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Afghan ‘mother of all bombs’ toll rises to 94




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.”



Car bomb kills 2 in Egypt’s Alexandria




Cairo, March 24: A car bomb killed two people and injured several others in the centre of the Egyptian port city of Alexandria on Saturday, officials said.

The attack unsuccessfully targeted the city’s security chief while he was travelling in a convoy, the Interior Ministry was cited as saying by Efe news.

Egypt is just two days away from its presidential election, that will be held from Monday to Wednesday, in which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is competing for a second mandate.

An Interior Ministry statement only confirmed the death of one policeman, adding that three others were injured by an explosive device placed under a vehicle parked near the Alexandria Security Directorate headquarters.

On April 9, 2017 two separate bomb attacks targeted Coptic Christian churches in Alexandria and the city of Tanta in the Nile Delta, killing 44 people and wounding 100 others.

The Islamic State terror organization claimed responsibility for both attacks.


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Australia volunteers rescue 5 after mass-stranding of 150 whales



whales, Photo Credit: @DubaiSityNews

Canberra, March 24: Volunteers have helped rescue five of the 150 short-finned pilot whales that were stranded on a beach in Western Australia, authorities said on Saturday.

The whales were freed by authorities at Hamelin Bay, south of Perth, with the help of vets and more than 100 volunteers, reports the Guardian.

The surviving five whales have been moved to deeper waters, but there was still a risk they could return to dry land.

The Parks and Wildlife Service incident controller Jeremy Chick said whales often came back on to the shore after mass-stranding events.

“We ask the public to keep a lookout and if anyone sees a stranded whale to please report it,” he said.

A sixth whale was freed into shallow waters overnight but it beached again and had to be euthanised.

The authorities continued to sweep the surrounding beaches by air and sea on Saturday, the Guardian reported.

The 145 carcasses were being removed and authorities were taking DNA samples to understand why the whales beached.

A fisherman spotted the large number of whales on Friday morning.


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China’s attempt to change status quo may lead to another Doklam: Indian envoy



india china

Beijing, March 24: Any attempt by China to change the status quo along the Indian border may lead to another Doklam-like stand-off, India’s envoy Gautam Bambawale has said, adding that the best way to prevent such incidents is through candid and frank talks.

In an interview to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, Bambwale said the un-demarcated border between India and China is “the most serious problem between the two countries” and they need to redefine the boundary soon.

Bambawale said New Delhi will oppose the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) but won’t let the difference over Belt and Road become a dispute with Beijing. He also downplayed the reports of India joining the bloc of the US, Japan and Australia to counter China.

The two militaries were locked in a 73-day stand-off at Doklam in the eastern sector of their border last year. The issue was resolved in August, only after souring the bilateral ties.

“In order to maintain the peace and tranquillity (along India-China border), there are certain areas, certain sectors which are very sensitive, where we must not change the status quo. If anyone changes the status quo, it will lead to a situation like what happened in Doklam,” Bambawale said in the interview published on Saturday.

“The Chinese military changed the status quo in the Doklam area and therefore India reacted to it. Ours was a reaction to the change in the status quo by the Chinese military.

“… when incidents like Doklam happened last year, it meant that we were not frank and candid enough with each other. So we need to increase the level of frankness.

“In the sense that if the Chinese military are going to build a road, they must tell us ‘we are going to build a road’. If we do not agree to it then we can reply that, ‘look, you’re changing the status quo. Please don’t do it. This is a very very sensitive area’,” he said.

On India’s concerns about China’s Belt and Road project, Bambawale said if the initiative meets the norms of an international programme then New Delhi has no problem.

“One of the norms is that the project should not violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country. Unfortunately, there is this thing called the CPEC which violates India’s sovereignty and territory integrity. Therefore, we oppose it.”

The CPEC is the flagship project of China’s Belt and Road project, a network of roads, ports and sea lanes that aims to connect Asia, Africa and Europe. India opposes it as it cuts through Kashmir held by Pakistan, but claimed by it.

“We might have differences of opinion on Belt and Road, but that we must not allow that difference of opinion to become a dispute,” Bambawale said.

Asked about India’s concerns over China making inroads into its neighbourhood, he said New Delhi was not worried about it.

“Let me tell you very clearly that India has its own relationships with all these countries. These are very strong relationships and India is also doing a lot of projects in countries like Maldives, Nepal or Sri Lanka. So, our relationships with these countries are very strong, they are historical, people-to-people contacts.”

“I don’t think we are worried about what China is doing. Those countries are free to have relationships with any third country, including China.”

On the talks of India joining an emerging bloc called Quad, Bambawale sought to allay China’s fears. “I do not see India becoming part of any alliance. Let me also repeat what I have already said to you before.”

“As far as four countries are concerned, let me tell you very clearly that India has never been a part of any alliance. I think countries like India and China are too big to be part of any alliance,” he added.

The envoy said that there are hosts of bilateral meetings lined-up, including the one between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Summit in June.

(Gaurav Sharma is the IANS correspondent in Beijing. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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