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Resume talks on nuclear arms treaty with Russia, Gorbachev urges US

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Moscow, Feb 13 : Former Soviet leader Mikhail S Gorbachev called on Washington and Moscow to resume nuclear arms talks, warning of dangers of not doing so after President Donald Trump confirmed the USA plan to leave a key Cold War-era treaty.

Gorbachev (President of the USSR in 1990-1991) in an article on Wednesday for Russian newspaper Vedomosti said this after the US decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, he had co-signed in 1987 with then US President Ronald Reagan.

“I regret that the tough domestic situation, which has been in place in the US over the recent years, has in fact resulted in disruption of dialogue between our two countries on all topics, including the nuclear weapons. It is time to get over the difficulties between the (US) political parties and start a serious conversation.

“I am sure that Russia will be ready for it”, Gorbachev wrote in his column.

The treaty aimed to eliminate short-range missiles capable of striking up to 1,000 km and intermediate missiles capable of hitting up to 5,500 km.

Gorbachev said the US wanted to withdraw from the treaty to “get rid of all the restrictions in the arms sphere and gain absolute military supremacy… to impose its will globally”, Sputnik news agency reported.

Calling it “an illusory goal, an impossible hope”, he said the “hegemony of one country in the modern world was impossible”.

Expressing concern over “dangerous, destructive tendencies in world politics”, Gorbachev appealed to US Congress members to solve the impasse. “Nuclear war is unacceptable, there can be no winners. The treaty was a first step, followed by others (such as) the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that had reduced the number of nuclear weapons in Russia and the US by more than 80 per cent,” he said.

The former Soviet President said the de-escalation process not only affected nuclear weapons but also elimination of chemical weapons, while Eastern and Western European countries agreed on a radical reduction of armed forces and weapons.

This was “the peace dividend” that everyone, Europe especially, obtained with the end of the Cold War, he said.

Gorbachev defended Russia’s standpoint as “an unambiguous position in favour of preserving the treaty”. He also noted the US “refused to ratify the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty” and due to this 2002 unilateral decision, the Treaty on the Restriction of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM) was terminated.

Warning the US, he said result of the current destructive turn would bring something completely different: “The destabilisation of the global strategic situation, a new arms race, increased chaos and unpredictability of world politics.”

Gorbachev, meanwhile, welcomed European efforts to save the treaty as the EU called on the US “to ponder the consequences of withdrawing from the treaty for its own security, the security of its allies and the whole world”.

Business

Pakistan’s economy shows positive indicators: PM’s Office

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Imran Khan Pakistan PM

Islamabad, Feb 28 : Pakistan’s economic indicators are seeing a constant improvement due to efforts made by the current government to overcome the serious economic challenges, the Prime Minister’s Office said on Friday.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, chairing a meeting of his economic team, expressed satisfaction over the improvement in all sectors, adding that his government is making efforts to bring a trickle-down effect of the improving economy on general public and in this regard steps are being taken to provide relief to low income and salaried class of the country, Xinhua reported.

He also directed the economic team to keep the public updated about the positive indicators of the economy in a bid to win the confidence of the local businessman to invest in the country.

Earlier this month, the prime minister approved subsidy of Pakistani Rs 10 billion ($65 million) on five essential food items for controlling rampant inflation in the country.

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Iranian vice president tests positive for coronavirus

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Tehran, Feb 28 Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar has tested positive for the coronavirus, an official said on Thursday.

Ebtekar’s adviser Fariba Ibtihaj said the vice president tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Iran’s official IRNA news agency  reported.

“Everyone in the vice president’s team was also tested and the results will be available on Saturday,” she said.

Ebtekar is not the first high-ranking Iranian official to contract the virus.

Ebtekar, joins the deputy health minister, the head of the national security commission and a reformist MP who have been infected with the virus, reports Efe news.

She tested positive on Thursday after showing symptoms the previous day during a cabinet meeting, according to state TV.

The politician is one of the most recognizable in the Islamic Republic and previously held the position of environment minister.

Iran has reported 26 deaths from the deadly disease and 245 cases total with a dramatic surge of 106 new infections registered on Thursday, the Health Ministry said.

Tehran authorities have decided to close down schools and universities in the country to curb the spread of the disease.

Friday prayers in the capital have also been cancelled.

Amid the spread of the virus, neighbouring countries have closed their land borders with Iran and most airlines have suspended their flights or imposed restrictions on air travel to the country.

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COVID-19 cases in South Korea reach 2,022, 13 deaths

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Seoul, Feb 28 The number of coronavirus cases in South Korea increased to 2,022 on Friday, with a total of 13 fatalities as the nation aggressively counters the fast-spreading virus with massive testing, particularly for 210,000 followers of a religious sect at the centre of the epidemic.

The 256 new cases brought the nation’s total infections to 2,022, the Yonhap News Agency quoted the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) as saying.

Only two days ago, the number of infections exceeded 1,000.

More than half of newly confirmed cases were linked to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southeastern city of Daegu, 300 km southeast of Seoul.

Of the 256 new cases, 182 are in Daegu, and 49 are in the neighbouring North Gyeongsang Province.

Since raising the virus alert level to “red”, the highest level, on Sunday, health authorities have focused on halting the spread of the virus in Daegu, the epicentre of the virus outbreak in South Korea, and North Gyeongsang.

Experts said the number of confirmed cases is expected to jump in the coming days as health authorities have begun testing more than 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

The government also ordered another 1,638 Shincheonji followers to self-isolate as they have shown symptoms, Yonhap News Agency said in its report.

Since the first coronavirus case — a Chinese woman from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak — on January 20, the pace of infections had not been alarming until February 18, when a 61-year-old woman who is tied to the Daegu religious sect tested positive for the virus.

Since then, the nation has seen an explosion in infections as it accelerated virus tests on potential cases.

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