Pakistani and Indian armies discuss border clashes

Pakistan’s military talked to its Indian counterparts on October 14 about recent clashes along the border with the Himalayan region of Kashmir that have killed 20 people in the past week, two army officials said.

The director of the Pakistan army’s military operations spoke with his Indian counterpart in a hotline call to convey his concern over Indian border guards’ ‘consistent unprovoked firing on (the) civil population,’ an official said. Speaking on October 14, a second official said, ‘There was no violation of the 2003 cease-fire accord from India today.’

Both officials, speaking anonymously, declined to share India’s response about the violence that started on October 5 in Kashmir, which is divided between Pakistan and India and which both sides claim in its entirety.

Although minor skirmishes in Kashmir are common, the latest clashes marked the most serious violation of a 2003 cease-fire accord brokered between India and Pakistan. The violence forced thousands of villagers to flee at a time when people in Pakistan and India were celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

The clashes — which both Pakistan and India blame the other for starting — came after New Delhi abruptly cancelled talks with Pakistan after its ambassador met with Kashmiri separatist leaders. The mostly Muslim region has seen fighting off and on for decades. Pakistan and India have fought two wars over the mountainous territory.

Malala and Kailash Satyarthi win Nobel Peace Prize

Pakistani child education activist Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian child rights campaigner, have jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize.

At the age of just 17, Malala is the youngest ever recipient of the prize, announced on October 10. The teenager was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in October 2012 for campaigning for girls’ education and now lives in Birmingham, UK.

Speaking at a news conference, Malala said she was ‘honoured’ to receive the award, adding, ‘I’m really happy to be sharing this award with a person from India.’

Mr Satyarthi, who founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or the ‘Save the Childhood Movement’, has maintained the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and headed various forms of peaceful protests, ‘focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain’, the committee said at the Nobel Institute in Oslo.

Reacting to the news, Mr Satyarthi told the BBC: ‘It’s a great honour for all the Indians…And I dedicate this award to all those children in the world.’

In Pakistan, though, the news of Malala’s win met with mixed reactions. While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former President Asif Zardari congratulated her and the people of Pakistan on the rare achievement, on social media messages of congratulation were followed closely by scornful and sarcastic ones. The award did not make breaking news on Pakistani TV, with many Pakistanis remaining unaware that Malala had been nominated. Journalist Tariq Khattack actually condemned the award, saying: ‘It’s a political decision and a conspiracy…. She’s selling what the West will buy.’

However, the Nobel committee praised the pair’s ‘struggle against the suppression of children and young people’. The committee said it was important that a Muslim and a Hindu, a Pakistani and an Indian, had joined in what it called a common struggle for education and against extremism.

China sentences 12 to death for July terror attacks

Acourt in China’s western Xinjiang region has sentenced to death 12 people blamed for terrorist attacks that killed 37 people in July, state media reported on October 13.

Xinhua News Agency said the court in Kashgar prefecture sentenced another 15 people to death with a two-year reprieve, and nine people received life sentences. Xinhua said another 20 defendants received terms of four to 20 years.

Xinhua reported in August that attackers armed with knives and axes had stormed a police station and government offices in Elixku township before moving onto nearby Huangdi township. Xinhua said the police had killed 59 of the attackers.

The US-based Uighur American Association, however, said police opened fire on people protesting a security crackdown on Muslims during Ramadan, killing more than 20.

Verifying what happened is impossible due to China’s tight control over the region.

Tensions have run high between the Muslim Uighur ethnic group and Han Chinese in Xinjiang, with ethnic violence claiming hundreds of lives over the past year. Chinese authorities say they are battling separatist terrorists in the region, but Uighur groups say Chinese authorities have suppressed their religion and culture and violently cracked down on Uighurs who have voiced discontent.

Kurds recapture strategic site in battle against IS

Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State (IS) said on October 14 they have recaptured a strategically important hilltop west of Kobane on Syria’s border with Turkey.

The advances were made after a series of air strikes by the US-led coalition. The hill, Tall Shair, was captured more than 10 days previously by IS militants, who have besieged the area for a month.

US President Barack Obama was holding talks on October 14 with military chiefs from more than 20 countries on how to combat IS in Syria and Iraq. Correspondents say the meeting in Washington is the first time such high-ranking military officials from so many countries have come together since the US-led coalition was formed in September.

In a separate development, on October 13 Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebel targets in Hakkari province near the Iraqi border, causing ‘heavy casualties, according to Turkish media reports. If confirmed, this would be the first major air raid by Turkey on the PKK since a ceasefire was reached in March in 2013.

The battle for Kobane, a predominantly Kurdish town, has emerged as a major test of whether the coalition’s air campaign can push back IS. Two weeks of air strikes against IS targets in and around Kobane have allowed Kurdish fighters to slow the jihadists’ advance, but Turkish and Western leaders have warned that the town is still likely to fall.

India’s cyclone destroys homes but casualties are few

Cyclone Hudhud powered its way inland over eastern India, leaving a swathe of destruction in its wake. However the loss of life appeared limited after tens of thousands of people sought safety in storm shelters, aid workers and officials said.

Packing wind speeds of up to 195 kph, Hudhud hammered the coasts of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states on October 12, killing at least eight people and causing widespread devastation.

In the port city of Visakhapatnam, which is home to two million people, the storm uprooted trees, tore sign boards off buildings, snapped telecom and power lines and ripped roofs and walls from scores of homes.

Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu, visiting Visakhapatnam on October 13, said all possible support would be given to those affected, including monetary compensation to people with damaged homes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he would be visiting the area on October 14, saying: ‘Have been constantly taking updates on Cyclone Hudhud … Will visit Visakhapatnam and take stock of the situation.’
The low death toll reported so far followed an operation to evacuate more than 150,000 people to minimize the risk to lives from Hudhud — similar in size and power to cyclone Phailin that struck the area exactly a year ago.

Meanwhile, supertyphoon Vongfong is set to inflict widespread damage on mainland Japan, and is expected to travel the length of the country with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph. Vongfong has already injured 35 people on Okinawa and authorities warned 150,000 on the next island of Kyushu to leave.

UK introduces new measures to combat Ebola

The Ebola epidemic is the ‘most severe acute health emergency in modern times’, the World Health Organisation has warned, as the UK government is set to announce ‘important changes’ in the NHS and airport screening to tackle a possible outbreak.

Enhanced screening for the virus at Heathrow’s Terminal 1 will be introduced from October 14, before being rolled out at Gatwick and Eurostar terminals by the end of the following week, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced.

He also confirmed that new NHS phoneline initiatives would be put in place. Call handlers on the NHS 111 service are to question anyone ringing up with possible symptoms of the disease about their recent travel history to see if they have been to West Africa, where the death toll has passed 4,000 people.

Mr Hunt said, ‘It is now more likely that someone will eventually be diagnosed in the UK with Ebola. It is crucial that we are prepared for what happens when they make their first contact with the NHS.’

The number of new cases of Ebola is now ‘rising exponentially’ in the three hardest-hit countries — Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Mr Hunt has insisted that the UK has ‘robust and well-tested systems for dealing with any imported case of Ebola’ but the need for further measures was ‘under review and we will never be complacent’.

The United States has announced its second case of Ebola, in a Texas hospital worker who was in contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, who died from the virus on October 8. Officials in Dallas said there had been a breach of protocol that led to the unnamed woman becoming infected after she wore full protective gear while treating Mr Duncan.

Pro-democracy refugees accuse Bahrain of hacking

Three pro-democracy activists say they have been hacked by Bahrain’s government while living in Britain, one of a growing number of cases in which refugees say malicious software has been used to keep tabs on their activities abroad.

Moosa Abd-Ali Ali, Jaafar Al Hasabi and Saeed Al-Shehabi are at the heart of a criminal complaint alleging that Bahrain’s government infected their computers with FinFisher, a powerful piece of espionage software.

The complaint, filed with British police by London-based advocacy group Privacy International on October 13, is the latest in a series of allegations of cross-border hacking by repressive governments.

Similar complaints have recently been filed on behalf of Ethiopian refugees living in Britain and suburban Maryland.

The Bahrain Embassy said it had no immediate comment on the allegations. British officials haven’t commented.

FCO to host UK’s first Pravasi Bharatiya Divas

On Friday October 17, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is hosting a UK government reception celebrating the UK’s Indian diaspora community. It will mark the first ever regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas event — the Indian government’s flagship diaspora convention — to be held in the UK.

The UK’s Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, will open the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (taking place from 1718 October) with Indian Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs and External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj.

Deputy Prime Minister the Rt Hon Nick Clegg will present the very first UK-India Dadabhai Naoroji Awards to the 2014 winners. Speaking before the event, Mr Clegg said, ‘The UK-India relationship is going from strength to strength, as I saw in August when I visited Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. The Indian diaspora community is an integral part of British life, contributing to every aspect of our society and helping to strengthen ties between Britain and India.’

The Prime Minister’s UK Indian Diaspora Champion, Priti Patel MP, also speaking ahead of the event, said: ‘I am immensely proud that the UK is home to such a talented and ambitious Indian diaspora. We are absolutely delighted that the UK — home to 1.5 million members of the global Indian diaspora — has been chosen as host nation for this first diaspora convention under the new Indian government.’

Ukip’s Farage wants Europe referendum by July 2015

Nigel Farage will demand an immediate referendum on leaving the EU as his price for supporting a Conservative government after next May’s general election.

The Ukip leader said his support for David Cameron would depend on an in-out referendum as early as July 2015. He told the BBC, ‘I want to have a referendum on this great question next year, and if Ukip can maintain its momentum and get enough seats in Westminster, we might be able to achieve that.’

Mr Farage’s resurgent party raced to a record 25 per cent in a poll over the weekend of October 11- 12 — enough to leave the Tories relying on Ukip MPs to stay in power. The poll by Survation sees Labour and the Conservatives tied on 31 per cent, which will cause concern for both Cameron and Ed Milliband ahead of next month’s Rochester and Strood by-election, caused by the defection of Tory MP Mark Reckless.

Tory defector Douglas Carswell, who won the Clacton by-election for UKIP on October 9, said his former party was in trouble, adding: ‘The way the Tory party is retailing politics is…a defunct retail model.’

A Conservative spokesman said a vote for them was the only way of guaranteeing a referendum.

Calais police strike over immigrant crisis

Police in Calais went on strike on October 13 in protest at the influx of migrants ‘threatening public safety’ as they try to enter Britain.

Officers in the French port say the crime rate is soaring, with violent clashes between rival groups and gangs stealing food before they try to board lorries heading across the Channel. The French police also say they are forced to use baton charges and tear gas to stop ‘mass onslaughts’ on UK-bound vehicles.

‘Officers can no longer provide for their own safety, let alone that of Calais,’ said Gilles Debove of Unité SGP Police-Force Ouvrière, which called the industrial action. ‘There are between 2,000 and 2, 500 migrants in the town, three per cent of the population of Calais.’ The migrants are from countries including Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Afghanistan, Mr Debove added.

Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart threatened to close the docks last month after migrants tried to storm a ferry.

Spain: Catalonia calls off independence vote

The leader of Spain’s wealthy Catalonia region on October 14 called off an independence vote but said an unofficial poll will take place next month to gauge secessionist sentiment.

Artur Mas was forced to cancel the November 9 referendum and replace it with a symbolic one on the same day after Spain’s government challenged the referendum in the country’s Constitutional Court, which suspended the vote while it deliberates.

Separatists in northeastern Catalonia, which has 7.5 million people, have been trying for several years to hold a breakaway vote from Spain to carve out a new Mediterranean nation. Secessionist sentiment surged during Spain’s economic stagnation and amid discontent at Spain’s refusal to give the region more autonomy and fiscal powers.

Polls show most Catalans support holding an independence referendum and around half favour ending centuries-old ties with Spain.

Mas insisted his regional government is not backtracking and still plans an official vote later, saying the symbolic vote will serve as a ‘preliminary’ ballot. Mas said, ‘It will depend on the people for a strong enough participation to show that people here want to vote.’ The vote questions will be the same, asking residents if they think Catalonia should be a state, and, if so, whether it should be independent.

Unlike last month’s independence referendum in Scotland, which ended with voters deciding to remain part of the United Kingdom, the vote that Catalonia separatists wanted to hold would have been nonbinding.

Militants Islamic State Six TTP leaders pledge allegiance to IS chief

Six leading militants of the outlawed Tehreek­i­Taliban Pakistan, including its spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, have announced their allegiance to Abu Bakar Al­Baghdadi, the chief of the Islamic State (IS), formerly called the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham.

Besides Shahidullah, they are chiefs of TTP’s Orakzai Agency Saeed Khan, Kurram Agency Daulat, Khyber Agency Fateh Gul Zaman, Peshawar Mufti Hassan and Hangu Khalid Mansoor.

The announcement does not mean that they have quit the TTP. They will continue to lead the banned outfit in their areas and abide by the orders of Taliban leadership. In a statement issued here on Tuesday, Shahidullah pledged “allegiance to Amirul Momineen Abu Bakar Al­Baghdadi” and said he would “abide by all his decisions… whatever the circumstances I shall be loyal to him and obey his directives”. He said this decision by the six had nothing to do with the TTP or its chief Maulana Fazlullah.

According to the statement in Urdu and Arabic, the TTP chief has also extended his support to the IS, but has not pledged his allegiance to Al­Baghdadi. Shahidullah himself had earlier extended his support to the IS on three occasions, but now he and his associates announced their allegiance to Al­Baghdadi. The first time he extended support to Al­Baghdadi well before the latter’s announcement of Khilafat, the second time in Ramazan through Abu Huda Sudani and the third time through Abu Al­Khitab Shami by telephone.

News in Brief

Central African Republic: Polish missionary kidnapped
A Polish Catholic missionary has been kidnapped by eight armed people in the town of Baboua in the Central African Republic, the head of Poland’s Pontifical Mission Societies said on October 14. ‘The kidnappers said they represented the ‘Central African People’s Democratic Assembly’, a group rebelling against the current government,’ Tomasz Atlas said. Poland’s foreign ministry was due to hold a news briefing on October 14 about the situation of Polish missionaries in CAR.

Muslims unite to support Henning family
The grieving family of Alan Henning, the British aid worker beheaded by Islamic State, have been told that ‘the Muslim community will be here for you’. His wife and children were among 500 people at a memorial held on October 12 at the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester. Mr Henning, who was kidnapped in Syria, was described as ‘a man who moved a nation’.

Taliban ambush kills 22 Afghan soldiers and police in north
Taliban insurgents ambushed a convoy of Afghan security forces in a mountainous area of northern Afghanistan on October 13, killing 22 soldiers and police, an official said. The Taliban fighters attacked from the mountains as the convoy was travelling through Laghman Valley in Sar-e-Pul province, Gov. Abdul Jabar Haqbeen said. Eight security forces personnel were wounded and seven were taken captive by the insurgents. Haqbeen also said that 12 army and police vehicles had been ‘totally destroyed’.

Putin orders troops to pull back from Ukraine border
Vladimir Putin has ordered thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border to return to base. The Russian president said 17, 600 soldiers training in the Rostov region, where pro-Russian rebels have been battling government troops since April, would be pulled back. It comes ahead of his meeting with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and EU leaders on October 17. The West has imposed sanctions on Moscow in response to its ‘provocative’ moves in the area.

US to help rebuild Gaza
The US is to give $212 million (£132 million) to the Palestinians to repair damage done by Israel. A breakdown of that amount provided by the State Department stated that $75 million will go to support ‘critically needed relief and early recovery efforts in Gaza.’ The rest will fund the Palestinian Authority, controlled by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. People living in the Gaza strip ‘need help desperately’, Secretary of State John Kerry told a conference in Cairo, Egypt.