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Tillerson to visit Middle East amid tensions

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US Secretary of State, RexTillerson (File Photo)

Washington, Feb 9: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will kick off a nearly week-long tour on Sunday to Turkey and four other Middle East countries amid mounting tensions between Washington and Ankara over Turkey’s military offensive in Syria, the US State Department said on Thursday.

In Turkey, Tillerson will meet with senior Turkish officials to discuss “a range of bilateral and regional issues,” said the US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert in a statement.

Tension has been escalating between the two NATO allies amid Turkey’s ongoing military operation into the Syria’s Afrin against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers as the Syrian affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed by Turkey, the European Union and the United States as a terrorist organization.

Ankara’s operation followed US calls to establish a Kurdish-led “border security force (BSF)” in the future in Syria along the 900-km border with Turkey, a move that has angered Turkey.

The BSF would be mainly constituted by the YPG, which has been supported politically and militarily by the United States since 2014 in the battle against the Islamic State.

According to the statement, apart from Turkey, the top US diplomat will also travel to Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Kuwait on Feb. 11-16 and engage with leaders of the countries on topics including ongoing crisis in Syria.

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Earthquake – Magnitude 4.8 in Pakistan

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Earthquake Strong

An earthquake of magnitude 4.8 on the Richter scale occurred at 4:14 am today in Pakistan: National Center for Seismology

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Pakistani PM Imran Khan writes to Facebook CEO seeking ban on Islamophobic content

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Imran Khan Pakistan PM

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s prime minister has written a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seeking a ban on Islamophobic content on the site, warning of an increase in radicalisisation amongst Muslims, the government said on Sunday.

In the letter, shared by the Pakistani government on Twitter, Imran Khan said that “growing Islamophobia” is encouraging extremism and violence across the world — especially through social media platforms such as Facebook.

“I would ask you to place a similar ban on Islamophobia and hate against Islam for Facebook that you have put in place for the Holocaust,” Khan said.

Facebook said this month it was updating its hate speech policy to ban any content that denied or distorted the Holocaust.

Facebook did not immediately reply to Reuters’ request for comment on Khan’s letter.

“One cannot send a message that while hate messages against some are unacceptable, these are acceptable against others,” Khan said, adding that this was “reflective of prejudice and bias that will encourage further radicalisation”.

Khan in his letter made reference to the situation in France, where, he said, Islam was being associated with terrorism.

Earlier on Sunday, Khan said that French President Emmanuel Macron had “attacked Islam” by encouraging the display of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad.

Khan’s comments came after Macron paid tribute to a French history teacher beheaded by an Islamist radical who wanted to avenge the use of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad in a class on freedom of expression.

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Putin rejects Donald Trump’s criticism of Biden family business

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MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday that he saw nothing criminal in Hunter Biden’s past business ties with Ukraine or Russia, marking out his disagreement with one of Donald Trump’s attack lines in the U.S. presidential election.

Putin was responding to comments made by Trump during televised debates with Democratic challenger Joe Biden ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Trump, who is trailing in opinion polls, has used the debates to make accusations that Biden and his son Hunter engaged in unethical practices in Ukraine. No evidence has been verified to support the allegations, and Joe Biden has called them false and discredited.

Putin, who has praised Trump in the past for saying he wanted better ties with Moscow, has said Russia will work with any U.S. leader, while noting what he called Joe Biden’s “sharp anti-Russian rhetoric”.

Putin appeared less friendly towards Trump in remarks broadcast by Russian state TV on Sunday. In what may be seen by some analysts as an attempt to try to curry favour with the Biden camp, he took the time to knock down what he made clear he regarded as false allegations from Trump about the Bidens.

“Yes, in Ukraine he (Hunter Biden) had or maybe still has a business, I don’t know. It doesn’t concern us. It concerns the Americans and the Ukrainians,” said Putin.

“But well yes he had at least one company, which he practically headed up, and judging from everything he made good money. I don’t see anything criminal about this, at least we don’t know anything about this (being criminal).”

Putin also reacted with visible irritation when asked about comments Trump has made concerning Putin’s ties to the former mayor of Moscow, and to an alleged payment made to Hunter Biden by the ex-mayor’s widow. Putin said he knew nothing about the existence of any commercial relationship between Hunter and the woman. Joe Biden says the accusation about his son is not true.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to tilt the contest in Trump’s favour, an allegation Moscow has denied.

Russia has also dismissed accusations by U.S. intelligence agencies of trying to interfere with this year’s election too.

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