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UN official condemns attacks on Sri Lankan Muslims

Photo- Al Jazeera



United Nations, March 12: Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman has condemned the violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka and urged the government to bring those behind the attacks and hate speech to justice.

During the three-day visit, “he met Muslim political and civil society leaders to express concern and show solidarity”, according to a UN statement issued on Sunday.

While in the island nation, Feltman, who is in charge of political affairs for the UN, also met President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana.

He “appreciated the reassurances from government leaders of their intention to move forward” with initiatives for reconciliation and sustainable peace although Feltman expressed concern that many elements of the government’s “visionary” plan anounced in 2015 for national unity seemed to have stalled, the statement said.

He lauded the recent appointment of commissioners to the Office of Missing Persons to probe the disappearances of people during civil conflicts and “expressed hope” that the panel “will soon be fully operational to help answer questions that haunt too many families from all across Sri Lanka about their missing loved ones”.

Senior lawyer Saliya Peiris is to head the seven-member panel that includes two Tamils and a retired major general. In 2016, the government said that about 65,000 people were reported missing since 1994.

Feltman praised the adoption of the Bill for the Protection Against Enforced Disappearances by Parliament and called it “an important element of the Sri Lankan government’s commitment to its citizens”.

Three people were killed, 11 mosques damaged and scores of Muslim-owned businesses destroyed in the riots in Kandy district earlier this month.

A curfew was imposed and the military and police were deployed to quell the riots.

On Saturday, Sirisena announced that a panel of three retired judges will investigate the riots.

Meanwhile, the Association of Sri Lankan Muslims in North America has announced a protest outside the UN on Wednesday to protest last week’s anti-Muslim riots.



Republicans warn Trump over Mueller’s Russia inquiry

The warnings came after Trump on Sunday morning criticised Mueller on Twitter, one day after his lawyer John Dowd issued a statement saying he prays for the Justice Department to end the special counsel’s investigation.



Donald Trump

Washington, March 19: Key Republicans have warned President Donald Trump not to interfere with special counsel Robert Mueller and his team’s ongoing probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the media reported.

The warnings came after Trump on Sunday morning criticised Mueller on Twitter, one day after his lawyer John Dowd issued a statement saying he prays for the Justice Department to end the special counsel’s investigation.

In his tweets, Trump reiterated that there had been “no collusion” between his team and Russia and called the probe a “witch hunt”.

He added that it was dominated by “hardened Democrats”.

Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake on Sunday told CNN that he expected his colleagues in Congress to push back on the President’s comments on Mueller and any potential move to force the end of the probe.

“I mean, talking to my colleagues all along it was, you know, once he goes after Mueller, then we’ll take action,” Flake said.

He called Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe late Friday, who was ousted a little over 24 hours before he was to retire, as a “horrible day for democracy”.

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that he continues to believe that any attempt to fire Mueller would be catastrophic for Trump.

“If he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency,” Graham told CNN.

Graham also said the Senate Judiciary Committee should conduct a public hearing on the firing of McCabe for the sake of transparency.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio told NBC News: “I remain confident that the special counsel is going to conduct a probe that is fair and thorough and is going to arrive at the truth…”

Meanwhile, Democrat leaders also voiced their disapproval of Trump’s tweet.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and California Democratic Representative Adam Schiff both called on their Republican colleagues to temper the President.

Also on Sunday, White House lawyer Ty Cobb said in a statement: “In response to media speculation… The White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel,” the BBC reported.


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Wang Yi is China’s key negotiator on border talks with India



China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi will now be its key negotiator with India on the vexed border issue after Beijing promoted him to the post of State Councillor, the country’s top diplomat, it was announced on Monday.

Beijing, March 19: China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi will now be its key negotiator with India on the vexed border issue after Beijing promoted him to the post of State Councillor, the country’s top diplomat, it was announced on Monday.

Wang succeeds Yang Jiechi, China’s senior-most diplomat, who until now was the country’s Special Representative on border talks with India.

He will also remain the Foreign Minister. The decision was taken at the ongoing annual session of China’s parliament.

Wang will talk to India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval who is its Special Representative on boundary talks.

China and India by far have held 20 rounds of talks on their 3,448-km disputed border. The countries fought a war in 1962 and have seen their armies cross into each other’s territories due to the different perceptions of the boundary.

Wang repeatedly slammed India during the 73-day military stand-off at Doklam in the eastern sector of their border last year. The crisis was resolved in August.

Wang, however, struck a positive tone about Sino-India ties while addressing the media on the sidelines of China’s annual parliament session.

Wang said if China and India were united then one plus will be equivalent to 11, a remark welcomed by India and answered in the similar tone.

India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale last month met Wang who had a meeting with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Wang had previously served as China’s envoy to Japan and worked at the Asia desk of the Chinese foreign ministry.


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Voting underway in Russia presidential election



Russia election
Voters write ballots at a polling station in Vladivostok, east Russia, March 18, 2018. Russia held presidential election on Sunday.

Moscow, March 18: Voting was underway for Russia’s presidential election on Sunday, in which incumbent President Vladimir Putin is seeking a fourth term in office and is widely expected to cement his power for the next six years.

The polling stations will remain open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in every Russian region in accordance with the 11 different time zones, reports Sputnik news.

Voting first began in the Far-East regions of Kamchatka and Chukotka and began in Moscow nine hours later.

Counting will start on Sunday night in Kaliningrad, Russia’s western-most region.

Putin, 65, cast his vote at a polling station in the headquarters of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow’s Lenin Avenue, reports Efe news.

Asked about the percentage of votes he hopes to win, Putin told reporters that he would be satisfied with “any that gives the right to serve as president”.

There are 108.9 million eligible voters in Russia with 1.87 million others living abroad.

A total of 97,000 polling stations have been set up across Russia and another 400 in 145 countries.

However, Russians living in Ukraine will not be allowed to participate, after the Ukrainian government barred them from visiting Moscow’s diplomatic delegations because it considers Russia to be an “aggressor” and has dismissed its elections as “illegal”.

Russians in Crimea will be able to vote on Sunday, which coincides with the fourth anniversary of the peninsula’s annexation by Moscow.

Chechen Leader Ramzan Kadyrov also cast his ballot, reports Sputnik news.

The results will be announced on early Monday morning.

Apart from Putin, the other seven contenders in the fray are: Sergei Baburin from the All-People’s Union party; Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin; Civil Initiative party candidate Ksenia Sobchak; Communists of Russia party chairman Maxim Suraykin; Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights Boris Titov; co-founder of the Yabloko party Grigory Yavlinsky; and head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

The voter turnout in Moscow in the first two hours was 16.55 per cent, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC).

While the turnout in most of the country’s eastern regions was 30.37 per cent by noon (local time).

Meanwhile, the CEC has registered 15 DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks on its website, coming from 15 countries.

Pre-election polls have placed Putin, the country’s longest-serving leader since Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, as a clear front-runner, reports CNN.

There is no meaningful opposition in the running, and Putin’s fiercest political opponent, Alexei Navalny, has been barred from competing. Navalny has called for a boycott of the election.

A win would mean a Putin-led Russia until 2024, after which he is constitutionally obliged to stand down.


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