MOSCOW: Russia has called for a 72-hour regime of silence in Eastern Ghouta and Daraya from Tuesday amid deadlocked efforts to turn a cessation of hostilities into a lasting peace in the war-torn country.
“In order to stabilise the situation the Russian reconciliation centre is calling for a 72-hour regime of silence in Eastern Ghouta and Daraya” from Tuesday, the head of the Russian coordination centre in Syria, Sergei Kuralenko, was quoted as saying by the defence ministry late Monday.
Kuralenko reiterated Moscow's call for 'moderate rebels' to withdraw from areas controlled by the Al-Nusra Front and break ranks with the militants, saying Russia would keep targeting the militants.
Citing data from Russian monitors and Syrian intelligence, Kuralenko said that Al-Nusra Front militants and rebels in Eastern Ghouta and suburbs of Damascus had regrouped and re-armed and were now preparing for an offensive.
“These conclusions and estimates have been confirmed by non-stop fire on Syrian armed forces in Eastern Ghouta and living quarters in Damascus, “Kuralenko was quoted as saying.
In the vicinity of Aleppo, Al-Nusra Front leaders were putting together a major attack force numbering some 6,000 fighters in order to blockade government forces in the city, among other goals, he said.
The call from Russia came as Washington on Monday urged Moscow to press Syria to stop bombing opposition forces and civilians in Aleppo and the Damascus suburb.
The United States and Russia are co-partners in the so-called Vienna diplomatic process of the International Support Group for Syria, which met last week in the Austrian capital but made no notable progress.
The 20 world and regional powers taking part in the process have so far failed to turn a fragile cessation of hostilities in Syria, in effect since February 27, into a durable truce between the government and militant groups.
Last week Moscow proposed that Russia and the United States launch joint air strikes against Al-Nusra Front militants in Syria but Washington rejected the proposal.
NEW DELHI: An Indian woman who gave birth at the age of 70 said yesterday she was not too old to become a first-time mother, adding that her life was now complete. Daljinder Kaur gave birth last month to a boy following two years of IVF treatment at a fertility clinic in the northern state of Haryana with her 79-year-old husband.
Kaur said the couple, married for 46 years, had almost lost hope of ever having a child and had faced ridicule in a country where infertility is sometimes seen as a curse from God. “God heard our prayers. My life feels complete now. I am looking after the baby all by myself, I feel so full of energy. My husband is also very caring and helps me as much as he can,” Kaur told AFP from the northern city of Amritsar.
“When we saw the (IVF) advert, we thought we should also give it a try as I badly wanted to have a baby of my own,” she said. Kaur put her age at about 70, a common scenario in India where many people don’t have birth certificates, while the clinic said in a statement that she was 72.
The baby was conceived using the couple’s own egg and sperm and was now “healthy and hearty” after weighing just two kilograms (4.4 pounds) at birth on April 19, the National Fertility and Test Tube centre said. Kaur’s husband, Mohinder Singh Gill, who owns a farm outside Amritsar, said he was unfazed about their age, saying God would watch over their child whom they named Armaan.
“People say what will happen to the child once we die. But I have full faith in God. God is omnipotent and omnipresent, he will take care of everything,” he told AFP.
Anurag Bishnoi, who runs the fertility clinic, said he was initially skeptical about going ahead with in vitro fertilisation (IVF), but tests showed Kaur was able to carry the unborn baby. “I first tried to avoid the case because she looked very frail. Then we made her undergo all the tests and once all the results were okay we went ahead,” the doctor said. The case is not the first in India, with a 72-year-old woman from Uttar Pradesh state reportedly giving birth to twins in 2008, also through IVF. – AFP
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DUBAI: Dubai is reaching for the sky once again, with the developer of the world’s tallest building vowing yesterday to build an even taller tower bedecked with rotating balconies and elevated landscaping inspired by the mythical hanging gardens of Babylon.
The government-backed company behind the project, Emaar Properties, hopes the new tower will entice a fresh wave of view-seeking homeowners even as it raises numerous other promised skyscrapers and repairs a prominent one gutted by fire on New Year’s Eve.
Company Chairman Mohamed Alabbar said the new observation tower would be “a notch” taller than the 2,717-foot (828-meter) Burj Khalifa. Just how much taller he wouldn’t say.
Unlike the Burj Khalifa, the new $1 billion tower will not be a traditional skyscraper but more of a cable-supported spire containing “garden” observation decks graced with trees and other greenery. Emaar says it will also contain a boutique hotel, restaurants and glass balconies that rotate outside the wall of the tower.
The structure’s design means it is unlikely to be widely recognized as a taller “building” than the Burj Khalifa even if it surpasses it in height. The Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, for example, says at least 50 percent of a structure’s height must contain usable floor area for it to be considered in its ranking of the world’s tallest buildings. That typically disqualifies telecommunications and observation towers that have only a small number of floors.
It and the Burj Khalifa could also be surpassed by a skyscraper being built in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, that promises to rise more than 1 kilometer (3,281 feet) high. The new Dubai tower will be the centerpiece of a new 6 square-kilometer (2.3 square-mile) development on the edge of the Dubai Creek, near a protected wildlife sanctuary that regularly attracts flamingoes and other water birds.
Alabbar likened the structure, designed by Spanish-Swiss architect Santiago Calatrava Valls, to a 21st-century Eiffel Tower that can act as a magnet not just for tourists but also for property buyers willing to pay a premium for nearby apartments with a view. It is due to open by the time Dubai hosts the World Expo in 2020.
“Many … of our customers would like to have that view. And if you ask me what is the financial model, that is the financial model,” he said.
Similar strategy Emaar followed a similar strategy when it raised the Burj Khalifa, which opened in 2010. The silvery skyscraper is flanked by fancy low and high-rise apartment complexes, some of which are still being built, as well as hotels, restaurants and one of the world’s biggest shopping malls.
The area is also home to The Address Downtown, a 63-story luxury hotel built by Emaar that went up in flames on New Year’s Eve. Dubai police have blamed exposed wiring for sparking the blaze. Outside experts say the type of cladding used to sheath the building was likely a factor in fueling that fire and several others that have engulfed skyscrapers in the United Arab Emirates.
Emirati authorities have ordered a nationwide safety survey of existing buildings and promised to tighten regulations in the wake of the fire. Asked about fire risks Sunday, Alabbar said it was important to learn from the accidents but suggested there are limits to how much builders can do.
“Safety rules are good, but can you really eliminate all risk? I don’t think human beings are able to eliminate all risk,” he told reporters. “Risks are there as long as we are progressing … These things do happen, and you have to go and fix them and make sure if they happen, they happen to a minimum.” – AP
NEW YORK: Amnesty International reports that there was a dramatic 54 per cent increase in executions globally in 2015, with Pakistan carrying out 326 executions last year – the highest ever recorded by Amnesty International for the country.
Combined with Saudi Arabia and Iran, the three countries are responsible for nearly 90 percent of all global executions.
The human rights organisation said that the figure of at least 1,634 people executed last year – up from 1,061 in 2014 – does not include executions in China where data on the death penalty is considered a state secret.
According to the report, the number of executions recorded in Saudi Arabia increased by 76pc to 158, while those in Iran rose 31pc to 977.
Amnesty said it received information that both Iran and Pakistan executed people in 2015 who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed, and it said juveniles face the death sentence in several other countries.
Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s Director of South Asia Regional Office told media that “Over the past year, Pakistan has vaulted to the number three spot for recorded state executions in the world – a shameful position no one should aspire to. Only to be beaten by Iran and Saudi Arabia.”
Patel said Pakistan executed 326 people last year. Most of those executed were not convicted of terror-related offences, and there is evidence that at least two and possibly more of them were juveniles when they committed their alleged crimes.
“The death penalty is always a rights violation, but its use in Pakistan is all the more troubling given the serious fair trial concerns – including insufficient access to lawyers and endemic police torture to extract confessions,” said Patel.
In the United States, 28 people were executed in 2015, nearly half in Texas, the most active death penalty state, which put 13 people to death, the report said. Missouri executed six people, Georgia five, Florida two and Oklahoma and Virginia one each.
Amnesty was unable to confirm whether judicial executions took place in Syria. Minimum of two executions attributed to China, Malaysia, North Korea and Vietnam, giving final figure of 1,634.
YEREVAN/BAKU: Fierce clashes left at least 30 Azerbaijani and Armenian soldiers dead yesterday as Russia and the West urged an immediate ceasefire after a major escalation in violence over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said 18 Armenian troops were killed and some 35 wounded in the “largest-scale hostilities” since a 1994 truce ended a war that saw Armenian-backed fighters seize the territory from Azerbaijan.
Sarkisian did not specify if the troops were from the forces of unrecognized Karabakh – which claims independence but is backed by Yerevan – or Armenia’s army. Earlier Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said that 12 of its soldiers were killed in the clashes and a military helicopter shot down.
The surge in fighting over the disputed territory reportedly also claimed the lives of one Armenian and one Azeri civilian after the arch foes accused each other of unleashing heavy weaponry across the volatile frontline. Armenia accused Azerbaijan of launching a “massive attack along the Karabakh frontline using tanks, artillery, and helicopters” on Friday night. Azerbaijan, however, insisted it had counter-attacked after coming under fire from “large-calibre artillery and grenade-launchers”.
Sarkisian said that clashes were continuing yesterday evening “in the north and south” of the frontline but insisted the “armed forces of Karabakh are in control of the situation”. Ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control of the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region in the early 1990s war that claimed some 30,000 lives and the foes have never signed a peace deal despite the 1994 ceasefire.
The region is still internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan and the two sides frequently exchange fire across the front, but the latest episode marked a surge in violence and sparked frantic appeals for peace from international powers. Azeri forces claimed that they had taken control of several strategic heights and a village in the Armenian-controlled territory, but Yerevan denied the claim as “disinformation”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an immediate end to fighting along the frontline, the Kremlin said. “President Putin calls on the parties in the conflict to observe an immediate ceasefire and exercise restraint in order to prevent further casualties,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu held phone talks with their counterparts in Armenia and Azerbaijan to urge a de-escalation in the fighting.
Meanwhile, mediators from a group made up of representatives from Russia, the United States, France and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has been trying to negotiation a settlement, expressed “grave concern”. The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that the reports of heavy fighting were “deeply worrying” and called on all sides to “avoid any further actions or statements that could result in escalation”.
Azerbaijan’s strongman President Ilham Aliyev also spoke by phone to ally President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which the Turkish leader expressed “solidarity” with Azerbaijan, Aliyev press office said. Energy-rich Azerbaijan, whose military spending has in the past exceeded Armenia’s entire state budget, has repeatedly threatened to take back the breakaway region by force if negotiations fail to yield results. Moscow-backed Armenia says it could crush any offensive.
The last big flare-up occurred in Nov 2014 when Azerbaijan shot down an Armenian military helicopter. US Vice President Joe Biden met this week separately with both Aliyev and Sarkisian, as they attended a nuclear summit in Washington. He urged a peaceful settlement to the dispute. Biden “expressed concern about continued violence, called for dialogue, and emphasized the importance of a comprehensive settlement for the long-term stability, security, and prosperity of the region”, the White House said. – AFP
WASHINGTON: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, known more for his bravado than for sound policy statements, did not specifically condemn Sunday's terrorist attack in Lahore's Gulshan-i-Iqbal park, but said on Monday that he alone can solve the issue.
Trump, who has made headlines for spewing anti-Muslim rhetoric during his presidential campaign, tweeted about the 'radical attack' in Lahore targeting Christians, claiming he alone can solve the issue, without clarifying what issue he was referring to.