18:49 Safety audit negligent, says initial report on Mumbai footbridge collapse:
A preliminary report of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has blamed the structural audit for the collapse of foot-over bridge near the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station on Thursday.
The incident had left six people killed and more than 30 others injured.
There is a prima facie reason to believe that the structural audit has been conducted an irresponsible and negligent manner. This tragedy could have been avoided if the structural audit had been done diligently, news agency ANI reported on Friday.
18:37 Defence ministry plans to buy 10 lakh hand grenades for combat troops:
At a time when tensions with Pakistan are heightened, the defence ministry is likely to consider a proposal to buy 10 lakh multi-mode hand grenades for the Indian Army under the ‘Make in India’ project in the military sector.
A proposal for buying 10 lakh hand grenades from an Indian firm would be considered by the Defence Ministry at a high-level meeting to be chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman this week, government sources said.
The more than Rs 500 crore proposal is critical as the government has already taken care of the main personal weapon requirements of the army soldiers by signing two contracts for modern rifles.
In the first case, a contract worth over Rs 700 crore for around 75,000 Sig Sauer assault rifles from an American firm has been signed while a joint venture has been formed with Russia to manufacture 7.5 lakh modern AK-203 assault rifles.
The project for acquiring new hand grenades is required for the replacement of the existing HE-36 grenades manufactured by the Ordnance Factory Board. The multi-mode grenades have been developed by the DRDO and a production agency has been selected to manufacture them in large numbers. Hand grenades are among the few critical weapons that soldiers need in the time of war as they can be used to cause heavy damage to enemy positions or bunkers apart from taking out their soldiers.
Tensions between India and Pakistan have been heightened after the Pulwama attack on February 14 in which 40 CRPF personnel lost their lives.
India avenged the attack by striking the Balakot terrorist training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
18:25 New Zealand shootings: Trump tweets “warmest sympathy” after “horrible massacre”:
US President Donald Trump has tweeted in response to the attack.
“My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!”
His message follows an earlier White House statement in response to the mass shootings at New Zealand mosques that left 49 dead.
The United States strongly condemns the attack in Christchurch. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with the people of New Zealand and their government against this vicious act of hate, said the statement.
Global leaders have also been sending messages of support. “On behalf of the UK, my deepest condolences to the people of New Zealand after the horrifying terrorist attack in Christchurch,” British Prime Minister Theresa May wrote on Twitter. “My thoughts are with all of those affected by this sickening act of violence.”
“All our thoughts for the victims of heinous crimes against the mosques of Christchurch in New Zealand and for their loved ones,” French President Emmanuel Macron added.
IMAGE: A floral tribute is seen on Linwood Avenue near the Linwood Masjid. Mosques across New Zealand have been closed and police are urging people not to attend Friday prayers as a safety precaution. Photograph: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images
17:53 Siddaramaiah wants Rahul to contest polls from K’taka : Former chief minister Siddaramaiah on Friday said the Karnataka Congress wants party president Rahul Gandhi to contest the coming Lok Sabha polls from the southern state.
Calling Gandhi the “next Prime Minister of India”, the Congress Legislature Party leader recalled his grandmother Indira Gandhi and mother Sonia Gandhi contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Karnataka in the past.
“Karnataka has always supported & encouraged @INCIndia leaders. It has been proved in case of Smt. Indira ji & Smt. Sonia ji. We also want our next Prime Minister of India Shri. @RahulGandhi to contest from Karnataka & herald new developmental paradigm. #RaGaFromKarnataka,” Siddaramaiah said in a tweet.
While Indira Gandhi had scripted her political comeback from Chikkamagaluru in Karnataka by winning the Lok Sabha bypolls in 1978, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had contested and won from Bellary in 1999, trouncing the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj.
Interestingly, the Congress has ceded the Chikkamagaluru seat to its alliance partner Janata Dal (Secular) this time, while Bellary remains with the grand old party. Siddaramaiah’s tweet has come amid reports about pressure within the Congress for Rahul Gandhi to contest from one of the seats in south India.
The Congress had, earlier this month, announced that the party chief would contest from Amethi and Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli, both traditional strongholds of the party in Uttar Pradesh. — PTI
17:13 Mirwaiz refuses to appear before NIA for questioning: A day after NIA issued fresh summon notice to Hurriyat (M) Chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq on Friday, he categorically refused to appear before the investigation agency. Farooq was summoned by NIA to appear before it in New Delhi on Monday next week.
“I will not travel to Delhi, nor will I turn up for any investigation come what may,” said Mirwaiz during his Friday sermon at historic Jama Masjid in Srinagar.
Farooq also appealed youth to be calm and do not sway in emotions. He also stated that there is no military solution to the Kashmir issue.”India and Pakistan need to talk and solve this issue,” said Farooq. — PTI
15:50 Terrorists don’t deserve names: Oz PM: With an Australia-born man emerging as the prime suspect in one of the two terror attacks in New Zealand, Australian Prime Minister on Friday said he cannot understand how anyone who would engage in such hate and violence can be called a “human”.
At least 49 worshippers were killed in attacks on the Al Noor Mosque in central Christchurch and the Linwood Mosque in the city’s outer suburb, in what appeared to be the worst attack against Muslims in a western country. Witnesses said victims being shot at close range, with women and children believed to be among those killed. The gunman at one mosque was an Australian-born citizen, Australia PM Scott Morrison said in Sydney, describing him as “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist”. Morrison said an investigation has been launched into the Australian man’s involvement in the attack.
“We are outraged and we stand here and condemn absolutely the attack that occurred today by an extremist, right-wing violent terrorist who has taken the lives, stolen lives, in a vicious, murderous attack that has claimed so many New Zealanders,” Morrison said from Kirribilli House.
Morrison said he had no information to suggest any Australians had been killed but noted it was “very early on” and the situation was unfolding. Media reports identified Brenton Tarrant, an Australia-born man, as one of the suspects.
A manifesto posted to social media by a person claiming to be named Brenton Tarrant notes he was born in Australia and it is believed he spent time living in Grafton, in northern New South Wales. “These people don’t deserve names,” Morrison later said. “Names imply some sort of humanity and I struggle to see how anyone who would engage in this sort of hate and violence is human. He doesn’t deserve a name.”
The Prime Minister said the suspect was not known to Australian authorities. “It is the work of hate,” the Prime Minister said. “That sort of hateful thinking has just reaped murder and misery on a peaceful people just going about their practice of faith on a Friday. It’s disgusting.” Morrison met senior national security officials, and while noting authorities had “already put in place all the necessary responses and precautions” he did not go into details. “This attack reminds us of the evil that is ever-present and would seek to strike out at any time and I particularly want to convey my heartfelt sympathies not only to all New Zealand people, but particularly my sincere prayers and thoughts for those New Zealanders and indeed Australians of Islamic faith who have been the subject of this callous right-wing extremist attack,” he said.– PTI
Image: Australia PM Scott Morrison
15:40 Ensure good results: Mayawati: Bahujan Samaj Party president Mayawati on Friday asked supporters to pay true homage to party ideologue Kanshi Ram by ensuring good results in the Lok Sabha election.
“His birth anniversary is being observed at a time when the Lok Sabha elections have been announced and the true homage to Kanshi Ramji will be if party workers and leaders ensure good results by remaining vigilant against the all-out tricks that our political adversaries will be resorting to,” Mayawati said. — PTI
14:41 Mumbai: Road below collapsed bridge to be opened by 7 pm: A day after a foot overbridge connected to CSMT railway station collapsed, killing six persons and injuring 31, the BMC has decided to dismantle the structure.
In a meeting chaired by BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta Friday morning, it was also decided that the civic body’s Chief Engineer (Vigilance) would conduct an inquiry into the causes that led to the deck of the FOB collapsing on Thursday evening.
Ward Officer Kiran Dighawkar said work on dismantling the FOB had begun and cranes and gas-cutters had been assembled for the work. “We aim to open DN Road for vehicular traffic by 7 pm Friday,” he said.
Another official said the Chief Engineer (Vigilance) has been asked to submit his preliminary report within 24 hours identifying staff responsible and the role of those who carried out its structural audit. The scope of the probe would include the history of the bridge, the time when the structural audit was carried out, and whether the methodology used was appropriate and staff deployed had adequate technical expertise, the official informed.
Earlier in the day, a BMC official had said the FOB was was found to be structurally safe when it was audited in August 2016, soon after a British-era bridge over Savitri River got washed away in monsoon downpour in Mahad in Raigad district. “During that audit, 354 bridges were checked for their structural soundness. The FOB that collapsed on Thursday was marked C2B. This means it needed minor repairs only. Tenders were floated for the repair but it got held up,” the official had said Friday morning.
After a visit to the site Friday morning, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had asked Mehta to fix “primary responsibility” for Thursday’s foot overbridge collapse by evening. — PTI
Image: Dismantling the FOB has begun and cranes and gas-cutters have been assembled for the work. Pic: Sahil Salvi
13:59 NZ mass shootings: ‘B’deshi cricket team in a state of shock’ : The death toll in the mass shootings in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand has risen to 49, with 48 people injured.
Here’s what happened to the Bangladeshi cricket team: The plan was to offer the Friday namaaz and then head for practice. But the Bangladesh players ended up praying for their own lives as they narrowly escaped a terror attack inside a mosque close to the Hagley Oval ground in New Zealand’s Christchurch. The team bus was barely metres away from the scene of the carnage when the players first heard gunshots. Moments later they saw a woman collapse.
Some of the players wanted to help the distressed woman, but just then they saw a horde of petrified worshippers pouring out of the mosque, some of them covered in blood.
“We couldn’t react initially. In such a horror situation, your brain automatically freezes as you are terrified. That’s exactly happened to all of us,” Bangladesh cricket team’s Performance Analyst Shrinivas Chandrasekaran, who was in the bus, told PTI over telephone from the team hotel in Christchurch.
Shrinivas, a Mumbai-based software engineer who works as a video analyst with the Bangladesh team said that initially they didn’t even realise that it was a terror attack.
“It was a few metres away from the mosque and we suddenly heard gunshots. Neither the players nor me initially realised what was happening. Suddenly we saw this woman fainting on the road. We thought it was a medical emergency and some of the boys wanted to get down from the bus and help the lady,” said Shrinivas, his voice still quivering as he recalled the the team’s close shave.
“However, we realised that it was something much bigger than what we had thought. We saw people running for their lives and blood everywhere and suddenly we were all told to lie down quietly on the floor of the bus. I don’t know for how many minutes we lay on the floor of the bus. Once we understood, everyone was calm and did what was told,” said Shrinivas.
It was some time before the police arrived and they were escorted out of the backdoor of the team bus and taken to the ground. “It is obvious that all the players and support staff are in a state of shock. They are all too shocked to react.” — PTI
IMAGE: People react in front of the Masjd Al Noor Mosque the site of one of the two terror attacks. Photograph: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images
13:24 Vadakkan is not a big leader: Rahul : Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Tom Vadakkan joining the BJP: “Vadakkan? No, no Vadakkan is not a big leader.”
Tom Vadakkan, who used to be the face of the Congress in the capacity of a spokesperson, joined the BJP on Thursday, saying he had quit the grand old party because it was now resorting to “use and throw’ approach.
He said the dynastic politics in Congress has reached a level which is not acceptable to “self-respecting people’.
Vadakkan, National Secretary (Communications) in the All India Congress Committee was inducted into the BJP in the presence of Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
“The reason why I left the Congress party, with a heavy heart, is that the attack by the Pakistani terrorists on our land and the reaction from my party was sad indeed. When you question the integrity of the armed forces, I am deeply hurt and that is why I am here,” he said after joining the party.
“The question is not of the ideology. If a political party takes a decision that is against the nation, I had no other option but to leave it. It is about love for our nation. You are aware of the issues and during such a time, making such statements on such issues is vague,” said Vadakkan while attacking the Congress.
13:06 SC stays order convicting newspaper editor, publisher in contempt case: The Supreme Court Friday stayed the Meghalaya High Court judgment convicting The Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim and publisher Shoba Chaudhuri in a contempt case.
The top court stayed the operation of the judgment by which the high court had also imposed a fine of Rs 2 lakh each on the editor and the publisher. The case relates to an article published by the paper on the perks and facilities for retired judges and their families.
The high court had also said that if the two persons failed to deposit the amount, they will have to undergo six months simple imprisonment and the paper will be banned.
A Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, also issued notice to the high court registrar on the appeal filed by the editor and the publisher of newspaper. The high court had on March 8 sentenced the editor and the publisher to sit in the corner of the court room till the rising of the court in the contempt case. — PTI
Image: The Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim.
12:57 After Mumbai bridge collapse, NCP says scrap bullet train plan: The NCP Friday demanded that the multi-billion dollar Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project be scrapped, a day after a foot overbridge connected to iconic CSMT station collapsed, killing six persons and injuring 31.
Nationalist Congress Party MLA Jitendra Awhad said the money being spent on the high speed rail project, a joint venture between India and Japan, should be invested to upgrade suburban railway facilities in the metropolis and surrounding areas.
He said scrapping the bullet train project would be part of the NCP’s manifesto and claimed it would be called off within one month of the party attaining power.
“The prime concern of the government should be improvement of railway facilities. A blame game by authorities is not the solution. We demand that the bullet train project be cancelled since it is merely a show-off project and a waste of tax-payers’ money,” he claimed.
“We will also include this point in our manifesto. Within one month of coming to power, we will scrap the bullet train project and use the money for suburban rail and its connecting services,” Awhad added. “Specialised audit and immediate maintenance is required of dilapidated bridges, several 50-70 years old, over railway tracks in Mumbai and suburban areas,” he said against the backdrop of Thursday’s bridge collapse. He claimed over 200 railway-related accidents occur daily which either cause loss of lives or injuries to commuters. — PTI
Image: PM Modi and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe pose before the Bullet Train in Tokyo.
12:45 News updates at this hour : — France says it has decided to freeze the French assets of Jaish-e-Mohammed Chief Masood Azhar.
— CST FOB collapse: Remaining portions, including the metallic frame of the bridge, will be removed today. The slabs were removed last night after a part of a foot over bridge near CSMT railway station collapsed yesterday.
Image: Six people died in the FOB collapse at CSMT last evening. Pic: Sahil Salvi.
12:29 Markets open on buoyant note, Sensex nearing 38,000 mark: Equity benchmark indices opened higher on Friday following positive cues from global markets, setting away for the longest stretch of weekly gain in over six months.
At 11:15 am, the BSE S&P Sensex was up 244 points to 37,999 while the NSE Nifty 50 was up 76 points at 11,419.Banking, realty, IT, financial services and pharma stocks traded higher by nearly one per cent while FMCG, media and metal were under pressure.
Among the gainers were Kotak Mahindra Bank, IndusInd Bank, ICICI Bank. Coal India, Hindustan Lever and Airtel were in the red on National Stock Exchange. The most active stocks were heavyweights like Reliance Industries, IndusInd Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank and Yes Bank. — ANI
12:16 40 dead in terror attack in Christchurch: New Zealand PM:
New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that 40 people have been killed in the mosque attack in Christchurch. She termed it as a terror attack and described it as one of the darkest days in the country’s history. New Zealand police say all mosques nationally have been asked to shut their doors.
“This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days. It was an unprecedented act of violence. Police has apprehended a person, but I don’t have further details of him yet. Forty people have lost their lives; more than 20 people seriously injured in mosque shooting,” she said.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also said that the gunman who killed numerous worshippers in a New Zealand mosque was a right-wing extremist with Australian citizenship. Morrison said the shooting in Christchurch was carried out by “an extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist” who was an Australian-born citizen.
Four people – one woman and three men – have been taken into custody in relation to the gruesome shootings at two mosques here, New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said on Friday, highlighting that there are a “significant” number of casualties.
One of the mosques has been identified as the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, where a perpetrator – a white man in his 30’s or 40’s – entered the mosque and started shooting indiscriminately with an automatic weapon. Several casualties are feared as the Muslim community had congregated for their Friday prayers when the incident took place. There were reportedly more than 300 people inside the mosque at the time of the shooting.
11:59 Sreesanth ban issue will be taken up at CoA meeting: Vinod Rai: The life ban on S Sreesanth will be discussed when the Committee of Administrators running Indian cricket meets next after the Supreme Court asked the BCCI to reconsider the punishment handed to the pacer for his alleged involvement in the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal.
A bench comprising justices Ashok Bhushan and K M Joseph said the BCCI’s disciplinary committee may reconsider, within three months, the quantum of punishment to be given to Sreesanth.
The bench made it clear that the 36-year-old Sreesanth must be heard by the committee on the quantum of the punishment. “Yes, I have heard about the Supreme Court order. We will need to get the copy of the order. We will definitely take up the issue at the COA meeting,” COA chief Vinod Rai told PTI.
The COA is scheduled to meet on March 18 to discuss the anti-doping policy of the Board with the International Cricket Council officials. The issue of Sreesanth’s ban might come up among the COA on that day. BCCI now has a new ombudsman in Justice (Retd ) DK Jain and amicus curiae PS Narsimha, it is expected that the decision will be fast-tracked.
BCCI acting president CK Khanna made it clear that it will be completely COA’s call as the onus is on it to implement the apex court’s order. — PTI
11:51 Fix responsibility for bridge collapse by today: Maha CM:
Update on the bridge collapse in Mumbai: Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said he had asked BMC chief Ajoy Mehta to fix “primary responsibility” for Thursday’s foot overbridge collapse by Friday evening. The deck of a foot overbridge on DN Road connected to CSMT station collapsed Thursday evening, killing six persons and injuring 31.
Fadnavis was speaking to reporters after meeting the injured in St George’s Hospital nearby. “It is shocking that such an accident can take place even after a structural audit. Primary responsibility will be fixed by this evening. I have asked civic chief (Ajoy Mehta) to find out names of those responsible,” Fadnavis said.
“A high level probe into this incident has already been ordered. Those responsible (for the collapse) will be punished,” he said.
Earlier in the day, a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation official had said the FOB was was found to be structurally safe when it was audited in August 2016, soon after a British-era bridge over Savitri River got washed away in monsoon downpour in Mahad in Raigad district.
“During that audit, 354 bridges were checked for their structural soundness. The FOB that collapsed on Thursday was marked C2B. This means it needed minor repairs only. Tenders were floated for the repair but it got held up,” the official had said Friday morning. Fadnavis also said he had ordered a re-visit of all earlier structural audits carried out on such structures. — PTI
Image: A top shot of the partially demolished FOB over DN Road. Pic: Sahil Salvi.
11:41 Sreesanth: ‘I will be the best politician in Kerala’: “I am a human being, I was surely nervous, I am competing against a lot of people, but even when I played cricket there is not a single match where I was not nervous.
“Lots of mothers, lots of sisters are so sure that no matter what happens, Sree will stand by them.
”I will go to any length to help people.”If it is important to save somebody I will save him even if I have to die.”
That’s S Sreesanth, the politician, speaking to Rediff.com’s A Ganesh Nadar and Saisuresh Sivaswamy, while contesting the Thiruvananthapuram seat in the 2016 Assembly polls. Sreesanth was handed out a temporary reprieve by the SC when it asked the BCCI to reconsider the quantum of punishment while upholding the findings by the Disciplinary Committee.
11:31 Sad bridge collapsed even after structural audit: Fadnavis: Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Friday visited St George hospital in Mumbai where several of the injured in Thursday’s foot overbridge collapse near the crowded Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus railway station have been admitted.
Speaking to the media, Fadnavis said, “I met all the 11 injured. Out of 11, ten are in the general ward and one is in the ICU but is out of danger. It is sad that even after carrying out structural audits, such incidents are taking place… A thorough investigation will be carried out in the case. I have also asked the BMC to finish primary repair work of the bridge till the evening so that people can commute hassle-free,” he added.
At least six people were killed and over 30 injured after a portion of a foot overbridge near the bustling railway station collapsed on Thursday evening. A big slab of the FOB came crashing down at around 7.20 pm due to which several pedestrians were injured.
The injured were admitted to three nearby hospitals — St George Hospital, GT Hospital and Bombay Hospital.
Atmaram Babu recalled how he got the information about his injured brother moments after the incident took place. “My relatives got the information on WhatsApp about the collapse of the bridge and later informed about me about my brother. He has sustained injuries on his leg and waist. He use to sell bananas on the bridge. Before him, our uncle used to sell bananas on the bridge. We are doing business on that bridge from a very long time.” — ANI
10:54 SC temporarily revokes lifetime ban on Sreesanth :
In a huge relief to cricketer S Sreesanth, the Supreme Court has temporarily revoked the lifetime ban on playing the game. The BCCI had banned the cricketer for his alleged involvement in the IPL spot-fixing scandal of 2013. Sreesanth had challenged the decision in the top court.
A bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, asked the BCCI to decide afresh on the point of quantum of punishment given to Sreesanth. The SC in its order asked the BCCI to reconsider Sreesanth’s plea within three months.
The BCCI had told the Supreme Court that the life ban imposed for his alleged involvement in spot-fixing was fully sustainable in law.
“Life ban given to Mohammed Azharuddin (former India captain) was overturned. Pakistans Salim Malik got a life ban but it was overturned. Hansie Cronje was given life ban but he died in a plane crash when proceedings were not closed,” senior advocate Salman Khurshid, for Sreesanth, had told Bench of Justices Ashoka Bhushan and KM Joseph.
Khurshid argued that despite the ban and losing the best part of his career, Sreesanth has remained loyal to the BCCI and wants to “reconnect” with the Board.
10:46 NZ shootout: 4 arrested, Christchurch still in lockdown:
New Zealand Police has confirmed the arrest of four people. Mike Bush of the police said four people were in custody — one woman, three men. “We are still looking at the circumstances around it. Let’s not presume that the danger is gone,” he said. Police have called it a ‘serious and evolving situation involving an active shooter’. New Zealand police also say they have defused a number of improvised explosive devices found on vehicles after the mosque shootings
Several people were reported dead when a gunman opened fire at a crowded mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, during afternoon prayers Friday.
Local media reported up to six people were dead and the South Island city was placed in lockdown as police hunted for an “active shooter.”
The Masjid al Noor was filled with worshippers, including members of the Bangladesh cricket team. One witness told stuff.co.nz he was praying in the Deans Ave mosque when he heard shooting and saw his wife lying dead on the footpath outside when he fled. Another man said he saw children being shot.
An eyewitness told Radio New Zealand he heard shots fired and four people were lying on the ground, with “blood everywhere”.
09:55 Sonic booms over Amritsar? Yes, IAF carried out exercises along Pak border: The Indian Air Force carried out a major readiness exercise last night over Punjab and Jammu in which a large number of fighter aircraft participated. During the exercise, Indian Air Force jets, including frontline aircraft, flew at supersonic speeds in the border districts including Amritsar in Punjab, sources said here. The reason for carrying out the combat drill was to be prepared for thwarting any misadventure by the Pakistan Air Force to intrude into the Indian air space, they said.
Twitter was abuzz in the early hours of Friday after users in Amritsar said they heard “two loud sounds”. #Amritsar was trending on Twitter with users sharing theories what the sounds could be. The police have tried to calm the nerves of the local users, saying “everything was okay” in the city.
“I appeal to the people to not believe in rumours on social media. Everything is okay. As per our information nothing has happened,” Jagjit Singh Walia, ADCP Amritsar, told news agency ANI.
The IAF has been on a high alert ever since it carried out air strikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist camp in Balakot town of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunwa province on February 26. A couple of days ago, two PAF fighter jets flew at supersonic speeds over Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir around 10 kilometres from the Line of Control in the Poonch sector.
After the PAF started flying its planes close to Indian borders and were detected and monitored closely by the air defence network, the Indian fighter plane fleet was also ready to respond to them.
The IAF had an edge over the adversary in the aerial combat as its vintage MiG-21 fighter flown by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman shot down a modern F-16D fighter plane of the PAF in a beyond visual-range fight.
09:24 US summons visiting Afghan NSA in rare rebuke:
In an unusual move, the United States summoned Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib hours after he blasted Special US Representative Zalmay Khalilzad for bypassing the elected government of Afghanistan in their direct peace talks with the Taliban.
“Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale summoned Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib today to reject the public comments attributed to National Security Advisor Mohib criticizing the US approach to reconciliation,” State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said after the meeting the between the two officials.
Over the past two days, Mohib at various public forums — during an appearance at a Washington DC-based think-tank and in an interaction with reporters — described the US’s talks with the Taliban as surrender discussion.
He alleged Khalilzad was keeping the “duly elected” Afghan government in dark and that in the latest round of talks in Doha, they were humiliated and made to wait in a hotel lobby.
“We don’t know what’s going on. We don’t have the kind of transparency that we should have,” Mohib told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.
He claimed the Afghan government was getting the information in bits and pieces.
“The last people to find out (about the peace talks) are us,” Mohib claimed.
He alleged the Afghan-born US diplomat Khalilzad has personal ambition in Afghanistan.
“The perception in Afghanistan, and people in the government think that perhaps — perhaps — all of this talk is to create a caretaker government of which he will then become the viceroy,” Mohib alleged.
But Palladino said Under Secretary Hale in his meeting with the Afghan NSA “underscored” the “longstanding” US assistance and support to Afghanistan.
Hale expressed America’s commitment to the Afghan government’s stability and full participation in the peace process, the State Department deputy spokesman said.
“He also reminded National Security Advisor Mohib that Special Representative Khalilzad represents the Secretary, and that attacks on Ambassador Khalilzad are attacks on the Department and only serve to hinder the bilateral relationship and the peace process,” Palladino said in a strongly worded statement. — PTI
09:23 Kartarpur talks with India went well ‘overall’, says Pakistan:
Pakistan on Thursday said that the meeting with India to discuss and finalise the modalities of the Kartarpur corridor went well overall, despite some differences on some issues, and the talks were held in a positive and conducive environment.
Mohammad Faisal, DG (SA and SAARC) of Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs, which led the delegation, said that discussions were held on issues related to the corridor, its construction, road, and other technicalities, The Dawn reported.
Terming the meeting as an achievement, Faisal said that both India and Pakistan had issued a joint statement after a few years, adding that the same was reached in 2015.
Reading out the statement, he said, “Both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalising the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor.”
“Both sides also held expert-level discussions between technical experts on the alignment and other details of the proposed corridor,” he added.
An eighteen-member Pakistani delegation had arrived in India on Thursday. The Indian delegation was led by S.C.L. Das, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs.
India and Pakistan agreed to work “expeditiously” to operationalise Kartarpur corridor and decided to hold a meeting of the technical experts on March 19, which will be followed by another round of talks on the issue on April 2.
“The first meeting to discuss the modalities and the draft Agreement for facilitation of pilgrims to visit Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib using the Kartarpur Corridor was held today at Attari, India in a cordial environment. Both sides held detailed and constructive discussions on various aspects and provisions of the proposed agreement and agreed to work towards expeditiously operationalising the Kartapur Sahib Corridor,” according to a statement by India’s Ministry of External Affairs.”It was agreed to hold the next meeting at Wagah on 2 April 2019. This will be preceded by a meeting of the technical experts on 19 March 2019 at the proposed zero points to finalise the alignment,” the statement added.
On November 26 last year, India’s Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had laid the foundation stone of the Kartarpur corridor in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district.
Two days later, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of the Kartarpur corridor in Narowal near Lahore.
Once the corridor is opened, it would allow Sikh pilgrims direct access to the historic Gurudwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan, where Guru Nanak Dev breathed his last in 1539.
09:02 Bangladesh cricket team escapes NZ shooting:
Bangladesh’s cricket team escaped unscathed after a deadly shooting at a mosque in New Zealand, an official said on Friday.
Opening batsman Tamim Iqbal wrote on Twitter: “Entire team got saved from active shooters!!! Frightening experience and please keep us in your prayers.” Local media said multiple people were killed in the incident.
Bangladesh Cricket Board spokesman Jalal Yunus said most of the team were bussed to the mosque in Christchurch and were about to go inside when the incident happened.
“All members of the Bangladesh Cricket Team in Christchurch, New Zealand are safely back in the hotel following the incident of shooting in the city. The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) is in constant contact with the players and team management,” the Bangladesh Cricket Board said on Twitter.
08:31 Shooting at mosque in New Zealand, multiple casualties reported:
Armed police in New Zealand swarmed central Christchurch on Friday amid a shooting at a mosque in the South Island city.
“A serious and evolving situation is occurring in Christchurch with an active shooter,” Al Jazeera quoted Police Commissioner Mike Bush as saying.
Local media reports suggest that a gunman entered the mosque on Friday and started shooting with an automatic weapon.
“A gunman – dressed in black with a helmet carrying a machine gun – came into the back of the mosque and started firing into the people praying there,” Al Jazeera quoted local media as saying.
Several casualties are feared, as authorities are yet to confirm the exact figure of deceased or wounded.
Further information is awaited.
Images used for representational purposes only.
00:59 UK MPs back Brexit delay:
The United Kingdom Parliament on Thursday voted in favour of delaying Brexit beyond March 29 as the chaotic process of the UK’s divorce from the European Union plunged the country into a political deadlock.
The motion for delaying the Brexit Day was passed in the House of Commons by 412 votes to 202.
However, the delay in the Brexit process would now require the unanimous approval of all 27 remaining EU member states, which in effects gives the 28-member bloc the power to dictate the terms of an extension.
Meanwhile, the EU officials have indicated that are not interested to provide more time for political tussles in the UK and would approve an extension only if there were a specific reason for one.
EU Council chief Donald Tusk on Thursday said the bloc could approve a long postponement ‘if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it’, indicating the possibility of a softer Brexit only if May abandons her stand, especially her opposition to being in a customs union with Europe.
However, other EU leaders have warned of not supporting an extension if the UK cannot be clear about what it wants.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said he wasn’t sure if more time was the answer.
The EU needs ‘more decisions’ from London, he said in Brussels, adding, “We have to know, what is the intention of the British parliament? What are the choices of the British authorities?”
Thursday’s round of Brexit tussles came a day after the UK Parliament voted to reject the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement in place. — PTI