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In biggest troop cut, China to bring army down to 1 mn

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Beijing, July 12 :  China will cut down its present military force of 2.3 million, the world’s largest army, to below one million, the biggest troop reduction in the People’s Liberation Army’s history.

“This is the first time that active PLA Army personnel would be reduced to below one million,” said a report in a social media outlet run by PLA Daily.

The article on structural reform in the military said: “The old military structure, where the army accounts for the vast majority, will be replaced after the reform.”

In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping had announced a reduction of 300,000 troops in the PLA.

According to the report, the number of troops in the PLA Navy, PLA Strategic Support Force, and the PLA Rocket Force would be increased, while the PLA Air Force’s active service personnel would remain the same.

“The reform is based on China’s strategic goals and security requirements. In the past, the PLA focused on ground battle and homeland defence, which will undergo fundamental changes,” said the WeChat article.

China has cut down its defence spending in the past two years, with the military budget in 2017 remaining seven per cent, lowest hike in more than a decade.

Xi wants a lean but modernised armed forces.

China has been becoming a major sea power and its disputes are more on seas than land.

Of the 14 neighbours, China has land disputes only with India and Bhutan.

According to the Chinese Defence Ministry, PLA had about 850,000 combat troops in 2013.

“This reform will provide other services, including the PLA Rocket Force, Air Force, Navy and Strategic Support Force (mainly responsible for electronic warfare and communication), with more resources and inputs, and the PLA will strengthen its capability to conduct overseas missions,” Xu Guangyu, a senior adviser to the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, was quoted as saying by Global Times.

“The PLA must be capable of spotting overseas threats and destroying hostile forces thousands of kilometers away before they enter our 12 nautical mile territorial waters,” Xu said.

“China’s overseas interests are spread around the world and need to be protected. These are beyond the army’s current capabilities,” said Xu.

The PLA structure should also fit China’s international status, Xu added.

(Gaurav Sharma can be contacted at [email protected])

By Gaurav Sharma

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250 dead in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta in 48hrs: Rights

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Damascus, Feb 21: At least 250 civilians have been killed by shelling and air strikes in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta in the past 48 hours, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Tuesday.

The death toll included 58 children and 42 women, the group said in what was termed as the deadliest attack in the city in the last few years.

More than 100 were killed and another 1,200 people were wounded by the Syrian regime shelling and air strikes on Monday on the besieged Damascus suburb, the rebel-held town of Hamouria, the CNN said.

The SOHR activists and residents described it as “being under constant bombardment”. The rights group said at least 106 of the civilian deaths took place on Tuesday.

The monitoring group said the death toll is the highest since the 2013 alleged chemical attack on Eastern Ghouta, which activists say killed approximately 1,400 people.

“These are the worst days of our lives in Ghouta,” Eastern Ghouta hospital director and pediatrician Amani Ballour said. “We in Ghouta have been getting hit by air strikes for more than five years and this is not new to us … but we have never seen anything like this escalation.”

Various Islamic rebel groups control Eastern Ghouta, including the Al Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which was previously known as Jabhat al Nusra before renouncing its ties to Al Qaeda.

Doctors said medics were working round the clock treating hundreds of injured people. Several medical facilities in Eastern Ghouta were reported to have been struck on Monday, the CNN report said.

Medical supplies were already in short after years-long siege of the area that began in 2012.

Now, Syrian regime forces are accelerating their offensive against the suburb, one of the last rebel-controlled areas in the country.

“I can tell you that the situation is very catastrophic … there were four hospitals that were destroyed…,” said Fares Ouraiba, a doctor from the Damascus suburb. He said most of the dead were women and children.

Besides, 13 more people were killed and 77 others wounded when militants in Eastern Ghouta fired 114 rocket and mortar rounds on several neighbourhoods here on Tuesday, said Syria state-run SANA news, citing police.

SANA added that the Syrian army responded to the attacks with “precise strikes”, destroying rocket launchers and fortified positions used by the armed groups.

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Israeli minister meets Palestinian PM for peace talks

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Jerusalem, Feb 20: Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon met with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Palestine’s West Bank city on Monday, and called on to renew the long-stalled peace talks.

The rare meeting was attended also by the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Major General Yoav Mordechai, and Deputy Finance Minister Itzik Cohen, Xinhua reported.

The meeting was focused on security and financial issues, including the activity of Palestinian banks, building new industrial zones in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and creating new jobs in the unemployment-stricken area.

Kahlon urged the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table with the United States as a mediator.

“The Americans are the only honest broker in the region,” he said, adding that the talks should be restarted through the involvement of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt.

The Palestinians denounced the White House as a biased broker following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on December 6.

The meeting marked a rare talk between Israeli and Palestinian officials, after the last round of peace talks reached an impasse in 2014.

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Make Pluto a planet again, 6-year-old girl urges NASA

Pluto was downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet in 2006 by the governing body of astronomy, the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

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Six-year-old Cara O'Connor, a student from Cork, Ireland, wrote a letter to NASA asking the space agency to reclassify Pluto as a planet. (Courtesy of Glasheen Girls School)

Washington, Feb 19: Six-year-old Cara O’Connor of Ireland, who dreams of becoming a NASA astronaut one day, wrote a letter to the space agency urging it to reclassify Pluto as a planet, The Washington Post reported this week.

Pluto was downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet in 2006 by the governing body of astronomy, the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

The decision has not gone down well with Cara and she wants NASA to “fix this problem” for her and “make Pluto a planet again.”

“I listened to a song and at the end of it the song said “Bring Pluto Back” — and I would really like that to happen,” Cara wrote.

She talked about the Kuiper belt, a doughnut-shaped ring beyond Neptune where many dwarf planets are located, the Post reported on Saturday.

“I really think Pluto should be a main planet again like Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus & Neptune, because in one video I watched called ‘Let’s go meet the planets,’ Pluto was at the very end,” she wrote.

In another video, she said, Pluto “was put in the trash can and was scared by planet Earth.”

“This was really mean,” Cara wrote, “because no one or no planet or dwarf planets should be put in the trash can.”

Cara’s plea did not fall on deaf ears as she received a reply from James Green, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, who complimented her on her interest in Pluto.

“I agree with you that Pluto is really cool — in fact, who would have believed that Pluto has a heart? … It’s a fascinating world that appears to be constantly changing. To me, it’s not so much about whether Pluto is a dwarf planet or not; it’s that Pluto is a fascinating place that we need to continue to study,” Green wrote.

“I hope that you will discover a new planet, and I trust that if you continue to do well in school we will see you at NASA one of these days,” he added.

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