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Nepal-China begin joint military drill

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Kathmandu, April 16 : The first ever joint military drill between Nepal and China — Sagarmatha Friendship-2017 — kicked off at Nepal Army’s Para Training School in Maharajgunj here on Sunday.

The Chinese Army’s squad is participating in the military exercise that will focus on counter terrorism and disaster response. The 10-day exercise will conclude on April 25.

DGMO of Nepal Army General Binod Kumar Shrestha inaugurated the exercise.

Though Nepal and China were planning a big-scale military exercise, the strong opposition from New Delhi given its special diplomatic and military ties with Kathmandu has forced Kathmandu to limit the size and nature of the drill, sources said.

“We hope that such joint military exercise would help the Nepali and Chinese armies to boost their professional capabilities,” Gen. Shrestha said.

Highlighting the historic ties between Nepali and Chinese armies, Colonel Yang Shumeng, leading the Chinese side, said such exercise would help understanding on counter terrorism and strengthening military ties.

The joint training with China marks the Nepali Army’s extension of military diplomacy.

The army has long been conducting joint military drills with the Indian and US armies.

A small Chinese troop contingent will be participating in the first ever drill with an equal number of Nepal Army personnel whereas it was earlier planned at battalion-level.

The exercise is taking place at the Maharajgunj-based training school where Yuddha Bhairab, Mahabir and Bhairabnath Battalions are located.

Initially it was planned outside Kathmandu.

The country’s army said the military exercise with China was a step towards preparations against the possible threat from terrorism.

The Nepal Army maintained that the drill was part of its regular bilateral and multilateral military exercises aimed at sharing experiences, skills and professional knowledge which it has been doing regularly with the nations that Nepal shares diplomatic ties with.

The national defence forces from the two countries have increased their engagement of late.

On February 19, Major General Zhao Jinsong of the western command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army was in Nepal on a three-day visit.

This was followed by a visit by Defence Minister and State Councillor Chang Wanquan in March. Chang had announced 300 million Yuan (Rs 4.5 billion) in military aid to Nepal.

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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.

IANS

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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.

IANS

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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.

IANS

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