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Pakistan top court rejects call to disqualify Prime Minister

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Supporters of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chant slogans following Pakistan’s Supreme Court’s decision on a case related to Panama Papers leaks, in Karachi, Pakistan April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday ruled there was insufficient evidence to order Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s removal from office over corruption allegations levelled by the opposition, but it ordered further investigations.

A verdict to dismiss Sharif would have left his party in power but would have brought turmoil at a time when Pakistan is experiencing modest growth and improved security, and the civilian government and powerful military have appeared to come to uneasy terms.

Two of five judges on the court bench recommended Sharif should step down, saying he was dishonest “to the nation as well as to the parliament”, but they were out voted.

Presenting its 549-page judgment amid tight security in the capital Islamabad, the court ordered a joint investigation team be formed to look into allegations around three of Sharif’s four children using offshore companies to buy properties in London.

The team has two months to complete its inquiry, after which a special bench will decide what action to take, the court said in a ruling that opens with the epigraph from Mario Puzo’s novel “The Godfather”: “Behind every great fortune there is a crime”.

The prime minister and his children deny any wrongdoing.

Pakistan’s stock market jumped after the court’s decision with the benchmark index .KSE closing up 2.39 percent. Sharif is seen as pro-business.

Supporters of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gesture following the Supreme Court decision, in Islamabad, Pakistan April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

Analysts and opposition politicians said the ruling was a blow to Sharif’s credibility and the inquiry’s findings could yet weaken the prime minister as he heads into a general election, due by May 2018.

But for now, Sharif and his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, are celebrating.

Sharif’s daughter and his presumptive political heir, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, posted a photo on Twitter of the family welcoming the court’s decision.

“We are ready for all kinds of investigation,” Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told reporters outside the court.

Protesters shout slogans outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad, Pakistan April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

The Supreme Court agreed last year to investigate the Sharif family’s offshore wealth after opposition leader Imran Khan threatened protests after the leaking of the “Panama Papers”.

“The prime minister should immediately resign at least for the 60 days until JIT completes its work,” Khan told reporters, referring to the joint investigation team. “What moral grounds does he have to continue in office?”

‘CLOSE CALL’

Documents leaked from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm appeared to show that Sharif’s daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy properties in London.

The opposition accuses Sharif of failing to explain the source of offshore money and of lying to parliament.

Sharif, one of Pakistan’s richest men, told parliament last year that his family wealth was acquired legally in the decades before he entered politics.

The president of the Supreme Court Bar Association said the ruling showed that none of the judges had accepted the truthfulness of Sharif’s speech to parliament. “That is very damaging to the prime minister,” Rasheed Razvi said.

Farogh Naseem, a Supreme Court lawyer and sitting senator, said Sharif could breathe easy, for now.

“It was a close call for the prime minister,” he told Reuters. “There is no clean chit for the prime minister, but for the time being he has been saved from being disqualified.”

Naseem said with three of the institutions involved in the joint investigation under Sharif’s control, a decision against him was unlikely.

Khan’s party has indicated that it would not launch new street protests if it was disappointed by the judgement.

Pakistani politicians of all stripes have over the years been accused of corruption, which remains endemic.

Saadia Toor, associate professor at City University New York, said the scourge of corruption extended far beyond Sharif and offshore wealth.

“Definitely there should be accountability regardless of who is in power but it’s important to have governments that sit out their terms because there is so much instability,” Toor said.

Source : Reuters

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Afghanistan: Blast near office of ‘Save The Children’ aid group in Jalalabad

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Afghan, Jan 25: A blast occurred near office of ‘Save The Children’ aid group in the eastern Afghanistan city of Jalalabad – government official said on Wednesday.

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6.1-magnitude quake hits Jakarta

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Jakarta, Jan 23: An earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale jolted the Indonesian capital on Tuesday, damaging dozens of houses and sending people fleeing into the streets in panic.

The earthquake struck around 1.34 p.m. about 100 miles southwest of Jakarta, with its epicentre in the Indian Ocean. There were no immediate reports of casualties, Efe news reported.

Reports said that buildings in the capital shook for several seconds, with some being evacuated. In Lebak district of Banten province, as many as 116 houses were damaged after the quake, an official of the disaster management agency said.

A total of 13 houses were damaged in Serang district of Banten province and four others in West Java province.

Around Jakarta, panicky Indonesians fled schools, office buildings and other high-rises, the New York Times reported.

“It felt like a giant rock had dropped either in the hallway or just outside the building,” said Marcoen Stoop, a Belgian businessman who lives on the 35th floor of an apartment building in Jakarta.

“Then, the building started swaying and the swaying increased steadily,” he added, saying the rocking lasted less than a minute.

In 2004, a powerful quake in the northern part of Sumatra Island triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed around 230,000 people in a dozen countries, mostly in Indonesia.

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Powerful 8.2 magnitude Earth Quake jolts Alaska

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New Delhi, Jan 23: A powerful earthquake of 8.2 magnitude shook the coast of Alaska on Tuesday. Following this tsunami warning has been issued across the United States.

The quake hit 300 km southeast of Kodiak at a depth of 10 km at 12.21 a.m., the US Geological Survey said.

The US National Tsunami Warning Centre issued a tsunami alert for areas that included the coast of Alaska to British Columbia and the border with Washington State, and a tsunami watch all the way down to the border of Mexico and the coast of Hawaii, the New York Times reported.

Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, issued an extreme warning, saying there was “extraordinary threat to life or property”.

The alert told people to seek refuge on higher grounds in affected areas. Authorities said that based on the preliminary earthquake parameters, “widespread hazardous tsunami waves were possible”.

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