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YANGIZABAR, Uzbekistan A newspaper editor jailed for 18 years in Uzbekistan says he was subjected to such harsh torture that he forgot the names of his daughters, but was kept alive by the support of human rights groups.

Muhammad Bekjanov, 63, was released in February, months after the death of president Islam Karimov who had run the Central Asian nation for 27 years.

Editor of the opposition newspaper Erk, Bekjanov was sentenced to 15 years in 1999 for publishing and distributing a banned paper, participating in a banned political protest and plotting a coup, charges he denied.

Bekjanov’s brother, Muhammad Salih, the leader of the Erk party, was a presidential candidate in 1991 and has lived in exile since 1993. In 1999 he was convicted in absentia on terrorism charges, which he denied.

Muhammad Bekjanov’s jail term was first reduced so that he could be freed in 2012, but then extended by another five years.

Karimov died from a stroke in September and was succeeded by his former prime minister, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who has overseen the release of several political prisoners.

“If the old leadership had stayed in place, I would certainly have had a new five-year extra term handed down to me,” Bekjanov told Reuters in an interview.

Shortly after Karimov’s death, he said: “Everyone started treating me differently. Even regular inmates (not political prisoners) approached and talked to me. Then I felt that there were some new directives from above.”

Bekjanov said he was tortured, physically and psychologically, in the first few years of his term, until the Red Cross resumed visits to Uzbek prisons in 2003. Uzbekistan has denied using torture against Bakjanov or any other prisoners.

“Once I was put in solitary confinement for more than six months,” he said. “I even forgot the names of my daughters then.”

“The most difficult time was when I had been extradited from Ukraine and put in the Jaslyk prison where my legs were broken, my ears became deaf.”

Bekjanov said international support kept him going.

“Lots of journalists from around the world and human rights organizations kept contacting me while I was in jail,” he said.

“After the first three years in prison I started receiving letters and postcards from them. My relatives told me what was going on around me out there when they visited me. These all gave me spiritual strength.”

Asked if he saw his release as a sign of a political thaw, Bakjanov said:

“There are other dissidents, journalists, rights defenders and opposition members still in prisons; we could talk about political changes if they are all set free.”

According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, at least nine journalists are currently jailed in Uzbekistan, a mostly Muslim former Soviet republic of 32 million, alongside opposition politicians, human rights defenders and civil society activists, as well as thousands of people accused of religious extremism.

(Reporting by the Almaty bureau; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

-Reuters

YANGIZABAR, Uzbekistan A newspaper editor jailed for

Souq.com, the Middle East’s largest online retailer, has announced the launch of a book store featuring more than six million books.

In a move similar to Kindle books on global e-commerce giant Amazon, Souq.com’s Global Bookstore will make books more accessible to the region and supports the UAE government’s Year of Reading initiative, a statement said.

The Global Bookstore features all book classifications including culture, children, family, education, and business, it added.

Ronaldo Mouchawar, Souq.com CEO and co-founder, said: “We are delighted to launch the books category to provide our customers with easy access to such a large assortment of books and we plan to grow further in future.

“We look forward to cooperating with national organisations concerned with reading and knowledge mainly Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation and Dubai e-Library. 

“We are aligned with the UAE’s National Reading initiative and this category expansion comes at an interesting time when we are witnessing new momentum in the culture of reading across the region. This initiative will make books more accessible to people in the region.”

According to a recent survey by the Arab Reading Index, people in the UAE read for around 51 hours a year, well above the average of 35 hours for the rest of the Arab world and read 24 books a year compared with the regional average of 16.

E-commerce in the Middle East is continuing to show robust growth, according to a recent report by global consultancy AT Kearney.

It said the e-commerce market in the GCC is expected to grow to $20 billion by 2020 from $5.3 billion in 2015.

“The books category is an exciting inclusion and a step further towards completing the purchase cart of a customer on Souq.com,” added Mouchawar.

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Souq.com, the Middle East’s largest online retailer,

A one-year seismic hazard model for 2017 from the US Geological Survey, forecasts lower damaging ground shaking levels in the central and eastern US compared to the previous forecast, in areas where there have been numerous earthquakes induced by wastewater disposal from industrial activities. Despite the recent drop in earthquake rates, Oklahoma and southern Kansas still face a significant risk of induced earthquake damage in 2017.

(via WSJ)

A one-year seismic hazard model for 2017


BENGHAZI, Libya East Libyan forces carried out air strikes and clashed with rival factions on Friday close to major oil terminals, eastern military officials said.

The strikes were carried out south of the coastal town of Nawfiliya against the Benghazi Defense Brigades, according to spokesmen for the eastern air force and for the local Petroleum Facilities Guard.

A military source said clashes were continuing on the ground between the two sides. Nawfiliya is about 50km west of the oil port Es Sider and 75 km west of another terminal, Ras Lanuf.

(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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-Reuters

BENGHAZI, Libya East Libyan forces carried out

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-11-30-17.jpg

Wikimedia Commons

Amazon chief Jeff Bezos has revealed aspirations to create a stable, frequent delivery service to the moon over four decades since a man last walked on the surface.

Bezos, who also owns private aerospace firm Blue Origin and The Washington Post, told the publication in an interview that in order to maintain a stable colony on the moon, a reliable delivery service is of paramount importance.

In a “propriety and confidential” white paper sent to NASA chiefs, Blue Origin urged scientists to consider a proposal to develop a lunar spacecraft for use as an Amazon-esque shipment service which could be used to deliver everything from equipment to food to moon settlers by mid-2020.

The delivery service could also be used to deliver inflatable ‘habitats’ for settlers, which would shelter equipment, resources, and human personnel. Robert Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace, says that such habitats could be ready for deployment within the next three years.

Blue Origin believes such craft — and services — will help enable “future human settlement” on the moon’s surface.

“It is time for America to return to the Moon — this time to stay,” Bezos told the publication. “A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this.”

The paper suggests that craft designed by Blue Origin could carry as much as 10,000 pounds of material, and would be able to fly atop of different rockets including NASA’s Space Launch System.

Bezos says that the first delivery attempt could be made as early as July 2020, but only if his private company has the support of NASA.

“Our liquid hydrogen expertise and experience with precision vertical landing offer the fastest path to a lunar lander mission,” Bezos says. “I’m excited about this and am ready to invest my own money alongside NASA to make it happen.”

NASA has not ventured back to the moon since Eugene Cernan stepped foot on the surface in 1972. However, the space agency has committed to encourage US companies to invest in spaceflight and develop sustainable business plans to commercialize space, and already works with Elon Musk’s SpaceX in providing support and advice to the startup’s ambitious plans to fly to Mars.

However, cargo has not really featured, and so Bezos has encouraged the US agency to provide “incentives to the private sector to demonstrate a commercial lunar cargo delivery service.”

“Blue Moon is all about cost-effective delivery of mass to the surface of the moon,” Bezos told the publication. “Any credible first lunar settlement will require that capability.”

See also: NASA opens doors to the public, offers free access to research

This isn’t the first ambitious dream of sending products to the moon we’ve heard of in recent times.

In January, a team of students from the University of California at San Diego revealed plans to brew beer on the moon to test how fermentation works in zero-gravity situations, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX wants to send private clients to the moon by 2018.

(via PCMag)

Alzheimer’s is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Globally, nearly 47 million people are affected by the degenerative disease and that is likely to reach 131 million by 2050.  

Hindustan Unilever (HUL) might not have considered these stats. Or perhaps, they did… before creating this ad for the Indian market. 

There are more than 4 million Alzheimer’s patients in India. And a lot of them, like the woman in this video, are neglected by their own families. 

Forgotten creates a touching narrative around Alzheimer’s, elderly loneliness in urban centers, and the country’s undying love for tea — a prime leveler in Indian society.

Incidentally, India is the second-largest tea producer in the world and over 70% of it is consumed within the nation itself. 

Now, watch the video. And… do not ‘forget’ to care.

Via ASDA Alltop

Alzheimer's is one of the leading causes

Poynter announced today that longtime national and foreign correspondent Indira Lakshmanan is joining the institute as its Craig Newmark Chair for Journalism Ethics.

Lakshmanan, currently The Boston Globe’s Washington columnist, has worked for newspapers, a wire service, digital and print magazines, TV and radio. The new position, which is funded by a $1 million gift from Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, will focus on best practices of verification, fact-checking and accountability in journalism.

On the eve of the announcement, I caught up with Lakshmanan to ask about the issues she’ll be tackling in her new role. Her answers are below.

Let’s start from the beginning. What’s your title at Poynter and what will you be doing, exactly?

The title may sound a bit exalted — “the Craig Newmark Chair for Journalism Ethics” — but my first mission is pretty basic: to try to understand the many ethical challenges facing our industry now — fake news, sponsored content, objectivity and access, low trust in journalism and media illiteracy, to name just a few. I’m looking forward to collaborating with others who are already working on solutions generated by newsrooms, civic education, and technology companies.

Today’s announcement said you’d be writing about media ethics. In your mind, what areas need examination? What are the major ethical issues facing journalists today — and have they changed over the years?

There are all the issues you see in headlines, from access and objectivity challenges facing reporters covering a White House that brands the so-called mainstream media the “enemy,” to local press struggling to find ways to stay in business and build audience loyalty.

The rise of hyper-partisan news has enabled consumers to live in ideological silos, which damages civil discourse and undermines trust in nonpartisan media. Of course there are evergreen problems like plagiarism, inaccuracy and lack of disclosure, and fixing those is fundamental to building and maintaining public trust, which feels more important than ever.

You’ll also be convening journalists and teaching them about ethics. In your mind, what do they need to learn?

I don’t want to prejudge what journalists “need” to learn about ethics; everyone’s needs are different, and I hope to begin to address an array of questions that journalists in different newsrooms will have.

You’ve spent decades in journalism as a reporter working in print, digital, radio and TV and more recently, as a columnist. In your mind, what are the biggest problems challenges to the industry now?

Well I’ve been in Washington for nine years, so I’ve been thinking a lot about press freedom, access, impartiality and truth-telling at a time when our president appears intolerant of critical media and has appropriated the term “fake news” to mean any coverage, even with undisputed facts, that he considers unfavorable.

The fact that the 20 most popular hoax stories about the 2016 campaign were shared and liked 1.3 million times more on Facebook than the 20 most popular real news stories is troubling, especially as more people consume their news through social media platforms. I think most journalists, newsrooms and tech companies are at least aware of the problems. Our challenge now is to find solutions. I’m so grateful to Craig and Poynter for creating this position at such a critical moment for the news business.

(via Poynter)

Poynter announced today that longtime national and


GENEVA Syrian peace talks are expected to conclude later on Friday with an “agreed agenda” and a plan to resume negotiations later this month in Geneva, Western diplomats said.

It was not immediately clear whether the issue of fighting terrorism would be part of the terms, as sought by the Damascus delegation led by Syrian Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari.

A third Western diplomat said there had been movement from both sides on the agenda, but that the opposition was still looking for reassurances that the government would not use terrorism as a pretext to derail the talks.

(Reporting by John Irish and Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Tom Miles)

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-Reuters

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO Institutional investors anxious not to be left out of this year’s marquee initial public offering helped Snap Inc (SNAP.N) pull off the biggest U.S.-listed technology share sale this week since Chinese e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba Group Holding Inc (BABA.N) smashed records in 2014.

Keen to boost returns and with a dearth of new stocks to buy, the IPO of a buzzy social media group was a “must-have” for money managers despite concerns about the company’s strategy, slowing user growth and lack of voting rights for new investors, sources familiar with the offer said.

“Taking a piece of the company is almost a foregone conclusion,” said Evan Pondel, president of investor relations firm PondelWilkinson Inc.

Investors’ ardor for Snap shares – which rose almost 50 percent in its market debut on Thursday, giving it a market value of nearly $30 billion – bodes well for future tech IPOs.

Although blockbuster names such as Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] and Airbnb Inc are not expected to go public this year, there is a lineup of smaller technology companies preparing to list in the coming months that could benefit from residual investor enthusiasm, technology investors said.

To ensure a successful market launch, Snap’s bankers deployed a common tactic on big tech IPOs: they limited supply. Snap offered only 15 percent of the company to investors, including retail investors and short-term hedge funds, sources familiar with the IPO strategy told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity as the process is private.

“All this concern about the number of users slowing down – a tech IPO of this sort has nothing to do with the business, nothing,” said Philippe Collard, founding partner at Yabusame Partners, which advises technology startups. “It has everything to do with a financial transaction where you create artificial demand.”

Hedge funds are famous for buying into an IPO only to sell shortly after, but institutional investors are not above quickly “flipping” a stock if they see an opportunity.

However, a quarter of the new offer was subject to a one-year lockup, an unusual stipulation, limiting the amount of churn.

PENT-UP DEMAND

Large actively managed mutual funds are among the most sought-after IPO investors because of their size and their tendency to hold stocks for longer. They develop strong ties to IPO underwriters by virtue of being prolific IPO investors and providing the banks’ brokerage business with trading fees.

These funds are also under pressure to boost performance as investors redirect tens of billions of dollars each month into index-tracking funds, which cost less and over time have performed better.

Fidelity Investments, BlackRock, T. Rowe Price and Wellington Management began piling into pre-IPO tech companies in 2014, and both Fidelity and T. Rowe Price invested in Snap during a private funding round last year, positioning them to benefit from Thursday’s pop.

Fidelity and T. Rowe Price declined to comment on whether they had bought into the IPO this week.

There was significant pent-up demand for a new internet stock. Snap, the parent group of popular disappearing-messaging app Snapchat, went public after a long dry patch in the technology IPO market, with 2016 the slowest year for such launches since 2008.

In addition to the absence of new shares, acquisitions and buy-backs have zapped investors in public technology companies of places to park their cash. Technology mergers and acquisitions and buybacks outpaced technology IPOs last year by a ratio of 38 to 1, according to Thomson Reuters data.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

In its IPO roadshow in New York, San Francisco, London and elsewhere, Snap Chief Executive Evan Spiegel brushed aside concerns of slowing user growth and stressed Snap’s potential to change “the way people live and communicate,” according to sources who attended.

Even though many funds felt compelled to invest in Snap, they still had questions for the company. But they asked the toughest ones – about the company’s corporate governance and slowing user growth – behind closed doors, in small meetings between management and the underwriters’ preferred clients, sources close to the situation said, asking not to be named because the process is confidential.

Such a dynamic is typical of such a high-profile IPO, when a full order book is all but guaranteed.

Those investors invited only to the roadshow lunches and keen for a decent allocation are more interested in impressing the IPO bankers – who take notes on who attends – with how closely they have read up on the company, and do not want to jeopardize their chances by rattling the company management, said investor relations experts, bankers and lawyers.

“It’s like going to do the college visit. When it’s time to decide who to admit, you look to see who put in the effort,” said Lise Buyer, a principal with the IPO advisory firm Class V Group.

On the roadshow, Snap largely deferred questions about its user growth in public sessions. In New York, not a single question was asked about the company’s first-of-its kind share structure that offers IPO investors no voting rights.

“It’s an exercise in diplomacy,” Pondel said. “You can’t be too chest-pounding, because that’s not someone they may want to have a piece of the company.”

(Reporting by Lauren Hirsch in New York and Heather Somerville and Liana B. Baker in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston; Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Bill Rigby)

Reuters

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO Institutional investors anxious not

Fathers who consume cocaine before conceiving a child could be putting their sons in danger. A new study has shown that sons of fathers who used cocaine are more susceptible to memory loss and learning disabilities.

The research, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, was conducted by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. According to the researchers, drug abuse among fathers could negatively impact cognitive development in their children, provided these are males.

Sons Of Cocaine-Using Fathers At Risk

The study found evidence that sons whose fathers used cocaine prior to conception find it harder to make new memories. Unlike the daughters, the sons of male rats that were administered cocaine for a long period of time were unable to remember the location of different items around them. Additionally, they had an impaired synaptic plasticity in hippocampus, the brain area that is associated with spatial navigation and learning.

Epigenetics is the field of study responsible with heritable traits that are not caused by DNA sequence changes. The researchers have shown that cocaine use in dads causes epigenetic changes in their sons’ brains, which result in a change in the genes responsible with the formation of new memories.

The D-serine, a molecule that is strongly associated with memory, is depleted among male rats whose fathers consumed cocaine. Additionally, restoring the levels of this molecule was associated with improved learning ability among the male baby rats.

“Hippocampal administration of d-serine reversed both the memory formation and synaptic plasticity deficits. Collectively, these results demonstrate that paternal cocaine exposure produces epigenetic remodeling in the hippocampus leading to NMDA receptor-dependent memory formation and synaptic plasticity impairments only in male progeny, which has significant implications for the male descendants of chronic cocaine users,” noted the research.

According to the authors, cocaine abuse among dads had a massive contribution in altering the chemical marks on histones in their sons’ brains, although the children were never exposed to cocaine.

Prevalence Of Cocaine Use

In the United States, the prevalence of cocaine use among the general population dropped by 32 percent between 2006 and 2014. At the same time, cocaine-related deaths decreased by 34 percent between 2006 and 2013, according to the last data available published in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2016 report.

“Reducing the number of heavy cocaine users can thus effectively reduce the cocaine market. A recent study in the United States showed that cocaine consumption and spending on cocaine fell by 50 percent between 2000 and 2010 (mostly between 2006 and 2010). The reduction in spending among a small group of high-frequency cocaine users accounted for around 75 per cent of the aggregate reduction in spending and thus in cocaine consumption over the period 2000-2010,” also noted the report.

The scientific community has made efforts to increase awareness when it comes to the dangers of cocaine use. Aside from the health issues pointed out by the current study, many other psychological and psychiatric problems have been associated with cocaine consumption.

“In addition to the increased risk for stroke and seizures, other neurological problems can occur with long-term cocaine use. There have been reports of intracerebral hemorrhage, or bleeding within the brain, and balloon-like bulges in the walls of cerebral blood vessels. Movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, may also occur after many years of cocaine use. Generally, studies suggest that a wide range of cognitive functions are impaired with long-term cocaine use-such as sustaining attention, impulse inhibition, memory, making decisions involving rewards or punishments, and performing motor tasks,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.




© 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

(Via TechTimes)

Fathers who consume cocaine before conceiving a child

People can now follow constriction updates at the Expo 2020 Dubai through Google Maps.

With construction at Expo 2020 Dubai’s site well under way, Expo 2020 Dubai has said people can see what’s happening at the Expo2020 site through the online mapping system.

Early works on the Dubai Expo 2020 site, located near Al Maktoum airport, site began in September 2015, with the first infrastructure works starting in September last year.

The design phase for aspects including the public realm, specialist site-wide elements, and the three thematic districts is well underway.

Ongoing planning and procurement of the construction and site-wide logistics continues to ensure the site will be ready for participants to begin work on their respective pavilions beginning in April 2018. All infrastructure work will be completed by October 2019.

Between October 2020 and April 2021, Expo 2020 Dubai is expected to welcome more than 180 nations and an international audience of 25 million visitors.

Over 80 percent of the 4.38-square-kilometre Expo 2020 site will be reused or repurposed after the event as part of a wide-ranging legacy plan, organisers have said.

UAE officials are expecting the event to create 277,000 jobs, most of which will be in the tourism industry.

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People can now follow constriction updates at

BEIJING China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday said it had expressed concern about a large-scale joint military exercise between South Korean and U.S. troops that began this week.

The exercise, called Foal Eagle, comes amid heightened tension following the latest test launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea on Feb. 12. Previous such exercises have prompted threats by Pyongyang to launch military action in retaliation.

“We have noted the reports and have already expressed serious concern via diplomatic channels to the relevant sides,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing.

“Maintaining the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia accords with the interests of all sides and is all parties’ responsibility,” he added.

“At present the situation on the Korean Peninsula is highly complex and sensitive. The relevant side should earnestly do more to help allay the situation on the Korean Peninsula and peace and stability in Northeast Asia, not the opposite.”

Geng also repeated China’s opposition to the deployment in South Korea of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defence system.

South Korea has said it and the United States aim to make the system operational by the end of the year. The two countries decided last year to deploy the system in response to the North Korean missile threat.

China says the system, with its long-range radar, is a threat to China’s own security and will do nothing to help resolve tensions with North Korea.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

-Reuters

BEIJING China's Foreign Ministry on Friday said

Oman is now getting attention for what’s hidden underneath its craggy peaks. Majlis Al Jinn has the world’s ninth largest cave chamber, while the pools and caverns of Wadi Bani Khalid and Wadi Shab attract a growing number of visitors every year.

Of the country’s many caves, Al Hootah is the only one with guided tours, and it reopened earlier this season four-years after severe floods in 2012. The 45-minute tour offers a small peek into this cave’s 4.5 kilo-metre network, following a paved 700-metre path up and around two chambers. It’s an easy walk.

The tour begins with a piece of local lore, told from the base of the cave’s first cavern, a sloping chamber that leads to a 150 metre by 30 metre hall and the cave’s underground lake.

“The story goes that a shepherd lost his goat and that’s when the cave was discovered in 1960,” our guide Yaqadan Al Hattali, 21, tells us.

There are eight of us on the tour and entering the cave is like walking into a cathedral. Encompassed by silence, we unconsciously shift to speaking in whispers. Stalagmites and stalactites on the edges of the cavern are lit by amber lights, casting shadows across the cave’s pockmarked ceiling. But we are not alone. The cave is home to water beetles, snails, hunting spiders and blind, semi-transparent fish called garra barreimiae. When Yaqadan stops speaking, the only noise is the chirping of mouse-tail bats.

The goatherd’s tale is the official story of the cave’s discovery. But Yaqadan, like all of the guides, is from one of the local villages, and knows that Al Hoota cave was once used long ago as short- cut and an escape route in troubled times. He knows men who have entered through its lake, swimming 950 metres to reach the cave’s main hall and scrambling over boulder patches in the darkness to the other side of the mountain.

We enter through a less adventurous route, a five-minute electric train ride on the mountainside that moves at Kodak speed over a shallow wadi.

Yaqadan, an engineering graduate who studied in Indiana, speaks and walks quickly, giving us a crash course in geology. The cavern around us is at least 2.2 million years old, formed at a time when Oman was a greener, wetter place. Rainwater dissolved carbon dioxide in the soil, making carbonic acid that seeped into the rock, dissolving it into vast caverns.

This cave’s geology is not unique in Oman, which is covered in unexplored cave networks. Al Hootah Cave was surveyed in 1995 and opened to tourists in 2006. Following renovations to the main centre and repairs from the 2012 floods, it reopened in September 2016.

The cave’s relaunch may be the beginning of Oman’s cave tourism. “People talked about it like it was lost for so many years,” says Yaqadan. “I think in the future there will be more caves like this for people in Oman because people say it’s fabulous, it’s amazing. You see what’s beneath the mountains.”

Part of the government’s economic diversification strategy includes new tourist sites promoting Oman’s unique geology, above ground and below it. The government plans to develop Majlis Al Jinn as a tourist destination and has done surveys in the 230-metre deep Tawi Attair sinkhole near Salalah to see if it has potential for cave tourism.

Those plans will take awhile to bear fruit. Al Hootah cave does not have the wow factor some other sites in Oman do, but it is perfect for families. Many of the best sites in Oman’s Hajar Mountains, like the trek at Balad Sayt village or the hike along Oman’s grand canyon, Wadi Ghul, are only for the sure-footed with a head for heights. Al Hoota offers a way to experience the region’s incredible limestone geology without the risk. While the short tour alone might not merit the two-hour drive from Muscat, it is a worthy stop on a visit to the Dakhiliya region.

The centre has a geology exhibition, gift shop and a restaurant. Al Hoota Cave is located near the town of Hamra, at the base of the Hajar Mountain’s highest summit, Jebel Shams. Spring is a perfect time to visit, after the winter frosts and before the humidity of summer. The weeks ahead are almond blossom and rose harvest season. Nizwa and Bahla, two old capitals of Oman’s interior, are 35 and 25 minutes from Al Hoota respectively, so you can get to know the Hajar Mountains from the inside-out.

• Al Hoota Cave tours run every half-hour from 9.30am to noon and 2pm to 5pm, Tuesday to Sunday, and should be booked in advance (00968 25 42 21 97). Tickets are 3.5 Omani rial (Dh33) and 1 rial for Omani adults and children, and 6.5 (Dh62) and 3 rial (Dh28) for other nationalities. There are discounted rates for educational groups.

[email protected]

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Oman is now getting attention for what’s

Beijing is banning Chinese tour groups from visiting South Korea, the latest retaliation against the planned Korean deployment of the US-built Thaad missile shield, according to two people with knowledge of the plans.

Wang Ki-young, a director at South Korea’s culture ministry, said on Friday that Chinese authorities had ordered tourism agencies in Beijing to halt tours to South Korea from mid-March. Mr Wang said the move would be expanded to other provinces.

Meanwhile, a salesman from online travel company Tuniu Corp told the Financial Times that it had on Friday “removed all tours to South Korea due to the Thaad issue”. A search for South Korean tours on the website returns the message: “Sorry, we have not found a relevant product.”

Written instructions apparently issued by China’s tourism administration, shown to the FT by one Beijing travel agent, order agencies to cancel group tours to South Korea booked for after March 15 and add that companies not in compliance could be fined or have their licences revoked. The tourism administration was not immediately available for comment.

However, five Beijing-based travel agents said they were still selling South Korea tours for March, as was China’s largest online travel company Ctrip.

Beijing has responded with increasing rancour against Seoul’s decision to deploy Thaad, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence platform. While South Korea insists the system is for defending itself against North Korean missiles, China fears the technology will allow an ally of the US to spy on its military developments.

“This could be just the beginning,” said Michael Na, a strategist in Seoul with Nomura. “They have so many options to punish Korean businesses.”

He added that “almost every major Korean company, including Hyundai Motor and AmorePacific, relies heavily on Chinese sales”.

Shares in Hyundai and AmorePacific slid on Friday, down 4.4 per cent and 12.5 per cent respectively in late afternoon trading in Seoul.

Several South Korea-linked entities have already felt Beijing’s wrath in response to the Thaad plans. Chinese state news agency Xinhua last month issued a stark warning to Lotte, one of South Korea’s biggest companies, for giving up land on which the Thaad platform will be hosted.

“Lotte will hurt the Chinese people and the consequences could be severe,” said the report, which followed a string of government probes into the company’s business interests in China.

This could be just the beginning. They have so many options to punish Korean businesses

Mr Na said that although South Korea had signed a trade agreement with China, there were plenty of other ways in which Beijing could punish Seoul.

“If they, say, delay a customary process for Korean imports and take other retaliatory measures on Korean products, there is nothing Korea can do about it,” he said.

Chinese tourism to South Korea has boomed in recent years, delighting retailers but irking domestic tourists who have found the country’s attractions swamped with visitors.

There were more than 8m Chinese tourist arrivals in the country last year — up 36 per cent year-on-year, said Mr Wang. The numbers had continued to increase even after Seoul announced the deployment of Thaad, he added.

China’s tourism administration issued a notice on Friday confirming reports that Chinese travellers had been denied entry to South Korea’s Jeju island in recent months for holding incomplete travel documentation. It reminded citizens to “select travel destinations with caution”.

Additional reporting by Tom Hancock in Shanghai

Via FT

Beijing is banning Chinese tour groups from

Friday 08:35 GMT

Overview

Stock markets are retreating as Wall Street equity futures dip further from this week’s record high as investors cash in some of their bullish bets on stronger growth following the election of US president Donald Trump.

The pullback comes amid heightened expectations that the improving economic scenario will encourage the Federal Reserve to increase borrowing costs this month, though the dollar and Treasury yields also are paring some of their recent gains.

Hot topic

US markets have been the focal point for investors this week. Major Wall Street measures closed at record highs on Wednesday, with investors taking heart from the relatively optimistic tone in Mr Trump’s address to Congress the night before.

Stocks appeared unfazed by a lack of clarity on fiscal policy as well as commentary from US central bank officials suggesting a rate rise was imminent.

But the swiftness and extent of the rally — US equities were up 12 per cent since Mr Trump’s election victory in November — left some analysts suggesting the market looked a bit over extended.

By the time the S&P 500 finished Wednesday’s session at 2,396, its best ever close, the benchmark’s 14-day relative strength index, a closely watched momentum gauge, was up to 81.7. That was way above the supposedly “overbought” threshold of 70 and it was the RSI’s highest mark in more than two decades.

Sure enough, Thursday saw the S&P 500 slip 0.6 per cent, and futures on Friday indicate it will ease a further 0.3 per when trading gets under way later in New York.

Equities

This Wall Street dip is weighing on those bourses that have been riding the US market’s coat tails.

The pan-European Stoxx 600, which on Thursday held its highest level since December 2015, is retreating 0.4 per cent as most sectors retreat.

London’s FTSE 100, which closed on Wednesday at a record 7,383, is shedding 27 points as miners suffer profit-taking.

In Asia, Japan’s Topix fell 0.4 per cent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.7 per cent, while materials and energy stocks pushed Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 0.8 per cent lower.

China’s Shanghai Composite was down 0.3 per cent, while the technology-focused Shenzhen Composite added 0.2 per cent.

Forex

Currency trading this week has been dominated by prospects for the US dollar after investors slashed the odds of a March interest rate rise by the Federal Reserve.

Fed chair Janet Yellen is due to make a speech later on Friday, and traders don’t expect her to say anything that would challenge the market’s pricing of there being a 77.5 per cent chance of a 25 basis point rate increase on March 15, according to CME FedWatch.

The dollar index, a measure of the currency against a basket of global peers, is down 0.1 per cent to 102.12, having risen more than 1 per cent over the previous two sessions.

The euro is up 0.1 per cent to $1.0515 and the Japanese yen is 0.1 per cent firmer at ¥114.24 per buck, breaking four straight days of decline after data released on Friday showed core inflation in Japan had turned positive for the first time since December 2015.

Fixed income

Expectations of a Fed rate hike have also been forcing government bond yields higher but here, too, the recent trend is being pared.

Yields on US 10-year Treasuries, which move inversely to price, are easing 1 basis point to 2.48 per cent. The more policy sensitive US 2-year yield, which on Thursday hit a seven-year intraday high of 1.34 per cent, is off 1bp to 1.31 per cent.

German 10-year Bund yields are dipping 1bp to 0.31 per cent but are still up 12bp over the week.

Commodities

The prospect of tighter US monetary policy has also led to a sell-off in gold. The yellow metal’s 1.2 per cent fall in the previous session was its largest one-day drop since mid-December and it is sliding a further 0.6 per cent on Friday to change hands at $1,228 an ounce.

Oil prices are recovering after a more than 2 per cent drop on Thursday, which followed news of record US stockpiles. Brent crude, the international benchmark, is up 0.5 per cent to $55.37 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate is adding 0.5 per cent to $52.90.

Additional reporting by Peter Wells in Hong Kong

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March 3, 2017 by: Jamie Chisholm, Global Markets

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) appeared on Fox’s First 100 Days Thursday evening after a closed door briefing earlier in the day by FBI director James Comey concerning the agency’s investigation into claims of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The interview begins with host Martha MacCallum mentioning that Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), who attended the same meeting, was “rattled” over the lack of information Comey gave concerning Russian involvement in the election.

Gowdy, on the other hand, seemed shocked at Schiff’s apparent lack of enlightenment:

Jim Comey did more today to update us than I have ever had done in the 6 years I have been there, and for Adam to treat it that way – that dismissively, clearly he and I were in two separate rooms this morning.

I have never heard a Federal law enforcement agent give, with that degree of particularity and detail, an update on an inquiry. As you may recall, I was a federal prosecutor for 6 years, so I have talked to lots of FBI agents. He went so far beyond what any other administration official has ever done, whether it’s Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch, or his predecessor Robert Muller – they never gave us this level of detail and specificity. He bent over backwards.

When pressed on whether or not FBI Director Comey revealed any new information in light of [former CIA Director] John Brennan and [former Director of National Intelligence] James Clapper finding no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, Gowdy deflected – citing the confidential nature of the briefing. He did, however, make a statement concerning the New York Times ($NYT) and Washington Post – publications included in what President Trump and top advisor Steve Bannon refer to as the media “opposition party”:

I will tell you this – to the extent people are relying on media reports, whether it’s the New York Times or the Washington Post, upon which to base their factual assertions, I would tell them to be very very careful. I’m not gonna say any more than that, other than to say that the person leading the investigation on behalf of the Untied States government, the head of the FBI, listen to what he has to saydon’t listen to anonymous sources who leak classified information which, oh by the way, is also against the law. Between Jim Comey and a reporter from the New York Times, give me Jim Comey.

Takeaways: Rep. Gowdy clearly heard a lot of things he liked during the closed door session, while deflated Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff did not. Second; FBI director Comey obviously discussed the dissemination of leaked classified information to the mainstream media – to the extent that Gowdy, an attorney and former prosecutor, is advising people who rely on the leaks to be “very, very careful” in doing so.

Watch below:

 

Content originally generated at iBankCoin.com * Follow on Twitter @ZeroPointNow

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Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) appeared on Fox's First

The National Australia Bank (NAB) faced the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics’ review of the performance of Australia’s banking and financial system on Friday, with CEO Andrew Thorburn probed again on the idea of opening up the bank’s application programming interfaces (API) to external parties.

By 2018, banks in the United Kingdom will be required to effectively open up APIs to enable consumer data to be accessed by competing banks, startups, and other financial institutions — providing the consumer consents. It’s a move the Economics Committee is eager to see implemented in Australia.

According to committee chair, Federal Member for Banks David Coleman, opening up access to consumer data will create a more competitive market as it will make it easier for people to switch banks, which will result in Australians getting better offers from other banks.

Coleman posed the question to Thorburn three times of whether it is in NAB’s commercial interests for currently proprietary data assets to become non-proprietary, to which the bank’s CEO finally responded with: “It could be”.

“We need to innovate, we need to improve, and we welcome competition,” Thorburn later elaborated.

“And on this one, we sir, are supportive of it. We’re supporting the thrust of what you’re saying. We’re just saying that the risks of it need to be clearly identified because if others have access to data, that is clients’ data in our bank, and if that got into the wrong hands, the bank is going to be suffer serious reputational damage with that.”

Antony Cahill, NAB chief operating officer, clarified Thorburn’s vagueness, saying there is “absolutely” commercial opportunity for NAB as opening up APIs will provide the bank with the ability to provide credit — for example — in a more appropriate fashion.

Cahill said he was recently in the United Kingdom speaking with a number of financial services providers, but noted that even though their legislation has been in place for a while, providers in the UK are still working through the commercial implications.

“I think at this stage it is not possible to say whether it’s in our interests or not,” he added. “Our view is if it happens then clearly we’ll think about the commercial implications and how we can adapt to that.”

NAB’s submission to the committee previously requested effectively leaving the process to the industry; however, Coleman said he was concerned that an industry-led model — given the big banks would have a large say in it — may not lead to a speedy implementation.

“We’re very supportive of taking this forward. We welcome the initiative, we think it’s good, but it just needs to be carefully managed with the risks identified and mitigated,” Thorburn added on Friday. “Otherwise we’re very concerned for clients’ data.”

When probed by the committee previously, Thorburn said he agreed with the concept of opening up APIs in principle, but cited a whole range of procedural hurdles.

“That is how this bank has survived and competed for 150 years. And now we have new competition — fintechs that are coming at us — and we welcome that, too,” Thorburn said at the time. “We have to lift and get better, and that is good for customers.”

“We’re happy to proceed with the conversations that are happening — the industry discussions — to open that up. And I would say that we have been a bank that has actually been leading in this space with our work on APIs and comprehensive credit reporting.”

Cahill also pointed to the recent announcement ANZ made surrounding opening up some of the bank’s APIs to third-party developers.

“We’ve done a huge amount of work in relation to APIs. We’re working with Xero, a number of other external parties at the moment in terms of data sharing, because we believe if we can provide better products and services to our customers then commercially we can be more successful and we can effectively provide a better proposition to customers,” Cahill added.

“I think when talking to some of the UK banks, their view is where it may not be commercially beneficial is quite simply if we don’t prepare for this, if we don’t start to think about what are the opportunities that would be created, how might we use the data, how may we adapt — I think that’s the key question.”

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), Westpac, and the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) are due to face the committee over the coming days, after telling the committee previously they would be in a position to support the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) if it were to be charged with developing a binding framework to facilitate the sharing of data, making use of APIs, and ensuring that appropriate privacy safeguards are in place to allow such a practice.

(via PCMag)

ERBIL, Iraq Rival Kurdish groups clashed in Iraq’s northwestern Sinjar region on Friday, two Kurdish security sources said, causing deaths on both sides.

The fighting erupted when Peshmerga Rojava forces deployed towards the border with Syria, encroaching on territory controlled by a local affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The unrest highlights the risk of conflict and turf wars between the multiple forces arrayed against Islamic State, many of which lean on regional patrons for political support or arms.

“There are martyrs and wounded on both sides,” one security source said.

The Peshmerga Rojava force is made up of Kurds from Syria and was formed and trained in Iraq with the backing of Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region who enjoys good relations with Turkey.

Turkey is at war with the PKK, which established a foothold in Sinjar after aiding Iraq’s Yazidi population when Islamic State overran the area in the summer of 2014, and set up a local franchise known as the YBS.

In a statement on Friday, the YBS said the fighting began when the Peshmerga Rojava tried to seize its positions in the town of Khanasor. The YBS accused Turkey of instigating the violence.

“It is a totally provocative initiative,” the YBS said.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, on Friday said the PKK posed “a threat against the legitimate regional government in Northern Iraq and they are used by some countries against the current administration there.”

“It’s our duty to destroy these terrorist organizations wherever they are,” the minister told reporters in Ankara.

(Reporting by Isabel Coles in Erbil and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Editing by Robert Birsel and Richard Lough)

-Reuters

ERBIL, Iraq Rival Kurdish groups clashed in

The Elizabeth Tower containing Big Ben. Credit: Carl Vivianб University of Leicester

A team from the University of Leicester’s Department of Engineering has, for the first time ever, vibration-mapped the famous London bell Big Ben in order to reveal why it produces its distinct harmonious tone.


The group, from the Advanced Structural Dynamics Evaluation Centre (ASDEC) at the University of Leicester, measured four of Big Ben’s chimes, taking place at 9AM, 10AM, 11AM and 12 noon.

The ASDEC team used a measurement technique called ‘laser Doppler vibrometry’. This involved creating a 3D computer model of Big Ben and then using lasers to map the vibrations in the metal of the bell as it chimed.

ASDEC, working with the BBC, measured the of Big Ben in an unprecedented level of detail after being given exclusive access to the iconic structure.

Using two Scanning Laser Doppler Vibrometers, the team were able to characterise Big Ben without touching it providing high-density vibration measurements without any loss of accuracy or precision.

The findings of the mapping project will be revealed during a BBC documentary entitled ‘Sound Waves: The Symphony of Physics’, which will be broadcast at 9:00PM on Thursday 2 March on BBC4 and is hosted by Dr Helen Czerski.

Martin Cockrill, a Technical Specialist from the Department of Engineering at the University of Leicester, who leads ASDEC’s measurement team and appears in the documentary, said: “Aside from the technical aspects one of the most challenging parts of the job was carrying all of our equipment up the 334 steps of the spiral staircase to the belfry. Then to get everything set up before the first chime, we were literally working against the clock.

“Many of the vibrations in the metal of Big Ben are too tiny to be seen by the naked eye. But this is what we were able to map using the lasers and not just one or two points on the surface; we were able to get over 500 measurements across the surface which just wouldn’t have been possible with previous technologies.”

Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster.

The tower is officially known as Elizabeth Tower, renamed to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 2012.

According to the University of Leicester research team, Big Ben is thicker than other bells of a similar size, weighing more and as a result having a higher pitch than expected for its diameter.

When a bell is struck, the impact causes a number of different vibrations or modes.

The frequency and intensity of these modes are predominantly affected by the profile of the bell.

“This was such a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Martin Cockrill, “one which was perfectly matched to our skills and resources. You cannot just glue sensors to a national treasure such as Big Ben. Our ability to do the whole thing quickly without touching the bell was key to the whole project.”

Martin Cockrill and Max Chowanietz led the team from a technical point of view undertaking the measurements with two other members of the team, Chris Howe and Amy Stubbs doing the legwork.

Max is a graduate engineer with ASDEC who completed a General Engineering Degree at the University of Leicester in 2014 and has since followed his passion.

Max said: “It was a privilege to be part of such a unique project, especially so early in my career.”


Explore further:
Ding dong measurement on high

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April 3, 2016

Panama Papers leaked; Sharif family under spotlight

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists made nearly 11.5 million secret documents public. The documents contained confidential attorney-client information for more than 214,488 offshore entities, with the source of these leaks being a Panamanian financial law firm, Mossack Fonseca. Eight offshore companies were reported to have links with the family of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Opposition parties jumped at the opportunity to register their protests and mobilise supporters to rally against Mr Sharif.


April 5, 2016

Under-pressure PM announces probe

Realising that silence may deepen the crisis, PM Sharif went on PTV to address the nation and clear the air. The prime minister began his speech with a subtle acknowledgment of the fact that he was using state apparatus to address personal matters and excused himself for that. Visibly concerned by the potential unrest the leaks could cause in the given political climate, Mr Sharif said he was open to the formation of a judicial commission to probe his family’s alleged finances in offshore tax havens.


April 10, 2016

Imran wants CJP to head commission

PTI chief Imran Khan asked the government to form an inquiry commission led by the then serving Chief Justice of Pakistan, Anwar Zaheer Jamali. The government was keen on having former Supreme Court judges on the bench.


April 13, 2016

Five ex-SC judges refuse to lead inquiry

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan revealed that the former SC judges contacted by the government to head the inquiry commission had declined to do so. According to the minister, “all of these judges after taking the time to think over the matter refused to lead the commission without giving any reasons”.

Three days later, despite criticism from the press and political parties, Mr Sharif took off for London citing a medical check-up for five days.


April 16, 2016

PML-N proposes ToR

A government team headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar finalised the terms of reference (ToR) for the proposed inquiry commission — which would define the scope within which the investigation would take place. Maryam Nawaz expressed annoyance over PML-N’s response not being “robust” enough. The opposition parties, however, were still unclear on how to go about the investigation. Three days later, the PM returned to Pakistan, eyeing a difficult job ahead of him.


April 22, 2016

‘Will resign if proven guilty’, says Sharif in second state address

In another address to the nation, Mr Sharif announced that his government had decided to formally ask the then CJP to set up a judicial commission for investigations into the Panama Papers leaks.“If charges are proved against me, I will resign immediately,” vowed Mr Sharif.

On April 25, rejecting the inquiry commission proposed by the government, leaders from the PTI, PPP, MQM and PML-Q demanded that the ToR of any such commission be drafted in consultation with the opposition.


May 3, 2016

Opposition presents ToR

After a joint meeting between opposition parties, a set of ToR was presented to the government and the media. The ToR emphasised on initiating the inquiry into offshore holdings, starting with the Sharif family. Two days later, the government rejected the opposition’s draft of the ToR for an inquiry commission.


May 13, 2016

SC rejects inquiry commission

The Panamagate controversy took a new turn when the SC returned the federal government’s request to appoint an inquiry commission to investigate the leaked documents’ connection with the Sharif family.

Three days later, PM Sharif attempted to explain the ownership of his London flats. The money used to purchase the flats in Park Lane, he said, was linked to properties the Sharif family sold off in Pakistan decades ago. However, the PTI claimed that the PM had misled the National Assembly.


May 18, 2016

Consensus to form ToR committee

After much back and forth, the government and the opposition agreed to form a 12-member committee in order to draft joint ToR for the inquiry commission. After a meeting with opposition members, the then information minister, Pervaiz Rasheed, said the government and the opposition would name six legislators each to form the parliamentary committee.

Four days later, Nawaz flew to London for heart surgery scheduled to be performed on May 31.


June 4, 2016

The ToR stalemate

The 12-member bipartisan parliamentary committee seemed to have hit a dead end as both sides were not only refusing to budge from their positions on the issue of offshore companies but were also accusing each other of toughening their stance. Later that month, opposition parties said they would take to the streets if the government did not review its position on the ToR.


June 24, 2016

PTI files petition with ECP against Sharif

The PTI filed a reference with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) seeking disqualification of PM Sharif for allegedly concealing his assets. Three days later, the PPP also petitioned the ECP to disqualify the prime minister and his family members.


July 9, 2016

Nawaz returns to Pakistan after 48 days

Mr Sharif returned from London, kicking off discussions among analysts about what he should now do to secure his future as the chief executive of the country. As he returned to work and was updated on the economic, security and political situation, PM Sharif was also determined to devise a plan to counter the PTI chief’s ‘propaganda’.


Aug 29, 2016

Seeking PM’s disqualification, PTI files petition with SC

The PTI filed a petition with the SC seeking disqualification of PM Sharif from his office as well as from the NA. The petition was filed by PTI’s counsel Naeem Bukhari on behalf of party’s chairman Imran Khan. It was filed against 10 respondents, including Nawaz Sharif, his daughter, sons and government institutions.


Oct 7, 2016

PTI’s next plan: Islamabad lockdown

The PTI chairman called on party workers to lay siege to Islamabad on Oct 30, telling them to paralyse the capital until PM Sharif resigned or presented himself for accountability.

In a bid to increase pressure on the government, on Oct 10, the PTI asked the SC to hold an early hearing of its petition seeking disqualification of the PM, his son-in-law retired Capt Mohammad Safdar and Senator Ishaq Dar for their alleged involvement in the Panamagate scandal.


Oct 20, 2016

SC accepts petitions

The SC started accepting petitions filed by the PTI, JWP, JI and others to begin the proceedings. “I welcome the judicial proceedings in connection with Panama Papers,” said the prime minister in a reply.

Almost a week later, the SC formed a five-judge larger bench to hear petitions regarding Panamagate. Earlier, a three-member bench accepted petitions filed by the PTI and Sheikh Rashid asking for the prime minister’s disqualification.


Oct 31, 2016

Imran’s lockdown threat gets serious

The PTI chief called on supporters to gather in the capital, but the numbers weren’t impressive. The government placed shipping containers to block off routes from Punjab and KP into Islamabad.

Later on Nov 1, it was a win-win for all sides when the SC asked the government and the PTI to present their respective ToR, in case the court decided to constitute an inquiry commission. The order allowed Imran Khan to call off his plan to lock down the capital, while the PM accepted the formation of a judicial commission to investigate the Panama Papers scam, which had been a bone of contention between the two parties since the scandal broke in April.


Nov 7, 2016

Sharif children submit replies to SC

The counsel for PM Sharif, Salman Aslam Butt, informed the SC bench that Hassan Nawaz had been running a business lawfully for 22 years and Hussain for 16 years. He added that Maryam Nawaz was not dependent on her father. Denying allegations levelled in the petitions, Maryam said she was not the beneficial owner of Nielsen and Nescoll, but only a trustee.


Nov 14, 2016

PTI submits evidence, PML-N lawyer presents Qatari letter

The SC questioned the quality of the evidence presented by the PTI and deplored that their 680-page submission had almost nothing to do with the Sharif family’s London properties. The Sharif children’s newly engaged counsel, Mohammad Akram Sheikh, presented the court with an attested letter from a former Qatari prime minister, Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani, with yet another explanation for the London flats. The SC was not pleased to hear another explanation for how the Sharif family paid for its London properties and said that both sides were doing their best to ensure that the court would eventually have to form a commission to decide the Panamagate case.


Dec 9, 2016

CJ Jamali’s retirement halts proceedings

Proceedings in the case ended on Dec 9, 2016, as CJ Zaheer Jamali was scheduled to retire. The SC said that arguments from both sides would start afresh when hearings resumed in January. A five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Khosa had been constituted by the SC to resume the hearing from Jan 4.

On Dec 31, 2016, PM Sharif and his children submitted to the SC documents notifying a change of counsel. According to the documents, advocate Makhdoom Ali Khan would represent the PM and Salman Akram Raja would appear on behalf of his children.


Jan 4, 2017

New bench resumes hearing

The case hearing resumed when the five-judge bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, was informed about details of the offices held by PM Sharif during his political career. PTI’s counsel Naeem Bukhari sought the court’s permission to refer to a number of interviews of the PM, his spouse and children to highlight that every one took a different stand regarding ownership of the London properties.


Jan 6, 2017

Burden of proof becomes a sticking point

Members of the SC bench hearing the Panamagate case expressed divergent opinions over which side shouldered the burden of proof. While Justice Asif Khosa — who heads the bench — placed the burden of proof on Prime Minister Sharif’s family, Justice Azmat and Justice Ejaz differed

On Jan 12, 2017, the prime minister’s counsel was quizzed about a money trail for the London flats.


Jan 13, 2017

Sharif family’s flats purchased in 1990s, BBC report reveals

Properties owned by the Sharif family in London’s upscale Park Lane neighbourhood were purchased in the 1990s and there has been no change of ownership since then, BBC Urdu reported.

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung on Jan 23 tweeted documents to ‘help’ Pakistanis form their own opinion on the role of Prime Minister Sharif’s daughter in the Panamagate case.

On Jan 26, a second letter was floated by Hussain Nawaz’s counsel, ‘clarifying’ Sharif’s investment in Gulf Steel Mills.


Feb 15, 2017

PTI presents ‘new evidence’

The bench postponed day-to-day proceedings after Justice Saeed had to be rushed to the Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology following chest pains on Jan 31. The prime minister’s counsel argued that the petitioners had failed to link Mr Sharif to any wrongdoing. Since no serious charge could be established against the prime minister except general allegations, there was no possibility of holding his children accountable for the allegations levelled by petitioners.


Feb 18, 2017

Consider Qatari letters void, Imran asks SC

Imran Khan submitted an affidavit to the SC, asking it to ignore the two Qatari letters produced by the Sharif family as evidence of their stance in the case.

On Feb 22, the Attorney General of Pakistan told the bench that the case record in the Hudaibiya reference had been examined and that the company had obtained loans through foreign currency accounts. At this, Justice Saeed expressed the bench’s frustration by saying that the lawyers were issuing different statements each time which was confusing the bench.


Feb 23, 2017

Panamagate hearings conclude; judgement awaited

After both the defence and prosecution completed their arguments, the apex court said it would reserve its verdict on the Panamagate case and issue a detailed judgment. “We will decide this case only by the law…such that people will say 20 years down the line that this judgment was made by the book,” said Justice Khosa.


Reporting by Hasham Cheema, Nasir Iqbal, Irfan Raza, Amir Wasim, Naveed Siddiqui and Haseeb Bhatti. Illustration by Fahad Naveed. Creative Department: Xpert Services. Layout by Salman Khan. To read more, visit www.dawn.com

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2017

(via Google News)

April 3, 2016Panama Papers leaked; Sharif family

03 March 2017

Kuwait City, Kuwait: Ooredoo, Kuwait’s fastest network, attended a number of important meetings during the company delegation’s visit to the Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona earlier this week. The company’s delegation, headed by CEO Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Thani, included a number of the company’s senior managers and chief officers.

During the visit, Ooredoo CEO and delegation visited Huawei’s pavilion, which displayed a number of the company’s latest information and communication technology solutions and products such as smartphones, routers, and innovation city solutions.

Ongoing Partnership

Ooredoo CEO met with a number of important high-ranking officials in Huawei to discuss ways for further enhancing cooperation between the two companies. Commenting on this, Ooredoo Kuwait’s General Manager and CEO Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Thani said: “We have great confidence in Huawei as a partner who will support us in reaching our goals, and we look forward for reaching bigger milestones in the future together.”

On his part, Huawei board member Steven Yi reiterated Huawei’s commitment to support its partners in their mission, noting that the company is working extensively with Ooredoo on projects for advanced network modernization. “We are proud of our partnership with Ooredoo, and look forward for more achievements in the future together. Our partnership with Ooredoo extends beyond upgrading the network infrastructure, and we aspire to achieve our mutual goals.”

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Ooredoo’s delegation visited a number of pavilions in the exhibition, and were introduced to the latest technologies from different service providers in the telecom industry.

Leading the Industry

Ooredoo’s delegation attended the CMO Council Meeting, which included a number of global leaders in marketing. The meeting aims to discuss how brands can enhance Omni-channel management with carrier-driven insight. The meeting included presentations by industry leaders from some of the world’s leading companies.

As part of the visit to the Mobile World Congress, Ooredoo CEO met with the Open ROADS community president Dr. Liang, to discuss ways to enhance digital transformation awareness in the telecom industry. Ooredoo CEO is a permanent board member in the Open ROADS community. Founded by Huawei, a pioneer in the field of telecommunications technology, the Open ROADS community stands for “real-time on-demand all-online do-it-yourself and social,” an invitation to the digital world to all companies in the telecom and related industries. It brings together leading voices from across the information and communication technology industry to answer the questions posed by the transformation to digital business.

Ooredoo Kuwait announced earlier its intention to participate in the World Mobile Congress with Ooredoo Group, which displayed their next-generation solutions and services in their pavilion, demonstrating the incredible progress the group’s companies have made in recent years.

-Ends- 

About Ooredoo Kuwait
Ooredoo’s operations in Kuwait date back to December 1999 when it launched wireless services as the second operator.  The company today provides mobile, broadband internet and corporate managed services tailored to the needs of customers and businesses. Ooredoo is guided by its vision of enriching people’s lives and its belief that it can stimulate human growth by leveraging communications to help people achieve their full potential.

Website: www.ooredoo.com.kw   
Twitter: @OoredooKuwait  
Instagram: OoredooKuwait  
Facebook: www.facebook.com/OoredooinKuwait  
YouTube: /OoredooinKuwait  

About Ooredoo  
Ooredoo is a leading international communications company delivering mobile, fixed, broadband internet and corporate managed services tailored to the needs of consumers and businesses across markets in the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia. As a community-focused company, Ooredoo is guided by its vision of enriching people’s lives and its belief that it can stimulate human growth by leveraging communications to help people achieve their full potential. Ooredoo has a presence in markets such as Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Algeria, Tunisia, Iraq, Palestine, the Maldives, Myanmar and Indonesia. The company was named “Most Innovative Company of the Year – MEA Region” at the 2015 International Business Awards.

The company reported revenues of US$ 9.1 billion in 2014 and had a consolidated global customer base of 114.9 million customers as of 30 September 2015. Ooredoo’s shares are listed on the Qatar Stock Exchange and the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange.

Twitter: @Ooredoo                                              
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ooredoogroup
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/ooredoo
YouTube: www.youtube.com/ooredoogroup

© Press Release 2017

© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.

Via Zawya

DHAKA Bangladeshi police have arrested the head of an Islamist militant group accused of inspiring followers to kill foreigners, the chief of the counter-terrorism unit said on Friday.

Shaikh Mohammad Abul Kashem, who founded an offshoot of the larger Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) group, was picked up on Thursday night in the Senpara Parbata area of the capital, Dhaka.

Kashem worked alongside Canadian citizen Tamim Chowdhury and Nurul Islam Marjan, two men police accused of masterminding an attack on an upscale Dhaka cafe in July in which 22 people were killed, most of them foreigners, Monirul Islam, the counter- terrorism chief, said.

“On the basis of a tip-off from a secret source, our force arrested him from the area when he was going to receive money that came through a mobile banking system,” Islam said.

According to police, Kashem, who wrote several jihadi books and headed a religious school in northern Bangladesh, taught followers of his group, called Neo JMB, that killing foreigners would ease their path to heaven.

“His followers preferred to kill foreigners,” Islam said.

“We have been trying to catch him on the basis of previously arrested militants, but every time he could escape.”

Bangladesh has been battling a rise in Islamist-linked violence in the past four years, and since July has arrested or killed several men accused of involvement in the cafe siege.

Since 2013, 48 people have been killed or seriously wounded by Islamist militants in Bangladesh, including at least six online critics of religious militancy who were hacked to death, among them a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Tommy Wilkes, Robert Birsel)

-Reuters

DHAKA Bangladeshi police have arrested the head

Total Islamic banking assets in the UAE have increased to about AED520 billion ($141.5 billion), about 7 percent of the global total, it has been revealed.

Saif Hadef Al Shamsi, assistant governor for Monetary Policy and Financial Stability at the UAE Central Bank, said that Islamic banking’ assets account for around 20 percent of AED2.6 trillion of the total assets of the state’s banks.

He added in comments published by state news agency WAM that there are seven Islamic banking and financial institutions operating in the country.

The assistant governor said Islamic banking deposits increased by 42 percent over the past three years, compared to an 18 percent growth rate in conventional banking institutions, and that lending by Islamic banks increased by 54 percent in the same period.

His comments comes as Dubai launched an updated strategy for 2017-2021 to establish the emirate as the capital of the Islamic economy in January.

The Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre (DIEDC) said the refreshed strategy focuses on ensuring long-term impact, with its main objective to lead the growth of the Islamic economy sectors on a local, regional and international scale, and to set a benchmark for the Islamic ecosystem worldwide.

At the heart of the strategy are three key pillars – Islamic finance, Halal sector, and Islamic lifestyle that includes culture, art, fashion and family tourism, a statement said.

Knowledge, standards and digital Islamic economy serve as cornerstones in supporting the pillars while playing a pivotal role in shaping an enabling environment for sustainable investments and real development, it added.

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Total Islamic banking assets in the UAE

HARARE Zimbabwe has appealed for international help for victims of floods that have left 246 people dead and displaced hundreds since December when torrential rains started pounding a country emerging from severe drought.

An El Nino-induced drought last year scorched crops in the southern African country, leaving more than 4 million in need of food aid, but Zimbabweans are now having to contend with floods after receiving above-normal rains.

Minister for local government Saviour Kasukuwere said floods had swept through villages in the southern and southwestern parts of Zimbabwe, destroying roads, crops and livestock and forcing people into temporary government shelter.

Kasukuwere said nearly 2,000 people were homeless, 74 schools were damaged and 70 dams had burst.

President Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government has struggled to manage the inundation, whose effects were most severe in the areas hit hardest by last year’s drought. Urban areas have not been spared, with many roads badly damaged.

“I am therefore appealing to the development partners, private sector and general public, inclusive of those in the diaspora, to rally with the government to support the emergency relieve programs,” Kasukuwere said in a statement.

The government is seeking tents, drugs and food for those displaced by the floods, he added.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Ed Cropley)

-Reuters

HARARE Zimbabwe has appealed for international help

SoleNet and Sure Telecom are prohibited from carrying on as a business or providing any telecommunications services for a period of two years, the Australian Federal Court ordered on Friday.

In addition, the companies and their director James Harrison have been ordered to pay AU$250,000 in penalties.

As of April 1, 2017, Harrison is also disqualified from managing corporations for three years.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched Federal Court proceedings against the Harrison Communications, the parent company of SoleNet and Sure Telecom, in April 2016 for breach of Australian Consumer Law.

In December 2016, the companies were found guilty of engaging in unconscionable conduct and undue harassment of customers between 2013 and 2015.

The court said SoleNet and Sure Telecom restructured the businesses to avoid regulatory sanctions and unpaid debts to regulators during the time in question.

Customers were transferred from one company to the other without their knowledge or informed consent, where they were met with unjustified demands for payment of early termination or cancellation fees amounting, in some cases, to harassment.

In delivering his judgment on Friday, Justice Moshinsky said “the contravening conduct was serious, deliberate, and extended over a period of about two to three years” and “was not ad hoc, but systemic and planned”.

“Mr Harrison, the sole director of the companies, was ‘hands-on’ in managing their day-to-day operations and was intimately involved in their conduct,” Moshinsky J added.

The judge also ordered SoleNet/Sure Telecom and Harrison to take reasonable steps to refund customers whose contracts were transferred from one SoleNet/Sure Telecom company to another within 60 days from Friday. ACCC’s costs are to be paid as well.

“The disqualification of Mr Harrison as a director sends a clear message that directors have responsibility to ensure their businesses comply with the Australian Consumer Law,” said Delia Rickard, ACCC deputy chair.

(via PCMag)

SYDNEY The dollar clung to broad gains on Friday as the risk of an imminent U.S. interest rate hike slugged sovereign bonds and commodities, even managing to sour Wall Street’s party as the reality of rising borrowing costs began to sink in.

Spread betters pointed to opening losses for European stocks and E-mini futures for the S&P 500 were off 0.3 percent.

Asian markets were mostly lower, with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan down 0.9 percent in the biggest daily drop so far this year.

Australia fell 0.8 percent and Shanghai 0.4 percent. Japan’s Nikkei eased 0.7 percent as a weaker yen only helped limit some of the losses.

South Korean shares dropped to a two-week low early as reports came in that China had ordered tour operators to stop selling trips to the country, amid rising tensions over the deployment of a U.S. missile-defense system.

A chorus line of Fed officials singing of the need for higher rates has seen the implied probability of a move this month shoot to 74 percent, from just 30 percent at the start of the week.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen and Vice Chair Stanley Fischer are both due to speak later on Friday and are expected to stick to the same tune.

“The U.S. dollar has been snapped up across the board as a March Fed hike is heavily priced in,” said Sean Callow, a senior currency strategist at Westpac.

“All it took was about a hundred comments from Fed officials, but markets have finally decided that “fairly soon” means less than two weeks and that perhaps 3 hikes this year means 3 hikes this year.”

That was enough to make even Wall Street pause, and the Dow fell 0.53 percent, while the S&P 500 lost 0.59 percent and the Nasdaq 0.73 percent.

Caterpillar was among the biggest casualties, shedding 4.2 percent on news that federal law enforcement officials searched its Illinois facilities.

The prospect of a Fed hike on March 15 saw yields on two-year Treasury notes shatter their recent range to reach ground last trod in mid-2009.

With the European Central Bank still acting to suppress short-term euro rates, the spread between U.S. and German two-year yields yawned out to 214 basis points, the widest since early 2000 and up from a low of 183 in January.

That shoved the euro down to $1.0515 and set up a test of major support at the February low of $1.0492. The dollar likewise held at 114.18 yen and eyed the recent peak of 114.95. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar eased a fraction to 102.010 after touching its highest since Jan. 11.

That strength was not good news for commodities priced in dollars with everything from gold to copper taking a hit.

Gold was stuck at $1,233.50 an ounce, after suffering its biggest one-day decline since December on Thursday.

Oil prices took an extra blow after Russian crude production remained unchanged in February, showing weak compliance with a global deal to curb supply to tighten the oversupplied market.

Early Friday, U.S. crude was up 6 cents at $52.67, having shed more than 2 percent on Thursday, while Brent edged up 7 cents to $55.15 per barrel.

(Editing by Jacqueline Wong & Shri Navaratnam)

Reuters

SYDNEY The dollar clung to broad gains

Good news to fossil fuel companies. Bad news to advocates of the environment.

The agency tasked to provide regulation and environmental protection on Thursday scrapped the order that requires oil and gas operators to report on their equipment and level of methane emissions.

The order, issued in May 2016 by the Environmental Protection Agency, was one of the major actions of the Obama administration to combat climate change and protect public health in line with its goal to cut methane emissions to as high as 40 to 45 percent by 2025 from 2012 levels.

“Today, we are underscoring the [Obama] administration’s commitment to finding commonsense ways to cut methane,” former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said when the order was issued last year. Methane, a known pollutant, is a greenhouse gas 40 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The new EPA administrator, however, has a different take.

First Action In Office

Scott Pruitt, the newly sworn-in administrator, in scrapping the rule, said the agency is “signalling that we take these concerns seriously and are committed to strengthening our partnership with the states.”

Pruitt was referring to a letter from the attorneys-general of 11 states dated March 1 when he talked of “concerns” and “partnership with the states.”

The letter asked the EPA chief to “suspend and withdraw” the reporting rule.

“Today’s action will reduce burdens on businesses while we take a closer look at the need for additional information from this industry,” he announced.

The decision to scrap the order once again highlights Pruitt’s deep ties with fossil fuel industry leaders when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general. It was his first order since his ascent to office.

The move also happened just days after the White House proposed to reduce by at least 20 percent EPA’s budget. With decreased funding, the agency is set to trim down the number of employees by a quarter.

First Step To Undo Obama’s EPA

The decision was not received well by environment advocates who maintained that the decision is a message for “oil and gas companies to go ahead and withhold vital pollution data from the American public.”



With the withdrawal of the order, Mark Brownstein, vice president of climate and energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, lamented, “it’s a complete lack of transparency”.

The Thursday decision is perceived as the first step to undo the Obama administration’s actions to regulate pollutants from fossil fuel companies. In Congress, a move is underway through the Congressional Review Act to do away with some regulations that will restrict methane emissions among oil and gas companies.

Welcomed By The Industry Officials But

Oil and gas sector officials have applauded the action, saying the order resulted in “added unnecessary burdens.”

“The exercise imposed significant costs on companies,” Lee Fuller, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said.

The recent EPA decision, however, could result in more greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere in the absence of environmental tracking.

© 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

(Via TechTimes)

Good news to fossil fuel companies. Bad

Behavioral studies of elephant sleep in zoos record that they sleep around four hours per day and can sleep standing up or lying down — but how much do they sleep and how do they sleep in their natural environment? Researchers have made use of small activity data loggers, scientific versions of the well-known consumer fitness and wellness tracker, Fitbit, to study the sleeping patterns of elephants in the wild.

(via WSJ)

Behavioral studies of elephant sleep in zoos