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Afghan ‘mother of all bombs’ toll rises to 94

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Kabul, April 15: The death toll of Islamic State (IS) militants killed when the US military dropped a massive GBU-43 bomb or the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province has risen to 94, a Kabul official said on Saturday.

“The number of IS militants killed in the US bomb in Achin district jumped to 94, including four commanders,” Nangarhar provincial spokesman Attaullah Khogiani told CNN.

Our team is in the area and they are doing clearance, so the figure might change as they find more bodies,” said Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defence.

The GBU-43, a non-nuclear, 10-tonne missile powered by a wave of air pressure, was dropped on Thursday onto caves used by the terror group.

The initial toll given by Afghan officials for the strike was 36. However, a statement released on Friday through IS’ media wing, Amaq News Agency, said none of the terror group’s fighters were killed or injured.

No civilians were killed in the explosion, said an official.

The Chief Executive of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, said the attack had been carried out in co-ordination with his government and “great care had been taken to avoid civilian harm”.

The strike targeted a network of fortified underground tunnels that IS had been using to stage attacks on government forces in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistan border, said the report.

The blast destroyed three underground tunnels as well as weapons and ammunition, but no civilians were hurt, Afghan and US officials said.

The US military defended its decision when it was quizzed Friday on whether the behemoth bomb was necessary for that particular target.

“This was the right weapon against the right target. It was the right time to use it tactically against the right target on the battlefield,” General John Nicholson, commander for US forces in Afghanistan, said at a news conference.

“The enemy had created bunkers, tunnels and extensive mine fields, and this weapon was used to reduce those obstacles so that we could continue our offensive in southern Nangarhar.

The US military previously estimated IS had 600 to 800 active fighters in the area.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he approved of the strike, and it was designed to support Afghan and US forces conducting clearance operations in the region.

But former President Hamid Karzai accused the US of using Afghanistan as “a testing ground for new and dangerous weapons.”

IANS

Europe

Belgian court ends extradition case against Catalan leader Puigdemont

The judge had declared the case to be “without merit” during an in-camera hearing.

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Carles Puigdemont

A Belgian court formally closed extradition proceedings against deposed Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on Thursday.

Puigdemont and four of his deputies fled to Belgium in October to avoid charges of rebellion, sedition and misusing public money in relation to Catalonia’s independence bid. The Spanish Supreme Court withdrew the European arrest warrants last week.

The judge had declared the case to be “without merit” during an in-camera hearing, Paul Bekaert, Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer, told AFP.

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North Korea: Trump taking dangerous step to nuclear war by seeking naval blockade

Pyongyang also lashed out at the possible US move in a commentary on Sunday in the communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

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US President Donald Trump is taking an “extremely dangerous” and “big step” towards nuclear war by seeking a naval blockade, North Korea has stated, according to the official KCNA news agency.

Pyonyang also said it will take “merciless self-defensive” measures against any blockade, as it would consider such a move an “act of war.” The North Korean government also believes any blockade would be a “wanton violation” of its sovereignty and dignity, KCNA reported, citing a foreign ministry spokesman.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson previously mentioned the “right to interdict maritime traffic transporting goods” to and from the North, following Pyongyang’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test on November 29.

Pyongyang also lashed out at the possible US move in a commentary on Sunday in the communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

Earlier on Thursday, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin warned that North Korea now finds itself in a position where it “doesn’t see any other way for self-protection rather than developing weapons of mass destruction and missile technologies.” Having reiterated that Moscow in no way supports Pyongyang’s nuclear program, the Russian leader stressed that the Kremlin calls for steps by all sides towards a peaceful solution.

Both the US and North Korea “should stop fueling tensions,” Putin told international media at his annual press conference, adding that everyone should be “extremely cautious” about the situation on the Korean peninsula. “One launch from North Korea will be enough for catastrophic consequences,” the president warned.

The comments come just one day after State Department spokesperson Heath Nauert appeared to backtrack on statements made by Tillerson, in which the secretary of state said the US was “ready to have the first meeting” with Pyongyang “without preconditions.” Nauert said on Wednesday that North Korea would have to suspend its weapons tests before such talks could take place.

Earlier this month, Moscow said it was ready to help facilitate talks between Washington and Pyongyang, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stating that “North Korea wants to talk to the US about its own security assurances.”

Russia and China have proposed a so-called “double freeze” plan which would see the US suspend joint drills with South Korea in exchange for Pyongyang halting its missile and nuclear tests. However, that plan was swiftly rejected during the summer by the US, which asserted its right to conduct military exercises with its ally South Korea.

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India ready to work with new Nepal government

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New Delhi, Dec 14: Welcoming the parliamentary and provincial election results in Nepal, India on Thursday said it was looking forward to working with the new government in Kathmandu.

“India has age-old unique time-tested ties of friendship with the country,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in his weekly media briefing here.

“We look forward to working with the next democratically elected government in Nepal to advance our close and multi-faceted partnership across all sectors and to support Nepal in its pursuit of peace, stability, economic prosperity for all round development,” he said.

Nepal’s CPN-UML emerged as the largest party in the Himalayan nation. The vote count for Parliament and provincial assembly elections in Nepal ended on Wednesday.

IANS

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