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Sean Penn in Istanbul to film Khashoggi murder documentary

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Istanbul, Dec 5 : US actor and filmmaker Sean Penn and his crew were seen in front of the Saudi consulate here on Wednesday, reportedly making a documentary on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the mission.

Turkish private NTV broadcaster said the actor was trying to gather detailed information to make the documentary about the murder of supporter-turned-critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, a case that has sparked an international outcry.

The two-time Oscar winner came to the consulate with a crew of around 10 and shot in front of the consulate as well as the residence of the Saudi consul, who left Turkey after the journalist’s killing on October 2.

Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, went missing after entering the consulate for collecting documents in order to marry his Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz.

After initially saying the journalist had left the consulate alive, weeks later the Saudi administration admitted he was killed there and blamed a “rogue” team.

Penn was expected to meet Cengiz in the city, according to the broadcaster.

The Sabah daily reported that the actor will also visit Ankara to meet Turkish officials.

According to the Istanbul prosecutor, Khashoggi was strangled to death after he entered the Saudi consulate and his body was then dismembered and destroyed.

The Turkish police and crime scene investigators were still trying to locate the remaining parts of his body across Istanbul and the neighbouring Yalova province.

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US bill over reciprocity of access to Tibet awaits Trump’s signature

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Chicago, Dec 13 : The unanimous passage of a bill that insists on reciprocity between the US and China over travel access to Tibet is seen as a clear message that the US Congress is sending to Beijing about the situation in Tibet.

The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which deals with “the level of access Chinese authorities granted US diplomats, journalists, and tourists to Tibetan areas in China”, seeks to deny admission to Chinese officials who prevent Americans from visiting Tibet.

It says, “The State Department shall report to Congress annually, identifying individuals who were blocked from US entry during the preceding year and a list of Chinese officials who were substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies to restrict the access of US diplomats, journalists, and citizens to Tibetan areas.”

The bill now awaits signature by President Donald Trump to become law. Its passage was a result of a nearly four years of efforts by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and other Tibetan groups under the leadership of ICT chair and Hollywood star Richard Gere, a passionate activist and a committed Buddhist, as well as its president Matteo Mecacci.

Asked how optimistic he is about Trump signing the bill into law, especially at a time when his administration is engaged in a tense trade war with Beijing, Mecacci told IANS in an interview via email, “The overwhelming support shown by the US Congress for this bill, which passed unanimously both in the House and the Senate, is sending a very clear message to the Chinese government that the American people care deeply about the situation inside Tibet, and are concerned about the isolation that China has imposed.”

He said this bill is about the “principle of reciprocity that complements the Trump Administration’s policy”. “The State Department has also conveyed, during a hearing in the Senate, that it shares the goals of the bill and will implement it. We are confident that President Trump will take all these elements into account, when it comes to signing the bill into law,” Mecacci said.

On how, once it becomes law, it might impact US-China relations in the specific context of Tibet, he said, “The State Department, which on December 4 expressed official support for the goals of the legislation and plans to implement it, will have to assess the level of access to Tibet for American citizens and identify the Chinese officials who are responsible for blocking access, and eventually denying them visas to the United States.

“This is about reciprocity and fairness, and it is very important that the United States challenges China’s policy not only on trade or economic issues, but also on civil and human rights, such us freedom of movement, freedom of information and the rule of law,” he said.

President Trump has not been known to pay particular attention to Tibet. It is questionable whether he is aware of the historic complexities of the problem. Given that, it has not been clear how he might approach the bill waiting for his signature.

However, Mecacci is optimistic. “As I mentioned, the US Administration has been following this bill very closely and supports its goals. In general, the Trump Administration has already issued a report on the status of Tibet negotiations in May 2018 in which it has outlined its position on the Tibetan issue.”

On whether the bill may become a sort of political football in the trade dispute, he said, “This legislation was introduced in Congress well before the beginning of the Trump Administration and of the trade dispute with China. For decades, the US Congress and US Administrations have supported the aspiration of the Tibetan people to a better life. This will continue beyond a trade dispute. Since it is about American interest, we do not see how this can be impacted by the trade dispute.”

(Mayank Chhaya is a senior journalist of Indian origin based in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected])

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Australian duo joyfully trace their missing roots to western India

“Finally, in a quest to find something, we came to India with a sense that this is where we belong; but the basic question was: Where to start? From much detective work, we knew of houses that had been built and of a village named after our great grandfather, Charles Robertson Lamont Glasfurd, an engineer and surveyor and Commissioner here in India.

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Jaipur, Dec 13 : This is the family tale of three adventurous Australians — Susan Glasfurd and her elder brother Peter Glasfurd (and his wife Jeniffer) — who were on a mission to trace their missing roots in Incredible India. They travelled to India in November, clueless about where to look, finally found the rich legacy of their forefathers and managed to pay homage to them at Sironcha in Maharashtra, thanks to “the wonderful Indian hospitality”.

The brother-sister duo had grown up on a large farming property in Western Australia, but their hearts had always yearned for India, where their forefathers had lived many years ago. Their father was born in Poona (now Pune), his father and two uncles were born in the adjacent Matheran hill station and his grandfather was also born in India (but it’s not exactly clear where) as were earlier generations.

“Many were the tales our father told; they were never ending, but then, we knew he was a great raconteur, a great story-teller, and where was this place India anyway? As children, it seemed just another of his exciting fairy tales,” Susan told IANS.

“However, we yearned to visit this place to retrace our family history. We had heard of stories of the forts, the tribes, the fleet, the magistrates, the commissioners and the story of their return to their ancestral homes in Scotland. We have also seen their homesickness and their regret over leaving their adopted country which at times became overwhelming,” she added.

“Finally, in a quest to find something, we came to India with a sense that this is where we belong; but the basic question was: Where to start? From much detective work, we knew of houses that had been built and of a village named after our great grandfather, Charles Robertson Lamont Glasfurd, an engineer and surveyor and Commissioner here in India. In such a short time, our plan became one where we would try and find some of these houses (if they still existed) and if possible discover the village,” Susan explained.

Travelling as tourists, they visited various villages before arriving in Jaipur — where they hit paydirt. Their local tour operator, Manoj Vardhan, located the village — Glasfard Petha — and also suggested a plan to reach Sironcha, an off-the-beaten-track place located in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra, bordering Telangana.

“No hotel or motels there, yet our desires were fulfilled, courtesy Indian hospitality,” she said.

“Our father, Duncan Angus Glasfurd, was born in Pune and spent a long time at various places in this country. He narrated stories which became the inspiration to explore our family history. Duncan John Glasfurd was our grandfather who rose to become a general in the army. Charles Robertson Lamont Glasfurd was our great grandfather who served as Commissioner at Sironcha. It was an important place ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad during late 19th century,” Susan said.

“Our first port of call was Glasfard Petha. An internal plane trip, an overnight stay and a long car drive (with a multi-lingual driver) eventually got us heading along a road in need of much repair, winding in and out through the jungle. Then we reached Glasfard Petha. The welcome we received was beyond description,” she said

The excitement was infectious and the crowd grew bigger; men, women and children speaking excitedly, merging into one collective, gleeful crowd. They asked to meet the school teacher as they hoped he may have further knowledge to impart.

“We slowly walked with the headman and the school teacher along the track between the houses, noting that it was a neat, tidy and clean little village. We were ushered into the headman’s garden and were seated as honoured guests. We spoke for some time, a very emotional time for us, and then it was time to go.

“The whole village escorted us back to the car. After many farewells and promises to keep in touch we slowly drove away, surrounded on each side and behind by a crowd of villages who had gathered to see us off,” Susan said.

The next stop was not too far away — the police station.

“We arrived at the gate to a very bemused group — the local police. The premises was one of the homes that Charles resided in while doing important business in the area. The police, amazed at our appearance and story, invited us inside. They showed us the old well that was used for drinking water. This visit also included much clicking of cameras and much chatting and laughter.”

“While on our way, we had discovered that Charles had built a house on the highest point of Sironcha out of the stones of a derelict ruin and sure enough there it was in all its glory still standing and now a government guest house. We managed a full tour of this house as well,” Susan said.

Altogether, it was an eventful day.

“We were here to find history from fragments of historical notes, here to piece them together and create a story for our family history; and it was here that we discovered why our ancestors had such emotionally strong ties to India. This is a holiday that will remain in our hearts for all time,” Susan concluded.

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

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New EU initiative for net zero emission

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Katowice (Poland), Dec 13 : A new initiative, comprising 45 European non-state actors and named Step Up Now, on Thursday set a joint vision for creating a new economy and society that will work quickly and substantially to build a net zero emission Europe by 2050 at the latest.

It showcases the commitment of 22 business, 15 investors, six cities and two regions that are seizing the opportunity to mitigate climate change.

This announcement comes on the margins of the ongoing 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP24, that aims to finalise the implementation guidelines of the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

“This is an opportunity for a managed transition to create good jobs in growing fields, to bolster innovative industries, to build out resilient infrastructure, and to develop new business models that support a better, healthier, and more sustainable way of life,” the initiative said in a statement.

Step Up Now is built in partnership with existing coalitions. Its secretariat is run by the European Climate Foundation, The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group and E3G.

The statement says this is another vital contribution by non-state actors committing to do their share and stepping up their activities in the context of the Talanoa Dialogue.

The 45 actors voice their expectation that the EU increase its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement and set a long-term decarbonisation pathway by 2020.

“The second-best time to act against climate change is now; the best has already passed. It’s the momentum to foster emission reduction, effective carbon prices, key partnership and climate risk management,” ACCIONA Chairman and CEO Jose Manuel Entrecanales Domecq said.

In another development at the COP24, Poland and a coalition of countries including the EU, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Britain on Wednesday committed to increase their climate targets by 2020.

The commitment is a response to the findings of the landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5 degrees Celsius report.

The signatories state that they are determined to step up their ambition by 2020, in line with the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. They will achieve this through increasing their climate pledges, the so-called NDCs, increasing short-term action and long-term low emission development strategies.

“The spirit of Paris is back. For the EU this must mean a commitment to significantly increase its 2030 target by 2020, even beyond the 55 per cent reduction some member states and the European Parliament are calling for. We call upon the countries that have not signed the statement so far to stop ignoring the science (of the IPCC),” Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe Director Wendel Trio told IANS.

(Vishal Gulati is in Katowice at the invitation of Climate Trends to cover the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP24. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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