no sign of activity Sunday morning outside the ambassador’s residence, located in an exclusive country club neighborhood of walled-in estates, except for a few neighbors walking to the golf course.
On Friday, the government-stacked high court barred Guevara from leaving the country and requested the pro-government Constitutional Assembly strip his immunity from prosecution. The court said Guevara is suspected of instigating unrest and other crimes during months of anti-government protests.
By law, the opposition-controlled National Assembly is charged with determining whether a legislator’s constitutional immunity should be lifted. But the court has instead referred the case to the Constitutional Assembly, which has been given virtually unlimited powers.
Guevara, vice president of the Congress, was at the forefront of opposition protests that mobilized hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans frustrated with their nation’s spiral into political and economic crisis.
His Popular Will party called the accusations “inexistent crimes invented by the dictatorship.” On Saturday, 12 Western Hemisphere governments — including Mexico, Brazil and Canada — issued a joint statement saying the targeting of Guevara by the high court was a “new blow to the rule of law and separation of powers in Venezuela.”
There was no immediate reaction from the government.
But a similar diplomatic drama involving Chile unfolded earlier this year when five jurists appointed by the National Assembly to replace government loyalists on the Supreme Court sought asylum in Ambassador Pedro Ramirez’s residence after their arrest was ordered.
The government considered the jurists usurpers and never granted them safe conduct to take up exile in Chile. After a more than two-month standoff they left the residence on their own will last month and were secretly ferried across the border to Colombia and from there flew to Santiago.

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related_nodes: 
Venezuela’s opposition tries to unite against Maduro
Venezuela opposition leader banned from running for office

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UK Parliament sleaze row ‘clearing out’ bad behavior

November 5, 2017 rbksa 0
Author: 
AFP
Mon, 2017-11-06 21:08
ID: 
1509901767263600500

LONDON: British Interior Minister Amber Rudd declared Sunday that a scandal over sexual harassment rocking the country’s political circles was a “watershed moment” that was “clearing out” inappropriate behavior.
She denied that Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority government was at risk after Michael Fallon quit as defense secretary earlier this week and as two other ministers remain under investigation for misconduct.
Rudd told BBC television that the end result of the claims was “clearing out Westminster of that sort of behavior.”
“And I think that Westminster afterward, including the government, will be better for it,” she said.
Fallon announced his resignation on Wednesday after apologizing for touching a journalist’s knee in 2002.
Another journalist alleged this weekend that Fallon had “lunged” at her after a lunch in 2003. She said she reported the incident to Downing Street this week, and he resigned hours later.
May’s de facto deputy Damian Green, meanwhile, is being investigated for his own alleged inappropriate behavior toward a journalist, which he strongly denies.
Rudd confirmed that the probe had been widened to include a newspaper report on Sunday that “extreme” pornographic material had been found on his parliamentary computer in 2008.
Green, an old university friend of May’s, has strongly denied the story in the Sunday Times and accused the police source behind it of trying to cause him political damage.
“I know that the Cabinet Office is going to be looking at this tomorrow along with the wider inquiry about Damian, and I do think that we shouldn’t rush to allege anything until that inquiry has taken place,” Rudd said.
The prime minister is also due to meet with other party leaders on Monday to discuss a new parliamentary complaints system in the wake of a wave of allegations, many involving MPs and junior staff or journalists.
On Friday, she announced a new code of conduct for her own Conservative party — under which three MPs were referred for investigation this weekend.
Another Conservative MP was suspended on Friday, while the opposition Labour party has also suspended one of its lawmakers.
A Scottish minister resigned on Saturday after admitting his behavior “might have made others uncomfortable,” while a Welsh minister was sacked Friday following allegations about his personal conduct.

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Italy eyes populist party’s performance in Sicily vote

November 5, 2017 rbksa 0
Author: 
AFP
Mon, 2017-11-06 21:23
ID: 
1509900544443515800

CATANIA, Italy: Sicilians cast their ballots on Sunday in a regional vote seen as a barometer for Italy’s general election next year, with the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) challenging a resurgent right as a divided left flounders.
“The vote is considered decisive not just by the party leaders pounding the streets of the main cities, and not just for the island’s future, but for the future of Italy and even Europe,” editorialist Marcello Sorgi wrote in La Stampa daily.
A victory in Sicily would give M5S its first region, a boost supporters say could propel it all the way to national leadership.
“The choice is simple: Us or them, the future or the past, hope or failure, citizens or traditional political parties,” comedian Beppe Grillo, the movement’s outspoken founder, wrote on his blog.
M5S candidate Giancarlo Cancelleri, 42, is expected to have just one real challenger for the victory podium: Nello Musumeci, 62, who was leading the race in recent opinion polls and could snap up the region for the right.
A bitterly feuding left is expected to fail to get anywhere near the top.
Analysts say the political dynamic on the Mediterranean island mirrors the situation nationally, and the vote is being closely watched in the euro zone’s third-largest economy for indications of how the general election, due before May, will go.
Votes will be counted on Monday. “The polling stations open under a dark cloud, amid controversy over the risk of vote-rigging,” La Repubblica daily said, referring to claims the decision to wait overnight before beginning the count increased the chances of fraud.
The Interior Ministry was tightening controls in response to the fears, it said.
All eyes were on turnout figures, with low participation known to have rewarded M5S in the past. Only 47 percent of Sicily’s eligible voters turned out for the last regional election in 2012, a record low.
A victory for Musumeci could be a boost for billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who recently shrugged off scandals to return to the political fray, portraying himself as a pro-European moderate and the only real defense against populism.
His center-right Forza Italia (Go Italy) party joined forces with its traditional rightist allies the Northern League and the Brothers of Italy for the Sicily vote — a powerful combination which pollsters say could steal the show at the national elections.
The anti-immigrant Northern League, meanwhile, sees Sicily as a testing ground for expanding its reach beyond Italy’s northern regions.
But the ruling Democratic Party (PD) is braced for an embarrassing defeat that could have serious implications not just for the left nationally but also for Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister who wants his old job back.
“Renzi is preparing for the probable Sicilian nosedive like a man whose enemies are at the door and the supplies are running out,” political commentator Tommaso Ciriaco said in La Repubblica daily.
The 42-year old has been accused of causing a debilitating rift in the left, and has largely abandoned the party’s candidate, Fabrizio Micari, 54, on the campaign trail.

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US extremists fail to build significant networks, act alone

November 5, 2017 rbksa 0
Author: 
AFP
Sun, 2017-11-05 05:12
ID: 
1509858526401158000

WASHINGTON: Sayfullo Saipov, the radicalized Uzbek who mowed down eight people on a New York bike path, apparently developed his plot in relative isolation, like most other extremist attackers in the United States.
But in Europe many have had community support, an underground network, or even a hard-line Islamist to guide them, as in the twin attacks in Spain in August.
What makes the difference?
Experts say that in part, a better rooted, more affluent US Muslim community shows no tolerance for anyone exhibiting sympathy for causes like the Daesh group or Al-Qaeda.
And tougher and expansive US laws and more aggressive law enforcement than Europe have also made a difference.
Together, they leave aspiring extremists in the United States isolated with their social media links and, at times, just a few friends in the know.
Saipov, who crashed a rented truck down a busy New York bike path Tuesday, is so far believed by investigators to have been “self-radicalized” online without any apparent support inside the United States.
Analysts say that’s because it is much harder to safely find support.
“We tend not to have large clusters in the US…. For the most part you are talking about ones and twos,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
Hughes said one fundamental reason is distance: the country is much farther away from extremist networks and it is much harder to travel to the Middle East because of official no-fly lists.
European Muslims find it much easier to travel to areas where radical groups like Daesh operate.
As a consequence, he said, “We don’t have the kind of in-person recruitment done in Europe.”
Another factor is the expansive use of the charge of “material support of terrorism,” a catch-all that “allows the FBI to interject themselves at an earlier stage than our European partners,” Hughes said.
For critics, the FBI is too aggressive and stretches the law with undercover schemes that entrap people who are not really threats. But the net effect is to prevent them from establishing connections and frightening others thinking of trying to build networks.
According to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, heavier prison sentences in terror cases in the US makes a difference.
US sentences are 15-20 years, compared to four to seven years in Europe, which releases terror convicts back into the community much more quickly. That helps sustain dangerous cells, he said.
That is not to say the United States has not had its own cells or ringleaders, Gartenstein-Ross notes.
Anwar Al-Awlaki, one of the most influential extremist thinkers and propagandists, was born and raised in the United States before he joined Al-Qaeda in Yemen and was killed in a 2011 drone strike.
And in the late 2000s a cell that involved maybe 20 people developed around the Somali community in Minneapolis that became an effective body to recruit people to join Daesh.
“That was clearly a network,” like those in Europe, he said. “They have not been prevented, they still exist.”
The Somali cell more resembled those in Europe, rooted in a more recent, less wealthy, poorly educated immigrant community.
For the most part American Muslim communities are wealthier, and better educated on average than European communities.
That makes them less alienated and better-integrated, according to Corey Saylor, an expert on Islamophobia at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
US Muslim groups will more readily chase out of the community and the mosque someone who espouses radical ideas.
“If somebody in the congregation is talking about it, they get pushed out fairly quickly. There is no hospitality” for it, he said.
While neither side talks about it much, US Muslim communities have been more willing to report possible threats to law enforcement than in Europe. That was helped by outreach programs under president Barack Obama, according to Gartenstein-Ross.
That may have ebbed under President Donald Trump, however, given his open mistrust of Muslims. “The lack of trust has impeded cooperation; suspicion has likely increased,” he said.

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AP finds hackers hijacked at least 195 Trump web addresses

November 4, 2017 rbksa 0
Author: 
TAMI ABDOLLAH | AP
Sat, 2017-11-04 23:00
ID: 
1509812846115205100

WASHINGTON: Four years ago, well before the furor over allegations Moscow meddled in the 2016 election that put Donald Trump in the White House, at least 195 web addresses belonging to Trump, his family or his business empire were hijacked by hackers possibly operating out of Russia, The Associated Press has learned.
The Trump Organization denied the domain names were ever compromised. But a review of Internet records by the AP and cybersecurity experts shows otherwise. And it was not until this past week, after the Trump camp was asked about it by the AP, that the last of the tampered-with addresses were repaired.
After the hack, computer users who visited the Trump-related addresses were unwittingly redirected to servers in St. Petersburg, Russia, that cybersecurity experts said contained malicious software commonly used to steal passwords or hold files for ransom. Whether anyone fell victim to such tactics is unclear.
A further mystery is who the hackers were and why they did it.
The discovery represents a new twist in the Russian hacking story, which up to now has focused mostly on what US intelligence officials say was a campaign by the Kremlin to try to undermine Democrat Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and benefit Trump’s.
It is not known whether the hackers who tampered with the Trump addresses are the same ones who stole Democratic officials’ emails and embarrassed the party in the heat of the campaign last year. Nor is it clear whether the hackers were acting on behalf of the Russian government.
The affected addresses, or domain names, included donaldtrump.org, donaldtrumpexecutiveoffice.com, donaldtrumprealty.com and barrontrump.com. They were compromised in two waves of attacks in August and September 2013, according to the review of Internet records.
Many of the addresses were not being used by Trump. Businesses and public figures commonly buy addresses for possible future use or to prevent them from falling into the hands of rivals or enemies. The Trump Organization and its affiliates own at least 3,300 in all.
According to security experts, the hackers hijacked the addresses by penetrating and altering the domain registration records housed at GoDaddy.com, a seller of web addresses.
Accounts at GoDaddy, like at any site that requires a user name and password, are often subject to malicious messages known as phishing attacks, which are designed to trick people to reveal that personal information to hackers.
Computer users who entered or clicked on one of those Trump addresses probably would have had no idea they were redirected to servers in Russia.
Within days after the AP asked the Trump Organization about the tampering, the affected web addresses were all corrected.
The White House referred questions to the Trump Organization. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.
GoDaddy spokesman Nick Fuller said the company had no breaches of its system in 2013 and has measures in place to monitor for malicious activity. Fuller would not discuss any customers in particular.
Some cybersecurity experts said there is an outside chance the tampering was a probe — an attempt to test security for an eventual effort to gather information on Trump or his business dealings. But those experts were only guessing.
There was no evidence the hackers ultimately broke into server computers at the Trump Organization or other Trump interests.
“This is beyond me,” said Paul Vixie, CEO of the San Mateo, California-based Internet security company Farsight Security Inc. “I have simply never seen a benefit accrue from an attack of this kind. I’m at loss, unless it’s a demonstration of capabilities.”
Vixie said the Trump Organization’s apparent failure to detect what was happening probably suggests inadequate cybersecurity at the company.
“There’s no way something like this could go by in the Bloomberg empire without this being seen,” Vixie said.

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Smog disrupts life in Pakistan’s Punjab province

November 4, 2017 rbksa 0
Author: 
SIB KAIFEE
Sat, 2017-11-04 22:57
ID: 
1509814675075438800

ISLAMABAD: Smog is causing chaos in the Pakistani province of Punjab close to the Indian border, in particular the densely populated provincial capital, Lahore.

Traffic accidents, flight delays, health hazards, and power failures have been reported across the province.

Chashma nuclear power plant units C1, C2, C3 and C4 have shut down, along with other power production units. Specialists are working to restore the systems and expect the plants to be at full capacity within a few days.

One commuter told Arab News on Saturday that there was “almost zero visibility” on the highway between Islamabad and Lahore. Authorities prohibited heavy vehicles from using that highway on Saturday.

Dozens of accidents resulting in serious injuries and deaths have been reported around Punjab. And a number of flights have been cancelled in the province’s major cities.

“The air in the outskirts of Lahore is very bad,” Lahore resident Adnan Khan told Arab News. “But this is nothing new for us. We go through this phase usually at this time of the year when the temperature starts to drop. It’s the open fields where the density of smog is greater and drifting in towards the city and roads.”

The government has ordered the closure of all oil-based power plants to reduce the smog’s environmental impact. Reports indicate that the region is relying on hydroelectric generation as its primary source of electrical power. This has caused a drop of 7000 megawatts from the distribution grid, as several power plants are offline.

Faheem Khokhar, a professor at the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, told Arab News there is no reason to panic about the nuclear shutdown. “The tripping is likely due to safety reasons,” he said. “Our nuclear plants are secure enough.”

Khohkar says there is no current data on smog levels in Pakistan but he estimated that the “scale is quite high.”

According to local media reports, the Environment Protection Department (EPD) says the smog has been caused by emissions from nine nearby thermal power plants in India, and by Indian farmers setting leftover crops on fire after the harvest.

EPD officials speaking to Geo News on Friday noted that the smog was affecting the Indian cities of New Delhi, Amritsar, and Ambala as well.

The officials urged the Pakistani government to engage Indian authorities over the issue immediately.

A local TV network reported on Friday that the Punjab environment minister blames India for triggering the smog by burning some 35 million tons of waste.

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Red Cross says $6 million for Ebola fight stolen through fraud

November 4, 2017 rbksa 0
Author: 
CLARENCE ROY-MACAULAY and KRISTA LARSON | AP
Sat, 2017-11-04 20:50
ID: 
1509807376994652600

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone: Fraud by Red Cross workers and others wasted at least $6 million meant to fight the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the organization confirmed Saturday.
The revelations follow an internal investigation of how the organization handled more than $124 million during the 2014-2016 epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
The disease erupted in Guinea and quickly spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. The international aid response was initially slow, and money once it arrived was often disbursed quickly in the rush to purchase supplies and get aid workers into the field.
As much as $2.13 million disappeared as the result of “likely collusion” between Red Cross staff and employees at a Sierra Leonean bank, the investigation found. It is believed that the money was lost when they improperly fixed the exchange rate at the height of the epidemic.
The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it was “outraged” by what it had uncovered, and was strengthening its efforts to fight corruption, including introducing cash spending limits in “high-risk settings.” It also plans to send trained auditors along with emergency operations teams. Other measures will include additional staff training and “the establishment of a dedicated and independent internal investigation function.”
“These cases must not in any way diminish the tremendous courage and dedication of thousands of volunteers and staff during the Ebola response. They played a critical and widely recognized role in containing and ending the outbreak, and preventing further spread of the Ebola virus internationally,” said Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, the IFRC under secretary general for partnerships.
“We are pursuing every possible avenue to reclaim all funds that have been misappropriated, diverted, or otherwise illegally taken. This includes working with authorities in affected countries and elsewhere as appropriate.”
The findings of the internal investigation were first posted online Oct. 20 but were not widely publicized until Friday. The IFRC confirmed the findings Saturday and said it was working with Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission to “investigate and legally pursue any persons involved.”
IFRC also revealed evidence of fraud in the two other hardest-hit countries during the Ebola crisis.
In Liberia, investigators found “evidence of fraud related to inflated prices of relief items, payroll and payment of volunteer incentives.” IFRC estimated the loss at $2.7 million.
And in Guinea, at least $1.17 million disappeared because of fraudulent billing practices by a customs clearance service provider. Two other investigations there are pending, IFRC said.
___
Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed.

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