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India gets partial waiver relief from US sanctions against Russia

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Washington, Aug 2 : The US Senate has passed a bill that gives India a partial waiver relief from sanctions against Russian firms and oligarchs, allowing it to keep buying Russia-made weapons in a landmark decision that is seen as a big diplomatic win for New Delhi.

The defence spending bill, which now goes to President Donald Trump before it becomes a law, also seeks to “strengthen and enhance” defence partnership with India. It was passed by the House last week.

The National Defence Authorization Act was passed on Wednesday with overwhelmingly bipartisan support – a vote of 87-10 in the Senate and 359-54 in the House.

The bill authorizes a $717 billion US defence budget to rebuild its military and “strengthens our alliances and partnerships and reforms the way we do business”, Secretary of Defence James Mattis said in a statement.

He said the bill “provides waiver relief to key US partners and allies from certain Russian-related sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA).

The CAATSA amendment allows countries like India to continue buying military equipment from Russia provided they fulfill certain conditions, like reducing defence purchases from Russia.

The law, which came into effect in 2018, sanctions some Russia firms, including state-run military hardware makers, and some businessmen, for alleged meddling in the 2016 US Presidential elections.

The act also forbade third-party countries from doing “significant transactions” with Russia in military and intelligence sectors through the threat of secondary sanctions.

Now the modified version of the act requires presidential certifications allowing key US allies to trade with Russia.

“I am grateful for the strong commitment of members on both sides of the aisle to pass this year’s NDAA in record time. Together, they have demonstrated the deep and abiding bipartisan support our military enjoys,” Mattis said.

“It is now our duty to implement these policies responsibly and ensure a culture of performance and accountability.”

Among the first in the line of fire of anti-Russia sanctions was India, which is all set to buy five Russian-made S-400 Triumf advanced air defence systems.

An agreement for the deal is expected to be signed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Moscow later this year.

Significantly, the bill also proposes to “strengthen and enhance” America’s major defence partnership with India and “work toward mutual security objectives”.

It talks about the strategic Quadrilateral Dialogue between the US, India, Japan, and Australia for “expanding engagement in multilateral frameworks”.

Also known as the Quad, the grouping first established in 2007-08, was revived last year amid China’s assertive maritime strategy expansion, land reclamation and territorial claims in and around the South China Sea.

Concerns about Chinese increasing military activities and its Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI) have triggered fears in India about encroachment of its strategic interest as well as encirclement of its maritime zone by Chinese projects in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The expansion of engagement in multilateral frameworks, the bill said, would be done to “promote regional security and defend shared values and common interests in the rules-based order”.

Besides, additional steps would be explored “to implement the ‘major defence partner’ designation to better facilitate military inter-operability, information sharing, and appropriate technology transfers” with India.

The bill also proposed to designate a “responsible individual within the Department of Defence to facilitate the major defence partnership with India” and pursue strategic initiatives to help develop India’s defence capabilities, including maritime security capabilities.

It also suggests conducting additional joint exercises between Indian and US militaries in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean region, and the Western Pacific and furthering cooperative efforts to promote security and stability in Afghanistan.

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Nine drug addicts killed in Afghanistan shooting

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Kabul, Nine drug addicts were shot to death in an overnight shooting in a non-residential area in western side of Kabul, Afghanistan, the capital police said on Sunday.

“The shooting occurred at side of Qurugh Mountain in Police District 6 roughly at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday. Personnel of Kabul Criminal Investigation Police Department shifted the bodies to Forensic Science Service Department near Kabul University shortly after the shooting was reported,” Ferdaus Faramarz from Kabul police told Xinhua.

One arrest was made after the shooting and the motive behind the incident remained unclear. Further investigation is on, police added.

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31 civilians killed in Yemen airstrike: UN

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An airstrike in the Yemeni northeastern province of al-Jawf has killed at least 31 civilians and injured 12 others, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen said in a statement on Sunday.

“We share our deep condolences with the families of those killed and we pray for the speedy recovery of everyone who has been injured in these terrible strikes,” Lise Grande said in the statement obtained by Xinhua.

“Under international humanitarian law parties which resort to force are obligated to protect civilians. Five years into this conflict and belligerents are still failing to uphold this responsibility,” she added.

The victims were killed in the airstrike on Saturday that targeted a gathering of people at the site where a Tornado warplane of the Saudi-led coalition crashed in al-Masloub district in the southwest of al-Jawf, according to a local tribal source.

The victims were members of three relative families, the source said on condition of anonymity. The strike came hours after the Houthi rebels claimed to have shot down the Tornado warplane.

Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition confirmed that a Tornado warplane crashed in al-Jawf during an operation to support Yemen’s government forces. The coalition held Houthis responsible for the lives and safety of the plane’s crew, according to a statement carried by the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.

The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the Iran-allied Houthi rebels since its intervention in the Yemeni conflict in March 2015 to support the internationally-recognized government of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

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Japan confirms 70 new coronavirus cases from cruise ship

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Toky, Another 70 people aboard the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan’s Yokohama have been tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the total to 355 cases, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato confirmed on Sunday.

The health ministry said that the 70 new cases came out of 289 people tested, bringing the total number of those who have undergone tests to 1,219, Japan Times reported.

The cruise ship arrived in Japan earlier this month with more than 3,700 passengers and crew members from more than 50 countries and regions.

With global attention increasingly focused on the situation, the US Embassy sent a letter on Saturday to Americans aboard saying that a chartered aircraft, set to arrive in Japan on Sunday, would repatriate those who wished to leave the ship.

The US aircraft is set to depart from Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Monday, according to Japanese official japan will also cooperate with other countries that make similar arrangements to evacuate their citizens on the ship, Japanese government officials said.

More than a week has passed since the cruise ship was put under a two-week quarantine at Yokohama port after a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong was found to be infected with COVID-19, the pneumonia-causing coronavirus.

Japan’s health ministry had initially planned to keep all of the passengers and crew confined on the vessel until Wednesday, when the quarantine is scheduled to end.

But the ministry decided last Thursday to let passengers 80 and older, as well as their traveling companions, leave before the end of the quarantine after they were screened for infection.

Those with pre-existing conditions or who were staying in cabins without windows were prioritized for disembarkation.

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