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COLOMBO India and Sri Lanka agreed to release fishermen in each others’ custody, a joint statement said on Monday, a move that is likely to ease tensions between the countries which have held fishermen captive for crossing territorial waters.

After ministerial level talks in Colombo, Sri Lanka reiterated its demand to end the practice of bottom trawling, a technique that involves sweeping the sea bed for fish, and India gave assurances that it would gradually phase it out.

Critics oppose the method because the catch is indiscriminate and could wipe out entire fishing species, making areas unsustainable for fishing.

It was not immediately clear from the statement issued by the two governments and published on the website of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs how many fishermen were being held by either side, or for how long they had been detained.

Pakistan released 220 Indian fishermen in December as a goodwill gesture aimed at easing tensions with its neighbour.

The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea states that fishermen who cross territorial waters can be warned and fined but not arrested.

(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan in New Delhi; Editing by Alison Williams)


COLOMBO India and Sri Lanka agreed to

Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product (GDP), adjusted for inflation, grew by just 0.9 percent from a year earlier in the third quarter of 2016.

This compared to the 1.4 percent growth seen in the second quarter, according to data from the Central Department of Statistics showed.

The Q3 growth was the slowest recorded since 0.3 percent in the first quarter of 2013.

The slowdown comes as Saudi Arabia successfully cut into its huge state budget deficit this year and says it will increase government spending in 2017 to boost flagging economic growth.

The deficit shrank to 297 billion riyals ($79 billion) in 2016. That was well below a record 367 billion gap in 2015, and below the government’s projection in its original 2016 budget plan of a deficit of 326 billion riyals.

The financial challenges for Saudi Arabia stem largely from the fall in the global price of oil over the past two-and-a-half years.

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Saudi Arabia's gross domestic product (GDP), adjusted

WASHINGTON At least 188 civilians have been killed in U.S.-led strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria since the operation began in 2014, the U.S. military said in a statement on Monday.

The Combined Joint Task Force, in its monthly assessment of civilian casualties from the U.S. coalition’s operations against the militant group, said it was still assessing five reports of unintentional deaths from four strikes in 2016 and one from 2015.

The military’s overall estimate was far below those of other outside groups, such as Air Wars, which monitors civilian deaths from international air strikes in the region. The group has estimated about 2,100 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Syria since the coalition’s campaign started.

U.S. military officials expressed regret for the deaths.

“Although the Coalition takes extraordinary efforts to strike military targets in a manner that minimizes the risk of civilian casualties, in some incidents casualties are unavoidable,” the task force said in a statement.

The coalition said it had received 16 new reports of possible civilian deaths in November 2016. Among those, five reports were deemed credible and had led to 15 unintended civilian deaths, it said.

In addition to the five reports still being assessed, officials said they are investigating a Dec. 29 strike on a van of Islamic State fighters that was hit in what officials later determined to be a hospital parking lot.

The United States and its coalition partners had conducted 17,005 strikes against Islamic State as of Dec. 30, with 10,738 in Iraq and 6,267 in Syria, according to U.S. military data.

The operation against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has cost $10 billion since 2014, the data showed.

(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)


WASHINGTON At least 188 civilians have been


Emergency powers on traffic seen at plenary in both chambers
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THE proposed emergency powers on traffic management are expected to pass the Senate plenary this January and the House plenary next month, before the two chambers meet in a bicameral conference. The Senate will tackle on the plenary level its …
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MANAMA, BAHRAIN – 02 January 2017 

Ithmaar Bank B.S.C., a Bahrain-based Islamic retail bank, announced today (ed note: 020117) that it has obtained final approval from the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB), the Kingdom’s banking and financial services regulator on the completion of all requirements with respect to the reorganisation plan. This aims to further develop the growth achieved in Ithmaar Bank’s core retail banking business, the strategic focus of the Bank.

The new structure was proposed by the Bank’s Board of Directors and approved by shareholders at an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) in March 2016.  This resulted in the conversion of the existing Commercial Registration into Ithmaar Holding B.S.C. (Ithmaar Holding), which is licensed and regulated by the CBB and continues to be listed on the Bahrain Bourse and Boursa Kuwait. Ithmaar Holding retains 100 percent ownership of all assets owned by Ithmaar Bank, through its two wholly-owned subsidiaries: Ithmaar Bank B.S.C (closed) (Ithmaar Bank), an Islamic retail bank subsidiary which holds the core retail banking business, and IB Capital B.S.C. (closed) (IB Capital), an investment subsidiary, which holds investments and other non-core assets. The two subsidiaries are licensed and regulated by the CBB. 

Following final regulatory and other necessary approvals and the required procedures, the shares will be traded in the name of Ithmaar Holding with the ticker ITHMR

Ithmaar Bank Chief Executive Officer, Ahmed Abdul Rahim, who expressed his thanks and appreciation to the CBB and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, as well as the Bahrain Bourse and Boursa Kuwait for their continued guidance and support, said the new group structure will further consolidate Ithmaar Bank’s position as a strong retail-focussed premier Islamic retail bank under the Ithmaar brand, allowing the Bank to take advantage of new growth opportunities, and help to generate greater value to our shareholders.

“The reorganization is designed to assist in realising our long-term strategy for growth by providing greater insight into the strength of our core retail banking operations and further facilitating the focussed management of the Group’s investment assets,” said Abdul Rahim. “The new structure will help lower the risk profile of the new banking entity and enhance shareholder value through growth and improved performance in the core business,” he said.


”Ithmaar Bank’s mailing address, call centre number, main office telephone number and all other telephone numbers will remain unchanged,” said Abdul Rahim. “Customers can continue to use existing cheque books, debit cards, credit cards, and eCards that bear the trademark of Ithmaar Bank,” he said.

“The financial results consistently show that our efforts to significantly transform the Group’s operations and focus on developing our core business are paying off, and that we are on the right track,” said Abdul Rahim. “The decision to reorganise the Group is the logical step in this process, and underlines our commitment to become one of the region’s leading Islamic retail banks,” he said.

“By allocating our assets into separate subsidiaries, we will be able to better focus on our core retail banking businesses held in Ithmaar Bank, which includes Faysal Bank Limited, Pakistan, a retail and corporate banking subsidiary of Ithmaar Bank.  At the same time, we will be able to facilitate dedicated and focussed management of investment and other assets held by IB Capital,” said Abdul Rahim.

Recently, Ithmaar Bank announced it was singled out among the world’s Islamic banks for a prestigious international award in recognition of its Corporate Social Responsibility and Financial Disclosure. The independent award was presented at the World Islamic Banking Conference (WIBC) which was recently held in Bahrain in strategic partnership with the CBB. The WIBC is a high-profile event, which was attended by leading international banking experts, and is widely recognised as one of the most important events on the world Islamic banking calendar.


About Ithmaar Bank:
Ithmaar Bank B.S.C. (stock code “ITHMR”) is a Bahrain-based licensed Islamic retail bank that is regulated by the Central Bank of Bahrain and provides retail, commercial, treasury & financial institutions and other banking services.

Ithmaar Bank is a subsidiary of Dar Al-Maal Al-Islami Trust (DMI), and has a paid-up capital of US$757.69 million, total shareholders’ equity of US$421.29 million (as at 30 September 2016) and is listed on the Bahrain Bourse and Boursa Kuwait.

Ithmaar Bank provides a diverse range of Sharia-compliant products and services that cater to the financing and investment needs of individuals and institutions. Ithmaar also maintains a presence in overseas markets through its subsidiaries, associated and affiliated companies. These include Faysal Bank Limited (Pakistan), Faisal Private Bureau (Switzerland), Bahrain-based BBK, Ithmaar Development Company Limited, Solidarity (an Islamic insurance company), Naseej and Ithraa Capital (Saudi Arabia).

© Press Release 2017

© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.

Via Zawya

By Alonso Soto

BRASILIA Around 60 people have been killed in a bloody prison riot sparked by a war between rival drug gangs in the Amazon jungle city of Manaus, officials said on Monday, in some of the worst violence in years in Brazil’s overcrowded penitentiary system.

The head of security for Amazonas state, Sergio Fontes, told a news conference that the death toll could rise as authorities get a clearer idea of the scale of the rebellion sparked by a fight between rival drug gangs.

Manaus’ Em Tempo newspaper reported that several of the dead had their decapitated bodies thrown over the prison wall.

The riot began late Sunday and was brought under control by around 7 a.m. on Monday, Fontes said. Authorities were still counting the prisoners to determine how many had escaped, he added.

International watchdog groups sharply criticize Brazil for its prison system, where overcrowding is the norm and deadly riots routinely break out.

The massacre was the latest clash between inmates aligned with the Sao Paulo-based First Capital Command (PCC) drug gang, Brazil’s most powerful, and a local Manaus criminal group known as the North Family.

The Manaus-based gang is widely believed to be attacking PCC inmates at the behest of the Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command (CV) drug gang, Brazil’s second largest.

Security analysts have said that a truce that held for years between the PCC and CV was broken last year, resulting in months of deadly prison battles between the gangs and sparking fears that chaos will spread to other prisons.

In the latest riot, a group of inmates exchanged gunfire with police and held 12 prison guards hostage late on Sunday in the largest prison in Manaus, an industrial city on the banks of the Amazon River, Globo TV reported.

Fontes said that 74 prisoners were taken hostage during the riot, with some executed and some released.

A video posted on the website of the Manaus-based newspaper Em Tempo showed dozens of bloodied and mutilated bodies piled atop each other on the prison floor as other inmates milled about.

Brazil’s prison system is precariously overcrowded and conditions in many institutions are horrific. That has sparked a rash of deadly riots in recent years.

Sunday’s riot was the deadliest in years. A 1992 rebellion at the Carandiru prison in Sao Paulo state saw 111 inmates killed, nearly all of them by police as they retook the jail.

(Reporting by Alonso Soto; Writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Andrea Ricci)


Having drawn the ire of the mainstream press for his extensive use of Twitter in announcing major developments and policy shifts, President-elect Donald Trump will not end the “onslaught” of posts on Twitter that fed his unconventional campaign, even after taking on the formalized duties of the Oval Office later this month, as Bloomberg notes following an announcement by incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer who said he expects Trump “will boldly use” Twitter to make major policy announcements.

Shortly after his victory on November 8, Trump said in an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he was rethinking his use of social media: “I’m going to be very restrained, if I use it at all, I’m going to be very restrained,” Trump said. That, however, has not happened and since then, during the countdown to Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, he’s shown little sign that he intends to follow that pledge.

In fact, making news and issuing statements on social media sites that also include Facebook and Instagram will “absolutely” continue, despite any prior promises to the contrary, incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

“You know what? The fact of the matter is that when he tweets, he gets results,” Spicer said.

“You know, with all due respect, I think it freaks the mainstream media out that he has this following of over 45 plus million people that follow him on social media, that he can have a direct conversation,” Spicer said. “He doesn’t have to have it funneled through the media.”

Indeed, he doesn’t, and the fact that the media suddenly finds itself locked out in this most important of information dissemination and filtration pathways, has unleashed the biggest period of soul-searching for the conventional press in decades.

In recent tweets, Trump has hinted he’d like to change decades of policy on nuclear weapons; praised Russian leader Vladimir Putin even after accusations by intelligence agencies that Russia attempted to tamper with U.S. elections; and said the United Nations is a “club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

As a result, Trump was scolded by foreign policy experts last month when he used Twitter as the venue to say that the U.S. should greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capacity until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nuclear weapons. For now, if anything, this outside criticism has only emboldened Trump to avoid conventional media outlets.

On Dec. 28, the incoming president tweeted that he was trying to disregard statements by President Barack Obama that he considered “inflammatory.” “Thought it was going to be a smooth transition – NOT!” Trump said in the post.

After Putin said on Dec. 30 that he wouldn’t respond in kind to an Obama administration order expelling 35 Russian diplomats in response to that government’s hacking of Democratic Party officials, Trump tweeted: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”

A day after praising Putin, Trump raised eyebrows by wishing a “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies.” New Year’s Day brought a more conciliatory greeting ”to all Americans” that cast ahead to “a wonderful & prosperous 2017 as we work together.”

Trump’s tweets have also targeted specific companies, including Lockheed Martin Corp. for what the president-elect termed “out of control” costs for the F-35 fighter jet, and Boeing Co. for “ridiculous” costs to build a new 747 Air Force One for future presidents. “Cancel order!” Trump said in a Twitter post on Dec. 6, sending Boeing shares lower.

Trump currently has 18.3 million followers on Twitter, 16.8 million on Facebook and 4.5 million on Instagram. He has tweeted more than 34,000 times since joining the social media platform in 2009.

As Bloomberg adds, Spicer was asked on “This Week” about Trump’s Twitter statement on Dec. 22 that the U.S. “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capacity until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

Surprisingly, despite having the president-elect as the brand’s most vocal and prominent ambassador in the world, Twitter continues to lose key personnel, most recently on December 30, when in a series of Tweets, Twitter’s Managing Director for Greater China Operations Kathy Chen says that as the Twitter APAC team is working directly with Chinese advertisers, it is the right time for her to leave the company. She joined Twitter less than 8 months ago, in April of 2016.

* * *

Aside from the topic of Trump’s tweeting, Spicer also said on Sunday that the White House may have disproportionately punished Russia by ordering the expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies. Spicer said that Trump will be asking questions of U.S. intelligence agencies after President Barack Obama imposed sanctions last week on two Russian intelligence agencies over what he said was their involvement in hacking political groups in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

“One of the questions that we have is why the magnitude of this? I mean you look at 35 people being expelled, two sites being closed down, the question is, is that response in proportion to the actions taken? Maybe it was; maybe it wasn’t but you have to think about that,” Spicer said.

Trump is to have briefings with intelligence agencies this week after his return from vacation to New York on Sunday. On Saturday, Trump expressed continued skepticism over whether Russia was responsible for computer hacks of Democratic Party officials.


“I think it’s unfair if we don’t know. It could be somebody else. I also know things that other people don’t know so we cannot be sure,” Trump said. He said he would disclose some information on the issue on Tuesday or Wednesday, without elaborating. It is unclear if, upon taking office on Jan. 20, he would seek to roll back Obama’s actions, which mark a post-Cold War low in U.S.-Russian ties.

Spicer said that after China in 2015 seized records of U.S. government employees “no action publicly was taken. Nothing, nothing was taken when millions of people had their private information, including information on security clearances that was shared. Not one thing happened.” “So there is a question about whether there’s a political retribution here versus a diplomatic response,” he added.

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Having drawn the ire of the mainstream

Twitter has been making the news lately for not-so-happy reasons, such as its plummeting stock price and failure–so far–to find an acquirer. The company has also seen a series of top executives leave the company in recent months and the most significant is CTO Adam Messinger, a former Oracle development executive who logged five years at Twitter.

Messinger said in a tweet that he’s leaving to “take some time off” and his departure seems amicable enough from the outside. Twitter’s VP of engineering, Edward Ho, will assume Messinger’s duties and report directly to CEO Jack Dorsey, according to the New York Times.

Messinger had a broader remit at Twitter than the CTO job might suggest. In January, after a previous wave of executive departures, Messinger gained oversight of engineering, consumer product, design and research, user services and Fabric, Twitter’s mobile development platform.

Whether Ho is given a long-term shot at the CTO job, or is just keeping the seat warm for an outside candidate remains to be seen. In either case, Twitter’s next CTO has plenty to work on in 2017.

“Consistency is my biggest technical complaint,” says Constellation Research VP and principal analyst Alan Lepofsky. “I use twitter.com, tweetdeck.twitter.com and the twitter mobile apps on Android and iPad, and the features available are different on each! For example, the ability to add an image, then tag people in the image (instead of adding their names in the 140 char) is not consistent.”

“I think hashtags need some type of bubble help, where people can expand them to understand what they mean and get more information,” Lepofsky adds. “And clearly, the noise-to-value ratio needs work. Twitter needs to become far more personalized, understanding the content I want and the people I want to engage with.”

Another plus would be improved analytics that help users better understand which of their tweets have had the most impact and why, Lepofsky says. On the organization front, Twitter could use contact and list management features such as sorting, tagging, filtering and grouping, he adds.

Meanwhile, a recent positive development was the full integration of Twitter’s live-video streaming capability, Periscope, into Twitter. Users won’t need to install a separate Periscope app any longer, which raises the question of whether that dedicated app will be deprecated. Twitter had kept Periscope separate on purpose after acquiring it, hoping it could become a standalone hit much like Instagram has for Facebook.

In any event, with Periscope baked into the main Twitter application, video usage on the service could skyrocket in 2017, which means scalability–a one-time problem Twitter managed to remedy through extensive re-engineering–could be a concern for its incoming CTO.

Then there’s the question of Twitter being acquired and all of the technical challenges and organizational changes associated with it.

It would not be wise for a traditional enterprise software vendor to buy Twitter, Constellation Research VP and principal analyst Holger Mueller argued in a blog post earlier this year:

Not a good move, these vendors need to stay on top of digital data to power marketing, sales and service – but social media usage and related data exhaust are fickle – owning one major data source will not allow these vendors to do what they need to: Cross social network sensing, execution and operation of related business functions.

A more natural fit would be Google given the synergy Twitter would have with its advertising business, while also giving a big boost to Google’s social strategy, Mueller noted.

Finally, it might be easier for Twitter to get acquired if it can develop a big new hit feature. Maybe, as mentioned, Periscope will be it, but that’s far from a sure thing. Coming up with Twitter’s next killer app is probably the most crucial task for the company’s go-forward technical and product leadership.

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LONDON Digital currency bitcoin kicked off the new year by jumping above $1,000 for the first time in three years late on Sunday, having outperformed all central-bank-issued currencies with a 125 percent climb in 2016.

Bitcoin – a web-based “cryptocurrency” that has no central authority, relying instead on thousands of computers across the world that validate transactions and add new bitcoins to the system – jumped 2.5 percent to $1,022 on the Europe-based Bitstamp exchange, its highest since December 2013.

Though the digital currency has historically been highly volatile – a tenfold increase in its value in two months in late 2013 took it to above $1,100, before a hack on the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox exchange saw it plunge to under $400 in the following weeks – it has in the past two years been more stable.

Its biggest daily moves in 2016 were around 10 percent, still very volatile compared with fiat currencies, but markedly lower than the trading of 2013, which saw daily price swings of as much as 40 percent.

Bitcoin may have been boosted in the past year by increased demand in China on the back of a 7 percent annual fall in the value of the yuan in 2016, the Chinese currency’s weakest showing in over 20 years. Data shows most bitcoin trading is done in China.

Bitcoin is used to move money across the globe quickly and anonymously and does not fall under the purview of any authority, making it attractive to those wanting to get around capital controls, such as China’s.

It is also may appeal to those worried about a lack of supply of cash, such as in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed high-denomination bank notes from circulation in November.

“The growing war on cash, and capital controls, is making bitcoin look like a viable, if high risk, alternative,” said Paul Gordon, a board member of the UK Digital Currency Association and co-founder of Quantave, a firm seeking to make it easier for institutional investors to access digital currency exchanges.

Though bitcoin is still some way off the all-time high of $1,163 that it reached on the Bitstamp exchange in late 2013, there are now more bitcoins in circulation – 12.5 are added to the system every 10 minutes. Its total worth is at a record-high above $16 billion, putting its value at around the same as that of an average FTSE 100 company.

(Reporting by Jemima Kelly; Editing by Peter Graff)


LONDON Digital currency bitcoin kicked off the

New footage for “Dragon Quest XI” revealed several gameplay aspects, including combat, camping, and riding on dragons. The game is set to be released next year for the PlayStation 4, Nintendo 3DS, and the upcoming Nintendo Switch. 
( NHK | YouTube )

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the long-running but still massively popular Dragon Quest franchise, Japanese TV channel NHK showed a special presentation that included new footage for the next game in the series, Dragon Quest XI: In Search of Departed Time.

Not much about Dragon Quest XI was revealed in the footage, but it did provide a glimpse of some interesting things that players will be able to enjoy in the upcoming game.

What We Learned From The Dragon Quest XI Footage

The new footage for Dragon Quest XI revealed several gameplay aspects for the title, such as combat, camping, and riding on dragons.

Camping is shown in the video as an activity that restores the HP and MP of players, while also offering options such as praying to the Goddess, going on patrol, and smithing. Players will be able to access menu that lists several weapons that they can try to craft, with the necessary materials and difficulty level for crafting displayed.

The video also shows how riding on dragons will work in the game, as players hop onto the back of a dragon to mount them. Riding dragons is a new feature to the franchise with its addition in Dragon Quest XI, as the series has mostly been about players fighting dragons and not about using them for their advantage.

Dragon Quest XI Release Details

Dragon Quest XI will launch sometime next year in Japan for the PlayStation 4, Nintendo 3DS, and the upcoming Nintendo Switch, but no official release in the United States has yet been announced.

The game’s predecessor, Dragon Quest X, did not get an official release in the United States, but due to the more traditional single-player nature of Dragon Quest XI, it has a better chance of being released outside of Japan.

The Importance Of Dragon Quest XI On Nintendo Switch

It has previously been confirmed by Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii that Dragon Quest XI was coming to the Nintendo Switch, and the game’s importance will largely contribute to the hybrid console’s success.

Dragon Quest remains very popular in Japan, and the pending release of Dragon Quest XI for the Nintendo Switch is a strategy that will most likely boost the hybrid console’s sale figures in the country.

There is no specified release date yet for Dragon Quest XI for the Nintendo Switch, so it is not known whether it will be available upon the hybrid console’s expected launch of March 2017. The upcoming presentation that will reveal all details of the Nintendo Switch might mention Dragon Quest XI, though, so fans of the franchise might want to watch it.

© 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

(Via TechTimes)

New footage for "Dragon Quest XI" revealed

Shaan Taseer, the son of a prominent Pakistani politician assassinated over blasphemy allegations, is himself now the target of a police case and a fatwa calling for his killing after he recorded a Christmas message criticizing the country’s blasphemy law.

Mr. Taseer, a human-rights activist, was condemned in the religious edict by an Islamic group from the country’s mainstream religious tradition, after he recorded the message for Pakistan’s Christian minority.

In the video message, he called the country’s blasphemy law “inhumane” and expressed sympathy for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death by Pakistan’s courts on blasphemy charges.

In Pakistan, blasphemy is illegal and it carries the death penalty. Activists say that the threat of being accused of blasphemy has created a climate of fear, where anyone can be targeted and the law can’t be discussed.

“I’m now in a position something like Salman Rushdie,” said Mr. Taseer, referring to the novelist who has had to live in hiding since a 1989 edict condemned him to death. “They have called for my assassination.”

His father, Salmaan Taseer, then governor of Punjab province, was shot dead in 2011 by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, after he criticized Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Mr. Qadri was executed last year after a Supreme Court verdict, but his funeral was attended by huge crowds, and his followers are building an ornate shrine just outside Islamabad over his grave.

According to the fatwa, issued by a group called Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah, the younger Mr. Taseer has “crossed all limits of insulting God and the prophet” and is now “condemnable to death”. The group, which is legal, is from the Barelvi sect, the biggest Muslim denomination in the country, which is normally considered moderate but on the issue of blasphemy, it is the most hardline.

“In no unclear terms, they’ve told their supporters to prepare another Mumtaz Qadri,” said Mr. Taseer, adding that he had received hundreds of messages of hate and death threats since he was accused.

Police in Lahore also registered a case against Mr. Taseer under the blasphemy law. The case is under a section of the law meant for hate speech.

According to the charge, dated Dec. 30, police found a recording on a memory stick left outside a police station in which a person “ridiculed a religious law, which may cause provocation.”

Nasir Hameed, the police officer in charge of the Islampura police station in Lahore where the case is registered, said officers were investigating further. The case doesn’t name Shaan Taseer, but he identifies himself by name in the recording.

“Having a fatwa and a blasphemy case against you is putting a target on your back,” said Jibran Nasir, a lawyer and activist. “These fanatics can motivate people to get you anywhere.”

Mr. Taseer, aged 45, is currently outside Pakistan and asked for his location not to be revealed. Activists fear that the fatwa still puts him in danger abroad and also prevents his ability to return.

In Pakistan, crowds often surround police stations to pressure police into registering blasphemy cases, in which both Muslims and non-Muslims are targeted. Activists say that the evidence is usually flimsy and the blasphemy law is regularly used to settle personal scores. Allegations of blasphemy have repeatedly in the past motivated mobs to kill the accused.

Separately, the same religious group threatened on Dec. 31 to issue a fatwa against leading opposition politician Imran Khan, unless he apologizes for a supposed insult to the Prophet Mohammad in a speech. There was no immediate response from Mr. Khan’s spokesperson.

–Qasim Nauman contributed to this article.

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(via WSJ)

CAIRO A senior Egyptian judge arrested on corruption charges was found dead in his cell on Monday having hanged himself, his lawyer said.

Wael Shalaby, a deputy chief justice in the country’s administrative courts system, resigned on Saturday shortly before he was arrested and was charged the following day with taking a bribe.

“My client hanged himself using a scarf he was wearing. He was going through a terrible psychological state during his questioning,” his lawyer Sayed Beheiry told Reuters.

“It is very hard to be a big important judge and suddenly you lose everything and sit in front of an investigator being accused of taking a bribe.”

State news agency MENA also said Shalaby had killed himself, and that the public prosecutor had ordered an autopsy. The interior ministry, which oversees prisons, could not be reached for comment.

Shalaby was also secretary general of the Council of State, the umbrella organisation for Egypt’s administrative courts. He was held days after the council’s purchasing manager, Gamal al-Din al-Labban, was also arrested on corruption charges.

The public prosecutor has referred to the two arrests as part of the same case.

The Council of State said in a statement on Saturday that it accepted Shalaby’s resignation, without clarify his link to the Labban case. On Wednesday it had said Labban worked at the council but was not a judge.

Local and foreign non-governmental organisations say corruption is rife in Egypt while the government says it investigates all incidents. Corruption investigations into judicial bodies are rare.

The prosecutor issued an order banning media reporting of the legal details of the Council of State corruption case.

($1 = 18 Egyptian pounds)

(Reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan and Haitham Ahmed; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; editing by John Stonestreet)


CAIRO A senior Egyptian judge arrested on

The UAE has moved up a global list of the best destinations for expats to enjoy a successful career while Bahrain is also in the world’s top 10 places to move to.

The UAE now ranks as the fourth best destination after moving up two places on 2015 in the new data released by HSBC.

Bahrain, ranked 10th, fell three places compared to last year’s list, while the ranking was topped by Switzerland, Germany and Sweden.

The new data examines the views of people towards their host countries across eight categories – chances to acquire new skills; work-life balance; work culture; career progression; fulfilling work; benefits packages; and earnings prospects.

The UAE improved across all eight indicators in comparison to the views of expats in 2015, indicating the continually improving work environment for people in the country, HSBC said. 

Among the primary reasons expats highlighted the UAE as one of the top international career destinations was for its earnings prospects (ranked 3rd), and the benefits packages offered by employers (5th).

The former, in particular, is an area that the UAE is consistently recognised for, with average salaries being 14 percent higher than the global average.

Nearly two-thirds of expats in the country (65 percent) said that they earn more than in their home country – only Switzerland (75 percent) and Qatar (66 percent) had a higher proportion of people that associated with this view. 

HSBC added that the Middle East and Africa region led the way for employee benefits with Saudi Arabia (95 percent), Egypt (94 percent), Oman (94 percent), Kenya (93 percent), and the UAE (93 percent) making up the top five countries where the highest proportion of expats say they receive benefits as part of their employment packages.

Kunal Malani, head of customer value management, MENA, Retail Banking and Wealth Management, HSBC Middle East, said: “Through the results of the research, it’s not surprising to see that the UAE continues to be rated highly globally for the financial benefits it offers.

“This has been one of the cornerstones of why people seek career opportunities here and it is indicative of the success of the government’s focus on diversification, which has resulted in the creation of an internationally recognised and sought after working environment with world-class infrastructure and services. Given these advantages, expats moving to and living in the UAE should look to make the best of their lives abroad.”

The UAE also ranked among the top ten (8th) in terms of career progression, with over half (54 percent) of expats recognising this to be the case since they moved from their home countries.

The HSBC report said that while the UAE was much closer to the global average when it came to work-life balance (24th), it rated highly for work culture (11th).

The report said expats living in Switzerland earn an average salary of $188,275 a year, the highest in the world and almost twice the global average. Hong Kong, India and Singapore were ranked second, third and fourth while China rounded out the top five.

Hong Kong and Singapore topped the ranking for career development with 68 percent and 62 percent respectively of respondents agreeing that these were good places to improve their careers.

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The UAE has moved up a global

DUBAI // A Pakistani man has been arrested for allegedly killing a relative with a garden tool in a leafy Dubai neighbourhood on New Year’s Eve.

An official prosecution source said the suspect accused the relative of flirting with his wife, which resulted in the murder in Springs 15.

According to a source from Springs 15, which is part of a larger Emaar community, the two men had an argument on December 31, which escalated into a physical altercation.

“We’re not sure what they were arguing about but the suspect hit the victim with a garden tool and killed him,” the source said.

The suspect was arrested and his case transferred to prosecutors to bring charges.

Dubai Police was not available for comment.

[email protected]

The National

DUBAI // A Pakistani man has been


Stan Lee’s still working at 94

Legendary writer Stan Lee is showing no signs of slowing down despite having just turned 94. “I plan to keep creating characters with my company, Pow! Entertainment,” Lee says. “We just launched a new animated series called Stan Lee’s Cosmic Crusaders, a new digital graphic novel God Woke, and our TV show Lucky Man is going into its second season.” Lee, whose real name is Stanley Martin Lieber, is a comic-book writer, publisher, television host, actor and former president and chairman of Marvel Comics. The man, who turned a year older on December 28 last year, added that he loves his work and feels very fortunate to carry on with it for as long as he can. — IANS


Actor Akshay Kumar reveals his workload for 2017

Bollywood star Akshay Kumar has shared his line-up of films for the coming 12 months with his fans. “Busy summing up the year gone by? It’s time to not look back, but look ahead. Here’s what my 2017 looks like. Your thoughts, love and luck needed,” the 49-year-old tweeted. The first movie in the pipeline is a courtroom comedy drama titled Jolly LLB 2. Kumar’s second film is called Toilet — Ek Prem Katha, and is directed by Shree Narayan Singh. Following its release, the star will then be seen in the Tamil science-fiction action thriller 2.o before embarking upon his final project of the year, a biopic about Arunachalam Muruganantham called Pad Man. — IANS


Film director Ali Abbas Zafar makes Facebook debut

Director Ali Abbas Zafar, who had a blockbuster year in 2016 with the smash hit film Sultan, stepped into the world of social media on New Year’s Day. “Day 1 of the year, lots of things to do starting with the official Facebook page @Aliabbaszafarofficial … Please follow for all the updates,” the 36-year-old tweeted. Zafar shared pictures and posts with fans from his base in Paris where he was spending time for ‘work and holiday’ before celebrating the new year in Italy’s Vatican City. In the film Sultan, Khan played the lead role of a wrestling champion called Haryana who tries to make a comeback to represent India at the Olympics. — IANS


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a hit with moviegoers

The films Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Sing loomed large at movie theatres over the new year’s holiday, racking up the biggest revenues. The Star Wars spin-off topped the box office for the third consecutive weekend, earning just under $50 million (Dh183,000) for the three-day period and a projected $64 million for the four-day holiday. The science fiction action film concludes a record-annihilating year for Disney. The studio became the first to top $7 billion in a single year, has fielded four of the five top grossing domestic releases, and should see four of its movies top $1 billion at the global box office. — Reuters


Hollywood sign vandalised to read Hollyweed

For a few hours on New Year’s Day, the famous Hollywood sign in California was changed to read ‘Hollyweed’. Police said that during the night a prankster had used giant tarpaulin sheets to turn two of the iconic sign’s white ‘O’s’ into ‘E’s’. The vandal, who was captured on film by security cameras, could face a misdemeanour trespassing charge for having scaled a protective fence surrounding the sign above Griffith Park, according to authorities. The prank is not an original one having been previously carried out by a college student in 1976. — AP


Bambi artist Tyrus Wong dies aged 106

Tyrus Wong, the artist whose works inspired the Disney film Bambi, has died aged 106. A Chinese immigrant who settled in the United States, Wong’s vibrant paintings captured the attention of Walt Disney and became the animated film’s distinctive style. “His influence on the artistic composition of the animated feature Bambi cannot be overstated,” said The Walt Disney Family Museum in a statement. Wong began working with Disney in 1938 as an “inbetweener”, drawing hundreds of pictures between poses to create the illusion of motion. Wong worked at Disney for three years before moving to Warner Brothers as a concept artist while designing greeting cards for Hallmark on the side. — IANS

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BP has opted out of the first wave of agreements to develop oil and gas reserves in Iran after the lifting of international sanctions — setting it apart from its two biggest European rivals Royal Dutch Shell and Total.

Iran has struck a series of deals with foreign energy groups in recent weeks, including Total and Shell, and plans to award more contracts early in 2017 as Tehran’s efforts to attract much-needed foreign investment gather pace.

However, BP, which has its corporate roots in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company responsible for the first Iranian oil discovery in 1908, is taking a more cautious approach ahead of a Donald Trump presidency which threatens renewed diplomatic tensions with Tehran.

BP has not applied to take part in a forthcoming tender of exploration and production rights in Iran, according to people briefed on the matter, and has no immediate plans for separate agreements of the kind reached by Shell and Total.

These people said the main reason was commercial. “It’s a question of where the best returns on investment can be made and BP has plenty of attractive opportunities elsewhere,” said one.

However, these people acknowledged the continued existence of some US sanctions against Iran — and the prospects of a hardline stance against Tehran by the Trump administration — was a particular deterrent for BP.

Although based in the UK, BP has the biggest US exposure of any European oil group; about 40 per cent of its shareholders and 30 per cent of its employees are American, including Bob Dudley, chief executive.

US citizens are barred from commercial activities in Iran under Washington’s bilateral sanctions against Tehran. BP would have to set up a separate governance structure, excluding Mr Dudley and other US executives, to oversee any investments in Iran, according to people briefed on the matter. US energy groups such as ExxonMobil and Chevron have so far remained on the sidelines as Iran has opened up.

BP has made some tentative steps to rebuild ties with Iran — including the reopening of an office in Tehran and the acquisition of a cargo of Iranian oil in October — but more slowly than non-US rivals. A BP spokesman declined to comment.

Iran has the world’s second-largest gas reserves and fourth-largest oil reserves, according to the US Energy Information Administration, but urgently needs outside capital and expertise to modernise its ageing infrastructure.

The country aims to attract $200bn of oil and gas investment over the next five years, after the 2015 agreement with the world’s major powers to curb its nuclear programme led to the lifting of international sanctions.

Total of France became the first western oil major to make a renewed commitment when it signed a deal last month to develop the next phase of Iran’s giant South Pars gasfield together with China National Petroleum Corp.

UK-listed Shell followed earlier this month with a more tentative agreement for studies of the Azadegan and Yadavaran oilfields in south-west Iran as well as the Kish gasfields in the Gulf.

Other companies to have struck agreements with Tehran this year include Gazprom, Rosneft and Lukoil of Russia, ONGC of India and DNO of Norway. Iran has said dozens more applied to take part in a licensing round for up to 50 exploration and production blocs due to take place early in 2017.

Jason Rosychuk, a Dubai-based oil and gas specialist at Pinsent Masons, the law firm, said that, after a slow start, Tehran’s investment drive was gaining momentum. “The level of interest is high,” he said. “All companies are taking a look.”

Tehran has been racing to seal deals before Barack Obama steps down as US president this month. It remains unclear whether Mr Trump will follow through on his campaign trail promise to rip up the nuclear deal which Mr Obama orchestrated, but a renewed downturn in US-Iranian relations looks likely.

Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil chief executive nominated by Mr Trump to become secretary of state, will have a big role in policymaking on Iran if his appointment is approved by the US Senate.

Via FT

BP has opted out of the first

Welcome to a new year and the pressing market issues facing investors as they look to put money to work and navigate 2017.

Geopolitical surprises upended expectations last year and few predicted that 2016 would end with a global bull market in equities, while bond yields remain relatively low. Will strategists be any better at forecasting this time around? Here are the big questions that will preoccupy investors as the first trading days of the year unfold.

Are markets at risk of a Trump disappointment trade?

Investors have taken a leap of faith that the combination of fiscal stimulus and less onerous regulations for many businesses under president-elect Donald Trump will ignite the US economy and call time on the era of lacklustre growth and slumbering bond yields. In turn, the long-mooted great rotation has begun, with money leaving bonds and flowing into equities.

The S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average, Nasdaq Composite and Russell 2000 of small capitalisation stocks have all hit highs since November 8.

The yield on the 10-year US Treasury, meanwhile, has jumped from a low of 1.32 per cent in July to 2.5 per cent, as bond investors contemplate faster economic growth and higher rates ahead.

Yet is it too much, too soon, especially for a stock market many had judged to be expensive? A stronger dollar also looms over multinational US companies, offsetting cuts in taxes and regulation.

“Wall Street tends to get ahead of itself at times, and this appears to be one of those,” says Jenny Jones, head of US small and mid-cap equities at Schroders. “We do believe [Trump] will achieve many of his goals, but they seem to be close to fully priced now and they could take nine-18 months to accomplish. That leaves a lot of room for disappointment.”

How will Europe and the UK handle Brexit?

It may be only the eighth most traded currency pair, but euro-sterling price action offers a gauge for political risk as well as strong trading opportunities in 2017.

Talk of “hard Brexit” in which the UK forgoes single-market access to have full control over its borders has resulted in investors marking down the value of UK assets — selling the pound — and has cast doubt over London’s position as one of the world’s biggest financial centres.

Weakness in the euro against the pound on the back of Brexit developments would suggest a reduction in investors’ Brexit risk premium. Steven Saywell at BNP Paribas believes euro-sterling will fall. “Sterling is at an extreme pricing, it is vulnerable to positive surprises and a weakening in hard Brexit,” he says.

An outlandish prediction from Saxo Bank even has the euro falling to 73p on the basis that the EU will be forced by migration pressures in Europe to cede ground to the UK.

There is also the matter of what Brexit means for the future of the euro with France, Holland, Italy and Germany holding elections in 2017. If anti-euro movements gain the upper hand elsewhere, even Germany may reassess saving it, say Deutsche Bank group’s chief economist David Folkerts-Landau and chief German economist Stefan Schneider. “The pros of a single currency probably outweigh the cons for Germany — not least because its own currency would massively appreciate.”

Will the oil market balance?

Oil supply from the world’s biggest producers will be in focus from the first trading day of January as market participants assess the extent to which countries such as Saudi Arabia and Russia reduce production following a global deal to cut supplies for the first time since the global financial crisis.

There will also be keen interest in the return of US shale oil and the sustainability of supply recoveries by Libya and Nigeria, conflict-ridden nations that were left out of the output cut agreement.

The outcome of these unknowns will determine when oil supply and demand come into balance in 2017 and whether prices will remain above $50 a barrel. “Until we start to get answers, the debates will continue,” says Michael Wittner at Société Générale. “Until then, we believe that markets will enter a ‘wait and see’ mode; crude prices are likely to start trading within a relatively wide range”.

If Opec members and co-operating countries such as Russia succeed, they could finally draw down tanks brimming with excess crude — helping to end the commodity supply glut. The Bloomberg Commodity Index (BCOM), a basket of 22 futures contracts, rose nearly 12 per cent in 2016, its first annual rise since 2010. Alongside oil, industrial metals such as zinc and copper have also been climbing on hopes that stronger global growth will underpin demand.

Are global banks investable once more?

Banking equity indices in Japan, Europe and the US posted double-digit gains in the second half of 2016, marking a change of fortunes from earlier in the year when the sector was beset by worries about profitability erosion amid low and negative interest rates, strict regulation and fines for bad behaviour.

According to investors, one of the most important causes for optimism is the prospect of higher interest rates on stronger economic growth as policy gears switch from monetary to fiscal measures in the coming year. Rising long-term bond yields help banks by boosting their net interest margin — the difference between the rates on their borrowing and lending. “We remain broadly bullish on banks as a sector,” says Mark Dowding, partner at BlueBay Asset Management.

But the rebound will face a stern test, particularly in Europe where the health of the sector is in question. European banks are on course to be worth 0.68 times analyst estimates for the book value of their assets at the end of 2016. For all the share price movement, the valuation is less generous than it was a year ago.

Are financial conditions going to be tighter?

The last time there was a substantial and rapid rise in US government bond yields was more than two decades ago — in 1994. At the time, much of the financial world failed to anticipate the speed and pace of rate increases announced by the Federal Reserve — which led the yield on 10-year Treasuries to jump 2 percentage points in the space of five months.

Complacency this time around may be of a different kind. Investors appear to see a pro-growth Federal Reserve under Janet Yellen and expect three more rate raises in 2017.

Philippe Ithurbide, global head of research for Amundi Asset Management, says: “It is difficult to understand the message: how to have at the same time stronger growth, a weaker dollar and a more restrictive monetary policy?”

Real economic growth in the US is running at about 2 per cent, as is the rate of inflation, while the unemployment rate is low, figures that would have normally suggested a much higher level for interest rates. Should the Fed move too fast the repercussions could be severe. Six of the 12 tightening cycles since 1945 have resulted in a US recession within two years.

Has the EM tantrum got further to run?

Donald Trump’s election win intensified a rout in developing economy assets that spurred net redemptions from emerging market equity and bond funds at a pace not seen since the US bond taper tantrum of 2013.

The Mexican peso and Turkish lira plumbed record lows, as the post-election “Trump trade” spurred a stronger dollar and higher bond yields.

Only Russia appeared to escape the trend, thanks in part to discernible warmth between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

With capital flowing out of China in spite of efforts to stem it, and markets expecting further US rate rises in 2017, the largest investors in emerging markets are focusing on differentiation and “managing risk”.

“Questions remain with respect to how a Trump administration will deal with issues of trade and protectionism and whether campaign promises in relation to tariffs and trade deals materialise into something significant,” says Pierre-Yves Bareau, head of emerging market debt at JPMorgan Asset Management.

Will there be more public market listings?

The recent dearth of listings made last year the slowest for US IPOs since 2003 — but there are hopes of a rebound.

“There will be a significant pick-up [in listings] in 2017, and this will probably become most evident in the second quarter,” predicts JD Moriarty, head of Americas equity capital markets at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Bankers say the post-election equity rally and positive performance of 2016 deals bode well for a pick-up in activity next year. In contrast to 2015 deals, which ended that year down 6.5 per cent, 2016 listings are up on average by about 20 per cent, according to Dealogic.

There is also hope for a revival of tech initial public offerings. The hottest tech companies have avoided public markets in recent years, instead raising billions of dollars at attractive values privately.

Snap, the messaging app, is preparing for what is expected to be one of the largest tech listings in years as early as March. It is hoping for a valuation of $20bn to $25bn. If successful it could lure other tech “unicorns” — private tech companies that have achieved valuations of $1bn or more — to test the public markets.

Reporting by Elaine Moore, Dan McCrum, Roger Blitz, Nicole Bullock and Anjli Raval

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Welcome to a new year and the

KABUL Afghan President Ashraf Ghani suspended his minister for telecommunications and information technology on Monday while he is investigated over a levy on mobile telephone charges, officials said.

The removal of Communications Minister Abdul Razaq Wahidi adds to a lingering political crisis in Afghanistan, heightened in November when parliament passed no confidence votes against a number of ministers over poor performance and budgetary issues.

Yasin Sameem, a spokesman for the communications ministry, said the decision to suspend Wahidi was taken after an audit into the collection of a 10 percent tax on mobile phone topups imposed in 2015.

He said the president’s office, which has declared the fight against graft as a top priority, felt the ministry had not cooperated sufficiently with an investigation into alleged corruption surrounding the levy.

“We are committed to accountability and the minister will wait for the findings of the investigation,” Sameem said.

The mobile phone levy, which has raised millions of dollars for government coffers, was imposed as part of efforts to raise domestic tax revenue to make up for a gradual reduction in international donor aid in coming years.

While Wahidi’s suspension will not immediately affect the day-to-day functioning of the government, it highlights the difficulties Ghani has had in pushing through major reforms of the economy while fighting the Taliban insurgency.

Ghani ordered ministers removed by parliament to remain in their posts until a Supreme Court ruling on the affair but the standoff underlined the weakness of the national unity government formed after a disputed election in 2014.

(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Alison Williams)


KABUL Afghan President Ashraf Ghani suspended his

By Elizabeth Pineau

BAGHDAD France will fight any French jihadists it finds on the battlefields of Iraq, arrest them if they return home and work to de-radicalise their children, President Francois Hollande said on a visit to Baghdad on Monday.

There are about 60 French citizens fighting alongside Islamic State militants in the northern city of Mosul alone and hundreds more in the rest of the country and Syria, French diplomatic sources said.

“We will fight them like (we fight) all jihadists … since they are attacking us, since they prepare attacks on our own territory,” Hollande told a news conference.

The children of returning militants would be taken in and “de-radicalised,” he said on the one-day visit. “We are preparing for these returns and the very particular processing of these children.”

The Socialist president, whose country has faced a series of militant attacks in the past two years, said French soldiers serving in a U.S.-led coalition against the jihadists were preventing more mass killings at home.

“Everything that contributes to reconstructing Iraq is an additional step to avoiding Daesh strikes on our own territory,” Hollande said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Hollande has seen his popularity rating plummet since taking office, amid frustration over his handling of the economy and national security. He has said he will not stand again in presidential elections this year.

He will travel later on Monday to the Kurdish city of Erbil, where France will deliver about 38 tonnes of humanitarian aid, including medicine, officials said.

The European Union police agency Europol last month warned of the risk of an increased rate in the return of foreign fighters.

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces are currently fighting to push Islamic State, the Sunni Muslim militant group, from Mosul, the fighters’ last major stronghold in the country, but are facing fierce resistance.

It will likely take weeks to recapture Mosul, Hollande said. “Daesh is stepping back and Daesh will be defeated,” he said. “It’s a year that will be a year of victory, here, against terrorism.”

At least 16 people were killed by a car bomb in a busy square in Baghdad’s sprawling Sadr City district on Monday, while Islamic State attacks on military positions north of the capital killed 16 pro-government fighters, sources said.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Andrew Heavens)


Google has rolled out carrier billing option to two of India’s largest telecom operators, making it easier for more Indians to purchase apps, music and other items from marque Google Play Store. 

Users on Airtel and Vodafone, two carriers with over 460 million subscribers between them, can now pay for their purchases on Google Play using credit on their mobile phone. The company had told developers about this upcoming change at an event in October

Carrier billing feature has long been requested by Android users in India. Unlike Western nations, the penetration of debit and credit card is very low in India, stranding many with little choice to make digital purchases. 

“This is a big move,” Anuj Tandon, head of mobile games and marketing at game publishing firm Nazara Games told Mashable India after the event. “App and game developers have requested this feature for years. It should help remove the friction in making payments in a market like India.”

Previously, carrier billing was only available to Idea subscribers. The company last year rolled out Google Play prepaid vouchers in the country to make it a little convenient for people to purchase items from Google Play.  

With carrier billing (also known as operator billing), a user is able to pay for his or her purchases with the credit on their phone in case of a prepaid connection or it reflects in their monthly bill. This is one of the most convenient payment modes for digital purchases in emerging regions.

Google was also recently testing net banking option in India, with several users already seeing the payment modes on their Android phones. Interestingly, Google Play doesn’t yet support mobile wallet apps, which have grown immensely popular in India in the wake of demonetization

BONUS: Get Lost in Google’s Interactive ‘Music Timeline’

Via ASDA Alltop

Google has rolled out carrier billing option

Image: Getty Images / mashable composite 

LONDON — There’s no hiding place on Twitter when you’re president-elect of the United States.

Your tweets, favourites and even the accounts you follow are under constant scrutiny. Especially when you start following an account dedicated to fluffy little kittens. 

That’s right. Donald Trump — soon to become the 45th president of the United States — followed ‘Emergency Kittens’ on Twitter for a few hours. As you might have guessed, ‘Emergency Kittens‘ is an account dedicated to photos and videos of tiny felines. 

Their mission — as outlined in their Twitter bio — is simple: “Critiquing the cutest cats online!” What’s not to love?

On Sunday night, Trump followed the account, which lays claim to almost 2 million followers. Was it an accident? Or did Trump just admit to the world that he secretly really, really, really loves kitties? 

Trump doesn’t follow very many people on Twitter. Indeed, until recently he was following a mere 41 people. The list — not including the kitten account — comprises politicians connected to the Trump campaign, members of his family, a select few journalists, and accounts belonging to his businesses. 

Naturally, the addition to the list of accounts Trump’s following caused a stir on Twitter. 

The person behind the account decided to reach out to their new follower with a private message containing the opening line of a joke. Trump, however, didn’t wait around for the punchline and unfollowed ‘Emergency Kittens’. 

We’ll likely never know if this out-of-character Twitter follow was accidental, or a hint that Trump is secretly nurturing a love for tiny kittens. Let’s hope it’s the latter. 

BONUS: Christmas Kittens Frolickicking by the Yule Log

Via ASDA Alltop

Image: Getty Images / mashable composite By



Volcanologist Carolyn Parcheta builds robots in her quest to uncover the secrets of volcanoes. 

‘How She Works’ is a new series from Mashable highlighting women in diverse occupations. 

Watch more episodes on our YouTube channel.

More about Engineer, Volcanobot, Robots, Robot, and Volcano

Via ASDA Alltop

Volcanologist Carolyn Parcheta builds robots in her

LONDON — It’s not everyday that an enormous crocodile strolls into someone’s back garden. 

But, when a 3.5-metre crocodile strutted into the backyard of a house in Karumba in Queensland, Australia, on New Year’s Eve, locals found themselves building a makeshift trap with a few unusual garden objects. 

“The croc enjoyed basking in the backyard for a few hours from around 6am before he made the snappy decision to move out to the front gate where he remained for the rest of the day,” reads Queensland Police’s account of the dramatic events. 

“Officers and locals initially orchestrated a line of wheelie bins in an attempt to funnel him back towards the water but it became clear he wasn’t keen to move,” the account continued. 

When the wheelie bin “funnel” plan was showing no signs of working, police then decided it was best to keep him in one place and ensure he didn’t wander off. They decided that hay bales were the best option for a makeshift trap. 

“Officers then made the large scale decision to box him in with hay bales and contain him until wildlife experts from Cairns arrived to relocate him.”

Aye, Karumba!

BONUS: Firefighters rescue dog that slipped through the ice on Lake Michigan

Via ASDA Alltop

LONDON — It's not everyday that an

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on Monday launched Dubai Harbour, a new waterfront destination that will feature the MENA region’s largest marina and the Dubai Lighthouse.

The mega project will also include a cruise ship port, shopping mall, events arena, residential buildings, hotels, offices and shops.

Dubai Harbour will be located on King Salman Street, in the area between JBR and Palm Jumeirah, and will be spread over 20 million sq ft.

In a series of tweets, it was announced that the development will be completed in four years in phases by developer Meraas, and will include a 1,400-berth marina, a shopping mall covering 3.5 million sq ft, and the Dubai Lighthouse.

The Dubai Lighthouse will feature a luxury hotel and an observation deck that offers 360 degree views. Its facade will also be used as a gigantic screen for high resolution projections and light shows. 

The masterplan of the new destination integrates Skydive Dubai, Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC) and Logo Island into a single community.

Sheikh Mohammed said: “We are happy that this new project, which represents a unique and innovative new addition to the region’s tourism landscape, opens up a range of new opportunities to investors.

“Dubai Harbour creates a venue for new investments that support our vision for this important sector and promises to further accelerate the expansion of the tourism industry in the UAE, which is already growing rapidly. I am confident that the project will have a highly positive impact on our entire region’s tourism sector.

He added that Dubai Harbour is also set to enhance the city’s profile as a magnet for wealth and investment. The project promises to be an attractive destination for GCC yacht owners, who own one third of the world’s largest superyachts. 

The project will also feature water stations in various areas of the destination including under the shopping mall and selected hotels while there will also be three helipads.

Dubai Harbour will also offer a transport network and a connected road grid and monorail system that can transport passengers between different areas of the destination.

The project will play a vital role in raising Dubai’s global profile as a cruise ship hub, with a new passenger terminal, offering a duty free shopping experience, capable of accommodating 6,000 passengers at one time.

In 2017, Dubai is expected to receive 650,000 maritime travellers, while 25.3 million passengers are expected to sail around the world, according to a report published recently by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).

The residential offerings of the project will include high and low rise buildings, waterfront villas and houses. There will also be a wide selection of retail outlets, restaurants and cafes.

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Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al

CAIRO Islamic State claimed responsibility on Monday for a New Year’s Day mass shooting in a packed Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 people, an attack carried out by a lone gunman who remains at large.

The jihadist group made the claim in a statement on one of its Telegram channels, a method it has used to claim attacks in the past. There was no immediate comment from Turkish officials.

“In continuation of the blessed operations that Islamic State is conducting against the protector of the cross, Turkey, a heroic soldier of the caliphate struck one of the most famous nightclubs where the Christians celebrate their apostate holiday,” the statement said.

NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and launched an incursion into Syria in August to drive the radical Sunni militants from its borders.

The authorities believe the assailant may be from a Central Asian nation and suspect he had links to Islamic State, Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper said. Police distributed a hazy black-and-white photo of the alleged attacker taken from security footage.

The shooting at the Reina nightclub on the shores of Istanbul’s Bosphorus waterway shook Turkey as it tries to recover from a failed July coup and a series of deadly bombings in cities including Istanbul and the capital Ankara, some blamed on Islamic State and others claimed by Kurdish militants.

Some people jumped into the Bosphorus to save themselves after the attacker began shooting at random just over an hour into the new year. Witnesses described diving under tables as he walked around spraying bullets from an automatic rifle.

Nationals of Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Libya, Israel, India, a Turkish-Belgian dual citizen and a Franco-Tunisian woman were among those killed, officials said. Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh said five of the dead were from Saudi Arabia.

Security services had been on alert across Europe for new year celebrations following an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12 people. Only days ago, an online message from a pro-Islamic State group called for attacks by “lone wolves” on “celebrations, gatherings and clubs”.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Ahmed Tolba; Editing by Giles Elgood and Ralph Boulton)


CAIRO Islamic State claimed responsibility on Monday

The mega-extravaganza of the tech world in Las Vegas is showcasing an array of new devices that get smarts from computer chips, sensors and artificial intelligence, but go further by opening doors to augmented or virtual realities.

The Consumer Electronics Show, which begins with a series of media events Tuesday will offer trade professionals a look at new robotics, connected cars and a dizzying assortment of gizmos from connected sneakers to drones.

This year’s show will see results of a boost in computing power from , which can help power things like autonomous cars, and deliver new experiences such as augmented or virtual reality.

“Virtual reality is changing the game for a variety of industries including health care, agriculture, manufacturing and business,” said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association that organizes the annual show, in a Reddit chat.

“Doctors are using VR to enhance traditional therapies, architects use VR to design stronger buildings and travel agencies are using it to simplify vacation planning.”

CES will celebrate its 50th anniversary at the gathering, and organizers promised it would have the largest showcase of VR technology ever.

One CES panel discussion will examine how virtual reality is transforming television, movies and even news with immersive forms of video.

A host of will entice attendees at the trade-only show.

Cars will feature displays to provide a better sense of the environment around them, while similar technologies will be showcased for smart glasses, medicine and beauty makeovers.

Enhancing reality

Robin Raskin, who heads the Living in Digital Times center of the show, said is catching on with try-and-see beauty apps, in-store virtual mirrors and toys.

Augmented reality, she said, “lets us look at the real world and add valuable, entertaining and immersive information to it.”

Analyst Jack Gold at J. Gold Associates said that despite the potential benefits of virtual and augmented reality in business or industry, “gaming is where it is going to take off first,” because that’s where people are spending money.

“The issue is not whether it has the potential to transform things, but whether you can put it into a space where consumers can afford it and give enough additional information so people are able to use it,” Gold said.

CES is among the world’s biggest trade shows, and last year drew 177,000 attendees over exhibit space of 2.47 million square feet (230,000 square meters). This year, 150 countries will be represented.

It will include big industry names such as Sony, LG and Samsung in electronics, with the perennial battle to have the sleekest most gorgeous television screen.

Meanwhile, in attendance will be more than 600 startups from 33 countries, including first-time participants—the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Ukraine.

Auto-industry titans including Ford and BMW are increasingly using CES to show off technology packed into vehicles for efficiency, safety, entertainment and navigation.

Race for autonomy

The show will feature demonstrations of autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles, including one from Japan’s Honda said to be equipped with an artificial intelligence “emotion engine” that aims to better understand its occupants.

Electric car startup Faraday Future, one of several manufacturers taking on Tesla, is expected to unveil its first production car a year after showing a prototype.

Renault-Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn has promised to discuss “a major technological breakthrough in the realization of a zero-emission, zero-fatality world for everyone,” according to a statement from CES organizers.

Humanoid robots

The show is also expected to feature advances in robotics, with more human-like robots and the public debut of “Professor Einstein” from Hanson Robotics.

Getting a boost from artificial intelligence, some new robots at the show will keep an eye on the kids, play chess or help with homework.

Gold said he expects to see a large number of drones looking for a slice of a surging market.

“This is really the year of the drone, and everybody is trying to get into this market,” he said.

But he added that the strongest potential for drones may be with businesses, with uses including aerial photography.

On the smartphone front, South Korea’s LG will show a range of new “mid-range” handsets and China’s Huawei has a smartphone event scheduled. TCL, the Chinese firm which owns the Alcatel brand, will unveil new BlackBerry handsets following its deal for the troubled Canadian brand.

The floor will see a host of new and improved connected home technologies that manage everything from light bulbs to refrigerators.

“We’re pretty close on things like the smart home, where we’re going to get up one day and everybody is going to speak to their refrigerators,” said NPD analyst Stephen Baker.

Carolina Milanesi of the consultancy Creative Strategies said 2016 “has seen material progress” in some new technologies that will result in products hitting the marketplace, even though not all will be hits.

“In some cases, it’s because the consumers weren’t really asking for it,” she said.

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These are the main events that took place in February 2016.

3 February

The government proposed to completely repeal two articles in the Criminal Code which make it illegal to vilify religion “by words, gestures, written matter, whether printed or not, or pictures or by some other visible means. Another of the amendments proposed was to criminalise revenge porn.

3 February

The government in the afternoon said that it had had approved Caroline Farrugia Frendo, who is Speaker Anglu Farrugia’s daughter, and Ingrid Zammit Young to join the benches of the judiciary.

Dr Farrugia Frendo, as it had transpires, was only legally eligible to take up the post some three days before she was approved. Dr Zammit Young’s nomination withdrew her nomination because according to law, if a person has sat on the Employment Commission they must have resigned from their post for at least three years before being eligible for a magisterial appointment.


6 February

Twenty-three people were arraigned in connection with the November incident at the PlusOne club in Paceville, in which over 70 people were injured. The accused include three directors and two managers employed by the nightclub.

18 February

German MEP and Chair of the EU Parliamentary Committee on Employment and Social Affairs Thomas Handel drew attention to the alleged exploitation of North Korean workers in Malta at Leisure Clothing factory, sending letters to a number of EU agencies.

The Leisure Clothing case was one that shocked the island when the case went before the courts, with allegations of sub-standard working conditions, low wages and misappropriation of wages being made


20 February

Parents of students attending San Anton School were incensed at the school authorities after a wall being constructed as part of the extension project collapsed during school hours, luckily injuring no-one but damaging cars belonging to teachers.

21 February

The government and church were at loggerheads over the gay conversion therapy bill that seeks to outlaw ‘conversion therapy’, a practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation and that is widely acknowledged to be harmful and more-often than not traumatic. The church was accused of equating homosexuality to an illness due to a position paper it penned. It vehemently denied this. The bill was recently made into law, making headlines all over the developed world.


25 February

Sparks flew in Parliament when Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil demanded a statement from Prime Minister Joseph Muscat over what he described as the “shocking news” that former energy and health minister Konrad Mizzi holds a shell company in Panama and a trust in New Zealand. Blogger and The Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia had revealed, one day prior, that the trust set up in New Zealand by Dr Mizzi contains a shell company which has been registered in Panama, a company registered to be a ‘non cooperative jurisdiction’ by the European Commission. These revelations sparked months of heated political debate, with many people – not just the opposition – calling for Dr Mizzi’s resignation.

It later transpired that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri had the exact same financial structure as Dr Mizzi, and that there was a mysterious third company, named Egrant, registered at the same time as Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri’s Panamanian companies. The identity behind the ultimate beneficial owner of Egrant is not known.  

This scandal took on an international spotlight as a result of millions of documents from Mossack Fonseca, the Panama based corporate service provider at the centre of the scandal, leaked to a German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists together with Zeitung and a number of other partners exposed how the world’s elite go through expensive and complicated processes to conceal their wealth. While having a company based in a financially secretive jurisdiction like Panama does not necessarily amount to illegalities, the fact that both quantities and sources of wealth is easily concealed provides a framework for wrongdoing to take place. No-portfolio Minister Konrad Mizzi claimed political naivety but insisted that he did not intend to do anything irregular.


26 February

Despite being embroiled in this fast-growing scandal, with new information coming to light around every corner, Dr Mizzi received an overwhelming endorsement as the new Labour Party deputy leader, bagging 672 or 96.6% of the 696 valid votes cast. This was later taken from him because of his role in the Panama Papers.


28 February

Following a week of rampant speculation, Minister Konrad Mizzi revealed the names of and the dates on which his trust in New Zealand and the shell company held by that trust in Panama were established. From the documentation made available by Dr Mizzi, it transpires that Dr Mizzi became the ultimate beneficial owner of the Panamanian company, named Hearnville Inc., on 2 June 2015, a few weeks before Panama was blacklisted by the European Commission over its financial secrecy. A document dated 26 February 2016 signed by the former owners of the company in question, ATC Administrators Inc., says that between 2 June 2015 and 21 July 2015, “all the shares in the company were held in our name for the exclusive benefit of Mr Konrad Mizzi”. Additional research conducted by this newspaper indeed shows that while Hearnville Inc. had first been incorporated on 9 July 2013, it had at the time been registered by ATC Administrators, which later sold the company in 2015 to the trust held by Dr Mizzi.

(via Google News)

By Sankalp Phartiyal

MUMBAI Smartphone component maker Wistron Corp, which counts Apple Inc among its customers, has applied for permission to expand its plant in the Indian city of Bengaluru, a high-ranking regional government official said on Monday.

The Taiwanese contract manufacturer has also requested that its application be fast-tracked, the official at the state government of Karnataka in southern India told Reuters.

The move comes less than two weeks after the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was in talks with India’s federal government about the possibility of assembling products in one of the world’s biggest smartphone markets, where the U.S. tech firm controls less than 2 percent.

Apple setting up production in India would be a significant win for the government which has embarked on a major campaign to attract global manufacturers under the slogan “Make in India”.

“Wistron has approached us to expedite certain clearances with regards to the augmentation and expansion of its existing unit,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter and so declined to be identified.

Whether Apple will begin manufacturing in India is unknown, but Wistron’s desire to expand “pretty quickly” could represent “several steps in that direction,” the official said.

Apple did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Wistron could not be reached for comment.

Analysts have said local manufacturing could come as part of a wider strategy for Apple to expand in India and even lower prices after Chief Executive Tim Cook visited the country in May and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Certainly that (local manufacturing) will help in some level of cost optimization,” said Gartner research director Anshul Gupta. “Because looking at the current tax structure, local facilities do provide some kind of cost advantage.”

Another of Apple’s Taiwanese suppliers, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd – commonly known as Foxconn – also has a manufacturing facility in southern India.

(Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Christopher Cushing)


A New York City agency has issued 55-year old Sara Kelly Keenan a birth certificate that bears the word intersex in the gender field.

Keenan, who uses female pronouns, was born with male genes and female genitalia. The corrected birth certificate she received via mail last month is the first known intersex birth certificate that was issued in the United States.

New Option For People With Non-Binary Gender

About one in 2,000 children born each year can be considered as intersex, but they would have to be classified as either male or female in their birth certificate. The issuance of Keenan’s intersex birth certificate could pave way for changes that would have significant impact on the lives of people who have non-binary gender.

While it is relatively simple to change a person’s gender from male to female and vice versa — as long as the necessary medical care and documentation are provided — there is a need for another option for those who were born intersex and those who do not identify themselves to either binary genders. One American was reissued a birth certificate bearing “hermaphrodite” and several do not have the sex specified on their birth certificates.

Julien Martinez, Assistant Press Secretary of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), which issued the new birth certificate, said that Keenan’s case revealed that the agency is working to adapt to changes that would more accurately reflect a person’s sex.

Keenan is not the first intersex person to legally fight for her recognition on identity documents but hers is the first known case to finally have intersex written on her birth document.

How Intersex Birth Certificate May Affect People Belonging To Third Gender

Her success could pave way for more of such certificates and may help improve the healthcare of those belonging to the third gender. The issuance of the certificate may likewise eventually simplify efforts of non-binary persons to gain access to essential documents.

“In the United States, birth certificates often provide access to a wide range of public services and critical identity documents, such as state IDs and passports,” said Lambda Legal attorney Paul Castillo.

“Having birth certificates with gender designations other than male or female provides an enormous sense of validation for a number of non-binary and intersex people.”

Keenan’s case may eventually pave way for changes in the lives of people and children who are born intersex. Thirty people in the United States are currently on the waiting list to change their gender.

“In bringing this change, all the intersex children born now and yet to be born are my children because I can bring change for them,” Keenan said. “I don’t have a biological piece of the future but I have a heart piece of the future through those children because I can help them and give them a better experience.”

© 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

(Via TechTimes)

A New York City agency has issued

· Hamriya, Rashidya and Al Aweer branches added to the network of bank’s disability-friendly branches

· Jumeirah branch to now offer Braille currency for its customers with visual disabilities

· Emirates NBD’s #TogetherLimitless platform committed to transforming additional branches in 2017 and creating an inclusive community for people with disabilities in the UAE

02 January 2017

Dubai – Emirates NBD, a leading bank in the region, has expanded its disability-friendly branch network to include the Hamriya, Rashidya and Al Aweer branches, in addition to the Jumeirah and Jumeirah Emirates Towers branches. The bank has also implemented the distribution of Braille currency in its Jumeirah branch for customers with vision disabilities, and will remain committed to enabling financial inclusion for people with disabilities in the UAE into 2017.

In its first phase of modification, employees of Hamriya, Rashidiya and Al Aweer branches were trained on disability etiquette and the privileges offered to Sanad Card* holders. To enhance mobility access, branches have been equipped with sliding doors, accessible low-height ATMs and cheque writing counters, in addition to designated car parking spots. To provide people with visual impairment ease of direction within the branch, tactile floor indicators have been installed. All branches also offer priority queuing and a separate waiting area to provide an easier and more elevated branch experience for people with disabilities.

Commenting on the announcement, Husam Al Sayed, Group Chief Human Resource Officer at Emirates NBD said: “Step by step, we are working to transform our entire

institution into one that caters to the needs of people with disabilities in the UAE and furthers their financial inclusion and independence. The three additional branches that have been transformed this year attract a large percentage of Emirates NBD’s customer base with disabilities and we are happy to provide them a far superior and inclusive customer experience.”


The bank will also be launching the distribution of Braille currency, issued by the Central Bank of the UAE, in its Jumeirah branch to further empower its customers with visual disabilities and offer them the independence of processing their own branch transactions.

Ahmed Al Marzouqi, Executive Vice President & General Manager of Retail Distribution at Emirates NBDadded: “With the introduction of Braille currency in our branches, we hope to set an example in the UAE banking industry and offer our customers with visual disabilities the ability to manage their own cash transactions. Starting with the Jumeirah branch, the distribution of Braille notes will extend to the rest of our branches and we envision a society in which disability-friendly currency will be the norm. Going forward, Emirates NBD will continue to find more ways to elevate the customer experience of people with disabilities and offer them products and services that support both their integration and independence financially.”

Emirates NBD’s commitment to people with disabilities supports the ‘#MyCommunity’ initiative launched by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council that aims to transform Dubai to a disability-friendly city by 2020. Under #TogetherLimitless, its flagship advocacy program, the bank has undertaken several initiatives in the past year to foster the sustainable long-term improvement and integration of people with disabilities into the community, including launching the Careers Network to facilitate workplace inclusion of people with cognitive disabilities, opening disability-friendly bank branches, promoting financial inclusion by offering Sanad card holders (privilege access card developed by CDA for people with disabilities) the Emirates NBD ‘Beyond from Personal Banking’ package, exempt of minimum salary  as well as publishing a research report on the banking and financial habits and attitudes of people with disabilities in the UAE. The advocacy platform won the Arabia CSR Awards in the Partnerships and Collaborations category in 2015 for its strategic partnership with Manzil’s PRIDE (People Receiving Independence and Dignity through Empowerment) programme.

Iman Ahmed
Senior Manager – Media Relations
ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller 
P.O.Box 28063, Dubai, UAE 
T: T: +971 4 4507600 , D: D: +971 4 4507650; M: 00971 50 2058021 
[email protected], www.asdaabm.com

© Press Release 2017

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